Justice Maureen Esowe held that the act of Lagos State government in suspending the national unions operations in the state and setting up a caretaker committee is illegal and unconstitutional.
The court also restrained the state government from further interfering with the operations of the union’s exco.
Members of the RTEAN besieged the court in their numbers to witness the proceedings. Police officials were also on ground to keep the peace.
In Sept. 2022, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had ordered the immediate suspension of all activities of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) in the state.
The government said the suspension become necessary following some pockets of violence recorded in Ojo and Lagos Island areas of the state.
The state government, later in October, set up a 35-man ad-hoc committee, to take over activities of the Union.
The Committee known as “Lagos State Park Administrators Ad-Hoc Committee on the Operations of Commercial Road Transport Workers Activities Within Garages and Motor Parks ” was headed by Hon. Sulaiman Adeshina Raji with Bamgbose Oluseyi as Deputy Chairman.
The RTEAN subsequently instituted the suit in Oct. 2022 to challenge the lagos state government for dissolving the elected executive committee of the union in the state and appointing the ad-hoc committee.
The first to third defendants in the case were the Governor, the Attorney-General of the state, and the Special Adviser to the state governor on transportation, Sola Giwa.
The 4th defendant was the Commissioner of police, Lagos State, and all the members of the ad-hoc committee were listed as the 5th to the 37th defendants.
In January 2023, the union through their counsel, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Elisha Kurah argued that a state cannot interfere in the affairs of a trade union registered under the Trade Unions Act of 2004.
He added that the state cannot dissolve the union, saying such matters are handled by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“The government dissolved RTEAN, suspended its operations and took over the garages.
“The union is challenging Lagos State since union matters are under the federal ministry,” he said.
But, counsel for the state government, Adebayo Haroun had contended that the government did not violate the law nor dissolve the national body’s operations in the state, but had sought to maintain law and order by creating the ad-hoc committee when violence ensued between the unions.
The counsel for the 5th to the 37th defendants, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Taiwo Kupolati, in his argument said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had the power to maintain peace in the land.
“There was a crisis and the governor exercised his authority as the Chief Security Officer of the state and put up a committee to be in charge of garages for peace to reign.
“The government issued a document to ensure public safety and order. And since the ad-hoc committee was set up, there has been peace,”
Both counsel also filed notices of preliminary objections, urging the court to dismiss the suit brought by way of originating summons, in view of the conflicting facts deposed to by the parties.
The police were not represented in the proceedings.
In her judgment, Justice Maureen Esowe first dismissed the defendants’ preliminary objections to the suit insisting that the matter was straightforward and the court had the jurisdiction to hear and determine same.
The judge also held that the act of the Lagos State Govt. in suspending the national union’s operations in the state and setting up a caretaker committee is illegal and against the provisions of Sections 4 (1), (2)& (3), and 5 (1) &(3), read along with item 34 of the exclusive legislative list, of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The court also held that the government and the police should have intervened by arresting and prosecuting those behind the fracas.
The court then restrained the state government from further interfering with the operations of the union’s exco while ordering the police to refrain from intimidating the union’s officers. The police were also ordered to remove all barricades it imposed around the union’s secretariat and to grant the leaders unfettered access to their offices.