By Abdulwahab Abdulahi
PRINCIPAL partner of a legal firm, Dr. Charles Mekwunye, has said the recent judgement of the Supreme Court on finality of cases from the Nigeria Industrial Court, NIC, was as a result of his drive for freedom for the oppressed.
Speaking at a programme organised by Charles Mekwunye & Co. Chambers to celebrate the landmark judgement from the apex court, Dr. Mekwunye said he was forced to quit his lucrative banking career for the legal practice eight years ago, leading to the recent legal victory at the Supreme Court on the NIC.
Mekwunye contended that he had long held the view that the erroneous belief that NIC had the final say on industrial matters needed to be subjected to judicial interpretation. He argued that before the landmark decision of the Supreme Court, many people had taken the NIC as the apex court on issues regarding industrial matters, declaring that this judgement had further enriched the nation’s judicial pronouncements.
Mekwunye who rose to the position of an executive director in a leading bank in the country, before he ventured into legal practice insisted that the landmark judgement was just the beginning of hard work to fight for the oppressed in whatever circumstances. He commended the staff for the sacrifices, perseverance and dedications, since the beginning of the case till the judgement.
It will be recalled that the Supreme Court recently, gave a verdict allowing aggrieved persons to appeal the decision of the National Industrial Court. Four members of a five-man panel at the court gave the decision following an appeal filed by Skye Bank Nigeria Plc through its counsel, Mekwunye and Co, against a respondent, Anaemem Iwu, represented by his counsel, Fes Eze Eke.
Before the decision, only judgements emanating from fundamental right appeals could go to a higher court. The applicants had asked the Supreme Court to determine whether there were exceptions to the powers of the appeal court to entertain decisions of the lower court. In a unanimous ruling by four members of the bench, the apex court held that the appeal court had power to entertain matters from the NIC, regardless of whether they were fundamental rights suits or not.
In the ruling read by Justice Centus Nweze, the four-man panel said the law allowed the appeal court to sit on matters emanating from trial courts, including the NIC. It said there was no law that prevented the Appeal Court from entertaining cases from the NIC.
Justice Nweze, who read the lead (majority) judgment, identified the key issue for determination as, “Whether the Court of Appeal, as an appellate court created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has the jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals arising from decisions of the NIC.”
According to Justice Nweze: “The lower court, that is, the Court of Appeal, has the jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria, to hear and determine all appeals arising from the decisions of the trial court. No constitutional provision expressly divested the said Court of Appeal of its appellate jurisdiction over all decisions on civil matters emanating from the trial court. And, as a corollary, the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine all civil appeals on decisions of the National Industrial Court is not limited to only fundamental human rights. These shall be the opinions of this court and shall be transmitted to the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal for its guidance in determining the appeal before it.”