Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the Port-Harcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is not empowered by extant laws to register organizations under Incorporated Trustee which has aims and objectives of a Trade Union.
The Court made the decision while delivering Judgment in a Suit marked Suit No. NICN/PHC/48/2022, filed by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria against a rival Association, the Incorporated Trustees of Freight Forwarders Transport Association along with their Trustees and the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Justice Ogbuanya held that neither the CAC nor the Trade Union Registrar while carrying on statutory function under the enabling law- Companies & Allied Matters Commission or Trade Unions Act, can register an organization not falling appropriately under its statutory mandate, and so, the CAC does not have the legal power to accept and register organization as Incorporated Trustee, which by its disclosed aims and objective, is a disguised trade union, designed to carry out trade union activities, particularly conflicting with an existing trade union, as in the instant suit.
From the facts, the Claimant- the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria had submitted that some of its members led by the 6th Defendant broke off from the union, and went ahead to register another Association with the Corporate Affairs Commission which issued it a Certificate of Incorporation in its name, Incorporated Trustees of Freight Forwarders Transport Association, which aims & objectives are in conflict with the trade union activities of the Maritime Union such as demanding check-off dues and tickets at Onne Port and on the highways, as well as invasion of the Maritime Union’s office, which caused fracas among the rival members at the port.
In response, the Defendants- Incorporated Trustees of Freight Forwarders Transport Association and others insisted that the Association having been lawfully registered by the CAC, it can carry out its aims & objectives, and asked the court to dismiss the suit, apart from challenging the court’s jurisdiction, as it claimed that the dispute falls outside the jurisdiction of the court.
In a well-considered Judgment, the trial Judge, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya, dismissed the defendants’ objection challenging its jurisdiction as grossly misconceived.
The Court held that Section 45 of the Trade Union Act stipulates that the Companies and Allied Matters Act shall not apply to any trade union, and registration of any such body under that Act shall be void.
Justice Ogbuanya noted that the membership of the Defendant Association which includes truck drivers, truck owners or transport agents within Nigeria and operating at the Nigerian ports, and its principal objectives, which is to ensure at all times the preservation of rights, claims, benefits and obligations of all members of the Association rather portray it as a trade union, which is basically a workplace labour-welfare-oriented organization, recognized and registered by the Trade Union Registrar pursuant to the Trade Unions Act.
The Court held the view that the Association with such membership and aims & objectives ought not to have been accepted for registration by the CAC.
Justice Ogbuanya held that the 1st Defendant Association does not ordinarily qualify for registration as an Incorporated Trustee, in view of the combined provisions of Ss.823 (1) and S.825 (1) (b) CAMA 2020 on criteria for membership and scope of operation of Incorporated Trustees, coupled with its evidenced modus operandi indicating its activities conflicting with the operational area of the Claimant, a registered trade union.
The Court declared that given the legal regime for registration and operation of an organization registerable under the Companies & Allied Matters Act and the Trade Union Act, the Certificate of Incorporation issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission for registration of the 1st Defendant as an Incorporated Trustee does not in any manner whatsoever entitle the 1st Defendant and its members to perform the duties and activities of the Claimant trade union or any other Trade Union whatsoever.
The Judge noted thus: “I find that what has happened is that the CAC has aided the 1st Defendant’s registration, and armed with the Certificate of Incorporation of the 1st Defendant, the 2nd -9th Defendants and their members started operating as a trade union within the domains of the Claimant union, which resulted in the clash with the members of the Claimant union leading to the fracas at the Onne port, which was only quelled by police intervention, to restore peace and harmony. This is an avoidable conflict if only the legal regime of operations of trade union was noted and complied with by the Defendants”.
Justice Ogbuanya pointed that “Had the 10th Defendant (CAC) adverted to this legal regime, it would have queried the said aims & objectives contained in the Constitution of the 1st Defendant Association when presented for registration, as such does not properly fall within the expected organization to be registered under CAMA by the CAC”. The Judge concluded: “Thus, it is my considered view that the 1st Defendant Association does not ordinarily qualify for registration as an Incorporated Trustee, in view of the combined provisions of Ss.823 (1) and S.825 (1) (b) CAMA 2020 on criteria for membership and scope of operation of Incorporated Trustees, coupled with its evidenced modus operandi indicating its activities conflicting with the operational area of the Claimant, a registered trade union. I so hold.”
The Court awarded N10 Million as general damages against the defendant union for its members’ unlawful invasion of the claimant union’s office, and N1 million cost in favour of the claimant.