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Constitutionality Of Ministerial Guidelines For Release Of Staff In Oil And Gas Industry Challenged In Court

TIMIPRE SYLVA, MINISTER OF STATE (PETROLEUM RESOURCES) 

LAGOS, NIGERIA - A suit challenging the constitutionality of Regulation 15A of the Petroleum and the guidelines for the release of staff in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry has been challenged before a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria. 

It was challenged by a constitutional lawyer, Temilolu Adamolekun, who equally instituted a motion on notice,  seeking an Order of  interlocutory injunction of the court directing the defendants to suspend the enforcement of the provision of regulation 15A of the Petroleum Amendment of regulation 1988 and the Guidelines for the release of staff in the Nigerian Oil and gas industry pending the determination of the substantive suit. 

Co-defendants in the legal battle are the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Department of Petroleum Resources and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). 

Temilolu Adamolekun, in an affidavit in support of the suit avered that  Regulation 15A of the Petroleum (Drilling and Production) (Amendment) Regulations1988 provides that the holder of Oil mining lease, licence or permit issued under the Petroleum Act or regulations made or any person registered to provide any services in relation thereto, shall not remove any worker from his employment except in accordance with the guidelines that may be specified from time to time by the minister. 

According to the guideline, staff release means the removal of a worker in a manner that permanently separate the worker from the employer, instances of staff release shall include the following: Dismissal, retirement, termination, redundancy, release on medical grounds, resignation, death and abandonment of duty post. 

However,  pursuant to the aforesaid regulation, the minister of Petroleum and the Department of Petroleum resources codified the guidelines for the release of staff for the companies with Oil licences, permits or those registered to provide any services in relation to the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry, 2019.

"Any employer who wishes to release a worker shall apply in writing to the Director for the minister's approval stating the manner of staff release, the reasons for the proposed release, the compensation due to the worker, and any proposed replacement for the worker. 

"The application shall contain a copy of any document relevant to the worker's employment including the employer's condition of service as defined under these guidelines. 

"Where the employer fails to submit any required information to the Department of Petroleum resources, such application for staff release shall not be eligible for the minister's approval," the lawyer added. 

Temilolu Adamolekun argued that the Regulation and the guidelines are inconsistent with relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended).  

It would be recalled that in the wake of the dreaded COVIC-19 Pandemic, there was  sudden crash in the crude oil prices worldwide and a lot of companies particularly in the Oil industry struggled, and even Oil producing countries were hit by the economic realities. 

Even, several companies took major decisions such as downsizing their staff strength to enable them to survive these trying times. 

The petroleum minister and the Department of Petroleum Resources made Regulations and Guidelines that are outside their powers, to limit the right of employers who have Oil mining licence, notwithstanding the contract of employment between the employer and the  employee. 

The guidelines also prescribed a fine of $250,000 against any company that contravenes the guidelines in releasing its  workers. 

Adamolekun further  averred that the Minister of Petroleum and the Department of Petroleum Resources are not the national assembly that is bestowed with the powers to make laws and are not the National Industrial court that has jurisdiction over matters relating to employer and employees.

Consequently, he urged  the court that It will be  in the interest of justice and the doctrine of separation of powers for the court to order the defendants to retract the unconstitutional parts of the Regulations/Guidelines.

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