Labour Legislations under the Babangida Regime
Labour Legislations under the Babangida Regime
- J. Abereoran
The Industrial Relations system in Nigeria, like in most other countries, is built on a tripartite foundation comprising the state (government), employers and employees (all with their representative institutions). The relationships between these actors are regulated by government in several ways but notably through labour legislations and related policy pronouncements/actions. The content and focus of these legislations are largely informed by the government’s philosophy of governance and prevailing socio-economic and political developments.
This paper begins with a perception of what constitutes labour legislations. Since this symposium aims at understanding the problems and perspective of interpreting the Babangida regime, we proceed to identify what could be regarded as the guiding philosophy of the regime. Thereafter, an analysis of fifteen (15) direct legislations, one (1) statutory instrument order and three(3) polices/practices between August 1985 and August 1993 are considered with a view to assessing their impact on the tempo and conduct of Nigeria’s Industrial Relations system during the period. Our conclusion draws on the import of those legislations so that certain lessons therefrom could better inform Industrial Relations practice in Nigeria.
In this presentation, we are aware of some limitations. One has to do with the actual process of legislation in a military regime where there is no elected/representative parliament. So, there are uncertainties as to the origin and purpose of those legislations were they based on requests from employers and or employees or on the whims and caprices of the military leadership, the Armed Forces Ruling Council(AFRC) or the exigencies of the period; or a combination of these and other factors? Another limitation has to do with the number of legislations during the period. A detailed analysis of each legislation would be cumbersome, so we only undertake a general review and an analysis of essential provisions impacting the practice of Industrial Relations. Also, we assume a general understanding of the sociology of the military and its involvement in governance.
Labour legislations come under the broad concept of Industrial Relations which is seen as a web of rules binding government, employers and employees together in the work place2. Legal issues in modern employment relations were initially confined to Common Law rules of contract which has a promise, an agreement and a bargain as its essential elements`. This presupposes an idea of voluntariness and equality which in reality is hollow. The need to take care of some of the presumptions in Common Law and improve employer-employee relations has given rise to a specialised body of laws known as Labour Laws or (Legislations).
In order to ascertain the import of Labour laws, a general meaning of law is required. A law can be seen as “a technique for the regulation of social powers.”‘ The social dimension is stated in another definition which sees law “as an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has the care of the community.”
Therefore, we can see law as a means of regulating the activities of persons and groups in a society such that its members can develop their capacities for the good of all.
From this general premise, we can then say that labour legislations, in its ideal form are “rational ordinances specifically directed at a whole range of issues affecting employer-employee relationship with a view to improving the quality of their interaction as well as ensuring the common good not just of the work- community, but the entire society”‘
The scope of those laws include the organisation of work and workers; terms and conditions of employment; handling grievances and disputes at -work;
compensation in the event of accidents and the role of employers, employee and government. It is harzadous, at this stage to state whether labour legislations in Nigeria_ generally, or specifically during the Babangida era served “the common good”. But in principle, based on the provisions of Section 17 of 1979 Constitution (and its modifications in Sections 15-17 of the 1999 Constitution) all Nigerian, laws are expected to be designed to achieve the good of the society.
The Philosophy off the Babangida Regime
The philosophy of the IBB regime, as deduced from the coup broadcasts are highlighted in this section. On August 27, 1985, in what could be described as “a palace coup”, Brigadier Joshua Nimiel Dogonyaro (as he then was) announced the overthrow of the Major General Muhammadu Buhari (now retired) regime because some members of the then ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) “could not stay passive and watch a small group of individuals misuse power to the detriment of our national aspirations and interest” ‘
There appears to have been a disaffection within the ranks of the military leadership which became the motivating force for the coup. The problems in the national economy only serve to buttress the case of the coupists. This is seen, again, in Brigadier Dogonyaro’s speech, “…The real reason, however, for the slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body. Subsequently, the business of governance has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations…., the Supreme Military Council, has therefore progressively been made redundant by the action of a select few members charged with the day to day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decisions. The concept of collective leadership has been substituted by stubborn and ill-advised unilateral actions, thereby destroying the principle upon which the government came to power.”‘
The Dogonyaro speech raises the hope that the in-coming regime believes in collective leadership. The real philosophy and thrust of the new regime could be further seen clearly in the maiden broadcast of its leader, General Ibrahim Babangida. He said inter-alia
“…We have come with the strongest determination to create an atmosphere in which positive efforts shall be given the necessary support for lasting solutions…In line with this government’s intention to uphold fundamental human rights, the issue of detainees will be looked into with dispatch. We do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves. We recognize that a government, be it civilian or military, needs the consent of the people to govern if it is to react, its objective. We do not intend to rule by force…The government, on its part, will ensure that leadership exhibits proper example. Criticism of actions and decisions taken by us will be given necessary attention and where necessary, changes made in accordance with what is expected of us.
It is clear from all these that the government has a populist philosophy which comprise, in the main:
- appreciation of government’s role as a motivator and creator of enabling
Environment for national development;
- an acceptance of fundamental human rights, notably freedom of expression;
- a recognition of the fact that ultimate sovereignty rests with the people;
- an acceptance of principled opposition; and
- a willingness to fulfil the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
It is to be expected therefore that the country would be governed by “ordinances of reason”, and under such conditions that though the regime is a military dictatorship, it would be benevolent. We shall now explore the laws and practices of the regime in the area of Industrial Relations to see how well it has conformed to its “manifesto” and the impact of that conformity or otherwise oil Industrial Relations practice.
Assessment of Labor Legislations and Policies of the IBB Regime.
This section examines, in a chronological manner, specific government legislations and practices that impact on Nigeria’s Industrial Relations System. While we are not attempting an exhaustive analysis, we shall consider the general provisions of those laws.
Participation of labour Leaders on Government Panels: In abiding by its philosophy at the onset, the regime proceeded to appoint prominent labour leaders, scholars etc to serve on a number of panels. The panels were to advice the government on certain policy issues and chart a new course for the nation. This accords with general practice in developing countries where new regimes (especially military) at inception seek trade union cooperation in order to stabilise the polity allegedly “shattered” by the politicians. “‘ The major examples of this type of cooperation under the IBB era include:
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) formally participated in the 1985/86 nation-wide debates promoted by the government on whether the country should take the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan or not. The position of labour and indeed most Nigerians was that the loan should be rejected because of its conditionalities” which were believed would further subjugate the socio-economic interests of the people.
Messrs Paschal Bafyau (then General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen) and Halilu Ibrahim (then President of National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, Employees (NUBIFIE) served on the government’s Political Bureau which was to chart a political agenda for the nation.
Chief Frank Kokori (then General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG) was appointed as a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee while Mr. Paschal Bafyau, again, was appointed to serve on the Constitution Review Committee.
The interpretation of the rationale for these appointments border on whether the men were appointed in their personal capacities or by virtue of the positions they occupy. We support the latter. But the ideal thing would have been for labour to nominate its own representatives. In any case, the 1985/86 years provided the leadership of organised labour with high-brow contacts and involvement in government such that workers naturally expected more dividends. The “romance” between labour and the government lasted only a short time because as soon as the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) was introduced as an alternative to the IMF loan, the relationship became shifty. The alternative-no alternative to SAP debate ensued.”
The National Institute for Labour Studies (now Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies) Decree: It was promulgated in 1986 but made retroactive in September 1984. The re-naming of the Institute after Pa Michael Imoudu, Nigeria’s undisputed No 1 Labour Leader was a fitting tribute, to a man whose leadership of the 1945 Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) strike gave impetus to the nationalist struggle for independence.
This legislation is a developmental one as the institute is reputed to be the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. The institute was charged with providing workers education; promoting research on Industrial Relations and Labour matters; etc. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to assess the performance of the Institute, we can safely say that the law has positively impacted the content and tempo of labour education in the country through the institute’s all-year round seminars/workshops and occasional public lectures and publications.
The Trade Unions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree, 1986: This legislation hay two (2) basic provisions demanding our attention. The first is that it separates the union of junior staff from that of senior staff, and by that token forbids the affiliation of senior staff associations to the NLC. Though by the 1978 restructuring of the trade union movement, only the 42 industrial unions (comprising junior staff) were affiliated to the NLC. Most labour commentators see the legislation as government’s tactical response to the increasing militancy of the congress. It was felt that senior staff associations, particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were giving more radical wings to the NLC.
A statutory severance did not really achieve much as the senior staff associations, on their own, continued to voice their opposition to policies of government considered inimical to the socio-economic well-being of their members.
The second provision is that which forbids employers from compulsory deduction of check-off dues on behalf of unions. The idea is that workers are free to contract out the check-off system so that anyone committed to the union should pay his check-off upon the receipt of his salary or at any other time. There appears to be nothing wrong, on the surface, with this provision because it could actually serve to gauge the level of union members’ commitment. However, government’s motive could not be said to be `sincere’ because there were neither complains from labour nor employers about the previous arrangement, moreso that the provisions were hardly implemented either in the public or private sector.
From these two issues, could it be that the regime was becoming uncertain of the cooperation of an articulate labour movement, and one that is financially independent? However, a “carrot and stick approach” in government-labour relations was emerging. Though the law was based on the exigency of the moment, the situation should have afforded the leadership of the labour movement a clear definition of its focus and terms of cooperation with government.
Statutory Instrument Order 27, 1986: The Order was issued by the Honourable Minister for Employment, Labour and Productivity to resolve infra-union conflicts in NUPENG and the National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers. NUPENG had two rival factions led by Messrs Innocent Ogbu and Richard Ozegbu while the Hotel Workers Union’s factions were led by Messrs. Benson Odudura and Nathaniel Lukula. The issuance of the order rendered the factions invalid. The appointed Sole Administrators of the Unions were directed that elections into their National Executive Council be conducted within 3 months. Some commentators regard the order as an attempt by government “to save the unions from themselves” and thereby prevent the breakdown of law and order in their respective sub-sectors. However, it is also believed that the order is an interventionist posture. Where unions cannot resolve infra-union disputes through the existing machineries in the Ministry of Labour; the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and the National Industrial Court (NIC) and to prevent the snowballing effects of such conflicts, an intervention of this nature would appear justified. The point should be made however, that the military’s idea of “immediate effect” should not be transferred to Industrial Relations. It is necessary to allow reasonable time through the amendment of existing procedures and machineries for resolving intra and inter-union disputes. We should note that voluntarism as opposed to interventionism is a cherished principle in modern Industrial Relations practice.
Trade Unions (Disqualification of Certain Persons) Repeal Decree, 1987: The background to this legislation was the Trade Unions (Disqualification of certain Persons) Decree 15 of 1977 which banned eleven (11) labour leaders from participation in trade union activities. The people banned included Michael Imoudu, Wahab Goodluck and S.U Bassey who were believed to represent a past which the then military government would not accommodate in its restructuring of the trade union movement. This abridgement of the rights of citizens without criminal or civil charges against them and trial is not justifiable in the first place.
It is a good thing therefore that the IBB regime repealed the earlier law. It would appear that the new regime was correcting the errors of its forebears moreso that the Institute for Labour Studies was re-named after Michael Imoudu. These remain a fitting tribute to the heroes of Nigerian trade unionism by the IBB regime.
The Factories Decree, 1987: The law repealed the Factories Act of 1958. Its main objectives, among others are to update the provision of the 1958 enactment and generally bring safety legislations in line with the requirements of modern industrial setting; make adequate provisions for the health and safety of workers, and widen the scope of the law and bring under its protective cover all categories of workers not hitherto covered by the law but otherwise subject to occupational hazards.
Some of the provisions, in line with its developmental objectives, have to do with cleanliness, ventilation, lightning, draining, sanitary conveniences, security etc of factories and the employees. The law humanizes the work-place and its enforcement would go a long way in ensuring the country’s compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on workers health and safety.
This is one principal legislation that will continue to be a legacy of the IBB regime that Nigeria’s Industrial Relations practitioners have applauded. We should only add that owing to the dynamics of modern industrial technology, periodic reviews would be necessary to continue to make its provisions relevant.
Workmen’s Compensation Decree, 1987: This law which repealed the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1958 has been described as “revolutionary” because of its all-embracing definition of a workman and enhancing the level of compensation payable to affected workers. The major benefits derivable from the law are compensation for permanent partial incapacity is now based on assessed incapacity; compensation for permanent total incapacity to be fifty four (54) months’ earnings; compensation for temporary incapacity which lasts for at least three (3) days; compensation for death now based on forty-two (42) months’ earnings; and compensation is no longer on fixed sums but based on current pay. This law is another developmental one which contributes immensely to the worth of the average worker especially in terms of compensation for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. As wages improve, injured workers will obviously earn more compensation compared to previous practice.
Trade Disputes (Amendment) Decree, 1988: This legislation amends the 1976 Decree which provided for the procedure for the settlement of Trade Disputes and the institutional machineries/organs set up for that purpose. There are 3 major issues raised by this amendment.
The first has to do with the tenure of the chairman and members of the Industrial Arbitration Panel which is put at 4 years. This amendment is desirable as it reduces the possibility of arbitrary appointment and removal of members of the panel, which could be at the whims and caprices of the appointing authority. A maximum tenure of 8 years allows for continuity and stability over a given period.
The second issue is that the retirement age of the members of IAP is now put at 65 in line with the new retirement age for judicial officers. The third provision confers appellate and original jurisdiction on the NIC. That is appeals arising from the IAP can be taken to the NIC whose decision on such appeals will now be final. And the NIC by the same token can handle disputes from the onset. This would be particularly appropriate `n intra-union disputes.
This law attempts to strengthen the dispute settlement machinery at the IAP and NIC levels such that with continuity in tenure, disputes could now be heard and resolved more readily. If these bodies are effectively utilised by parties, “case laws” would arise and enrich Nigerian labour laws as well as the conduct of Industrial Relations.
The Dissolution of the Nigeria Labour Congress in 1988: This particular event merits a full-scale research, but we shall briefly highlight the events leading to the dissolution and its implications. We have noted that various levels of leadership of the Nigerian trade union movement had cooperative rather than conflictual relationship with the IBB regime at inception. But following the SAP package, obvious strains in government-labour relations began to emerge as well as an “incipient opposition within the NLC.” “The apparent lack of consensus in the labour movement played itself out at the Quadrennial Delegates Conference of the NLC in Benin City (February 23-26, 1988). Mallam Ali Chiroma, NLC president seeking re-election, led a faction styled “progressives or Marxists” while Mr Takai Shamang of the National Union of Electricity and Gas workers led another faction styled “the Democrats”. Ali Chiroma was re-elected for a second term while Takai Shamang lost out.
However, the Shamang group declared him NLC president after the Chiroma group had left Benin. The curtain fell on February 29, 1988 with the then Minister for Labour, Alhaji Abubakar Umar during a special Broadcast on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) saying that “the leaders of both factions had already sealed up their minds and decided to relentlessly pursue definite and pre-planned courses of action with the aim of either remaining in office or getting into office by all means, fair or foul.”
He stated further that the regime would not allow ideological and selfish interests to affect the effectiveness of the NLC. Therefore, government issued the National Economic Recovery Emergency Powers (NLC) Order, 1988 under which the NLC was banned and a Sole Administrator, Mr. Michael Ogunkoya, was appointed.
The government’s action has been rationalised in various ways, notably a bid to maintain law and order. But the activities of the two factions between February 26 and 29 did not pose any security threat. The truth is that government action was hasty, anti-labour and an abuse of due process of law. As we have noted in (d) above, such intervention and dissolution of trade unions is undesirable as it “indirectly affects the capacity of unions to organise themselves and thus their capacity to even stay alive.”
Also, the legality of government’s action was worrisome. The then President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Alao Aka-Bashorun recalled that the Shamang faction had filed a suit in 1987 urging that the NLC be dissolved. The suit was thrown out by a Lagos High Court and in the light of this, Aka-Bashorun posited that for government to have taken the action it took was “a dangerous precedent. It shows that if I fail to achieve anything democratically, according to the process of law, I can resort to government power.” Hence, it is believed that government was partisan, in favour of the Shamang group since the Congress leadership had started “refusing to behave”.
It is not as if there were no alternative(s) to government’s action. One of the most appropriate things to do would have been to allow the Ministry of Labour to look into the issues involved through a Board of Inquiry as provided in the Trade Disputes Decree of 1976. Another option would have been to refer the matter to the NIC under the Trade Disputes (Amendment) Decree of 1988 which the government promulgated earlier on in the year.
The Sole Administrator ran the affairs of the NLC for 10 months during which there was no authentic representation of workers at the National level, and thus they could not participate in relevant ILO activities. Again, the leadership that the NLC provided in Industrial Relations at the levels of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) training and labour education were absent during the period. The impact of the NLC’s absence was seen later in the year, when there was a general strike over the increase in fuel prices. At a meeting called by government to discuss the increase, labour insisted that the Sole Administrator be sent out of the meeting because “he was an interloper who couldn’t be part of either the government or labour”. This is obviously an avoidable embarrassment of government and its policies and functionaries.
The National Minimum Wage Decree, 1988: As a result of the strike mentioned above and the increased agitation for a living wage, the government promulgated the law which amended the 1981 National Minimum Wage Act in two precise ways. One, it increased the minimum wage from N100.00 to N125.00. While the workers could rejoice at more money, the increase did not translate into better conditions of living for the average worker. This is because of the very high exchange rate in 1988 compared with the 1981 level. Two, the law only allowed organisations with more than 100 employees to pay the minimum wage as opposed to 50 employees in the 1981 enactment.
There was a ground swell of opposition to this law such that the second provision had to be withdrawn “. In the matter of fixing wages, the IBB regime had only behaved true-to type because unilateral fixing of wages had become a feature of Nigeria’s military regimes. The standard practice, however, is for wages and other conditions of employment to be arrived at through collective bargaining among the parties involved. This practice has been effective in the private sector of the economy. In addition, the admission of a legislation or a part thereof, though could be an admittance of wrong judgement, but it could have been avoided if the issues were properly appreciated in the first place.
Trade Union (Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree, 1989: This legislation amends some sections of the 1973 Trade Union Act, the 1974 Labour Act and the 1976 Trade Disputes Act. The essential elements of the legislation worthy of our consideration are three.
One, it disallows the use of trade union funds for legal proceedings relating to elections or appointment into any trade union office. This provision is against the backdrop of several litigations involving factions of various unions, some obviously jostling for the attention of government which was looking for allies across a broad spectrum of the Nigerian populace. Moreso that the transition program had gained momentum. Inspite of this, the government would not again want to receive the criticisms that greeted its handling of the Chiroma-Shamang face-off.
The import of this provision is that, if any union officer is aggrieved over his election or non-election, and he resorts to litigation, he should personally bear the cost of that exercise. A contravention of this provision carried a fine of N5,000.00 upon conviction. This provision is desirable as it is capable of checking the excesses of incumbent trade union officers who spend union funds in litigations to retain their offices. It is a way of strengthening union finances and reducing the propensity to litigation.
Another provision of this law requires employers of labour to include the list of employees whose check-off dues are deducted in the payment schedule to the union. This has the benefit of ensuring accountability in the deduction and remittance of check-off as well as ascertaining the financial members of the union. A criticism of this provision is that it is unnecessary in view of the fact that the Trade Union (Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree, 1986 discussed above had forbidden employers from compulsory deduction of check- off on behalf of unions. This reveals that the government was not keeping track of its own legislations. The limitation in the military’s legislative process with its apparent lack of necessary consultation becomes obvious.
Three, a provision in this legislation formally deletes the Customs and Excise and immigration staff unions from the list of registered trade unions; and includes the Customs, Immigration and Prison Services as establishments whose staff are prohibited from joining or forming a trade union. This appears to be in furtherance of the powers of the President, under the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act of 1976 to proscribe any trade union or association whose members are engaged in `essential services”. The definition of “essential services” under the 1976 Act is so all-embracing that there is hardly any worker in government employment that is exempted, and the ,same applies to private operators in the banking sub-sector. The major problem here is how realistic and enforceable is 1,e law which forbids people, so covered, from going on strike.
Trade Unions (International Affiliation) Decree, 1989: The law forbids Nigerian trade unions from affiliating to any international labour organisaion or trade secretariat other than the Organisation of African Trade Unions Unity (OAUTUU); the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA); and any other international labour organisation specifically approved by the government. Any previous affiliation became void by this law.
The legislation came into force in view of the intensity of East-West (Communism and Capitalism) rivalry. We do know that the ideological cold war had found its way into the Nigerian trade union movement even before independence. And both tendencies were evident in Nigerian trade unions. However, the IBB -regime willing to maintain, so to say, its non-aligned status sought to insulate trade unions from the super-power rivalry. A comprehensive discussion of the issue of international affiliation and its role in the chequered history of trade unionism in Nigeria had been done.
Most comments on this legislation have been informed largely by the ideological disposition of its writers. One instructive development, however, is that the law was repealed in 1991 through the Trade Unions (International Affiliation) (Repeal) Decree. This was possibly a realistic response to the apparent collapse of East -West rivalry almost creating a unipolar world. However no union is reported to have formally applied to be affiliated to any international labour centre.
Nigeria Labour Party (NLP): This is not really an issue of labour legislation! But it is worthy of a brief appraisal because the development shows how a cooperative relationship between government and labour can prevent compliance with existing laws especially when both parties seem to derive advantage (s) from the “violation”
In 1990, the Babangida regime’s transition to civil rule program gained momentum with the formation of political parties. The NLC, in an apparent support for the program, announced the formation of the Nigeria Labour Party (NLP). The government must- have seen Congress’ participation as a morale booster, though at the end of the day, none of the 13 political associations including the NLP was registered by the regime. In the alternative, the regime created two political, parties- the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). The NLC later canvassed support for the SDP, and its President, Mr. Paschal Bafyau almost became the running mate to the SDP Presidential flagbearer, Chief M.K.O Abiola.
The floating of the NLP by the NLC and its subsequent romance with the SDP were clear violations of Section 15 of the Trade Union Act of 1973. The government could not have claimed- ignorance of this breach of the law moreso that the rival NRC berated the NLC on that score. There was no indication that government called labour to order or imposed sanctions on the congress. The deduction is that labour was actively demonstrating a tacit acceptance of government’s political agenda inspite of the much taunted “hidden agenda” of General Babangida. This clearly shows us that personal, political preferences of rulers play a significant role in the direction (or lack of it) of government policies. This was confirmed later when the same NLC was proscribed by the Abacha regime for being part of “a political strike” to actualise the electoral mandate of the SDP.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (Proscription and prohibition from participation in Trade Union Activities) Decree, 1992: This law was promulgated apparently to clip the radical wings of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) who were on strike for improved conditions of service. By the law, ASUU was proscribed, its Executive Council dissolved; officers removed; and a penalty of N10, 000 fine or 2 years imprisonment or both was imposed for non-compliance. In order to prevent the union from seeking redress in any court of law, an ouster clause which removes the jurisdiction of courts of law to entertain any legal action with respect to the Decree was inserted.
The provisions of the law clearly demonstrates the helplessness of the regime in the face of the media campaign mounted by ASUU to gain public support. This law is objectionably anti-union. But the government would have possibly achieved the same purpose by following certain provisions in the Trade Union Act of 1973 and the Trade Disputes Act of 1976. We recognize, however, that such a recourse to existing legislations would not achieve “an immediate effect” associated with military power play.
In any case the law neither ended the strike nor prevented the university teachers from meeting. They infact went ahead to form an Association of University Teachers and continued with the strike. It took the intervention of “leaders of thought” to finally bring the government and the union to the negotiation table. It should be noted that proscribing a union, in practice, is not easy. Though there are procedures for withdrawing a union’s certificate of registration, the issues at stake cannot be geared out of existence. Collective bargaining, at enterprise/industry level remains a tested instrument of conflict resolution. Even if the negotiation breaks down the matter would have had to be referred to the IAP and NIC.
Trade Disputes (Amendment) Decree, 1992: The law excludes the jurisdiction of any court other than the NIC on matters relating to intra and inter-union disputes. We recognise that the law was promulgated at a time of serious leadership crisis in NUBIFIE and a nation-wide bank workers strike was imminent as a test of strength by the “combatants”. The law thus took the wind off the sail of the warring factions and some peace was maintained.
This kind of legislation would appear appropriate to ensure orderliness in the procedure of settling intra and inter-union disputes. One wonders, however, that the government could not avail itself of such a legislation in the handling of the February 1988 NLC Crisis and the ASUU Strike. The existence of “double standards” in any system can neither strengthen it nor enhance its development. This has been one of the problems of Nigeria Industrial Relations system.
Teaching, Etc, Essential Services Decree, 1993: This legislation made teaching in educational institutions an “essential service” within the meaning of Section 9(1) of the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act. The law further restricts any form of strike by teaching and non- teaching staff; and where a staff continues on strike for more than one week he is deemed to have resigned his appointment. An ouster clause was equally inserted to make the Decree a fait accompli. The Decree was obviously aimed at ASUU members who were again on strike at the time. But its provisions have been so sweeping as to lump all workers in educational institutions together inspite of the fact that they have different unions.
This law appears to be unnecessary because all public sector workers have invariably become essential services workers going by the definition in the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act of 1976. Do we really need another law to specifically make teaching an essential service, or is it that government is unaware of the provisions of the 1976 law? The point would still have been made by reading out the relevant provisions of the 1976 law, proceed to implement it and punish offenders in accordance with the law. Again, there are provisions for the resignation or termination of appointments in every individual contract of employment and Section 11 of the Labour Act is clear on the procedure.
Government even as a sovereign authority cannot decide when an employee has withdrawn his services, especially when the affected people stated that their work is not limited to teaching. Also an ouster clause is an indirect acceptance of flawed logic. If not, why should something be done and be shielded from criticism or evaluation by an arbiter’?
Teaching, Etc (Essential Services) Amendment Decree, 1993: This law amends the relevant law above to (i.) compel a staff on strike to vacate official accommodation; (ii) sentence to 2 years imprisonment for not vacating official accommodation; and (iii) prevent any civil proceeding from being instituted against the government. The decree was promulgated 7 weeks after the previous one as the strike continued and the teachers still remained in their offices and residences. Some universities, however, were reported to have actually “ejected” their academic staff from official quarters.
This legislation is ridiculous. It is also ironic that while the regime was prepared to take those who refuse to obey it to court for trial (and possible conviction), the same regime excludes the jurisdiction of any court from determining the propriety of its action. One could imply that the government does believe in the propriety of its action when it is the defendant but would want the judiciary to adjudicate (obviously in its favour) when it is the plaintiff. This is a contradiction as the law, in one vein, ousts the jurisdiction of courts, and in another, the court is expected to try the offender.
These provisions border on expediency. And their contradiction are the results of excessive legislations that are punitive rather than developmental. They cannot advance standard practice in Industrial Relations.
Association of Academic Staff of Universities (Proscription and Prohibition), Decree, 1993: This decree was signed on the same day (June 22, 1993) that the one above was promulgated. It was as if the regime suddenly realised that the university lecturers had formed another association (union) and like its predecessor ought to be banned. The law banned the new association, provided for a term of 2 years’ imprisonment upon conviction for membership of the association; and ousts the jurisdiction of any court of law from entertaining any suit based on whatever is done under the decree.
This is the first time in recent Nigerian history that membership of an open organisation would attract terms of imprisonment. Apart from being an anomaly in industrial tripartism, it is a crude curtailment of individual rights to association. In Industrial Relations, this type of legislation is strange and its forceful enforcement can only breed anarchy in the system. That showed the extent to which the IBB regime in its dying days went in trying to maintain its power and prestige. It is still a contradiction in law for a court to try an “offender” and pass judgement in the face of an ouster clause.
It is important to note that due to the absurdity of this legislation, the regime bowed to superior logic and repealed it 2 months after. Maybe it was a “parting gift”!
National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission Decree, 1993: The law establishes the Commission stating its membership, functions and modus operandi. The commission did not function throughout the days of the regime. The issue however is that we do not really need this law. The standard practice, internationally, is for employers and employees, through their accredited representatives to freely and collectively bargain the terms and conditions of employment. The private sector organisations have their own ‘ systems of determining wages without the usual fanfare associated with public sector wage awards which are obviously meant to achieve political advantage. In the public sector, the government only needs to re-activate the Public Service Negotiating Councils for its various categories of staff.
Conclusions and Recommendations
From the foregoing discussion, we can conclude as follows that the leadership of the Nigerian trade union movement at certain points during the IBB regime enjoyed cooperative relationship with the government and at other times, worst forms of deleterious government intervention in their affairs. The unions were thus vulnerable even in the face of a seemingly benevolent military dictatorship.
There was a dominance of government and a preponderance of labour legislation which were rooted in the loose process of legislation in a military regime. Hence two laws, for example, were signed on the same day in June 1993 to address different thoughts on the same problem. Some of those laws were unnecessary and the situations they sought to address could have been equally dealt with by existing legislations; some of those legislations are developmental in orientation thereby positively shaping Nigerian Industrial Relations practice. Others border on socio-economic and political exigencies of the times which are more or less interim measures that cannot be sustained.
When we relate the content, import and impact of these legislations to the philosophy of the regime, we can see clear deviations from some of the principles at inauguration. However, up to mid- 1986 and occasionally afterwards the government attempted to keep faith with the people. But after settling down, the reality of governance tasked the “benevolence” of the regime, so it could not be sustained to serve the common good. In any case, the IBB regime through its labour legislations, contributed both developmentally and negatively to Nigeria’s Industrial Relations system. Our recommendations are that there is the ever-present need to ensure d cooperative and harmonious Industrial Relations system for the common good through labour legislations.
Government must make laws for the development of the system, and also be subject to them. Ouster clauses, like the military in governance, are aberrations that must be done away with. There should be a tripartite review and codification of all labour legislations to remove contradictions and promote synergy in Industrial Relations. The trade union movement must define and abide by its historic mission and strengthen its own internal machinery to insulate it from undue government intervention and assure its relative independence.
- The paper draws largely from my thesis on An assessment of Labour Legislations Under Military Regimes in Nigeria (1985-1988)
- Dunlop, J.T: Industrial Relations System, New York: Holt (1958), p.60
- Emiola, A.; Nigerian Labour Law, Ibadan: University Press (1982) p. l
- Kahn- Freund, O, Labour and the Law, London; Stevens and Sons (1977) p.3
- Acquinas, T, Summa Theologica, (1266)
- Abereoran, A.J “The Impact of Labour Legislations on Industrial Relations in Nigeria” paper presented at a Professional development forum of the Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria, Kwara State Branch September 1998 (Unpublished)
- Newswatch Magazine, September 9, 1985
- Damachi, U.G; The Role of Trade Unions in the Development Process with Case Study of Ghana, New York: Praeger Publishers (1974) pp 67-77
- For more insight into the SAP-Alternative to SAP debate, see Asante, S.K.B., African Development: Adebayo Adedeji’s Alternative Strategies, Ibadan: Spectrum Books(1991)
- Factories Decree No 16 of 1987, Lagos: Government Printer.
- NECA, Compendium of Nigerian LabourLaws, Lagos: NECA (1996) p. 27
- Oluyemi- Kusa, D;, ” The Political Process and Industrial Relations in Nigeria”, in Fashoyin, T (ed), Industrial Relations and African Development, New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, (1992) pp 60-61
- Otobo, D., “Trade Union-Government Relations Under Military Rule in Nigeria, An, Overview”, in Adewumi, F(ed.) Trade Unions, National Development and Militan, Rule, Lagos, Friedrich Ebert Foundation (1998), p 39
- Newswatch Magazine, op cit
- Lakemfa, O., “The Trade Union Movement: Travails and Struggles” in Adewumi, F (ed), Trade Unionism in Nigeria: Challenges for the 21st Centun, Lagos: Friedrich Ebert Foundation (1997), p 101.
- See Otobo, D., Foreign Interests and Nigerian Trade Unions, lbadan,: Heinemann, 1986