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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Nigeria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Nigeria, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 158,400,000
Capital: Abuja

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Injuries: 2
Arrests: 2
Imprisonments: 2
Dismissals: 13

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Bank workers were sacked for their union membership and recognition of their union was withdrawn. Oil workers found themselves harassed for their union membership and both striking doctors and university lecturers were threatened with the sack if they took strike action over the non-recognition of collective agreements. Two union leaders in the public sector were arrested, beaten and put on trial for attempted murder after a peaceful meeting in support of minimum wage demands was attacked by police and security forces.


Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential elections in March, vowing to be tough on corruption. The country remained plagued by unrest, particularly attacks by the Boko Haram radical Islamist group. The group claimed responsibility for the killing of 23 people in a bomb attack on the UN headquarters in August. In December nearly 70 people were killed in fighting between security forces and Boko Haram militants and a further 40 died in a Christmas Day bombing. There was also considerable social unrest during the year over the reluctance of many states to pay their workers the N 18.000 (about $120) minimum wage. Although Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer more than half of its people still live in poverty.

Trade union rights in law

Despite the repeal of some of the anti-labour decrees from the military era, many restrictions still remain. To register a union, the organisation must represent at least 50 workers, and a union cannot be registered where another union already exists. Workers in essential services do not enjoy freedom of association, and organising in the country's export processing zones is virtually impossible. Furthermore, the Registrar has broad powers to supervise the trade union accounts at any time.

Although the law recognises the right to collective bargaining, every agreement on wages in the private sector must be registered with the Ministry of Labour, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding or not. The right to strike is likewise restricted, as the Trade Disputes Act imposes compulsory arbitration. In addition, strikes that concern conflicts of interest or economic issues, including the government's social or economic policy, are prohibited. Also, strikers may not block airports nor obstruct public highways, institutions or premises of any kind. The penalties for participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Casualisation leading to lower standards and falling union membership in the oil industry: A study entitled "Oil and Casualisation of Labor in the Niger Delta" by the US Solidarity Center depicts the social erosion affecting the lives of Nigerian oil workers due to casualisation, or contract or outsourced work. "There is an industry-wide shift away from regular, full-time work toward forms of cheaper temporary labour and short-term contracting," notes the executive summary. The 36-page study says that under one-half of the country's oil and gas workers are unionised, down from 60% in 2003. "The casualisation model enables employers to ignore workplace standards and workers' social needs and to create a strong barrier against workplace organising" says the study. The oil industry has a history of anti-union attitudes, including replacing union members with contract workers.

"Abysmal" respect for workers' and trade union rights in EPZs:

A report based on research by the ITUC and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on "The state of trade unionism and industrial relations practice in Nigeria's Export Processing Zones", published in January 2011, describes the respect of workers' rights in the zones as "abysmal". The study found that attempts by trade unions to operate in the 11 EZPs currently active in Nigeria were largely rebuffed by anti-union employers and workers fearful of losing their jobs, with only minimal success won after long and bitter struggles. Some attempts by union organisers in the Calabar EPZ for example led to them being harassed, arrested and briefly detained.

The report also notes that the EPZ authorities and most of the firms operating within them do all they can to frustrate any meaningful social dialogue. As a result there are no distinct EPZ collective bargaining structures or agreements. Some employers, such as those in the footwear industry, are technically bound by sectoral agreements, but it is not clear whether they are actually implemented within the EPZs. Nor can this be checked very easily, as there is no effective labour inspection of the zones. The Ministry of Labour and Productivity did send inspectors to the Calabar zone in 2008, after lengthy negotiation and the reluctant agreement of the Calabar Free Trade Zone authority. It found unfair labour practices to be the norm, but after being warned very firmly that companies would pull out if the findings were made public and that further inspections would deter investors, the Ministry decided to take no further action, and has since steered clear of the EPZs.


Striking lecturers told return to work or be sacked: On 17 January the Governing Council of Rivers State University of Science and Technology, RSUST, ordered members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU, to resume work or get sacked. ASUU went on strike in October 2010, followed by NASU in December 2010, in protest at the refusal of the state government to honour the agreement reached between the Federal Government and the education workers' unions ASUU, NASU, SSANU and NAAT. In some other universities the strike was called off as the authorities agreed to implement the agreement. The ASUU did suspend its strike to give the university more time to implement the agreement, but it failed to do so, and further strikes followed. The dispute remained unresolved by December.

Bank withdraws union recognition and dismisses 13 union activists: Management at the Union Bank of Nigeria, UBN, Plc, withdrew recognition from its branch of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI, affiliated to the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Union Bank Association of Senior Staff, UBASS, in January, claiming they were not registered in accordance with the law. The bank also dismissed 13 workers, claiming they had all committed "unethical acts", but many believed the real reason behind the dismissals was their union activities. Other union members found themselves transferred to remote branches, for no justifiable reason. The Group Managing Director of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mrs Funke Osibodu claimed she had nothing against the NLC. However she was later quoted in a staff meeting threatening to dismiss any staff found to express interest in unionism or associate with the NLC. The NLC gave the bank a seven day ultimatum to withdraw its de-recognition of ASSBIFI, and await the decision of the Industrial Arbitration Panel (AIP) which was examining the legality of the union's registration. When the bank did not abide by that deadline, the NLC announced week-long picket of the UBN, from 14 to 19 February. According to the NLC the bank then deployed security agencies, notably soldiers, to manhandle and hound union leaders many of whom had gone into hiding. Mrs. Osibodu reportedly boasted that she had deployed soldiers to guard all its branches across the country and ordered them to shoot-at-sight any worker who tried to picketing.

Harassment of union leaders: The Branch Chairman and other executive committee members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) found themselves the victims of victimisation. The Petroleum Equalisation Fund Management Board (PEF) began aggressive interference in union affairs following a successful PENGASSAN campaign forced PEF management to promote over 70% of its staff who had stagnated at the same grade for upwards of six years. PEF set up a panel to investigate union member activity in terms of their adherence to union rules, clearly not the jurisdiction of management, and a breach of union independence intended to undermine PENGASSAN. The union warned the PEF in June that it would face widespread industrial unrest if the victimisation continued.

Union leader and colleague arrested, beaten and imprisoned: Osmond Ugwu and Raphael Elobuike were arrested at a workers rally on 24 October 2011 in Enugu and detained on charges of the attempted murder of a policeman. The rally was held by public servants in protest over the dismissal of Mr. Ugwu, leader of the Enugu Workers' Forum, a body created during recent strike action to press for payment of the minimum wage. Ugwu and other workers had gathered at the Nigeria Labour Congress office for prayers when a combined team of soldiers, police and operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) arrived, leading to the confrontation. During the clashes a policeman received head injuries for which he had to be hospitalised. The two arrested public servants were held in Enugu Federal Prison in South East Nigeria after reportedly being beaten and tortured during arrest and in police custody. They went to trial in December – after a judge refuse to hear the case in November – but journalists were banned from covering proceedings. Both men were still in prison at the end of the year.

Union members harassed as army takes over power facility: Troops that were deployed from 14 November to guard public power company installations nationwide began harassing, detaining then releasing members of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). The union disputed the government's claim that that troops were deployed to guard installations against terrorist attacks by the Islamic sect Boko Haram. The union believed that government deployed troops to ensure that the privatisation sale of the PHCN – still under negotiation – was pushed through. The NUEE called on its members to organise peaceful marches to protest at the non-payment of the 50% salary increment since June, as well as the harassment of union members by security officials.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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