Nigerian Labour Faces Uphill Battle for Justice by Owei Lakemfa



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This year’s May Day served as a poignant reminder of the challenges confronting Nigerian workers in their quest for justice and fair treatment under the law. Despite being a cornerstone of our socio-economic fabric, workers continue to grapple with systemic inequalities and obstacles to their well-being, particularly within the arbitration system designed to uphold their rights.

At the forefront of this discourse were presentations by Justice Benedict Bakwaph Kanyip of the National Industrial Court (NIC) and Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). While Justice Kanyip sought to portray the NIC as a bastion of neutrality and reliability, Mr Falana raised concerns about collusion between the court and government entities, particularly in cases involving industrial action by workers.

The issue of neutrality within the NIC, especially in cases involving government interests, emerged as a central point of contention during the May Day discussions. This raises fundamental questions about the court’s ability to adjudicate impartially and uphold the rights of workers in the face of powerful interests.

For many, accessing justice remains an arduous journey, compounded by financial constraints and legal complexities. The plight of the poor, who lack the resources to engage in protracted legal battles, underscores the urgent need for a more accessible and responsive judicial system.

A key proposal put forth is the establishment of a specialized industrial court, dedicated to expeditiously resolving disputes between employers and employees without succumbing to legal technicalities. Such a court would prioritize the principles of justice and fairness over legal formalities, ensuring that workers’ rights are safeguarded effectively.

The founding ethos of the NIC as a tripartite court, representing the interests of government, employers, and workers, has been eroded over time. The sidelining of institutional representatives and the narrowing of membership to legal professionals have compromised the court’s independence and effectiveness in addressing labour disputes.

Moreover, recent pronouncements by Justice Kanyip have raised concerns about the court’s stance on workers’ rights, particularly regarding the right to strike and the formation of new trade unions. These positions, if unchecked, threaten to undermine decades of progress in labour rights and collective bargaining.

In light of these challenges, it is imperative that Nigerian labour centers and civil society organizations advocate for reforms to strengthen judicial accountability and protect workers’ rights. The NIC should be reimagined as a beacon of justice, guided by principles of fairness, transparency, and inclusivity.

Ultimately, the struggle for justice in the workplace is inseparable from the broader fight for social and economic equality. By championing the cause of Nigerian workers, we uphold the dignity and rights of all citizens, advancing the collective vision of a more just and equitable society.

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