Modern slavery in the corporate world: Labour in Nigeria

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In the Old Testament era, people threshed corns by making big animals (cows) to march on corns to peel. Some farmers would tie the threshing animals’ mouths to prevent them from eating the corns they threshed. However, recognizing the dignity of labour, the prophets warned that farmers should not tie the animal’s mouth while threshing grain.[1] For a labourer, who is not a slave, deserves to reap justifiable measure from the fruits of his/her labour. Hence, modern situations in which people work without receiving justifiable measures of their labour represents modern slavery.

Human labour may be defined as the physical or mental effort and time that humans apply in executing given tasks. Though it is imperfectly measured by output, labour remains a force behind wealth-creation and historical achievements. Through motivation, direct or indirect force, different societies organize and improve their labour force to meet latest social demands. While dignified labour is motivated and rewarded with commensurate wages, slave labour is forcefully exploited with incommensurately little or no wages. However, progressive societies choose dignified labour in order to obtain the best services from a motivated labour force. Hence, a pioneer car manufacturer, Henry Ford, insists that workers be paid enough to flourish and purchase the vehicles they manufacture.


The treatment of labour in Nigeria has caused a reference to Nigerian labour as modern slavery. Successful societies create wealth by applying organized labour on natural resources to produce tools and finished products for human use.[2] Unfortunately, British colonialists created Nigeria by yoking several unconsented cities, kingdoms and communities under a militarized federal government[3] for exploitation.[4] The government arbitrarily seizes and auctions the mineral resources[5][6][7] which the various peoples could have used to create wealth. Afterwards, the Nigerian government employs few labour to import and distribute infrastructure, goods and services as dividends of democracy.[8]

Nigeria’s industrial/production sector lacks access to mineral resources and cannot demand inventive initiatives from the research and academic sector. Thus, the idea of labour in Nigeria is limited to exportation of crude resources and importation, prescription and distribution of foreign goods and services. This situation creates a gap between the people’s needs and their ability to utilize natural resources in solving their problems. Almost every Nigerian street has problems of electricity, furniture, lack of equipment, water, food, waste-management, structural maintenance and human relationship. Yet, the unemployed cannot address these problems gainfully without assurance of payment and tools produced from mineral resources. Through restrictive policies, the centralised government channels finances to salaries and importation of few foreign goods, services and ideas.


The effect of this situation, which has attracted the reference of corporate slavery in Nigeria is observable in several instances:

  • The restriction of access to mineral resources drastically reduces the demand for productive labour in Nigeria, thereby causing unemployment. The unemployment created by confiscating all mineral resources forces people to scramble and beg even for odd and undignified jobs just to survive.
  • Out of frustration, inventive people abandon their manufacturing initiatives and talents for importation, calculation and distribution jobs. They hardly get job satisfaction by working in sectors that are unsuitable for their natural disposition and intelligence. Hence, Nigeria misses the opportunity of benefitting from their creativity and harmonized initiative.
  • The huge rush for employment among the few service and importation firms gives the employers undue advantage to down-price labour. They also use divide and rule technique to exploit employees through elevated ‘slaves’ posed as managers.
  • Thus, the employers exploit workers’ labour even on weekends, public holidays and daily extra-hours with threat of replacement with ‘millions of unemployed’.
  • The labour exploitation often yield huge profits that may never reflect in the worker’s wage, allowances or health-insurance. Hence, some bankers calculate other customers’ millions and bank’s billion-profits without financial capacity to own half-a-million naira car.
  • Due to the abundance of unengaged labour force, many private employers use recruitment agencies to employ and control workers. These agencies mediate between workers and employers to negotiate wages and conditions, and to decide the workers’ salary. This arrangement exposes Nigerian workers to double exploitation: from EMPLOYERS and then from RECRUITMENT AGENCIES.
  • Out of desperation, Nigerians seek employment with unqualified and cruel foreign companies, who unleash their racism on Nigerians in Nigeria. This brutality is mostly witnessed in Asian companies taking advantage of unemployment situation and government laxity to exploit Nigerian labour. There have been many suppressed reports of bodily injuries, extended wage-denials, physical restraint of movement, sexual harassments and industrial hazards.
  • The workers seek consolation in the excuse of being employed, albeit exploitatively, among millions of qualified but unemployed Nigerians.
  • Due to poverty caused by lack of education and resource-confiscation for productivity, parents expose their children to labour exploitation. There are constant reports of minors[9] who are molested, mutilated, maltreated and starved as nannies, hawkers, housekeepers and other covers.

Despite its cruelty, labour exploitation may not reduce in Nigeria without a reorganization of the leaking Nigeria’s socio-political structure. Wealth is created by applying labour to natural resources for production before distribution through marketing, financial and social services. And unless there is a renewed focus on activating different Nigerians’ capacity to develop and gainfully apply labour on natural resources, the corporate slavery will continue. Thus, a responsible government will focus on activating the citizens’ capacity to apply skilled labour on natural resources for wealth-creation. The process of activating citizen’s capacity to apply skilled labour in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria may include:

  • Organizing intra-sectional conferences that will culminate in a national conference for different sections and peoples in Nigeria to decide who they are, what they have and how they want to collaborate for productivity in Nigeria.[10] This includes knowledge of each section’s coachable and employable population, and their natural resources for productivity.
  • Inviting local and foreign-trained engineers and industrialists to coordinate the training and employment of Nigerians according to resources in their specific sections.
  • Assisting Nigerians from different sections to distribute semi-processed resources within Nigeria for higher processing and productivity.
  • Inviting local and foreign manufacturers to set up plants for utilizing Nigeria’s semi-processed natural resources for producing Nigerian consumable products. This will employ more Nigerians in providing solutions to the numerous physical shortages in Nigeria.
  • Evaluating and fortifying the monitoring capacity of sectional branches of the Nigerian Labour Congress to check the level of labour exploitation in foreign and local companies. Also, the congress will develop a special sector for regulating domestic labour against exploiting minors and less-privileged. This check includes periodic reports from employers and employees about labour relationship within their establishment for approval or penalty.
  • Establishing special courts for industrial affairs in education, production, quality-control and general labour management. With this establishment, it may be considered a crime to employ minors or to exploit domestic staffs and unregistered workers. The correction of foreign and local labour defaulters with prison terms, fines and reparations will help them appreciate Nigeria’s beauty.


Despite the structural inability to utilize Nigerians industrial capacity to solve Nigeria’s physical problems, a responsible government will arise. Then Nigeria’s social structure will be reorganized to ensure Nigerians’ motivated and enhanced contribution to Nigeria’s development.

[1] I Corinthians 9:9, Deuteronomy 25:4, 1 Timothy 5:18

[2] Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa 2009 edition (Abuja: Panaf publishers, 2009). p23

[3] Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[4] Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, 2009 edition (Abuja: Panaf publishers, 2009)

[5] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2

[6] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[8] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Waiting for the dividends of democracy: an endless waiting” in Restartnaija 31st October, 2017. retrieved 15th May, 2018.

[9] People who are below the legal age of work and responsibility, which is 18 years.

[10] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Police reform: role of police in a new Nigeria” in Restartnaija 27th February, 2018. retrieved 15th May, 2018.

Featured image was obtained from Udeozo Chibuzo: