Managing labour unions and strike actions for justice in Nigeria

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Labour unions

In polygamous families, when wives feel their husband is stingy, they turn the children against him or deny him intimacy. The wives may stop collecting his insufficient money, or starve the children to blame their father’s stinginess. The wives’ demands may be genuine to take care of the family, or fabricated just to extort the man unnecessarily. In either case, a wise man negotiates sincerely with his wives to avoid further breakdown of order in his family. In social dissatisfaction and strike actions, responsible governments sincerely negotiate with labour unions on tasks and rewards for peace and progress.


Strike actions have become so constant in Nigeria that students leave space for unexpected strikes when planning their future. Some patients have been abandoned to suffer or even die due to strike actions in public hospitals. Civil servants complain that politicians allocate nonstop huge allowances to themselves, while frustrating workers’ conditions and rewards. Hence, lecturers, health-workers, social service providers, office aides, public institution workers and even marketers often boycott work in protest. To avoid individual victimization by government or private institutions, these workers form different stages of unions for protecting their interests. The apex body formed for protecting workers’ interests in Nigeria is called Nigerian Labour Congress.


Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was founded in 1978 following a merger of four different organisations: Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers Council (NWC).[1] The numerous affiliated unions were restructured into 42 industrial unions (find list at the bottom of the page). Since then the congress has continued to interfere in employers/government’s policies that affect Nigerian workers. They begin, sustain and/or interrupt several strike actions to protest perceived injustices or demand supposed rights. The inconsistence of the strike resumption and suspension often cast doubts on the genuineness of the demands and protests. Some people suggest that labour unions use strikes to exploit the society more than their productive roles in Nigeria. Thus, it becomes necessary to trace the productive roles of Nigerian workers from beginning till present.


Role of Nigeria workers from the colonial era till now

Nigerian workers’ roles is traceable to the functions of the indigenous assistants to former colonial masters. Colonialists created Nigeria by violently binding several unconsented kingdoms and communities[2][3] under a militarized government for exploiting mineral resources.[4] They executed, jailed or exiled the people that opposed their takeover, and trained few loyal ones to assist in local administration.[5] Before leaving at independence, they fixed a constitution to guide their indigenous replacements[6] in seizing and exporting the people’s resources.[7][8][9]


Thus, the major purpose for creating and sustaining Nigeria is for exploiting resources for colonialists, not for indigenous wellbeing. Other administrative efforts in education, healthcare, infrastructure and social regulation are excuses to justify the imposed social structure and seizure of resources. Then, Nigerian government created states, local governments and ministries to share few foreign products obtained from selling seized mineral resources. Hence, Nigerian workers are not meant to produce industrial products, but to export crude resources, and to regulate and share imported products to Nigerians. These works distract and hinder different Nigerian communities from retrieving their resources for modern productivity and economic independence.


Why are workers and labour unions neglected in Nigeria?

Government’s reluctance in improving workers’ conditions and allowances bears a silent message of disregard for their roles in the society. If materially unproductive housewives starve themselves and the children to push their demands, the man may not take them seriously. He will hope that when they get too hungry, they will yield. But when the wives contribute greatly to the family business, and can block his source of income by their absence, he takes them more seriously. Some of the reasons why Nigerian government may not take Nigerian workers and labour unions very seriously include:


  • Nigerian workers and labour unions seem to lack real contribution to gainful productivity, as Nigeria imports most of what it consumes. Thus, government simply auctions seized mineral resources to foreigners in exchange for foreign products and money.
  • Nigerian government does not see labour unions and civil service as gainfully productive investments, but as settlements to pacify few Nigerians. Hence, government expects labour unions and civil servants to be grateful for having the jobs to do without productivity.
  • Due to the confiscation and exportation of various communities’ mineral resources that could have been used for productivity, many Nigerians are jobless. Hence, both private and public institutions downgrade workers and labour unions in Nigeria.
  • Sometimes, leaders of these labour unions are accused of instigating workers out of greed or political interests.


Reorganizing Nigeria for a productive relationship between government and labour unions

Without a sincere negotiation and agreement on worker’s roles and rewards for local productivity, strikes will continue happening. This difficulty in reaching a productive agreement springs from the root of Nigerian formation: Nigerians have never agreed or been given a chance to agree what Nigeria is.[10] Hence, a sincere government will reorganize Nigeria for productivity, so workers can contribute and exchange labour from actuation products. The process of reorganizing Nigerian labour for productivity above import dependence may include:

  • Conducting a social research to ascertain and acknowledge the different Nigeria’s peoples and their respective lands and resources.[11]
  • Organizing intercommunal conferences for the ethnic communities from local governments to states towards a national conference. This will create an avenue for Nigerian ethnic groups to decide on their mode of partnership. Thus, constitutional decisions and laws will be developed to reflect the people’s beliefs and agreement for better partnership.
  • Convoking local/foreign-trained specialists to train the people to process their local resources for advanced production.
  • Returning the people’s resources for them to begin producing what they use and trade, and then pay tax to central government. This will encourage government to protect the people’s productivity for better tax-returns, and encourage citizens to produce modern tools and commodities. It will also make Nigerian government more responsible in providing better regulations for labour in productive activities. A gainfully productive people with productive industries of semi-processed raw materials will want their workers motivated.
  • Creating loans for people with viable ideas to gather labour and raw-materials from local producers for advanced production.

Managing the labour unions for social justice

  • Identifying labour unions for producers and service-providers to ensure proper training and periodic retraining on labour ethics. Motivated workers form cordial bonds with employers and attract sponsorship, investments and patronage to their organizations.
  • Use social media and other communication channels to educate the society on the negative effects of exploiting public/private employers: lesser productivity for the whole society, end of some businesses and increased unemployment for all.
  • Setting measures for expected output or executed tasks for employees to work with discipline and ethics. Employment is for producing and exchanging goods and services in the society, not charity for unproductivity.
  • Formulate policies and laws to tackle labour exploitation like forced labour and manipulation of contract terms. Penalties for labour exploitation by employers may include arrests, trials, fines and jail-terms. And the government or public institutions could be made to pay for damages to employees.
  • To ensure the genuineness of demands by labour unions instead of political manipulations of their leaders, the labour unions must conduct secret ballots among all members to determine their willingness and reason to embark on the strike.[12] Thus, going on strike without a proper secret ballot to show majority of workers’ true disposition becomes illegal. And, government can begin to arrest rabble rousers, sack strikers and re-employ those eager to work.


Without producing actual goods and services in the society, labour unions may not have the right leverage to demand higher shares in imported goods and services.



NLC Affiliates

  1. Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)[13]
  2. Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP)
  3. Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions
  4. Agriculture and Allied Employees of Nigeria (AAEUN)
  5. Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Insititions (ASSBIFI)
  6. Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE)
  7. Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU)
  8. Iron & Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria
  9. Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria
  10. Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN)
  11. Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN)
  12. Metal Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (MEPROSSAN)
  13. National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT)
  14. National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM)
  15. National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE)
  16. National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees
  17. National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Employees (NUCFLANMPE)
  18. National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW)
  19. National Union of Electricity Employees of Nigeria (NUEEN)
  20. National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees of Nigeria (NUFBTEN)
  21. National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers (NUHPSWN)
  22. National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG)
  23. National Union of Posts and Telecommunication Employees (NUPTE)
  24. National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW)
  25. National Union of Printing, Publishing and Paper Products Workers
  26. National Union of Lottery Agents and Employees
  27. National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE)
  28. National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN)
  29. Nigeria Civil Service Union
  30. Nigeria Union of Civil Service Secretariat Stenographic Workers
  31. Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)
  32. Nigeria Union of Local Government employees (NULGE)
  33. Nigeria Union of Mine Workers (NUMW)
  34. Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP)
  35. Nigeria Union of Railwaymen
  36. Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT)
  37. Nigeria Welders and Fitters Union (NIWELFU)
  38. Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions
  39. Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria
  40. Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU)
  41. Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP)
  42. Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU)
  43. Steel & Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN)


[2] 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

[3] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.445

[4] Cf. Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa (Abuja: Panaf, 2009). P.293

[5] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.318

[6] Walter Rodney, op. cit. 319.

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2 “… all lands in which minerals have been found in Nigeria and any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone shall, from the commencement of this Act be acquired by the Government of the Federation…”  “No person shall search for or exploit mineral resources in Nigeria or divert or impound any water for the purpose of mining except as provided in this Act.”  “The property in mineral resources shall pass from the Government to the person by whom the mineral resources are lawfully won, upon their recovery in accordance with this Act.”

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

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

[10] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.445

[11] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “The social research for a new Nigeria” in Restartnaija June 5, 2018. retrieved

[12] Cf. Lee Kwan Yew, From third world to first

[13] NLC Affiliates