Relationship Between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) And Government

Relationship Between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) And Government – A CASE STUDY OF NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC)

Relationship Between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) And Government


       Labour is one of the factors of production in economic parlance, but assumes of primary place since it is the synthesis of all other factors of production1. According to Atoffer, labour is the exertion of the human, mental and physical nature  geared towards earning economic advantages, profits, rents, wages, commissions e.t.c2.

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`      Also, Bryan A.Ganer et al, see labour as “work for  wages”. Having gotten what labour is  all about, there is need to understand the meaning of a labour movement in reference to our study. Labour movement according to Edylue Ezenongaya, refers to “those who are structurally and conditionally positioned to look only for wages or salaries through bargaining or exchange process with the owners and shareholders of the production enterprise”4. Bryan A. Garner et al, while using the word union, see it as “ an organisation formed to negotiate with employees, on behalf of salary, benefits, hours and working condition”5. Labour movement may not only aim towards salary or wage increment, but can have a wide range of interest which the union will help them achieve. So it is the set of people who are structurally organised (workers) into an association in order to improve their lot.

In most countries of the world, the relationship between government and the labour unions happens to be characterised by controversy. Even in the industrialised world, the labour in as much as  they are unrelenting and committed in contributing their own quota to national development, remains sensitive and uncompromising in matter pertaining to welfare and good living. The broader development in the relationship between the employers and employees, and especially between government and labour union has its trace with the industrial revolution with the factory system of production, the growth of a proletariat and the development of trade union6.

Historically, anywhere in the world, organised labour at one or the other disagreed with those in power on a number of issues. What is different is the way a particular labour group or government has responded to issues of disagreement whereas in Nigeria, organised labour cannot be associated with any political party in government either at federal or state, but counties like South Africa have labour centres linked to the ruling party; for instance, the congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) which is the trade union wing of the African National Congress.7 That notwithstanding, the union had series of counter-demonstrations against the ruling party (ANC). Also, in Great Britain, the labour party is currently in power. This notwithstanding, they still protest against several policies they deem inimical to them and the masses.

In Nigeria, there is no doubt that the attitude of labour towards government is as a result of what is obtainable in the country’s politico-economic system. For as long as other political parties which should table the lead in bringing the government to order remain armchair critics, for as long would labour union play the role of opposition.

What may now see as labour’s opposition role could be traced to the 1986 May Day speech of a former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ali  Chiroma. In the past five years of the Obasanjor administration, petroleum product prices have been increased five times, from N22 in 1999 to N54.50k in 2004. and consistently, it is only labour that has stood up to fight  for the people against the harsh policies of the government, not the P.D.P., which has been emasculated, not the opposition parties “which has been compromised and disorganised by sponsored crisis”.8  If the government believes that NLC is drafting  away from its objectives, it might because the government is gradually losing public confidence and the masses would rally behind and alternative credible opposition, not necessarily a rival political party in the country.

The government head by Chief Obasanjo has been following the development with every attention. The activities of this labour union to him looks undemocratic”, but the most important thing is that the government is no longer comfortable with what she termed the excesses of the labour union, like a sitting dog, has not forgotten how to bark or even bite.



       This research work will basically examine the relationship between the government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), since the re-emergence of democracy on the Nigeria political scene. The Labour (workers) have found it expedient to fight democratically for what is their entitlement the government on her side is getting up necessary machinery in place to curtail what she termed the excess of a democratic institution. The research is to examine the state of affairs with the aim of answering some unanswered questions like, how democratic the activities of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are the extent of democratic approach to labour agitation (on the side of the government) the commitment of the government towards restoring the plight of workers and Nigerians and so on.



       The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) happened to be one of the largest organisation in Nigeria, made up of many workers. Her relationship with government in power should be a concern of an average citizen of Nigeria. According to the leaders of the labour union, their cause is to see if or welfare of not only the workers but also the entire Nigerians: while the government in power still asserts its own determination to better the condition of all Nigerians. However, the various disputes witnessed so far between the government and the labour must have been as a result of disagreements the question is who then is not fighting for the welfare of the entire Nigerians? Maybe they are doing the same but employing different strategies. There is need for a study of the relationship between these two strong forces, the government (head by Chief Obasanjo) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (under Comrade Oshiomole). These two forces no doubt, have been creating various questions which this research intends to answer and by implication, come up with the true situation of things.


       Much has been said about the kind of relationship existing between the labour and government. The wrangling and incessant rivalries cum disputes between them, resulting to strikes, protests, rallies against several government policies which have become an issue of public debate.

Even the government has come up with the idea of democratising the labour union by making it less dictatorial. This is envisaged in the trade union amendment bill in 2004. A move by the government of Chief Obasanjo to democratise labour.

By focusing on the relationship between the government and other Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) the researcher intends to create a general awareness by throwing more light and giving deep insight on the burning issue.


This research work is based on an open system approach and design, it adopted a multi-disciplinary approach, which combine methodologies from the social sciences, Art and Law.

The preliminary investigation is mainly documentary, this involves analysis of the existing information or relations on labour relations with the government especially that of Obasanjo’s regime. However, adequate scrutiny was carried out on the information ad document by the research to ascertain its credibility.



       This work is the study of government as it relates to the Nigeria Labour Congress, for better result, as been limited to involve in to many. Every study and research has been narrowed to this period and as a result, the researcher has been focused on the events and documentary within the period under study to be able to achieve a desired result.

Naturally, some problems will be encountered in the course of a research of this nature. The distance between the researcher and material source happened to have posed a big challenge to the researcher. Though it was relatively taken care of , it was a hard knot to crack..

Time happened to be another factor; which limited the study. The researcher  who as a regular student, with limited time to engage in the research battles over lectures and research engagements.



       Many books on research methodology,  for instance, A manual for writers fifth edition, written by Kate. The word government, according to the dictionary of Political Science by T.K. Nanda, is use to represent “both the body that is in power in a given unit whether national, regional or local and the whole constitutional systems in this study, the  government, represented is that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.



       This chapter will concern itself with the review of literature available on the topic under study. And in this section, the write will endeavour to find what have been said about the subject matter and related analysis by authors and writers.

Oribabor P.E. while writing on labour relations has traced it to the colonial era, and afterwards. He believes that since inception, there has bee “a commitment to the principle of voluntarism or free collective bargaining”1 on the part o the labour. Even the government recognises this fact. For instance, a statement credited to the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1955 confirmed it as follows:

Government re-affirm its confidence in the effectiveness of voluntary negotiations and collective bargaining for the determination of wages2


Oribabor, went further to affirm that:

The long term interest of government  employers and trade unions alike would seem to rest on the process of consultation and discussion which is the foundation of democracy in the industry.3

Just as this research did not only base during colonial period, on the past colonial era, he showed that commitment of the Federal Government in 1961 which was shown in the annual report of the Federal Ministry of Labour of the same year and it stated as follows;

…the principle of collective bargaining between employers association and the trade unions has been widely accepted in this country as a normal way of setting wages and other conditions of employment.4


He (Oribabor, 2000: 321) on labour relation stated that the laudable objectives of voluntarism were frustrated by the proliferation of weak and insecure trade unions. He, however, attributed the failure of the success of voluntarism on the aforementioned.

Furthermore, Oribabor buttressed the idea of smooth operation of trade unionism and listed its obstacles to include, “disunity among union leaders’ ideological confusion and penetration by international workers organisation, and above all, failure by trade unions to develop a consistent ideology beyond bread and butter issues”.5

Nnabuife K.E, while assessing the labour and management relationship blamed both the government as part of the management as well as labour for contributing its quota in the industrial relation crisis in Nigeria organisations according to her, the Government has the final say and through various means caused infringed relationship between her and labour. Other examples by Nnabuife include, “poor planning and management of workers remunerations”6, “unprecedented dismissal / retirement of workers”7, “lack of interest in the welfare of workers”8, “Dehumanisation of union through legislations.9

On his part, Nnoyelu A.U. blames the external source of industrial conflict on government and stated inter alia:

Government industrial and economic policies, nature of labour legislation, unpatriotic and unethical behaviour of political class, national economic mismanagement, general distribution of power and wealth I society, and national or global economic depression.10


Yesufu, while looking into the industrial conflict in Nigeria posits that the philosophy of voluntarism which reigned from colonial era filled the first republic of Nigeria was characterised by the ability of workers to “organise freely in setting and maintaining the condition of employment, minimum state interference with those forms and conditions and intervention in dispute on invitation or consent of parties involved”.11 He also pointed out that the eventual mushrooming o small ineffective trade union organisations as part of the problem.12

Nonyelu while evaluating the war period in Nigeria and unionism states that the wartime demands of the Nigeria civil war forced the military regime under Gen. Gowon to intervene decisively in labour relations. The net effect of such being that there was a total ban on strike and lookouts. In the emerged scenario, the Government assumed the position of plaintiff and the judges in all industrial relation matter.13 he (Nonyelu) further in his assessment of the merger of unions stated that “there were also merger of several unions into fewer but lager organisations. With the wisdom of hind-sight, it is still doubtful whether the radical changes introduced had any remarkable impact”14

Myre’s opinion, classified the causes of industrial conflict to include, “an observed unfair prevailing orgainisation inequity in wages, managerial style of applying organisation rules”15. To him it is mostly the case in issues like sacking workers, flouting collective bargaining agreements, unstable and irregular employment and inadequate employee status and recognition. Truly, industrial relation in Nigeria is saddled with may of these problems which make for conflict between workers and management of government.

Yesufu and Adeleke have a consensus opinion on major causes of industrial conflict in Nigeria. To them, it is the fact that “the objective, and interest of labour and government are fundamentally different”16. The belief that wages as well as other related fringe benefits constitute the basis of the employment contract, and therefore the basic element in industrial relations. Notwithstanding the fact that workers in Nigeria have almost disagreed with their employers on issues like wages, fringe benefits like promotion, leave and other allowances, to them wages and other related fringe remains the crucial factor in labour/Government in Nigeria.17

Odunfa Sola on December 2004 on BBC publication, vol. 15 No, 4, P. 16 while reporting on the relationship between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the government of Chief Obasanjo believes that the relationship can be epitomised  the personalities of Adams Oshiomole and Chief Obasanjo. He reveals how cordial the relationship was after 199 as follows:

The relationship was so cordial that the newly installed government  and unions negotiated within a short period, a 25 percent wage increase for  public sector workers. Obasanjo, hold hands in a comradely style with Oshiomole, announced the deal at a May Day rally in 2000.


He also sees the relationship between government and NLC as gotten strained fro 2003. it  was Oshiomole who in 2001, after an impeachment proceeding as launched against the president, who denounced the house and expressed confidence in the president.

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Adeolti Jan, 2004, on Sunday Sun – Newspaper p. 18, reporting on the relationship between labour and government as friendly which is envisaged in the personal relationship between chief Obasanjo and Comrade Oshiomole but reiterated that when the issue of any policy inimical to the plight of workers and masses are initiated by the government, like the hike in the price of fuel, Oshiomole turned out the fiercest critic of his friend’, Obasanjo”19. Also, he sees Oshiomole as representing a voice that the elected representative of the people lack, the voice of the voiceless. According to him, “He has the courage that  the myriad of Aso Rock prophets lack in telling the power that be the difference between the infallibility of God and the facility of man”20.

Writing on government and the NLC, Akeregha posits that the strained nature of the government and NLC  relationship is no unconnected with the former’s move to go for an unconstitutional third term bid. This I because the NLC has been famous for its stance especially towards certain popular acts of the government. So the government seeing NLC as a strong opposition.

In furtherance of this analysis on government and labour relationship, Nonyelu A.U, remarked that he understanding is dependent upon the situation that is obtainable at the time in question, that is, that what  caused a problem today might differ tomorrow.

Victor Ahiuma et al Nov. 15, 2004., Vanguard Newspaper, reporting on the face-off that  exists between the NLC and the government, and the  former reason for planning  a November 16, 2004 general strike, reiterated the fact NLC is very much opposed to the dictatorial attribute of the government. According to the report, it is clear that the relationship between the government and the NLC will not improve if the former continues with the status-quo. While interviewing the NLC president, the reporters were able to find out that the NLC in conjunction with civil society groups have declared as unacceptable to Nigerians the way the Obasanjo led-administration is running the affairs of the country. Judging from the words of Oshiomole, he stated as follows:

If you have a government that says ‘I said, I don’t talk price’ and that word is a law, that is not acceptable in a democracy.21


Olukorede, analysing the state of government and NLC relationship, sees no hope of amicability since both sides are not giving peace a chance while labour insists on change of measures, reversal to the price of fuel, giving the economic reforms a human face, the government on it seems to be busy with one committee or the other which according to labour is not teaching anywhere positive. Quoting Oshiomole, he stated that:

The labour leader wants those who feel labour should not go on strike to appeal to the Federal Government to reverse the prices of petroleum products. For now, the ball is in the court of the federal government. By the time the strike kicks off, Oshiomole says, its end will be determined by the willingness of government to do the wish of labour.22


While writing on the attitude of the colonialists on the Nigeria writers, Dan Chukwu sees the relationship between the colonial government and the Nigeria workers as very unpalatable. And as a result, workers under them have been subjugated to several acts deem inhuman, and rather than deter workers, it had contributed to the development and growth of unionism in Nigeria.





       This chapter traces the state of government and labour relationship since inception and emergence of unionism in the country. It is a historical approach on how labour had existed pari pasu with the government. It draws its line from the colonial period and evaluates the colonial approach, it studied and found out the colonial system of handling unionism and how unionism erupted out of colonial system of governance. It further x-rayed the footprint left on the sand of Nigeria by the colonialists who were the first to deal with trade unionism and how these actions of the colonialists affected Nigeria after independence till present.

During the post-independence era, this chapter deals on how unionism had faired after independence. The era of conflicts among unionists, the era of decentralised unions, the era of controversial international affiliations among other things. This section x-rayed it till the eventual emergence of the present-NLC as the  only central umbrella labour centre that represent  the entire workers in the country.



       The pre-1912 years were characterised by the existence of loosely organised ineffective non-centralised organisation that centred for he workers’ interest. The organisation obtain them were pockets of weak associations that were grassroots based. The era involved the existence of such organisation as the mechanics mutual Aid, provided and mutual improvement association that existed as far back as 1883. There was also the  existence in this era, such organisations as the Lagos mercantile clerks Associations of 1911. These unions were known to have played little or no role in the country’s economic and political life. Such brings to light, why many writers regard 1912, the date the civil service union was formed as the beginning of the Nigeria labour movement. There is no straight conclusion as there  might have existed, the groups activity were strongly rotted in the tribal structures, the widespread organisation and association in existence then include: hunters, blacksmiths, carvers and so on.

From all intense and purposes, it will be established that several of these (if not all) forms of organizations were not broad in view and aspirations. The organization were over-rooted in the narrow of tribal bloc as envisaged in the third of economic endeavours that were associated with certain tribes in that era. Hence, Uvieghara asserts that no evidence exists to prove that trade unionism as we witness in today ever existed in any part of this country earlier than the year the Nigeria civil service was formed, that is 1912. This shows that there might have existed sundry unions but its role, scope and aspirations were primary limited and varied in all forms with the present day unionism.

Again, T. Elias describes such unions as existing and associating together from early times in order to regulate admission and expulsion from these respective association and with the aim of laying down condition under which persons were allowed to practice his profession. This is envisaged in such professions, as leather workers, blacksmiths, bronze workers and so on. It is clear that from these assertions, one can not trace the development of trade unionism from the pre – 1912 era. The period was clearly characterized by domestic association. However, since the period saw organizations that acted on welfare and discipline, it can still be taken to mean narrowed aspiration and focus. This is why Uvieghara posits that these organizations as existed did not give birth to the modern trade unionism. It might not be easy to escape the fact that trade unionism or what some will like to call modern trade unionism started after 1912.



In 1912, the Southern Nigeria Civil Service Union that later changed to Nigeria Civil Service Union was formed, with the aim of promoting the welfare as well as the materials of native members of the civil service. But Anamaba believe that the body was hardly a trade union especially in relation to the present day trade unionism. To him, it was only more or less a body that engaged itself in writing petitions which is heard only during crisis or when an important official was about to retire, going on transfer or to assume office.

In 1931, the railway workers union and the Nigerian Union of Teachers were formed. Previously, the interests of these bodies were being looked after by the civil service union, and most of the clerical remained in the older union after the formation. For instance, the railway workers union, the immediate reason for its formation was dissatisfaction with the condition of the labour and the belief that their interests would be better catered for by their own organizations. Almost up to the close of the 1930s, these three pioneer unions dominated the trade union scene in Nigeria. Thus, besides the Nigeria civil service union, the railway workers union and the Nigeria union of teachers, trade unionism was almost not in existence in Nigeria until towards the end of the 1930s. Why was it so? May be the atmosphere was not yet ripe for unionism, as at then, or could it have been that the unions are at learning process?

The reason could be as follows: the non-availability of an economically active population, even the labour force was adversely influenced by a very high rate of labour turnover. This is because the development of trade unions in every society is compulsorily connected to the extent or level of that society’s economic and industrial development. For instance, in the 1930s, wage earning was still a novelty while subsistence farming was the normal way of life in Nigeria. And by implication, trade unionism started in line with the pace of development and awareness in Nigeria. Thus, trade unionism did not become an active force until the last years of 1930s. Before this period, the idea of trade union formation with legislation was clearly unnoticed in Nigeria.

With the outbreak of labour unrest in many colonies especially in West Indies, it exerted great effect on many colonies as trade union legislation developed in a number of colonial territories. But on the Nigeria scene, it was in 1938 with the Trade Union Act (cap 200) which came into effect or operation in 1st April 1939, that the act of trade unionism experienced a kind of government approval. This legislation with the changing economic position of Nigeria sequel to the outbreak of second world war brought about great morale for the formation of trade unions as well as their activities as whole.

Concerning the second world war, not only did the war give Nigeria the room to make contact with the outside world, it also provided an opportunity for the new employment for thousands of people. There were several aftermaths of the war, from the growing consciousness among the workers. The adjustment of the nation’s manpower to meet the challenges created by the war, to recruitment into the army, military construction works which after the loss of Malaya in 1942, positioned Nigeria as an alternative source of raw materials like tin, were all traceable to the war. Conspicuously the rise of labour force became inevitable. Thus, Dan Chukwu posits also that the second world war and its aftermaths were characterized by workers discontent as a result of labour unions and unrests. For instance, from twelve union with a total membership of 4, 3, 37 in 1940 to 85 union with 80,000 members in 1944. The total labour force in the mines rode from 55,000 to 71,000 memb while those in Enugu colliery, daily paid labour force averaged up to about 3,350.

However, the development of strong unionism did not only include the aforementioned factors, but the event elsewhere like in Sierra-Leone also affected the Nigeria perspective of unionism. Also, there were views that trade unionism in the former British Colonies including Nigeria was not natural development per se, but a creation of British colonial administration.

The development of trade union was out of the need for workers to express their grievances, voice their opinion on wages and conditions of labour, hence unions began to proliferate. The Tudor Davies commission which inquired into the need for increase in the cost of living allowance (COLA) payable to workers at the end of the 1945 general strike posits that the springing up to various unions were quite naturally out of grievances: that is to say that these unions arose  chiefly in response to industrial strike. They grew also, partly as a result of another stimulant political agitation. Even the colonial rule had great influence on the entire consciousness or minds of workers. To portray this the more, the Nigeria workers had to face and fight against not only unjust employment condition but also foreign rule, foreign employers and sometime racial discrimination. There was also a link sometimes between labour unions and nationalists in the struggle for political freedom, hence, the collusion between workers and politicians.

In the first instance, the colonial government tried to discourage the formation of workers union. To an extent, this could show why it took more than two decades after the formation of the first union for an enabling law to be promulgated. The colonial government attitude to workers unionism can also be envisaged in Fashoyin’s narration on how the first attempt at an association of workers was spiritedly stifled by the then colonial governor in Lagos. Throughout the colonial period, there were strong measures to destabilise the reign of unionism but this was surmounted by the zeal on the part of the workplace. As a result, the colonial government had no option but to recognise the unions. But this recognition emanated from the directive of the home government in Britain. Even at that they closely monitored the unions, may be to stop any attempt by politicians who were agitating for independence from using the unions in the struggle for independence.

But the unionism during colonial rule got its widespread consciousness as a result of several events. These events, which were aimed at intimidating workers, ended up being the catalyst that united the workers. The aftermaths of the Second World War were an economic hardship; this resulted in the demand for the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) which was envisaged in the general strikes of 1945. This actually created an awareness of oneness to many workers who formed unions aimed at dragging their employers into accepting to extend the (COLA) to them.

Another contributing event was the enactment of the infamous government order. The general defence regulations of 1942, which outlawed strikes and lockouts. The unions saw this order as a deliberate attempt to suppress their new unions and as such not fought back individually but collectively. The influence of the nationalist leaders who were fighting to rid the economy of the vestiges of colonial leadership was another catalyst that affected unionists who appreciated and believed that teaming-up with politicians will fasten the cause to better the conditions of workers in Nigeria. Even though the aim of this struggle was political, these nationalists saw in the unions as a means of achieving their aim. Besides, the tragic incident of shooting 21 miners in Iva Valley, Enugu in 1949 contributed significantly in intensifying the struggle. In order to fight this ugly scenario, the unions presented common front and such consciences the workers on the power of collective stance, hence the relative unity.

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Analysing colonial footprints on Nigeria’s labour relations will not be complete without relating it to the influence of British colonial administration on Nigeria and the inherited economic system. The period 1930 to the 1960s was characterised by increasing penetration of capital and the introduction to western economic institutions into the country. No doubt, this created demand for labour and to an extent, a fairer pattern of labour relations seem to have evolved alongside in Nigeria. But this took the form of minimum reliance on some supportive legislation and state imposed labour relations. This was envisaged in such ordinances as:

(i)       The trade union ordinance of 1933, which formally gave legal recognition to the trade unionism.

(ii)     The trade dispute (Arbitration and Enquiry) ordinance of 1943. The labour code ordinance of 1945 and the Wages Board Ordinance of 1957 were designed essentially to facilitate the evolution of labour relations along capitalist lines.

If there has been a single philosophy, which influenced Nigeria’s attitude to labour relations traceable to the colonial government, it was a belief in the principle of voluntarism and collective bargaining. This is normally the way it should be so that the long term interests of the government employers and trade unions alike would seem to rest on the process of consultation and discussion, which is the foundation of democracy. But contrary, the colonial government has violated this principle, which only exist by mere utterances.

In practice however, several actions of the colonial government have proved clearly the difference between what the government said and what it did. For instance, the general defence regulation of 1941 was used as an intimidating weapon against unionists as a result, troops and bullets, were commonly resorted to against union riots or insurrections which meant almost any effective strike organised by unionists. The government employed every means to put a stop to workers’ agitations hence, the use of certain state’s coercive weapons such as black-listing, lock-outs, sacking and so on to meet strike or simply put, suppress it. This approach never gave the colonial government what they wanted as unions became stronger and stronger, believing that the challenges coming from the colonial government is the prerequisite sacrifices required for unions to have its foothold on Nigeria. For instance, both the commission set up to look into the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and that commission on the shooting of mines of Iva Valley Enugu believe that there was no need of asking the question: is the time ripe for trade unions in Nigeria? The issue remains that trade unions are in existence in Nigeria de factor and de Jure and the main issue is no longer on whether they are to be destroyed, but how they will be guided into right channels. But the warning did not seem to have entered into desires of the government. And the reports further warned that “there could be no turning back the hands of the clock” also in another pronouncement of the commissions, it was made clear that trade union has become parts and parcel of the law of Nigeria which can neither be ignored or forgotten but made to work.

It is obviously understandable, however, that it is wrong to see the approach of the government in all ramification as anti-trade union. It should be noted that in any economy dominated by government employment, in which government is the keeper of peace and good government and in which the unions themselves did not draw a clear line between labour matters and politics, such an attitude is at least understandable. Since Nigeria’s independence such as attitude has stood fundamentally changed. Hence, since the year 1960s, united campaign by the unions which had resulted in general strike against wage freeze, in response, the Nigeria government took similar measures: banning of public trade union demonstration and meetings, restricted on the right, non-recognition of some of the labour centres, arrest of some trade unionists, dismissal of strike and the use of armed police against unionism. All these are handover from the colonial government. What a legacy.


As noted earlier, apart from the early formation of labour unions like the Nigeria civil service union, the Nigeria Union of Teachers as well as the Railway Workers Union in 1912 and 1931, respectively, trade unionism wa never as active as today’s unionism until the late 1930s. But the formal legalisation of unions by the British colonial government in 1938 was followed by rapid consolidation of the labour movement (see table 3.1). thus, emboldened, 43,000 workers organised a 40 days strike in 1945 in protest of low wages.

Table 3.1: Growth of Unions 1940-45

Year No. of Union on Register Membership of Union No. of Disputes No. of Strike
1940 13 4,508 1
1941 27 12,892 5
1942 80 26,275 7 11
1943 85 27,154 8 6
1944 91 5 9
1945 97 29,263 7 3

Source: Compiled from Labour Annual Report 1940-45

The pre-1940 years witnessed a strong unionism. Hence, the successful industrial demonstration in 1941 by the militant railway worker’s union. This resulted in the arrest and detention of the leader Mr. M.O.A. Imoudu many other event took place after 1940, with the formation of many unions giving way for broader approach to the labour interests and aspirations. For instance, on 22 March 1945, a joint committee of registered trade unions working under the auspices of the Africa civil servants technical workers union, wrote to the then chief secretary to the colonial government, calling for immediate revision of (COLA), giving as their reason the high rate of the price of foodstuffs, clothing, rent and so on.

In analysing the growth and development of labour centers in the Nigeria trade union movement, it shows more than anything else, the disunity and utter chaos which have plagued the movement soon after what may be regarded as a healthy start. Hence, Uvieghara analyses them and sees the situation as the history of a working people who did not find it easy to fashion for themselves of working man’s creed. He sees the situation as at then as the story of incessant allegations of greed, dishonesty, corruption, incompetence with indifference of a leadership eligue and that of an apathetic as well as inert rank and file.

It will forever be attributed to the early leaders for realising at the early date, the immense need of a co-coordinating body such as a central body. The emergence in 1942 of the first Trade Union Congress (TUC) only three years after the Trade Union Act (cap 200) came into operation was in itself the result of this realisation that unified leadership and the strongest possible concentration of the resources of the movement were necessary to further the aims and objective of the unions.

In 1941, representatives of some union – the railway workers’ union, the Nigeria marine African workers union and the public workers department workers union that met and founded the African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union (A.C.S.T.W.U). This body was not a union perse but a quasi federal body whose purpose was to protect the interest of African technical workers and establish better understanding between them and the Nigeria government. One remarkable thing was that A.C.S.T.W.U was a kind of a whole representation of government employees. And within a year of its formation, the union organised a meeting at which in November 1942, the Federal Trade Union of Nigeria’s the first ever truly central labour body was inaugurated to speak for all sectors of labour. The following year witnessed a meeting in Lagos organised by the Federated trade unions and attended by 200 delegates representing the trade union congress of Nigeria was adopted. And the body was to meet annually and be the controlling body of the trade union movement. Still on the TUCN, a general council comprising one representative of each affiliated union was set up and it was agreed that the council should appoint a working committee to be the executive aim of the body.

The government accorded immediate recognition to the TUCN and a system of monthly meetings between the working committee of the TUC and the trade union officers of the labour department was established. Though in 1946 the body TUC was to be gradually taken over the foundations of these rival bodies and setting down as an organisation composed of sober-thinking men disseminating sound trade union principles, it was evident even in 1945, as has already been mentioned, that the TUC was on its way out. Worthy of note was the fact that some of the stronger unions then existing preferred to stay outside this body.

In addition, the then trade union centres were dissolved with the appointment of a sole administrator to take over the assets, liabilities and administration of all the labour centers, and to restructure the existing 1,100 union to become industrial union. The administrator was also to organise and arrange for the establishment of a new Nigeria Labour Congress. The inaugural delegates conference of the new NLC took place on the 28th of February, 1978 at Ibadan. At the conference, the following officers were elected. H.A. Summonu as the president, Davis Ojeh as the Deputy president, P.O. Philips as the treasurer and M.E. Mpanigu as the Deputy Treasurer.



S/NO. Name Period

Trade union congress of Nigeria

1942 – 49
2 Nigeria National Federal of Labour 1942 – 49
3 Nigeria Labour Congress 1950 – 51
4 All Nigeria Trade Union Federation 1953 – 56
5 National Council of Trade Union of Niger
Trade Union Congress of Nigeria
6a Later United Labour Congress of Nigeria 1951
6b Nigeria Trade Union Congress 1959 – 63
Later independent United Labour Congress  1962 – 73
7a Subsequently reverted to N.T.U.C 1962
7b Nigeria Workers Council 1962 – 75
8 Labour Unity Front 1962 – 75
9 Nigeria Trade Union Federation 1963 –75
10 Formed by N.T.U.C, LUF and N.W.C 1973
11 Nigeria Labour Congress 1975



       In the previous chapter, the researcher carried out a thorough study of the activities of the labour movement in the country. What the chapter intends to make a general appraisal of government/NLC relationship such as the various evens that  were recorded as well as the factors or circumstances, as hey went, that metamorphosed into the existing government/NLC relationship such as the various events that were recorded as well as the factors or circumstances, as they went, that metamorphosed into the existing government/labour relation.

It might interest you to knowhow the new government, President Obasanjo and Comrade Oshiomole contributed to the nature of the relationship. So, the secton evaluates and findsout how personality factor ahs contributed to the state of the relationship. Also, the journey to unveil the  circumstqnce surroundin the government and the NLC relationship started with the eral of harmonious co-existence between government and NLC. This is followed by the emergence of a strained relationship between government and the NLC.


Just as two instruments of protecting an promoting interests, onefor awide inerest that involves the workers and the common masses, the othe for the  overall interest fo the entire citizens, NLC inclusive, their relationship started on a god note in 1999. when President Obasanjo came to office, he and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC0 led by  Comrade Adams Oshiomole were perceived by Nigerians as two good friends destined for a better Nigeria society. On a remarkable note, their relationship was very cordial and harmonious to the extent that the newly installed government as well as the union leader negotiated within a short period for a 25 percnt wage increase for the  public sector workers. To attest to this, on the May Day rally of 2000, President Obasanjo, hodling hands with agood ally, Oshiomole, announced the deal comradely; while workers and their leaders jubilated.

Also, as if in reciprocation, Oshiomole to the discomfort of the civil society groups, rallied to Obasanjo’s support when he was being attacked. This was envisaged in many ways. For example, during the impeachment threat against Obasanjo in 2001 launched by the House of representatives, Oshiomole threw his weight behind the President in denouncement of the House. Again, Oshiomole endorsed Obasanjo’s candidacy for the 2003 general elections.

Further evidences of the cordiality in the government and labour relationship can be seen in the presence of President Obasanjo in several May Day rallies organised by the NLC6. However, not only that there as an increment, the strict and effective way in which the 25 percent increase in wages was effected, showed sincerity of purpose on the apart of the government and such no doubt, strengthened the evidence of cordiality between Government and the NLC.

Notwithstanding, the strikes between 199 and 2003, the era can be seen as the period of serious romance between Government and labour. The Government, during this period never saw labour as an enemy, or reached the point of accusing the Congress of an attempt to hijack power illegally or unconstitutionally as done by the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his 18th October, 2003 nationwide address. The lab our on its part still believe in the capacity of Chief Obasanjo to protect the interest of all, including the labour. It reposed that confidence on him and opposed the attempts to either distract him or remove him from office. This period can be described as a period of harmonious co-existence. This is true especially when compared with the succeeding years.

But one wonders why this period was better than the succeeding years. What factors could have been responsible for that period of honeymoon beteen Government and the Congress?  Racting to this, the Vice-chariman of NLC in Anambra Stae and the Deputy National Presietn of Radio and Television Theartre Workers Union (TATTAWU), Comrade Don Onyenyi, believes that it was so because the period, 1999-2003, Obasanjo mellowed  down but after that, he toughened since he had consolidated and was no longer  looking for anybody’s vote, having achieved this second tenure bid in the 2003 general election7

From all indicatios, the fact remains that the ist tenure of President Obasanjo was more comfortable for the NLC, unlike the succeeding years. Whatever might have  been the factos, that fact remains unchanged. The question should also border on whether ti  was not the same President Obasanjo that was elected in 1999 or a new person? Even the NLC, still maintain Adams as its president after 2003. so, no change was experimented between the leadership of the Nigerian Govenent and the NLC. Since the develoent that were obtainable from 2003 could not be traced to change of government on either side, then it  must, no dout, be as a result of changeof  approach which resulted in several face-offs between government  and labour. This resulted in the controversial nature of the government/Labour relation which became more intense in the years after the fist tenure of President Obasanjo.

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       After the re-emergence  of President Obasanjo in 2003 as  the president of the country, this time on a second time, so many things  trapped. The se evens no doubt, affected the state of the relationship between Government and the resulted effect was the  existence of a restrained kind of relationship. The several reform agenda, non-implementation of a w age increase for workers, the Trade Union amendment bill among other things made Government and labour look at each other w with suspicion.

Virtually few months after the inauguration of Chief Obasanjo’s second tenure, there was an  increment in the pum price of petroleum products. And in response, Oshiomole’s NLCcalled a geneal strike in protest against the increase. Thisdid not end at that as there were ralie s and protests t omobilsie the workers and the masses against the inhuman acts of Government to the Nigeria masses. The situation as at then was heightened, the atmosphere became intense. That notwithstanding, the rallies as well as the sensitisation by unions continue unabated as the Congress forced the government to a reduction.

In addition to the foregoing President Obasanjo started full-scale introduction as well as implementation of his economic agenda. This can be seen in such policies, the deregulation of the oil industrial, National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS), Pension reform among others. Reciting to these policies, Oshiomole said that  no cone can be happy with the fact Nigeria; the fifth largest oil- exporting country in the world has none of her refineries working. As a result, he went on, we are bent on importing eve the by-product that come out from refining oil,  like bitumen which are used to tar our  roads. Not only that, even the kerosene has to be imported and according to hem, nobody is happy about  that phenomenon.

Besides this fact, the NLC has severally reminded Government of the need for another wage increase to match the existing economic order, but the government seems to be hiding from at l east doing it the way they do it the way the did it in 2000. The NLC has requested for another increment, it stopped with the federal civil servants. It left the responsibility of meeting the new increment for states that could afford it. To the labour, this action was more political  and volatile and lacked any sincerity on the part of government. To it, if government wanted to introduce a wage increase, why would it not do it the  way of 2000 increment?

It is noteworthy, however, that these economic reform measures of Obasanjo were not rejected entirely by the NLC, but the were not certain segments and phrases in the reform package which if implemented would have affected the workers as well as the poor masses negatively. These ones happen to be the ones to  which labour was opposed. According to the Vic-chairman of NLC  in Anambra state, the labour abelieves that there cold be some positive developments and intentions from e reform agenda but the problem is that there are certain basic things that must be on ground for  you to implement programmes like NEEDS and  so on. These basic things include; good  roads,  electricity, and the operationalisation of the refineries. Without these elements, the economic reform stands to be a clear deception of the Nigeria people10.


       It is not a fallacy that since the introduction of the economic reform agenda by the president, the relationship between Government and labour has become more intense. Though the labour has seen nothing wrong with such economic policies rather they blamed it on the manger in which these reforms are being implemented. By implication, the reforms and the circumstances surrounding it can be seen as t he bone of contention in the Government/Labour face-offs. As a result, there is need to understand and have full knowledge of these reform activities. For instance, to Adams Oshiomole, the re is nothing  creatively new in the reform, no renewed efforts even in job creation which have been the case in the past. In fact, according to him, there is no renewed approach to re-invigorate all these sectors. What he insists annoys labour the most, can be envisaged in the statement credited to the Minster of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam El-Rufai that Government economic policy is not open to debate. To labour, this is more of a decree than what is obtainable under a democratic government”.

The labour on its part will like to describe the government policy as liberalisation rather than deregulation. They prefer liberalisation believing that  when the sector is liberalised, people will be free to participate and there  will be more competition but when the effect is not taken care of, that is where the  problem lies13. According to Oshiomole, for many years, the Government has adopted a policy which imposes the prevailing world oil prices on the domestic market. As a result, the government ahs run down the refineries which if in operation, world have the capacity to meet almost 90% of the overall demand. Because such is not feasible, the Government is left with the option of clearly depending on importation14.

The greatest effect of this policy has been an incessant increase in the price of petroleum products. This increment has been witnessed up to five times since 1999 an this has been resulting to several strikes, hence, Government/Labour face-offs. This vindicates the NLC’s position that deregulation or price increase by whatever guise will neither guarantee availability of petroleum products nor satisfaction  of prices. It is obvious that he policy is injurios, according to the NLC, to the economy and the people. This is why the NLC re-affirms,  each objectives to the deregulation policy.

This has been the problem with the deregulation and that is what Labour strictly against the NLC believe that it is not the best option for the country, hence the pressure on the government by the Labour not to  impose the import imparity on domestic price. To the Labour, the policy enriched the government and oil marketers, while it squeezes and impoverishes of the masses. So what Labour beliefs is that the refineries should be upgraded to start operations whle the NNPC shouldbe made less powerful. This they believed, will strengthen the base of the economy.

Again, the government comes with the Pensions Act of 2004, which intends to reconstruct the Pension system in the country. This is known as the Contributory Pension Scheme. What this implies is that workers during service will be contributing certain percentage of their pay into a fund, which will be used later. In clearing this pension dues and entitlement when retired, it intends to restructure and already system and make it more efficient. This scheme ahs a take-off date from 2004 with a retrospective effect117.

The NLC on its on part has criticised several aspects of this pension Act. It believes that it has not enough stakeholders inputs, despite the involvement o the Labour and  other stakeholders in the discourse, but this view was ignored18. It argues that it so does not  address the existing pension liabilities, that is, there was no measure to effect the existing pension liabilities which were the basis of the Labour case for a reform. The Labour believed that there is the need  for a  consultation between the Federal and State Government with a view to working out modalities for offsetting the areas in the other tiers of Government. The Labour also agitates that the rate of contribution for workers, put at 71/2 percent for workers I  excessive and counterproductive. It has therefore resolved to pursue the earlier purpose of 5 percent for workers contribution, while the Federal Government meets the rest 10 percent.  It is however argued that a 5 percent rate of contribution is fair in Nigeria content, given the rate of other deductions and especially as workers previously forfeited a 15  percent wage  increase in 2002.

On the monetisation policy of Obasanjo led Federal Government, the NLC through its central working committee, reiterates its support for monetisation, but reaffirms its rejections to any attempt to discriminate against implementation period between the civil service an other arms of the public sectors. And since  the policy affects all public officers, the Labour CWC called on the government to start its implementation at the same time. The NLC  supports the content of the June 2003 Government Circular on monetisation and reject any attempts by Government to introduce  changes especially without due consultation with the stakeholders20

Apart from that, the policy of monetisation has a government side argument which is based on the fact that there will be no efficiency in the resource allocation, equity in the provision of amenities and encouragement of public servants to own personal houses and the fact that it minimises wastes, misuse and as well as the abuse of public facilities and others.

       There is also the National Health Insurance Scheme under  which the government intends to deduct 5 percent of the  workers’ salary for the scheme. This move has been criticised and opposed by the NLC via its  letter to the Federal Government, while they support such initiatives, they opposed deduction from the meagre salary of workers who are  already faced with other deductions and taxes  including PAYE, pension and sundry reductions21. These among others, portrays the nature of logger headers obtainable in terms of analysing the relationship between government and NLC under the leadership of  Chief Obasanjo.





       In the course of this research, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC0 , the researcher observed, as a widened cause of aspirations and struggles. This , surprisingly, is against the believe of  many who think that the NLC is aimed of fighting for salaries and fringe benefits alone. The widened scope of Labour aspirations can be envisaged in the fact that it has taken upon itself to fight against any action of the government that it sees detrimental to the plight of the masses and the downtrodden. This includes the widened cause of the NLC, which had made them appear different things to different people. But the research  sees them as going by their fashioned aspirations as contained in their aims and objectives.

It was also observed that government is not comfortable with the broadened aspirations and struggles of the Labour. The government would have *** trade unionism that is narrowed toward agitating for improved salary, wage and fringe benefits for workers alone. That is to say, that the government wants trade unionism that is solely for the protection of workers and their interests. The researcher, also observed that the Government/Labour relationship never started with disputes, but the disagreement developed along the way and the organised Labour ‘s incessant strike have been an action and means to compel the government to succumb to  pressure and retrace its steps.


        In the present twenty-first century, one of the biggest challenges facing mankind is how to achieve 100 percent  democratic principles in all institutions of the world. No wonder many people believe that democracy is an ideal institution. The idea of achieving full-fledged democracy in a country such as ours, seems hard. But every good lover of democracy on course at  least in the hope that it will help  in the achievement  of a desired  society . the problem with the government  under study  is that of imposition of policies in disregard of the major stakeholders in the country.

The researcher believe that if Labour, the  Civil Service groups and other sensitive  stakeholders in Nigeria were consulted and their consent give, the  economic policy regarded by them as lacking human face would be regarded so.  Lack of consultation has made Government appear like a monster to many, even when it has good and loving policies for the well being of the entire masses. So, for any government to survive in history, it must imbibe the act of consultation when certain sensitive policies are to be introduced.

It is the recommendation of the researcher that dialogue is indispensable to the resolution of any disagreement. The government as well as the NLC must embrace the course of dialogue. It is only through dialogue that more compromises can be achieved towards the development of the nation. Both the government and  NLC believe they are fighting to  enrich Nigerians.

        Despite all the obvious wrangling, the government believes that the relationship has been very cordial with NLC. And the NLC on is part believe that its been very turbulent dealing with this particular government.  Whether believes it or not, the researcher believes that it is not been all that easy for both parties. Though the disagreement could not been used in  concluding that government and NLC are enemies, it could still be established that  they have a tough time. So, these factors cannot prevent them from maintaining a cordial relationship. The disagreement and face-offs are features of democracy and rather than undermine the growth of the country, it should promote, strengthen and enhance the harmonious co-existence of the government that has the entire populace as its jurisdiction, workers inclusive; and the  NLC that not only protect the interest of workers but had taken it upon itself to fight for the entire populace and to see that democracy and rule of law prevents in the country.

Relationship Between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) And Government

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  1. Nlc serve as check and balance to d goverment

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