An attempt by the Nigerian government to provide an efficient legal framework for the settlement of trade disputes dates back to 1914 with the promulgation of the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Inquiry)(Lagos) Ordinance of 1914. Under this ordinance, only ad hoc bodies in the form arbitration tribunals could be set up to handle trade disputes and thus the role of government was merely discretionary at the instance or invitation of parties.
This Ordinance was only applicable to Lagos until 1957 when the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and inquiry) (Federal Application) Ordinance of 1957 was passed. This period (1914-1957) gave way in 1968 with the promulgation of the Trade Disputes (Emergency Provision) Decree No. 21 of 1968 and the Trade Disputes (Emergency Provision) (Amendment No. 2 ) Decree No. 53 of 1969. These Decree made it Obligatory for parties to deposit three copies of any existing collective agreement for the settlement of trade dispute with the Federal Commissioner for Labour and also to report the existence of a trade dispute to the commissioner.
The Decree of 1969 in particular, banned strikes and lock-outs under pain of imprisonment without option of fine and also imposed stringent duties on the employers and employees to report strikes and lock-out within 14 hours to the Inspector General of Police. It also established on a permanent basis, a tribunal to be known as the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal.
To address some of the problems with the above Decree, the Trade Disputes Act of 1976 was passed. It introduced new dynamics to the legal framework for the settlement of trade dispute in Nigeria. This Act created a comprehensive procedure for the settlement of trade disputes combining voluntary and compulsory measures. The Act gave so much power to the minister of labour, which to a large extent negatively affected its efficiency. The Industrial Court was established by the Act with jurisdiction in respect of settlement of trade disputes, interpretation of collective agreements and matters connected thereto. In all these matters, the act gave exclusive jurisdiction to the Court, though it was not created as superior Court of record.
A major amendment was introduced to the Act in 1992 through the Trade Disputes (Amendment) Decree No.47 of 1992 which made the Court a superior court of records to give proper meaning to the exclusive Jurisdiction given to the Court.
It also provided that appeals would lie as of right to the Court from the Awards of the Industrial Arbitration Panel without necessarily seeking the leave of the Minister of Labour on matters contained in section 20 of the Act.
On the 31st day of May 2006, the National Assembly passed the National Industrial Court Act 2006. The Act was assented to by the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 14th June of 2006. The Act established the National Industrial Court as a superior Court of record and conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the Court with respect to labour and industrial relations matters.
At the inception of the Court in 1976, the Court was basically in Lagos Court, having its office in Lagos State alone. It spread its tentacles the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja only in the late 90s. However, since 2003when Lordship, Hon. Justice B. A. Adejumo, OFR assumed duties as President of the court, and since the passage of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 (24) additional Judicial Divisions have been established across the six geo-political zones of the country pursuant to the powers conferred on his Lordship by section 21 (1) of the said Act .
In addition to Lagos and Abuja, the new Judicial Divisions include the following:-Ibadan, Calabar, Kano, Maiduguri, Jos, Enugu, Owerri, Akure, Makurdi, Portharcourt, Yenagoa, Uyo, Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Minna, Abakaliki, Awka, Asaba, Ekiti, Yola, Lokoja and Jalingo Judicial Divisions. In State where Judicial Divisions have not yet been established, Court Registries have been opened to fast-track the filing and processing of cases there, while the Court continuously plans to upgrade these registries to full-fledged Judicial Division as budgeted resources become available.
The constitutional albatross hanging over the Court’s neck was eventually unshackled with the passage of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Third Alteration) Act, 2010. His Excellency, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, assented to the Bill on the 4th Day of March 2011 after it had successfully passed through all the laid- down processes of the 1999 Constitution in the Senate and House of Representative; and 33 of the 36 State Houses of Assembly in the Federation. The other three State Houses of Assembly could not sit to consider this Bill and other matters of the state due to internal prevailing challenges they faced at that material time. The National Industrial Court of Nigeria is thus the first court to be included in any Nigerian Constitution by a democratically elected Legislature.
A key feature of the 1999 Constitution, as altered, is that now National Industrial Court of Nigeria is constitutionally recognized under section 6 (5) (cc) and 254A of the Constitution as fourth in the list of superior courts of record. The Court now consists of the President of the Court and such number of judges of the Court as may be prescribed by an Act of the National of the Assembly.
The Court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases and matters relating to labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations, national minimum wage, international best practices in labour and industrial matters, discrimination or sexual harassment at the workplace, application or interpretation of international labour standards, child labour, child abuse, human trafficking, interpretation and application of collective agreements, payment or non-payment of salaries, wages, personnel matters arising from any free trade zone in the federation, etc.
The Court has established an Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) Center within the Court premises, with Headquarters at Abuja and six (6) geopolitical zones of the country at Kano, Gombe, Enugu, Calabar, Ibadan and Abuja.
By the powers conferred on him by section 254 (f) (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended by the Third Alteration Act, 2010) and section 36 of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006, His Lordship, the president, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, revoked the 2007 Rules of Court and made the 2017 Rules.
The new Rules are tailored towards facilitating the practice and procedures in the court with regard to the expanded jurisdiction and powers of the Court under the new dispensation, and the emerging global trends in labour jurisprudence and industrial relations practice in Nigeria.
The new Rules took effect on the 3rd day of January 2017; and can be accessed on the court’s website (www.nicnadr.gov.ng).***
Written by Olurotimi Williams Dauda,
Chief Registrar, National Industrial Court of Nigeria