May 18, 2017

The NICN Revolution – A Curse Or Blessing? | Busayo Adedeji

The Supreme Court is expected on June 30, 2017 to rule on the finality of the decisions of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (“NICN”).  The apex court will be making this decision in the cases of  Mainstreet Bank Ltd (now Skye Bank Limited) vs Victor Anaemen Iwu and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited vs Mrs. Titilayo Akinsanya which are currently before the court.

There is no gain saying the fact the third alteration to the 1999 Constitution of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN 1999) has started a revolution at the NICN which has given all stakeholders (judges, lawyers and litigants alike) an interesting topic to debate on. Though the scope of our discuss will be limited to the appealability of the decisions of the NICN, other areas in which the said revolution has been witnessed are:

1. Jurisdiction: the court now has exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating   to   or   connected   with   industrial   relations   and   matters   arising   from workplace, the conditions of service and safety of workers and including welfare of labour and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith; and

2. The   court   has   now   been   empowered   to   apply   international   labour   treaties, conventions and protocols and international practices in Labour.

As   earlier   stated   the   essence   of our   discuss will   be   limited   to  appealability   of   the decisions of the NICN. By  virtue  of the Third  Alteration Act,  decisions of  the  NICN  in  civil  suits  that it  has original jurisdiction are  final. Appeals may only lie to the Court of Appeal on issues bordering on fundamental human rights as provided for in chapter IV of the CFRN 1999.

The court of Appeal has already interpreted the law as it concerns this alteration. In Coca-cola Nig. Ltd. & 2 Ors v. Mrs. Titilayo Akinsanya, the Court observed and held as follows:

“It is my considered view clear from the positions reproduced above; that
the lower court though a superior court of record is not in the same league
with the Federal High Court or State High Courts against the backdrop of
appeals.   The   lower   court   is   clearly   the   only   superior   court   of   record created   by   the   Constitution   whose   decisions   can   never   be   tested   on appeal  in the Supreme Court.”

The result of the foregoing  is  that it  has created a  myriad of diverse opinions, with criticisms here and there, especially as it concerns the right of an aggrieved person to appeal the decision of court if dissatisfied.


There is no gainsaying the fact labour matters ought to be finished with dispatch. It is often said that “there must be an end to litigation” and the emphasis of this saying cannot be overemphasized in labour matters. Labour matters often a involve former employee whose daily earning is an issue central to the suit on the one side and an employer whose management wants to dispense with the issues as soon as possible in order to avoid the distraction often associated with litigation.

In Nigeria (prior to the third alteration) there has been cases of retirees who sued their former employers for failure to pay pensions, it is sad to say that a host of these senior citizens who mostly fall within 65-75 years either die or are too old to enjoy the benefits of the pension if eventually ordered to be paid by the court. The reason for this is not farfetched, the matters are often tied on appeals (sometimes all the way to the supreme court). The average case litigated from the High Court to the Supreme Court in Nigeria
can take as long as 7-10 years.

In   south  Africa  The Labour   Court  (which   is   similar   to  the   NICN),   deals   with labour law and   the relationship  between  employer,  employee  and  trade  union, in  particular cases arising under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (South Africa) the Labour

Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act.
Appeals from the Labour Court lie to the Labour Appeal Court which has a status similar to the Supreme Court of Appeal. There is no further appeal except on constitutional matters, in which case appeals may be heard by the Constitutional Court, which is the final court in the land.

What is clear from the foregoing is the fact the world is changing in terms of settlement of Labour and Industrial disputes. Countries around the world have since realized the need   for   labour   matters   to   be   completed   with   dispatch   and   have   since   created specialized labour court with exclusive jurisdiction to handle labour and employment related matters, with limited right of appeal.

Perhaps will one day have a NICN court of appeal in Nigeria.

Busayo Adedeji 

Busayo Adedeji is an Associate in the corporate and commercial, corporate immigration, employment and labour, banking and corporate finance practice group of Bloomfield Law Practice; and advises multinational and local clients on matters such as regulatory compliance, trade unions, labour and employment, dispute resolution etc.

Photo Credit -