Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In 2019 citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.
The Nigeria Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Police and is overseen by the Police Service Commission, is the primary civilian law enforcement agency and enjoys broad jurisdiction throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior also conducts security and law enforcement activities. The Department of State Services, which reports to the national security advisor in the Office of the President, is responsible for counterintelligence, internal security, counterterrorism, and surveillance as well as protection of senior government officials. The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the minister of defense, also share domestic security responsibilities as stipulated in the constitution in the case of insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies or as ordered by the president. Many states, in response to increased violence, insecurity, and criminality that exceeded the response capacity of government security forces, created local “security” vigilante forces. These local forces reported to the state governor. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
The insurgency in the North East by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. The terrorist groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, numerous human rights abuses, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than three million persons, and the external displacement of more than an estimated 327,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of the year’s end.
Significant human rights abuses included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including killings, abductions, and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats against journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; crimes of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate, punish, and prosecute alleged abuses by military and police forces, including the now disbanded police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but impunity for such abuses and corruption remained a problem.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued attacks on civilians, military, police, humanitarian, and religious targets; recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of attacks on population centers in the North East and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa and took steps to counter the growth of the insurgency. The Eastern Security Network, the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra separatist movement, staged multiple attacks on government buildings, including police stations, in the South East and reportedly killed dozens of security force officers. Criminal gangs killed civilians and conducted mass kidnappings that particularly targeted school-age children in the North West.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides all workers, except members of the armed forces, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and public employees who are classified in the broad category of “essential services” the right to form or belong to a trade union or other association, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Some statutory limitations substantially restrict these rights. The law does not prohibit general antiunion discrimination but lacks adequate protective measures in this regard.
Substantial restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join a union include, for example, the requirement of prior authorization or approval by the ministry to establish a union. By law a trade union may be registered only if there is no other union already registered in that trade or profession and if it has a minimum of 50 members, a threshold most businesses could not meet. Lengthy notice periods and an unlimited timeline for the ministry to deliberate on objections to union formation can prevent legitimate worker organization. In addition, penalties are imposed for organizing or joining an organization that is not officially recognized.
Trade unions must meet various registration requirements to be legally established. A three-month notice period, starting from the date of publication of an application for registration in the Nigeria Official Gazette, must elapse before a trade union may be registered. If the Ministry of Labor and Employment does not receive objections to registration during the three-month notice period, it must register the union within three months of the expiration of the notice period. If an objection is raised, the ministry has an indefinite period to review and deliberate on the registration. The registrar may refuse registration because a proper objection has been raised or because a purpose of the trade union is illegal. The law does not explain what an appropriate objection or illegal target may be. Each federation must consist of 12 or more affiliated trade unions, and each trade union must be an exclusive member in a single federation. Penalties are imposed for organizing or joining an organization that is not officially recognized.
The law generally does not provide for a union’s ability to conduct its activities without interference from the government. The law narrowly defines what union activities are legal.
The law places limits on the scope of collective bargaining. For example, the law stipulates that every collective agreement on wages be registered with the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding. Workers and employers in export-processing zones (EPZs) have fewer legal protections than other workers. For example, although EPZ workers may organize and engage in collective bargaining, there are no explicit provisions providing them the right to organize their administration and activities without interference by the government. The law does not allow worker representatives free access to the EPZs to organize workers, and it prohibits workers from striking for 10 years following the commencement of operations by the employer within a zone. In addition, the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, which the federal government created to manage the EPZ program, has exclusive authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, thereby limiting the autonomy of the bargaining partners.
The law places legal restrictions on workers’ right to strike. For example, the law requires a majority vote of all registered union members to call a strike and limits the right to strike to certain types of labor disputes such as those arising from an employment contract or related to wages and conditions of work. The law prohibits strikes in essential services. The International Labor Organization (ILO), however, stated that government defined “essential services” in an overly broad manner. Essential services included the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Ltd.; any corporate body licensed to carry out banking under the Banking Act; the postal service; sound broadcasting; telecommunications; maintenance of ports, harbors, docks, or airports; transportation of persons, goods, or livestock by road, rail, sea, or river; road cleaning; and refuse collection. Strike actions, including many in nonessential services, may be subject to a compulsory arbitration procedure leading to a final award, which is binding on the parties concerned. Strikes based on disputed national economic policy are prohibited. Penalties for conviction of participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
Many alleged cases in antiunion discrimination and obstruction to collective bargaining were reported during the year. Specific acts include denial of the right to join trade unions, massive dismissals for trying to join trade unions, mass repression of union members, and arrests of union members, among others.
While workers exercised some of their rights, the government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Inflation reduced the deterrence value of many fines established by older laws.
In many cases workers’ fears of negative repercussions inhibited their reporting of antiunion activities. According to labor representatives, police rarely gave permission for public demonstrations and routinely used force to disperse protesters. The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) described the mass layoffs of workers by the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, as the most brutal attack on workers and trade unions’ rights in the country’s history, breaching provisions of relevant laws. The governor laid off more than 60 percent of the state’s workforce in Kaduna State. In April, El-Rufai fired 4,000 local council workers. Between 2016 and 2021, the governor laid off 21,700 primary school teachers, 7,310 local government employees, 3,000 personnel in the state civil service, and 1,240 workers in the health sector. On May 18, the NLC embarked on a five-day warning strike in Kaduna State, paralyzing business activity throughout the state. The state government threatened to lay off the protesting workers. Following the intervention of the federal government, the NLC suspended the strike after two days.
Collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector but remained restricted in some parts of the private sector, particularly in banking and telecommunications. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the government and some private-sector employers occasionally failed to honor their collective agreements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except compulsory prison labor. Criminal penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes but were seldom appropriately enforced. The government did not effectively enforce these laws in many parts of the country. The government took steps to identify or eliminate forced labor, but insufficient resources and lack of training on such laws hampered efforts.
Forced labor remained in multiple sectors of the economy with reports of women and girls subjected to forced labor in domestic service and boys subjected to forced labor in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Child labor was prevalent, especially in the informal sector.
The law sets the general minimum age for employment at 12. Persons younger than 14 may be employed only on a daily basis, must receive the day’s wages at the end of each workday, and must be able to return each night to their parents’ or guardian’s residence. By law these regulations do not apply to domestic service. The law also provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and horticulture if the employer is a family member. No person younger than 16 may work underground, in machine work, or on a public holiday. No “young person,” defined by law as a person younger than 18, may be employed in any job that is injurious to health, dangerous, or immoral. For industrial work and work on vessels where a family member is not employed, the minimum work age is 15, consistent with the age for completing educational requirements. The law states children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than eight hours per day. Apprenticeship of youths older than 12 is allowed in skilled trades or as domestic servants.
The Labor Ministry dealt specifically with child labor problems but mainly conducted inspections in the formal business sector, where the incidence of child labor reportedly was not significant. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking has some responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, although it primarily rehabilitates trafficking and child labor victims. Victims or their guardians rarely complained due to intimidation and fear of losing their jobs.
The government completed the new National Action Plan on Child Labor 2021-2025, coordinated by the Ministry of Labor and Employment. The government’s child labor policy focused on intervention, advocacy, sensitization, legislation, withdrawal of children from potentially harmful labor situations, and rehabilitation and education of children following withdrawal. In an effort to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, the government operated vocational training centers with NGOs around the country. The Labor Ministry confirmed that 2,996 children were removed from child labor during the year, a small number compared to the 15 million working children younger than 14 in the country, according to ILO estimates. Ministry of Labor officials expressed concern during the year that 43 percent of children between the ages of five to 17 were engaged in economic activities (although not all of them were engaged in the worst forms of child labor), and that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more children to work for financial reasons. Despite the policy and action plan, children largely were not adequately protected due to weak enforcement of the law and gaps in coverage.
Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor identified in the country including: commercial agriculture and hazardous farm work (cocoa, cassava); street hawking; exploitative cottage industries such as iron and other metal works; hazardous mechanical workshops; exploitative and hazardous domestic work; commercial fishing; exploitative and hazardous pastoral and herding activities; construction; transportation; mining and quarrying; commercial sex work and pornography; forced and compulsory labor and debt bondage; forced participation in violence, criminal activity, and ethnic, religious, and political conflicts; and involvement in drug peddling.
Many children worked as beggars, street peddlers, and domestic servants in urban areas. Children also worked in the agricultural sector and in mines. Boys were forced to work as laborers on farms, in restaurants, for small businesses, and in granite mines as well as street peddlers and beggars. Girls worked involuntarily as domestic servants and street peddlers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or social status. The government did not effectively address discrimination in employment or occupation except in the area of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women, Discrimination). Women are legally barred from particular fields of employment, such as mining. Women often experienced discrimination due to traditional and religious practices. Police regulations provide for special recruitment requirements and conditions of service applying to women, particularly the criteria and provisions relating to pregnancy and marital status. In 2019 the government adopted a law prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities that provides them the right to education without discrimination or segregation and the right to work on an equal basis with others, including the right to opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open. The law further provides that “all employers of labor in public organizations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5 percent of their employment.”
NGOs expressed concern regarding discrimination against women in the private sector, particularly in access to employment, promotion to higher professional positions, and salary equity. According to reports many businesses implemented a “get pregnant, get fired” policy. Women remained underrepresented in the formal sector where labor protections and higher wages applied. Women did not receive equal pay for equal work and often encountered difficulty in acquiring commercial credit or obtaining tax deductions or rebates as heads of households. Unmarried women endured many forms of discrimination. Several states had laws mandating equal opportunity for women.
Employers frequently discriminated against persons with HIV and AIDS. The government spoke out in opposition to such discrimination, calling it a violation of the fundamental right to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for public and private sector employers with 25 or more full-time employees, with exceptions for seasonal agricultural workers and some others. In 2019 President Buhari signed legislation increasing the legal national monthly minimum wage to approximately $73 per month from $49.60 per month. The minimum wage was not higher than the poverty income level. Trade unions protested the failure of the new minimum wage to keep up with inflation. Employers with fewer than 25 employees are exempt from the minimum wage, and most workers were not covered. Government enforcement of the minimum wage, particularly by state governments, remained sporadic despite workers’ protests and warning strikes.
The law mandates a 40-hour workweek, two to four weeks of annual leave, and overtime and holiday pay, except for agricultural and domestic workers. The law does not define premium pay or overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime for civilian government employees. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar violations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Although the law gives labor inspectors authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions, most individuals must make their own complaint before the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in order to report noncompliance and seek redress. The law further clarifies that an agreement for the payment of wages less than the national minimum wage is void and of no effect.
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria has original exclusive jurisdiction for all labor and employment matters. The court developed a virtual hearing protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue hearing cases. Penalties were low and not commensurate with other crimes, such as fraud. For example, the fine for employers found in violation for failing to pay minimum wage could not exceed 5 percent of the monthly wage. The court publishes recent decisions on its website. Because the court relies on individuals to bring their own complaints against employers and small businesses with fewer than 25 employees are exempt from the minimum wage laws, most if not all cases involved higher wage or salaried employees who were working in the formal sector.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes appropriate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards for the main industries in the country. OSH experts did not actively identify unsafe conditions and there were insufficient OSH inspectors to respond to workers’ OSH complaints. The law requires employers to compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of workers killed in industrial accidents. The law provides for the protection of factory employees in hazardous situations. The law does not provide other nonfactory workers with similar protections. The law applies to legal foreign workers, but not all companies respected these laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing OSH standards. The ministry did not effectively enforce OSH law and did not have enough inspectors to enforce compliance. The ministry is tasked to inspect factories’ compliance with health and safety standards but was underfunded, lacked basic resources and training, and consequently did not sufficiently enforce safety regulations at most enterprises, particularly construction sites and other nonfactory work locations. Labor inspections mostly occurred randomly but occasionally occurred when there was suspicion, rather than actual complaints, of illegal activity. In addition, the government did not enforce the law strictly.
Informal Sector: Approximately 70 percent of the country’s working population worked in the informal economy. Economic researchers stated the country’s informal sector produced between 47 to 67 percent of GDP. The National Bureau of Statistics reported rising numbers of unemployment during the pandemic (unemployment rate rose from 27 percent to more than 33 percent in 2020), pushing more workers into underemployment and the informal sector. Youth and women were more likely to be employed in the informal sector. The informal sector consisted mainly of small-scale, largely self-employment activities such as retail trade; transport, restaurant, and repair services; financial services; domestic work; personal services; farming, mining and quarrying; sewing; attending traditional births; and acting as herbalists and other traditional medical practitioners. Relatively profitable informal work could be found in the financial sector, with private money lenders, currency exchangers, and informal finance associations operating irregular and shadow-banking enterprises. For example, traditional “esusu associations” involved members who contributed a fixed amount periodically and gave all or part of the accumulated funds to one or more member(s) in rotation until all members had benefited from the pool. Some informal financial work was associated with gambling or illegal enterprise.
Authorities did not enforce wage, hour, and OSH laws and inspections in the informal sector. The law authorizes individuals to bring violations to the National Industrial Court on their own behalf, but informal workers did not bring cases to the court. The country allows informal workers to join its National Health Insurance Scheme by paying voluntary contributions, but less than 5 percent of the population subscribed. The government does not provide social protections for workplace injury or sickness for informal sector workers or self-employed workers. Small businesses with more than three employees and some individuals could join voluntary contribution programs with the national pension for old age and survivor benefit, sickness and maternity coverage, but rarely enrolled.