YUSUF, NOAH (PhD)

                  Department of Sociology,

                   University of Ilorin, Nigeria.





























                                            The web of activities which involve the process of joint employment regulations between unions and employers including the intervening actions by outside agents, especially government, have consistently remained the central issues which dominate workplace relations. The determinants of these relations have been adduced to several factors including the historical background, the economic and legal systems, technology and culture of the situation concerned as well as the political environment (Akpala, l982; Fajana, 2000).

                                          This paper examines the effect of the last of these factors- political climates, and specifically, the current democratic experience, in Nigeria’s industrial relations system. The paper considers the nation’s industrial relations practice in period preceding the current democratic experience, especially the military era. It further reflects on the impact of the democratization process on the industrial relations system.









     While there are different perspectives to the understanding of industrial relations, the Marxist approach which put much emphasis on the connection between industrial relations and the political system is the most relevant in a discussion of the interrelationship between democracy and industrial relations (Fashoyin, 1980:2) The approach maintains that in capitalist societies, the state is always on the side of the employer in an attempt to protect the interest of the bourgeoisie. In the words of Marx and Engles (1958),


                              The executive of the modern state

                               is but a  committee for managing

                               the common affairs of the whole

                               Bourgeoisie (p.36).


     In view of the close interconnection between political factors and socio-economic development, efforts meant to improve the socio-economic status of the society has always been directed towards political transformation through the democratization of the political institution. However, this transformation could not be achieved without economic and social democracy.


     Miliband (1975) has argued that the state stands for a number of institutions which together constitutes its reality. These according to him include government, the judiciary, the military, the police and other statutory bodies that are employed by the state to harass and repress the combination of workers in form of trade unions. The state is here seen as a coercive instrument of the ruling capitalist class (Hyman, 1975) .The government also interferes with industrial relations in the area of wage claims by workers. For instance, it encourages employers to restrain workers’ income, intensify work pressure and work discipline and reinforce management control.

     Dunlop (1972) has argued that an industrial relations system overlaps with the other sub-systems in the society, namely, the economic and political systems. This implies that a nation’s industrial relations system is influenced by happenings in the political and economic realms. It is in this regard that the present paper examines the effect of the democratization process on Nigeria’s industrial relations system.



Democracy and Industrial Relations


     Like any other popular concepts, democracy has a plethora of definitions each based on different perspectives and schools of thoughts. Fundamentally, the word “democracy” comes from the Greek and literally mean rule of the people; Democratic government is therefore believed to have originated from the Greek City States, where democratic ideals started and transfered to other societies (Birch, 1993: 47).

     Some scholars have however argued that while the Greek might have provided the idea that make up democracy, they did not provide a model. This is because the assumption and practices of the Greek were quite different from those of modern states.  In the Greek democracy, only a small minority of adult population are granted right of political participation which was achieved through direct vote on issues. These ideals are quite different from the modern democratic system which is based on majority rule and representative government.

      Sartori (1987) summarises the contrast in the democratic practices of the Greek city States and modern democracy this way:


                     Modern men want another democracy

                      in the sense that their ideal of democracy

                      is not all the same as that of the Greek (p.279).


       In its modern sense, democracy came into use during the course of the nineteenth

century to describe the system of representative government in which representatives are chosen by free competitive election and in which most citizens are entitled to vote. This ideal was instituted through the U.S in 1870’s and 1890’s in Britain in the 1860’s and then spread to other European countries in later years and to developing region of the world, including Africa in the second half of the twentieth century.

      The American form of democracy is generally taken to represent the model of the modern democracy .The ideal of this form of democracy is one in which,




                     the supreme ,absolute and uncontrollable power

                     remains in the people. Our constitutions are superior

                     to our legislature so that people are superior to

                     our constitution ……democracy is then that

                     government in which the people retain the

                     supreme power (quoted in Padover 1963: 16).         


       Another form in which democracy has been conceptualized is in terms of social democracy, industrial democracy and people’s democracy. Social democracy is a political ideology which advocates social, economic and social policies to be implemented within a society which has democratic political institution and practices. In this sense, social democracy is parasitic upon political democracy. Industrial democracy is a term developed by Sydney and Beatrice Webb (1897), which imply a form of workers control within industrial plants. That is, the taking over of managerial decision making by workers. People’s democracy applies to the form existing in the defunct communist bloc of Soviet Union. The concept was used to describe the form of political system in the communist state which involves the control of government by the proletariat.


     In the present paper, democracy shall be explained as a form of political system with the following elements:

-         periodic election;

-         guarantee of fundamental human rights;

-         existence of alternative choice of parties and candidates during elections;

-         election of representatives by majority vote;

-         adherence to the rule of law and separation of power (Obasanjo and Mabogunje, 1990).




Industrial Relations


     In its simplest form, industrial relations concern all aspects of employment relations. It deals with everything that affects the relationship between workers and employers right from the time the employee join the work organization until he leaves the job.


     Industrial relations is as old as industry. Precisely, it began when the production of goods and survives came to be organized in formal institutions.


     There are three principal actors in any industrial relations system: employers (and managers), labour (and their trade unions) and government. The interactions between these three actors are the concern of industrial relations.




 Poole (1986) asserts that industrial relations concentrates on,


            Conflict and accommodation and reconciliation of

            parties and partly divergent interests of the managers

            labour and trade union and the state  and its agencies

            in both production and distribution spheres (p.6).


     Some literatures treat the concept of Industrial relations as a global concept that covers all the activities in manpower management. Some authorities include in it the attitude in personnel management, the process of joint employment regulation between workers and employers (labour-management relations) and the intervening actions by outside agents including the government. (Akpala, 1982:28).


     Armstrong argues that the substance of industrial relations is:


                        The interwining activities of

                        trade unions , employers and

                        the state (p.16).


     This conceptualization is in line with Lavine’s (1985) definition of industrial relations as the respective roles of management, labour and government in the process which relates workers to employers, workers to workers and workers to work.


     Dunlop (1958) conceived the concept in terms of the participants or actors involved in the process as,


-         a hierarchy of managers and their representatives or representatives of organizations;

-         a hierarchy of workers (non-managers) and their spokesmen  i.e. workers organisations and representatives;

-         specialized governmental agencies that that may include specialized private agencies created by the first two factors;


Industrial relations is therefore the regulation of employment relations in any employment situation by the employer (management or their organizations, the workers organisations and the third party, private or/and government acting as an umpire or a controller, the purpose of which is joint decision making for establishing job rules and job values and for the co-ordination of manpower resources for the attainment of the organizational objectives of the enterprise and the trade union as well as the state.


     A country’s industrial relations system is for controlling and chanelling workers protest and for establishing job values, procedural and substanrtive, or rules for job values.


Industrial relations is therefore meant to concentrate on the interrelationship between actors in the workplace. This interaction may involve only two actors (for instance, employers or managers and workers). It may also involve their collectivities (for instance, between a worker and his union, or between a branch of a union and its national body or between management and the state). It must however be understood that industrial relations vary across plant, enterprise, industry, regional and national boundaries.



               Akpala(1992) in describing industrial relations as a process of  defining power and  authority relations among management, labour organization and government agents argued that  it is for controlling and chanelling workers protest and for establishing job values, procedural and substantive or rule of job values. He therefore conceives industrial relations system as mainly rule-making arrangement and processes for job determination.

Industrial relations is seen to vary from one situation to another in the plant, enterprise, industry and national levels. The factors often mentioned as affecting the character of industrial relations include among other things historical background, economic and legal systems, technology and cultural factors, management philosophy as well as political climate.

            These factors taken together lead to similarities and variations in industrial relations system across cultures and societies.


Fig.1:  Flow sheet of the Industrial Relations System

          External                           Parties in                                                                 Subjects of                        Result

             Factors                     I.R.S.                              Methods                      Negotiation             



    Ideologies                                Employers                                                                   Wages                                     Inflation    





                                                                                                           Making                          Working

                                                                                                          Systems                       Conditions                   

                                                         Trade Unions                                                                          Productivity

   Economic system

     and conditions

    and management

                                                                                                          Collective                     Trade Union

                                                                                                         Bargaining                         Rights               


         Labour Force                           Public Opinion

                                                          or Community                                                                                                               Industrial                  

                                                                                                          Government                                                                       Peace

                                                                                                             Unilateral                    Employment

       Technology                                                                                    Action                         Training 



         Social                                           State                                                               

       Legislation                                                                                                                       Procedure                                Development






Source: Adapted from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Recent Trends in Collective Bargaining, Int. Management Seminars (1971 –1, Paris, 1972) p.4.



     As seen from Fig.1 above, all industrial relations have similar principal actors namely, employers, trade unions and the state, with public opinion influencing their interaction. Further, all industrial relations involve rule making on such issues as wages working condition, trade union rights, training procedures and other work related matters.


     Industrial relations may vary according to the external factor which determine for instance, its structure. Variation may result from the method adopted by the system. For instance, an industrial relations system based on collective bargaining would be different from that based on overriding state action or one which is based on trip [arte decision making in which the three parties participate as equal partners. All industrial relations involve job value regulations which vary from unilateral management or employer decision to collective bargaining, triparte decision making to complete regulation.


     Each of these methods is not exclusive of the other. An industrial relations system can be a combination of two or m ore of these methods which may explain the variation between one system and another.


      Lastly, a dominant factor determining industrial relations system is the political environment which gives rise to the type of law governing industrial relation s system and the process of management pervading the situation. This last factor is the central focus of the present discussion. That is, the interrelationship between democratic environment and industrial relations system of a society with Nigeria as our case.




     The evolution and eventual development of industrial relations system in Nigeria has largely been traced to activities which occured during the colonial period (Akpala, 1982, Fajana, 2000 and Yesufu, 1976). For instance, Akpala (1982) ccontends that the remote background of the development of industrial relations in Nigeria features the absence of a sense of direction and a lack of policy for labour.


    Davies (1966) pointed out the lack of clear labour policy in British colonies in West Africa. According to him, at this period, prior to the First World War, the principle of lassies- faire was made to guide the actions of employers and the administrators with respect to economic activities and matters affecting the employers-employee relationship.


     However, the situation started to change at the end of the First World War which created the initial conditions that gave impetus for developing a labour policy. Two events – the establishment of International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the labour condition after the war, provided reasons for the adoption of a definite labour policy. This policy was meant to ensure efficient utilization of labour against the backdrop of international scrutiny of labour standards.





     Between the First and Second World wars, the colonial administration introduced actions towards concrete labour policy in their colonies. This led to the granting of legal rights to unions in the colonies including Nigeria.     


    Democratisation Process and Industrial Relations in Nigeria


As mentioned earlier, there exist a nexus between political environment and industrial relations. In the first place, the content of democracy has a way of shaping the industrial relations system of a society. Taken to the economic sphere, democracy has been conceptualized as a system in which all aspects of economic activities – production, organization and distribution are democratized (economic democracy). This implies that both in terms of production and distribution, all parties are involved in the making of decisions relating to them. The Third National Development Plan of Nigeria says,


                     The spirit of industrial relations in Nigeria

                     is guided by the principle of industrial democracy.

                     This implies that both the workers and management

                      and others who have stakes in the production process

                                  would be involved in the making of decision relating

                                  to them (quoted in Sokunbi


Some scholars have also demonstrated that an industrial relations system can

 be understood in terms of the political environment within which it operates (Flanders, 1972; Kerr, 1973; Damachi, 1983). Common to all these works is that the existence of

a favourable political climate makes possible a healthy industrial relations system. For instance, in Britain, industrialization came at a time when the philosophy of

 lassies- faire was the underlying principle guiding all economic activities. As a result, this philosophy influenced industrial relations in the free enterprise system. Again, because of the long history of industrialization in Britain as well as other developed countries of the world, a large proportion of the citizenry constitutes the wage labour force. This factor becomes very relevant in the consideration of industrial relations practice especially in the developing countries such as Nigeria when it is realized that in contrast to the situation described above, the political culture is devoid of a definite philosophy while only a very minimal proportion of the total population constitutes the labour force. Another important issue in the consideration of the interconnection between   democracy and industrial relations practice is the involvement of the citizenry in the democratic process. In other words, the involvement of the greater majority of the people in the political process at the national level make agitation and eventual realization of industrial democracy possible. In the Nigerian case, because the country has largely experienced military rule (28 years out of the 45 years of its existence as a nation) there is a weak development of democratic culture in the country.This factor has influenced the



industrial relations practice in the country. For instance, during the military era, a number of restrictions were placed upon trade unions which greatly inhibited their operation.

     In order to fully appreciate the interaction between democracy and industrial relations it would be pertinent to present the discussion under two major periods – the military and democratic rule.


Industrial Relations Under Military Rule                                 


     By its nature, the military operates a totalitarian regime characterized by suppression, repression, and suspension of constitutional rule, arbitrariness and unilateralism. Over the years, the first casuality of military coup is the trade union. As part of the pressure groups in the society the trade union has always been at the receiving end of harsh military policies.

     As the largest employer of labour, government involvement in industrial relations in Nigeria is pervasive. Under the military such involvement was manifested in the following ways: -


i.                     Restrictions and outright ban of Trade Union activities: More than any other time, trade unions suffer from harsh and repressive government policies during military rule. Along with other pressure groups in the society, trade unions are prevented from holding rallies, embarking on strike, picketing members during strike and other legitimate activities of trade unionism. For instance, in the recent experience during the military regimes of General Ibrahim Babangida and Late General Sani Abacha , the government clamped down heavily on prominent trade unions in the country especially those who embarked on strike to press for the actualization of annulled June 12 Presidential election. These include PENGASSAN, NUPENG, ASUU and NBA. (Banwo, 1997; Olorode, 1997).

ii.                   Denial of right of unionism:  In Nigeria, a large number of workers are denied the right of belonging to trade union of their choice. This development is most obvious during military rule. In several government-owned parastatals like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and the paramilitary organizations like Customs and Immigration Services, men and women working there are prevented from forming or belonging to trade union.

iii.                  Arbitrariness on Labour-Management Issues: As an important actor in Nigeria’s industrial relations system, military government often engaged in arbitrariness in dealing with labour-management issues(Babawale, 1997). Instances of such unilateral actions abound in the history of industrial relations in Nigeria. For instance, in 1984, the then military administration led by General Muhammadu Buhari sacked a number of striking medical doctors in the public service. Other instances include lay-off of workers without resort to due process. (Howard, 1991).


iv.                 Erosion of the rule of law: Industrial relations thrive better in a democratic environment where the rule of law and other ingredients of democratic values are supreme. Military rule is often characterized by flagrant violation of the tenets of the rule of law. Not only is constitutional rule suspended, but also more fundamental is flagrant disobedience of court judgments and obvious transgression of justice  (Howard, 1991;Scheider, 1992).

v.                   Promulgation of draconian labour legislations: The military era in Nigeria witnessed the enactment of some draconian laws which have negative impacts 

on the nation’s industrial relations system. For instance, as a way of discouraging workers to embark on strike, the “No work, no pay” clause was introduced into the Trade Disputes Act. This law stipulates that employees stand to forefeit their pay for the period they are on strike. In 1984, the Buari-Idiagbon regime promulgated Decrees 16 and 17 aimed at legalising the regime’s onslaught on the     economic and political powers of the workers. These decrees prevented workers from seeking legal redress against retrenchment and also included automatic payment of all benefits after retrenchment. In addition, military tribunals were set up to try cases that were essentially civil in nature. Democratic organizations like NANS, NBA, NMA, and NARD were also banned. Again, during the Babangida regime, several civil organizations were banned. These include NANS, (1986) while another Decree aimed at disaffiliating ASUU from NLC was promulgated the same

year. In later year, ASUU was banned, as were other prominent trade unions,   (Hyman, 1987; Olugboye, 1996).

           Industrial relations under Civil Rule

     The advent of democratic rule in Nigeria has left some impacts on the industrial relations system in the country. However, due to the fact that the country had a longer period of military dictatorship than civil rule, the impact of the military is more pronounced. More importantly, the country tends to be dominated by military culture even during civilian regime. The implication of this trend to the nation’s industrial relations system is that democratic regimes in Nigeria exhibit similar pattern of attitude to industrial relations (Hear, 1988).

     Firstly, democratic governments like the military are known to engage in harassment, intimidation and arrest of labour leaders especially when they are on strike .Adesina (1994) argued that since the Military adopts an ideology that legitimise its continuous supra constitutional role in politics, then repression is not an impossible outcome. In the recent time, the NLC –led nation-wide strike against the hike in fuel price comes to mind. During the said strike, several labour leaders and their followers were physically molested and arrested by the security agents.

     Secondly, successive civilian governments in Nigeria have engaged in interference with trade union organizations in the country (Jeminiwa, 1996).  As a way of preventing the emergence of strong unionism, these governments have embarked on decentralization policy, denied certain perceived radical unions from belonging to the central labour organization and enacted legislations meant to weaken the existing central labour union (Akinyanju, 1997). The Labour Bill which was passed by the National Assembly in February 2005, is a recent example.


    Thirdly, in the current political dispensation, the dominance of retired military officers is obvious and profound. This factor has an enormous impact on the nation’s political climate and especially on the attitude and actions of political office holders. The effect on the industrial relations system is the evidence of intolerance of the government towards other principal actors, especially, workers and their unions. Such actions like the enforcement of “No work, No pay” clause, refusal of government to implement collective agreement attest to this fact (Sokunbi et al, 1996).


 Inspite of the obvious similarities in the attitude of military and civilian governments towards industrial relations, it must be stressed that democratic rule provides a healthier environment for the process. For instance, while the rule of law is completely abolished under the military, the same tenet thrives in democracy. Many industrial relations issues have been resolved by the court in the current political dispensation. Examples of this include the court resolution of the nation-wide strike organized by the Nigerian Labour Congress in December 2004 and several other court injunctions restraining government from tampering with the employment of workers.    


     Lastly, democratic rule serves to limit arbitrary actions on the part of management, employer or government. For instance, political office holders who aspire to seek for political support from the people would be cautious in taking action which could jeopardize their political ambition.




     This paper has discussed the issue of industrial relations practice in Nigeria with respect to the democratization experience. It considers industrial relations as being influenced by several factors, in this instance, political factor. While observing that the military provides an unhealthy environment for the thriving of industrial relations, democratic rule on the other hand is seen to be more favourable. The enthronement of democratic values is therefore suggested as a recipe for condusive industrial relations system.




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