The Third Alteration to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, elevated the status of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) to that of a superior court of record and conferred it with exclusive jurisdiction over labour, employment, and industrial relation matters.
The jurisdiction of the NICN is expressly set out in section 254C of the Constitution. The aspect of the NICN’s jurisdiction that is relevant to the subject of this article is the provision in section 254C(1)(a) of the Constitution. This section provides as follows –
“254C (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 251, 257, 272 and anything contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters—
(a) relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith;
In interpreting the above provision, two schools of thought appear to have emerged from judicial decisions regarding the NICN’s jurisdiction over tortious claims relating to employment or labour related matters.
While some decisions indicate that the expression “relating to or connected with any labour, employment, … and matters incidental thereto” give the NICN an expansive jurisdiction covering tortious claims, others have employed a more restrictive approach, limiting the jurisdiction of the NICN to strict employment or labour related matters without recourse to tortious claims.
This article considers the decisions of the Court of Appeal on this subject and proposes a practical approach to the interpretation of the expression “relating to or connected with any labour, employment, … and matters incidental thereto” in the context of Section 254C of the Constitution.
The Courts’ interpretation of the phrase “relating to or connected with any labour, employment, … and matters incidental thereto”
In interpreting the phrase “relating to or connected with any labour, employment, … and matters incidental thereto” the courts appear to readily accept that the NICN’s jurisdiction is broad enough to accommodate any dispute, provided that such dispute is related to employment or labour.
The point of divergence typically arises in relation to whether a claim qualifies as one related to employment or is so far removed from employment or labour to be considered as an employment dispute. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal has not provided much guidance on the parameters for determining when a claim can be said to be related to employment or labour and in the case of tortious disputes, the Court of Appeal has taken divergent approaches.
When adopting a restrictive approach, the Court of Appeal has held that the phrase relating to or connected with any labour, employment… and matters incidental thereto” is not wide enough to accommodate claims in torts such as defamation. In other cases, the Court of Appeal has adopted an expansive approach by extending the scope of the phrase to all issues arising from employment and labour disputes, irrespective of the nature of the claims or reliefs sought in the suit.
Tortious Claims Conundrum; The Nigerian Court of Appeal Pronouncements on the Jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria – Download The Full Publication