Why Most Maltreated Nigerian Employees Never Take Legal Steps

February 11, 2021

Citizen is a column that explains how the government’s policies fucks citizens and how we can unfuck ourselves.

As horrific as it may sound, enduring various levels of abuse and labour rights violations has become an almost essential part of what it means to be an employee in Nigeria. We see it in employees calling out their employers online over wilfully delayed salaries or for creating unfair working conditions.  While all of these cases are commonly accepted, they are also too rampant to ignore and so we spoke with legal experts to help unpack why mistreated Nigerian employees don’t often take legal steps against their employers.

  1. Nigeria’s Unaccommodating Labour Laws.
Who did we offend?

One of the reasons Ayomide Adebayo-Oyetoro, a legal practitioner we spoke with, cites is that Nigeria’s labour laws don’t have strong enforcement processes and are not designed to accommodate all types of workers in the country. “Because the labour laws in the country cannot be enforced on private organisations, it makes it hard for all employers to be obedient to it. So, while some private organisations have innovated and provide international labour standards to their employees, most have taken advantage of this lack of regulation and mistreat their staff without consequence.”

  1. Timeline Of The Case.

As Ms. Oyetoro also tells us, a case of this nature could take anything from one to 10 years to see through and so many maltreated employees feel discouraged to pursue this option. “Most of the judges are overworked. Very few courts to multitudes of people. Some lawyers use different frivolous petitions to delay court proceedings and frustrate you. By the time you finish, the party dissatisfied with the judgment can appeal And then you do the merry-go-round again,” she says.

  1. The High Cost Of Litigation.
Lol, what?

According to another legal expert we spoke to, one who prefers to stay anonymous, the cost of filing for cases like this should typically cost ₦1,000- ₦5,000, but people often find themselves spending way more than that. “Apart from the cost of filing fees, you’d have to bribe registrars to make sure your case gets a hearing date, you’d pay for each appearance in court, that’s aside from the lawyer’s professional fees. Officially, they aren’t usually expensive, unofficially, carry your ₦30,000 to ₦50,000. And this is just to get started,” they told us. “Also, each time you go to court, you have to pay the lawyer at least ₦10,000 to ₦20,000 for appearance fees. Whether or not the court sits.”

  1.  Employees Don’t Often Go Through Their Contract.

All the legal experts we spoke to all attest to the fact that employees don’t often read their contracts and thus have no idea whether or not they have a case, making them unsure whether or not to take legal steps, even when they feel violated. 

So What Can Employees Do When They Feel Violated?

Our legal experts recommend contacting a Lawyer whenever you feel violated by an employer, that way it is easier to ground your feelings in fact and pursue a case if you so wish. Ms. Oyetoro considers it extremely important to document. “Evidence is key,” she says. “Always document whatever ill doings you face at the hands of your employer and back it up on your personal mail or something. Whatever agreement you and your employer come to, make sure you get it on paper. Always make sure you have an offer letter/contract. You’d be surprised how employers would deny you if you don’t have any official links to them.”

Our legal experts also encourage you to go through your contract before signing it. “You can get a lawyer to do this for you for a fee,” Ms. Oyetoro tells us. “Go through your employment contracts before signing anything. It would shock you to know how many oppressive terms are often contained in those contracts that you won’t see because you are looking at your salary.”

But above all, Ms. Oyetoro believes that more can be done in terms of educating employees on their rights and setting up spaces where all workers in Nigeria are sufficiently protected. As she says, “If employees are educated, sensitised about their rights and remedies by NGOs, trade unions or organizations in various industry spaces, things would definitely be easier.” 

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