National Industrial Court of Nigeria

The vices of human trafficking and child labour seem intractable. As new laws are made to address those problems, the perpetrators appear to get more sophisticated in their unlawful business.
As a result, stakeholders say it has become more compelling and expedient to enlarge the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court (NIC) to adjudicate over such cases timeously.

Stakeholders who participated in the 16th Memorial lecture of late Chief Gabriel Oluyide Sodipo at the Lagos high court, Igbosere recently, reechoed this position.

It was an issue that evoked different emotions, ranging from outrage, bewilderment and confusion on why and how one person or a group of persons, whether by force, or by deception, could make fellow human beings commodities and traded same for financial or other rewards.

In a lecture with the theme: ‘The menace of human trafficking, child labour and the enlarged jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court’, Professor Chioma Kanu Agomo of the faculty of Law, University of Lagos, described such actions as barbaric. According to her, it reminded one of “a dark period in human history when one race trafficked and enslaved another race for centuries.”

She said: “The enslaved persons together with their spouses and offsprings born while in captivity were treated as chattels, the properties of their masters. We are outraged and offended because not only adults are trafficked; indeed, records show that children make up a sizeable chunk of trafficked persons.

“Most of these children end up as domestic workers, farmhands, sex slaves and street hawkers under degrading and sub-human conditions”.
Agomo said human trafficking and child labour are very complex because of its multidisciplinary as well as its global nature. Those are the reasons, she said, that necessitated the need for different agencies, both national and international to synergise in an attempt to curb the menace with a judicial body that has the competence, skill and a full complement of resources for effective discharge of its functions.

Though, the professor of law noted that initially, the NIC was limited to collective labour dispute resolutions, given the speedy nature with which it handles matters, it has became imperative for the enlarged jurisdiction. She commended Nigeria for always seeking for solution to the menace of human trafficking despite her culpability in the crime.

“Nigeria is a country of origin, transit and destination for human trafficking. It is therefore not surprising she was the first African country to pass a law which recognised human trafficking as a specific offence.

“The 2003 Act established the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) with enormous responsibilities which include the prosecution of human traffickers, protection and provision of support services.

“It would seem from NAPTIP figures that Nigeria has done much better than the global average in terms of the number of persons convicted from inception in 2003 to the first half of 2016. About 4,240 cases were reported, out of which 3,157 were investigated. Also, 9,895 were rescued. There were 255 convictions involving 291 persons for victims of trafficking and prevention of human trafficking,” she explained.

Agomo stated further that Nigeria became a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) and its Protocol in 2000. According to her, Nigeria was also one of the first to criminalize human trafficking by virtue of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2003. “This Act was repealed and replaced by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015.

“The UNTOC and its Protocol, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2000 is the main international instrument in the fight against organised crime. It came into force in 2003, and is supplemented by three Protocols, one of which is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children,”she stated.

Still on the efforts to curb the menace, she stressed that the NIC Act 2006 went beyond the collective labour enclave in section 7 by enlarging the jurisdiction of the Court in some civil causes and matters.

She explained that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Third Alteration) Act, 2010 enlarged the jurisdiction of the NIC to cover novel areas such as unfair labour practice, sexual harassment, child labour, child abuse, human trafficking or any other matter connected therewith or related thereto.

To her, enlarging the jurisdiction of the NIC demonstrates the assertion that labour law has gone beyond traditional concepts with narrow jurisdiction. It is only a court with an expanded jurisdiction such as is currently the case with the NIC that can effectively carry out the mandate, she said.

“Any attempt to remove the jurisdiction of the Court over child labour and human trafficking will be a retrogressive step. What is required is a pool of well -informed legal practitioners who can assist the court to develop a labour jurisprudence that can stand the test of time. Agencies such as NAPTIP and Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the relevant field should be able to access the NIC to get justice for the individual child victims of human trafficking,” she submitted.
Agomo also recommended that labour law be made a compulsory course at both university and law school levels. She said: “Labour law should also be a part of the continuing legal education of lawyers. There is the need for a total overhaul of the various laws relating to human trafficking, child labour and related matters to allow for an integrated and holistic system for an effective justice delivery.”

On the question of compensation of victims of trafficking, a lawyer with Chamberlain Partners, Mrs Marian Jones said victims of human trafficking and child labour are also victims of human rights violations and have the right to redress. She said they also have international legal right to adequate and appropriate remedies through the legal mechanisms of the state because human Trafficking and child labour involve a number of human rights abuses, such as slavery, torture, arbitrary detention, inhumane and degrading treatment and many more.

According to Jones, compensation is an aspect of the legal right of a victim of human trafficking and child labour and the whole purpose of compensation is to make good the loss sustained by the victim or legal representative of the deceased.

“The nature of compensation of victims of human trafficking and child labour is intertwined with the legal rights of the victim as identified by the Act,” she declared.

A Lagos based lawyer, Paul Omoijiade, in his reaction lauded the efforts at curtailing the scourge in Nigeria and called for adherence to international best practices.

His words: “The world is a global village and Nigeria can no longer be an island to itself. It is therefore imperative that all our personnel management and industrial relations practices are in conformity with international best practice, ILO conventions and recommendations.

“The NIC in their recent decisions are moving away at a terrific speed from the harsh common law doctrines and it is our duty to cooperate with NIC in the overall growth of indusrial law in Nigeria.”

Michael Ogunjobi of Jireh & Greys Attorneys, Lagos, said a holistic examination of the provisions of Section 254 C (1)(i)C.F.R.N (Third Alteration Act) 2010, Section 36 of Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015 and Section 277 of the Child Rights Act 2003 confirms that these provisions vests jurisdiction as it concerns the theme of this discourse on different Courts.

He said: “It is a trite postulation that the grundnorm supersedes! Succinctly, vesting NIC with jurisdiction on human trafficking underscores the Nigerian government’s resolve to stem the tide of trafficking in persons and is appropriate since same cannot be extricated from labour and employment matters.”

He also noted that one must appreciate that the family court is a more desirable court to handle matters relating to ‘child abuse’ due to its constitution and the privacy involved; not forgetting constraints of accessibility of NIC as a result of the barrier of having limited divisions.

“In the nearest future, there could be the challenge of over-flooding of NIC since child abuse is prevalent in our polity. Except by virtue of Section 24 NIC Act 2006 and Rule 28 NIC Rules 2007, NIC has power of transfer of cases where circumstances warrant such,” he pointed out.

The managing partner of Euccles Barristers, Solicitors & Arbitrators, Lagos, Emmanuel Etiuzalle, said the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the NIC was extended beyond labour related issues to include child labour, child abuse, human trafficking or any matter connected therewith or related thereto.

Said he: “It is instructive to note that by this provision, an aggrieved party can only commence an action in respect of these issues only at the NIC as against the previous position when such actions were commenced at the federal or state high courts.”

Etiuzalle also pointed out that the original and exclusive jurisdiction conferred on the NIC under the amendment covers only civil causes and matters. In other words, the NIC does not have jurisdiction to entertain and determine alleged criminal acts connected with or relating to child labour, child abuse, human trafficking and sexual harassment at places of work, he said.
“While sexual offences can only be instituted under the criminal jurisdiction of the courts, Section 254C (1) (g) confers on the NIC, the original and exclusive jurisdiction to try civil cases of sexual harassment in places of work. Accordingly, after a criminal prosecution is sustained against the defendant, the aggrieved party still has another window of opportunity to pursue a boss at the place of work or employer in an action for damages under civil liability.

“Most Nigerians, especially working class ladies, can now heave a sigh of relief in approaching the NIC whenever they face any form of harassment or intimidation from a randy employer or boss in their respective offices. In civil cases of this nature the tendency is for the aggrieved party to claim damages against the without the usual stigma associated with sexual offences where ladies of good upbringing or catholic background feel shy or uncomfortable under cross examination or re-examination to give evidence in court that may involve the use of lewd words,” he stated.

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