SDG #8: The challenges of Decent Work and Economic Growth in Nigeria

HomePublicationsSDG #8: The challenges of Decent Work and Economic Growth in Nigeria
HomePublicationsSDG #8: The challenges of Decent Work and Economic Growth in Nigeria
A major thrust of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders during the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York in September 2015 was the need to do more to empower individuals through decent work.

Indeed, the importance of 'Decent Work and Economic Growth' was underscored by its inclusion in the SDGs. Occupying number 8, it targets the build-up of decent work and economic growth in society through the promotion of development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.

There is no doubt that SDG-8 – which is geared towards promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable employment and decent work for all is meant to set a new path to economic growth and development for a country like Nigeria which has 112.519 million people living in poverty and over 20 million people without jobs.

As one of the world leaders who endorsed SDG-8, President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed the commitment of his administration to job creation and the provision of decent employment opportunities for Nigerians within the productive age range. The Nigerian leader realises that decent work is central to poverty reduction and is a means of achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. He has therefore promised that Nigeria will strive to attain the targets of SDG8.

SDG-8 targets

In essence, the targets for SDG-8 are as follows:

• To sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 percent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries.

•  Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors.

•  Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.

•  Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead.

•  By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.

•  By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.

•  Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.

•  Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.

•  By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.

•  Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all.

•  Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries.

•  By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization.

ayubaPillars of decent work

The concept of decent work is generally accepted as covering a wide range of issues which can be organised under four 'pillars', namely:
  • Employment creation and enterprise development
  • Social protection
  • Standards and rights at work
  • Governance and social dialogue

Decent work deficits in Nigeria

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the concept of "decent work" involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, coupled with active participation in decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

Decent work, a tool for poverty reduction and equitable globalization, is achieved through the four strategic pillars earlier outlined – employment creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective. Decent work is central to peoples' welfare as it provides income, paves the way for broader social and economic advancement and strengthens individuals, their families and communities. Decent work is linked to the concept of human development – a process of enabling choices, freedom to live one's value and manage one's affairs – the key indicators of which are long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living. These indicators are usually measured by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.

issaHowever, over the years, despite the fact that Nigeria has ratified ILO conventions that deal with the rights of the worker in the workplace – indeed, has enshrined some of its provisions into the 1999 Constitution – the observance of some of the rights have been weak. Workers in the country have been subjected to all manner of indecent treatment. According to Dung Pam Sha, a professor of Political Economy and Development Studies at the University of Jos, the government, transnational corporations, global financial institutions, global trading institutions as well as local private employers who are supposed to respect these rights, are the key violators.

Consequently, Nigeria has continued to record decent work deficits which include employment and labour market deficits, labour standards deficits, deficits in social protection, labour administration deficits, and social dialogue deficits.

Employment and labour market deficits

Nigeria has had a decade of jobless growth in which years of economic growth have not translated to more employment opportunities or poverty alleviation. With regard to employment, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), Nigeria's core strategy to fight poverty and improve incomes, noted that the economy had experienced growth without any commensurate increase in job opportunities.

The labour force in Nigeria has not reflected the impressive level of economic growth experienced from 2005 to 2013.While the economy recorded an average of 9.8 percent growth in its GDP per annum between 2008 and 2010, the official unemployment rate for the working population ranged from 12 to 15 percent between 2002 and 2007. This trend of "jobless growth" was captured in the 2009 World Bank report on Employment and Growth in Nigeria. Today, half of the country's 170 million people live in urban areas with high rates of unemployment. The high level of unemployment was demonstrated when about 18 job seekers died and many were injured during a nationwide recruitment test conducted by the Nigeria Immigration Service in March 2014.

Poverty has been exacerbated by the persistently high unemployment levels. With a female unemployment rate of 12-14 percent, women experience more joblessness than their male counterparts whose rate of unemployment falls within the range of 10-12 percent. At 45.6 percent, youth unemployment rates are twice as high as the national average of 24 percent.

According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in 2016 the country's unemployment rate rose from 13.3 percent in the second quarter, to 13.9 percent in the third quarter of that year – an increase of 555,311 persons. According to the report, the under-employment rate rose from 19.3 percent in second quarter to 19.7 percent in the third quarter. The report said that unemployment covered persons (aged 15–64) who were available for work, actively seeking for work but were without workduring the reference period. It defined 'under-employment' as when, on average, a person works more than 20 hours a week, but less than 40 hours, which is full time employment. It explained that underemployment could also happen if a person works full time but is engaged in an activity that underutilises her skills, time or educational qualifications.

However, the report stated that the economically active population or working age population (persons aged 15-64) increased from 106.69 million in second quarter to 108.03 million in the third quarter. "This represents a 1.26 percent increase over the previous quarter and a 3.57 percent increase when compared to the third quarter of 2015."In the third quarter of 2016, the labour force increased to 80.67 million from 79.9 million in second quarter. This represents an increase of 0.98 percent. Within the reference period, the total number of persons in full time employment (who did any form of work for at least 40 hours) decreased by 272,499 or 0.51 percent. The report stated that with an economically active or working age population (108.03 million) and labour force population (80.67 million), 27.36million persons within the economically active or working age population decided not to work for one reason or the other in the third quarter, hence they were not part of the labour force and could not be considered unemployed. According to the report, there have been eight consecutive rises in the unemployment rate since the fourth quarter of 2014.


The increase in the unemployment rate is attributed to a number of factors, chief among which are the increased number of school graduates with no matching job opportunities, a freeze in employment by institutions, the crash in the capital market and continued job losses in the manufacturing and oil sectors.

Another contributing factor to the unemployment situation is the limited employability of the workforce. This is due to the fact that graduates and young people lack training opportunities, and to the level of skill required in the world of work. Apart from this, the training available and the curricula of technical vocational institutions are obsolete and do not reflect current market requirements.

Employment and human resource planning functions are also inadequately developed to equip the nation to face the challenges of the present labour market. According to Sola Fajana, a Professor of Labour and Human Resource Management, and Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo of Babalola University, Ikeji-Arakeji in Osun State, the decent work deficits in the area of unemployment centres largely on how to eliminate the large scale underemployment that leads to poverty, especially among youths and women. "The ineffectiveness of previous policy measures to make any significant impact on this serious socio-economic and psychological malaise suggests new policy directions and strategies underpinned by effective policy implementation," Fajana said.

Fajana added that other unemployment-related work deficit issues which require attention are: managing the imbalance between the demand and supply of labour of all ages; addressing the low quality of work and pay which underemployment accentuates; redressing the structural imbalance in the access to jobs among older and young job seekers; and improving the employability of graduates who lack market-ready skills and competences.

To close the gaps in skills between the programmes of educational institutions and the requirements of the workplace, Remi Dairo, President of the Institute of Productivity and Business Innovation Management said that the government needs to restructure the educational system to meet the present and future needs of the labour market in the country.

Labour standards deficits

Nigeria has ratified a total of 40 ILO conventions, of which 35 are currently in force, including all eight core conventions. However, the country is yet to ratify a number of conventions that are crucial to addressing decent work deficits in the labour market and the critical challenge of poverty and social exclusion, particularly within the context of prevailing economic difficulties. These include ILO conventions C122, C129, C150, C187 and C188 that relate to labour market governance, C102 on social security, C181 on Private Employment Agencies and C189 on Domestic Workers. Even though Nigeria ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 in 2013, it has not been domesticated. The implementation of ratified conventions has not always been effective owing to capacity challenges in ensuring compliance with such commitments, and lack of adequate awareness of the provisions of such conventions. According to Fajana, "Nigeria has continually been carpeted by ILO for flagrant violation of trade union rights."

Besides, some labour laws that were reviewed more than a decade ago are still pending at the National Assembly.

Experts in labour and industrial relations believe that it is necessary to review the list of ILO instruments ratified by Nigeria. It has also become imperative to enhance the effective implementation of ratified instruments if the country is to plug the labour standards deficits since they are of the view that some of the deficits of decent work and pay can be minimised through effective labour laws.

Deficits in social protection

The social protection model adopted by Nigeria in 2005 declares that the goal of social protection in the country "is to reduce poverty and protect vulnerable groups through effective and sustainable management mechanism."

The specific objectives are to:

  • Assist the population who are poor to get out of poverty;
  • Protect the vulnerable against poverty;
  • Provide income support to the poorest, especially the sick, disabled and retirees;
  • Increase the enrolment and attendance rates of poor students in school;
  • Address short-term employment needs by developing skills and competences.

However, several components of the social protection model are yet to be fully deployed in Nigeria. The country has not lived up to expectation when it comes to enacting and implementing policies which provide a safety net that will reduce the level of risk to workers' lives, health and well-being, as well as offer social security and address HIV/AIDS.

The plight of people aged 60 and above who have retired from formal salary or wage employment, self-employment or other forms of work such as small scale farmers and artisans, is pitiable. This is due to historical neglect revealed by the absence of any meaningful policy or practice of social security for this group of Nigerians. Indirectly, this puts the welfare of several other dependants who rely on the fortune of these retirees to eke out a living for themselves in jeopardy. Since Nigeria slipped into economic recession in the second quarter of 2016, pensioners in many states of the federation are being owed arrears of their pension payments, but it is not only the pensioners who suffer as a result, but their immediate families and dependants.

The situation is the same for informal sector workers who account for about 70 percent of the workforce in Nigeria. The future and retirement life of most of these workers who have no organised pension plan remains a cause for concern.

In terms of protection for the vulnerable, the country has not fared better. For example, there are no unemployment benefits for persons with disabilities.

Nigeria's HIV epidemic is described as generalised (above one percent prevalence among those attending antenatal care facilities) with a wide variation of prevalence within the country. The figure given for Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS – 3,459,363 – out of an estimated total population of 170 million Nigerians, means that Nigeria has the second highest HIV burden in the world and the largest in the West African sub-region. The 2012 estimate showed an adult prevalence of 4.1 per cent. However, the 2015 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) showed that HIV among adults in the country was 3.1 or 3.2 million people.

In 2013, the ILO supported the Nigerian government and its social partners to revise its out-dated National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS and its implementation guidelines to meet the International Labour Standard concerning HIV and AIDS. Although a national workplace policy on HIV and AIDS exists, there is no comprehensive programme on HIV and AIDS which covers all elements of the world of work.

Deficits identified include the continued stigma and discrimination against those infected and affected by HIV as well as lack of HIV and AIDS interventions that are tailored for the workplace and focused on vulnerable sectors.

Other identified decent work deficits in the area of social protection include: a limited social security system that caters only for workers in the formal sector; an inadequate pension system; lack of any social welfare system for senior citizens, the younger generation or people living with HIV; the neglect of persons with disabilities and lack of unemployment benefits for them; and the rudimentary nature of child social protection schemes.


Besides, Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Within Nigeria, women and girls are trafficked for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls are also trafficked from Nigeria to Europe through Libya, Morocco, and Algeria, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation. While Italy is the primary European destination country for Nigerian victims, other destinations include Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. A 2010 survey of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) showed that over 10,000 Nigerians were engaged in prostitution in Italy, constituting 60 percent of all prostitutes in the Italian sex market.

Child labour is most predominant in Nigeria among African nations, with an average of 28.8 percent of the under-15 years population engaged in child labour. In many parts of the country, boys are trafficked for forced labour in street vending, agriculture, mining, stone quarries and as domestic servants. In Northern Nigeria, religious teachers traffic boys, called almajiri, for forced begging.

Labour administration deficits

Labour is within the purview of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. The objective of labour administration is to strengthen labour standards and practice in all sectors, especially in the weak sectors, to ensure minimum levels of protection for vulnerable groups. Thus all aspects of the ministry's mandate are covered in labour administration.

However, there are major gaps in achieving the goals that labour administration espouses. Decent work deficits in labour administration include capacity gaps in training for factory and labour inspection, and in funding of monitoring services. Until recently, factory and labour inspection continued to attract very low budgetary allocations in spite of Nigeria's ratification of Convention 81 on labour inspection.

Infringement of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining has become more rampant. Often, victimised groups do not seek state intervention, because – especially in the informal economy – they fear further victimization by the employer. The Ministry of Labour and Employment appears to lack the capacity to sanction offending employers, and indeed, its structure and processes suggest that the ministry has neither the mandate nor the capacity to sanction factory owners with substandard labour practices.

Professor Fajana, a scholar of labour and human resource management, suggests that "more than ever before, labour administration today needs appropriate re-engineering to assist in the optimization of decent work services to its stakeholders."

Social dialogue deficits

The social dialogue pillar in Nigeria consists of a network of actors and the institutions they have established for the promotion of joint discussion, negotiation or determination of issues that confront the social partners either within the place of work, or even outside it when the object of is the resolutions of identified conflicts.

In terms of workers' organizations, there are two main umbrella bodies in Nigeria – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).

Forms of social dialogue in Nigeria include collective bargaining, which is bipartite, and cooperation among government, employers' organizations and workers' organizations in formulating or implementing labour, social or economic policy, which is tripartite. Tripartite-plus dialogue involves all stakeholders such as the host community, non-governmental agencies, civil society and the three arms of government (executive, legislative and the judiciary) as well as workers' organizations and employers' organizations.

Other efforts at social dialogue involve the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA) which has been conducting seminars and training programmes on business development and growth as well as labour market dialogues. Collective bargaining is quite effective in Nigeria, especially in the private sector where trade unions and employers or employers' associations have shown a visible commitment to the sanctity of collective agreements.

However, the system of collective bargaining in the public sector does not encourage appointed bargaining agents to secure firm commitment from their government counterparts by signing draft agreements. This often leads to delay in the ratification process, with resulting social dialogue deficits.

The Labour movement and the demand for decent work

International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics indicate that worldwide, one worker dies every 15 seconds, 6,000 workers die every day, and more than two million workers die annually as a result of work-related accidents and diseases.

These grim and unacceptable statistics are unlikely to improve, as technological and social changes are aggravating existing health hazards and creating new risks.

The situation is not different in Nigeria. Many employers of labour in the country violate the Factories Act Cap F1 LFN 2004 on Occupational Safety and Health at work places. Analysts are of the view that the work environment has become more precarious for workers in different sectors of the Nigerian economy. In recent years, there have been several cases where workers complain of being subjected to precarious work conditions by their employers. In May, 2014, bottling operations at the Benin plant of the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) were abruptly halted by casual workers, following the death of one of their colleagues, Jerry Ayo, after a work related accident. The angry workers completely shut the plant, barricading the company's gates and lighting bonfires.

In September 2015, there were gory reports of death in a Chinese-owned firm, Hongxing Steel Company Limited, in the Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos State. While Emeka Umoh died when liquefied iron spilled on his body while he was on duty on September 23, 2015, another worker, Adebayo Ajiboye, died after being crushed by a compressor in February 2015. Against a background of complaints of being forced to work under conditions akin to slavery, the management's decision to take his body to a morgue with a tipper led to a confrontation with the workers who alleged that Umoh and Ajiboye were just two of many Nigerian workers in the firm who had died or sustained permanent disability due to accidents on duty. They complained that such accidents were regular occurrences due to faulty machines and the absence of safety standards.

In addition to job insecurity and unfair labour practices by employers, the lack of decent and safe working environment has been a major concern for the labour movement in Nigeria. Indeed, it was the main focus of the NLC and the TUC during the annual World Day for Decent Work held on October 7 globally. For the 2015 event, the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, left Abuja for Lagos to campaign against anti-labour practices. He picketed some companies accused of not providing a decent work environment, including the Egbin Power Station Plc., Vik Limited, Jagal Limited, Lee Group, Dura Pack Limited and Coates Limited. Later, speaking at a rally to mark Decent Work Day, Wabba said that the companies were picketed so that they could be put on their toes on the need to respect labour laws. He said that the level of precariousness in the work environment in some organisations was intolerable and that efforts were being made to address the problem, noting that Nigerian workers, as the creators of the nation's wealth, deserve the best in terms of decent work and welfare.

Comrade Issa Aremu, General Secretary of the National Union of Garment and Textile Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), who is also the Vice President of the Geneva-based Industrial Global Union, deplored the growing level of casualization, outsourcing and other practices, which he said, are calculated to debase Nigerian workers.

During the 2016 'World Decent Work Day' held in Abuja, NLC President Wabba reiterated the determination of the labour movement to collectively end corporate greed, so that there would be shared posterity. "We therefore affirm that no matter what, decent work must be at centre of government actions to bring back economic growth to our country."

Wabba further described the national minimum wage of N18,000 per month, as "paltry", saying that it had further impoverished the Nigerian worker. As a result, the NLC had submitted a request for an upward review of the National Minimum Wage which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. The labour unions are demanding for a minimum wage of N56,000 per month. Wabba said that since the minimum wage was due for renegotiation after five years, the Buhari administration should undertake the necessary upward review of Nigerian workers' emoluments, which had been seriously diminished by the prevailing economic recession in the country.

Buhari administration's decent work and economic growth agenda

In accordance with President Buhari's pledge that his administration would be committed to job creation and the provision of decent employment opportunities for Nigerians of productive age, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has been working to ensure an inclusive national employment policy.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said that the ILO's Decent Work Agenda (DWA) has received widespread endorsement, and that based on this, the Nigerian government has been collaborating with the ILO through the Decent Work Country Programme Declaration (DWCP II) to produce a fair framework and globalized plan of action.

The Declaration expresses the universality of the DWA: all members of the ILO must pursue policies based on the four strategic objectives – employment, social protection, social dialogue and rights at work. The Declaration urges a holistic and integrated approach by observing that these objectives are "inseparable, interrelated and mutually supportive," stressing that upholding international labour standards is a significant means of achieving all of the strategic objectives.

Dr. Ngige commented on the Declaration saying that "DWCP II contains a range of strategic interventions that will support national initiatives aimed at reducing decent work deficits and strengthening national capacities for effective programme delivery"

Deploring the high rate of unemployment and the adverse effect on development when a nation's productive human capacity was excluded, the Minister said that a review of the National Employment Policy (NEP) was necessary.

The collaboration between the Federal Government and ILO on the DWA resulted in Nigeria's validation of the NEP on October 27, 2016.

The Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr Clement Iloh, said that the reviewed NEP is an off-shoot of the first National Policy on Employment which had been approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2002 with the objectives of promoting job creation as a priority in national, economic and social policy; safeguarding the basic rights and interest of workers; stimulating economic growth and development; as well as eradicating poverty and improving the living standards of citizens.

dennisMr Dennis Zulu, the Director of the ILO Country Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and ECOWAS Liaison Office expressed confidence that the reviewed employment policy would enhance a coherent, integrated and sustainable multi-sectoral response to combat the challenges of unemployment, noting that under the DWA, the focus is not only on creating jobs, but on creating quality jobs.

Zulu appealed to the Nigerian government to ratify the ILO Convention 122 since the reviewed NEP was already in line with the objectives of the Convention. He advised that a possible first step towards implementing the policy would be to integrate employment goals and targets in national development frameworks. This would need to be supported by multi-component and coordinated employment approach, negotiated by tripartite constituents and integrated in the Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) and United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). He emphasized the need for institutional coordination, an effective accountability system, and pro-employment budgeting that put employment at the core of national budgetary policy.

In its 2015 Child Labour Report, the United States Department of Labour commented on the progress made by Nigeria in strengthening the framework to stem the scourge of Child Labour and Human Trafficking. Presenting the report to Dr. Ngige in October 2016, the Department's Representative, Marlin Hardinger, explained that the report's review of child labour developments in 142 countries had found "moderate advancement" in Nigeria's efforts to tackle the problem.

Receiving the report, Ngige challenged the accuracy of some of its conclusions. The Minister emphatically rejected the aspect of the report that blacklisted Nigeria as engaging in "child soldiering," attributing this scourge to the desperate activities of the Boko Haram insurgents whom he described as terrorists whose activities cannot in any way be ascribed to the government of Nigeria.

Acknowledging the report's criticism of child labour in other sectors such as agriculture, gold mining and construction, as well as the social malaise of begging and scavenging, the Minister restated that the involvement of children in these occupations arose partly from cultural practices, but was mostly the consequence of poverty and poor education, problems with which many African countries are grappling.

In an effort to effectively implement its decent work and economic growth agenda, on the 5th of April, 2017 the Buhari administration launched its economic blueprint, which – by leveraging on the ingenuity and resilience of its citizens – was designed to bequeath a more diversified and inclusive economy to Nigeria by 2020. The economic blueprint "Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP)", entails the creation of new jobs and projects an increase from 1.5 million new jobs in 2017 to 3.8 million, 4.3 million and 5.1 million jobs in 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The Nigerian government intends to build upon the achievements that it expects to record in the creation of decent jobs through its new economic blueprint, in working towards meeting the target s of SDG8 by 2030.

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