Motive For Termination Of An Employment May Be Relevant

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria in the case of Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria v SSAITHRIAL,[1] held that under the Labour Law, motive may sometimes be relevant in determining the validity of the termination of an employment.  This is a departure from the common law position which over the years has been followed by the Nigerian courts.
Nigerian courts had in the past held that motive which impels the termination of an employment is immaterial. For example in LCRI v Mohammed,[2] it was held as follows:

An employer need not show any motive or give any reason for terminating the employment of his employee. Motive does not vitiate the validity of the exercise of a right of an employer.

The decision of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria v SSAITHRIAL has now changed that position, in which the court held thus:

Under the Labour Law motive may in some cases be relevant in ascertaining proper determination of an employment. For instance if the employment of a union member is terminated, or dismissed for union activities, such an employee is entitled to reinstatement. See section 9 of Labour Act and section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act 2004. We hold on this issue that in appropriate cases particulars of motive may be relevant in determination of employment.

From the above pronouncement of the court, if the motive for termination of an employee’s employment or his dismissal is to punish him for participating in union activities, then the termination will not only be wrongful but invalid and the employee can be reinstated by an Order of court.

This decision of the National Industrial Court is significant because in labour related matters, the National Industrial Court generally has exclusive and final jurisdiction except if such matters involve the issue of fundamental human rights.[3] What this means is that the pronouncement of the court stated above is final and is the current position of the law in Nigeria.

It is commendable that the court has taken this bold step in charting a new course in the individual employment law in Nigeria. However the decision of the court appears to be restrictive and limited only to union related matters. It is hoped that the court will extend this principle to all matters of termination of employment. Doing so will accord with its mandate to apply international best practices in labour[4] and will enhance the protection of workers against arbitrary termination and unjustified dismissal from employment in Nigeria.

[1] (2012)28 NLLR (Pt. 81) 441

[2] (2005) 11 NWLR (pt. 935) 1 at 26-27; See also Fakuade v Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Management Board(1993) 5 NWLR (pt. 291) 47

[3] See section 243 (2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution (as amended)

[4] See Section 7(6) of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006