Labour Act, 2004: Whether Applicable to Employment Contracts between Lawyers in Nigeria in an Employer and Employee Relationship?

by Hameed Ajibola, Esq.

The Labour Act, 2004, is the principal legislation governing employment relation in Nigeria. Its application extends to employees engaged under a contract of labour or clerical work in both the private and the public sector. This paper is of the firm view and submission that the Labour Act is not applicable to employment contracts between lawyers in Nigeria in an employer and employee relationship. Hence, this topic.

Part I of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which provides for Exclusive Legislative List has Item thus ‘49. Professional occupations as may be designated by the National Assembly’. It was under this legislative power that the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004, was legislated and enacted by the National Assembly, to govern lawyers in Nigeria as professionals. Therefore, there are two legislations affecting employment contracts between lawyers in Nigeria in an employer and employee relationship, as concerned by this paper i.e. the Labour Act, 2004 and the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004 (governing lawyers as professionals). Therefore, in my humble view, one is general in nature i.e. the Labour Act, 2004, while the other is specific in nature regarding such employment contracts between lawyers in Nigeria in an employer and employee relationship i.e. the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004.

It is my humble submission that the Labour Act being a general legislation concerning employment contracts i.e. as it relates to employment contracts between lawyers in Nigeria in an employer and employee relationship, is not applicable to the lawyers under such contract of employment or employer and employee relationship. Though, other non-lawyers’ employment contracts in a law firm/office might be governed by the Labour Act.

The legal principle where there are two enactments (as in this instance of this paper), one making specific provisions and the other, general provisions is stated in latin language as ‘SPECIALIA GENERALIBUS DEROGANT’.’

Our courts have interpreted this latin language/principle in the following instances: In the case of AGF vs ABUBAKAR (2007) All FWLR pt. 375 pg. 405 @ 472E, per Onu, JSC: “Where there are 2 enactments, one making specific provisions and the other, general provisions, the specific provisions are impliedly excluded from the general provisions.”

Also, in the case of: SCHROEDER vs. MAJOR & CO. (1989) 1 NSCC 399 @ 406 per Agbaje & Wali, JJSC: “Where there are 2 provisions, one special and the other general, covering the same subject matter, a case falling within the words of the special provision must be governed thereby and not by the terms of the general provision”.

Therefore, this paper humbly submits that the Labour Act/Law being a general law covering the same subject matter of employment contracts among lawyers as professionals in an employer and employee relationship, does not govern and is not applicable to employment contracts between lawyers as employers and employees, rather their contracts are governed by their contract of employment and the Legal Practitioners’ Act (and not the Labour Act).

Categorization of legal practice as essential service

A Federal High Court sitting in Abeokuta, Ogun State has ruled that provision of legal services are essential services. Delivering the judgment on 4th December 2020, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Watila, in suit No. FHC/AB/FHR/57/20 between Olumide Babalola and Attorney General of the Federation, the court held that:

 “Having stated this, I have no choice but to firmly hold that Article 1(7) of the COVID-19 Regulation is plain and unambiguous as to what are and what not essential services is. Legal service with the context of the Regulation is essential service”.

Finally, therefore, it is my final submission that the Labour Act/Law being a general law covering the same subject matter of employment contracts among lawyers as professionals in an employer and employee relationship, does not govern and is not applicable to employment contracts between lawyers as employers and employees, rather their contracts are governed by their contract of employment and the Legal Practitioners’ Act (and not the Labour Act).

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com


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