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John Niyi Olanrewaju is the Director-General of the Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Studies (MINILS), Ilorin, Kwara State. He spoke about the activities of the only labour study institute in West Africa. Excerpts:

Establishment of the Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Studies

The institute is a Federal Government agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity. We were principally set up to provide workers education so as to enhance the role of trade unions, policy makers, employers and government officials that are concerned with labour issues on how to contribute to the socio-economic development of Nigeria. We are also to provide platform for policy makers in industry, government, trade unions to interact from time to time and learn the act of negotiation and collective bargaining as a way of resolving workplace issues that may develop in the course of their interaction. We are to arrange workshops, seminars, research that will further labour, promote labour ideals and contribution to national development as well as link up with international and national agencies with the aim of putting labour issues at the front burner of national policies and development. In short, we are to build the capacity of stakeholders, namely, the employers, trade union leaders as well as government officials that are involved in the day to day management of labour in this country. The purpose of this mandate is to ensure industrial peace and harmony in the country. That is a summary of our mandate as stipulated in our enabling act.

MINILS as the only one in the entire West Africa
Yes, it is the only one of its kind in the region.  Let me clarify that statement. Talk in terms of size or structure, we are unique and the only type. We have mandate to provide education for the tripartite group, that is, the three key actors in industrial relations system, the employers, government officials and the trade unions. We have labour colleges and labour institutions, even in Ghana but may be with the focus on trade union alone. We have government institutions that deal with managers and employers, except the International Training Centre of ILO in Turin, Italy, that has a tripartite structure. This institute is another institution that has a tripartite structure that deals with the interests of the tripartite. Our governing board that is responsible for the policy formulation and labour education is also tripartite in nature.

We have representatives of government, workers and employers. This unique structure makes us to be able to bring these three actors together to proffer solutions to workplace policy. Even though there are diverse interests among the actors in industrial relations, labour, employers and government, they still have the purpose of having a stable organization by guarantee peace and harmony. All of them should be involved and everybody should learn the act of relating with one another and that is why this institute caters for these interests. Along the line, we tried to develop structures and courses that address specifically the needs of each of these tripartite. It is about the only institute in West Africa that you could find. What we have done to meet the needs of these tripartite is to also create structures and departments that address them.

In terms of reaching out, the institute has started collaborating by working with Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU). We are very much involved in the curriculum development of the Kwame Nkrumah Labour College which is the OATUU College for Africa. I wish to say that my institute had been selected as one of the regional centers in which OATUU will run some of its programmes. We are looking forward that this year when they commence, we are likely to partner with OATUU to bring labour leaders all over Africa even to Nigeria to host them, so that makes us unique.

Achieving the objectives and meeting fresh challenges

It is an organization that is growing and we are in the world that is dynamic and changing. There are new challenges, there are new frontiers. This institute has been able to develop competence in certain core courses and certain areas like conflict management, issues of collective bargaining, social dialogue, occupational health and safety, labour administration, trade union organizing and practical ways of organizing trade a union movement, administration of branch level, labour management relations, e.t.c. We also developed issues on entrepreneurial development for small scale entrepreneurs. We deal with employment regulation as well as labour law and regulation. These are the areas we have developed key competence in and we can deployed this for the use of stakeholders. We have also been able to bring together issues of labour in national development for the purpose of the governance.

One of the things that this institute has achieved is the platform where we can bring these three key actors together to discuss issues that are of national importance. That is what the institute annual national industrial relations summit has achieved. It has succeeded in bringing government officers, labour leaders, employers under the same umbrella where we look at topical issues. This institute has provided that platform that is acceptable. Every year, we have been able to bring the president of NLC, the Minister of Labour, the employers under this same umbrella to look at this issues that affect all of them. Issues of decent wage, decent employment, that are of concern to both workers and employers.

We have been able to bring legislators under this environment and bring the stakeholders to discuss with them. One of the programmes we have been able to bring about has led to the review of some of the labour laws. We had a retreat for the House of Representatives where some of the laws that had remained for sometimes unattended to were brought up by the stakeholders. That brought a better working relationship between the social partners and the National Assembly Committee on Labour and Productivity. We faced of challenges initially, but we have trained over 28,000 labour leaders leaders, employers and government officials in various sector of the economy. We have been able to touch all the sectors in providing education. Our education is not the one that only told you your rights but also your responsibilities.

This institute was established to remove the East, West, ideological differences that pervade the world during the colonial era.  At the early time, during the cold war, we had the East and the West ideologically divide. Most labour unions were also divided along the ideological line, some to the West, some to the East. There were lots of misunderstandings and each of them had their own labour education but their loyalty, interests and indoctrination were into different ideological world.

The Federal Government and all stakeholders during the reform felt the need to have an homegrown labour education to address the national needs and it was also in line with African mandate. The OATUU, was adopted by African Heads of State so that African workers are not divided along the ideological lines. To ensure that we provide labour education that addresses the needs of Nigeria and not that of the West and the East, the idea to have a national labour institute was conceived in the Third National Development Plan.

During the reform, some of the schools established along these ideological lines were also taken over and MINILS was established. We had problems initially of the unions accepting this institute. They saw it as a government institute. But with time they began to see the needs that labour could have training in labour education, but jointly we could also have a platform where we meet. By the time we evolved, there was no take off grant. Most of the projects in the master plan were not executed because we relied on budgetary provisions, which were sometimes not released.

The atmosphere under which MINILS operates was also tied to the fortune of labour movement. The military, for instance, see labour as an institution challenging their autonomy. Anything that would strengthen labour movement or educate them or expose them was not given proper attention by the military. For a long time, this institute was not given its rightful place. Things began to change when we came to democracy. Because democracy is all about dialogue and discussion, labour became a cornerstone of democracy.

Our interest is to develop people who are practitioners to be more efficient and more effective on their job. Ours interest is not a conventional university where you train people who are going looking for jobs. The labour education we are trying to build is the one that will grow to gradually meet the needs of the workers.  We are developing the capacity of our officers, and also improving their knowledge. We are also going to amend our laws to be able to guarantee the focus we are targeting at.