Q: My company is setting up operations in Lagos, Nigeria. I have been advised to draw up our new equal opportunities policy, but cannot find much material regarding the law. Can you assist please?
A: Surprisingly, although Nigeria is by far the most populated country in Africa and has a huge mix of ethnic groups and religions there is little or no protection under the law for most differences in personal characteristics.
Although the constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, primarily due to the Muslim population in the north of the country legislation protecting women’s rights is largely absent. In 2015 The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill failed in the Senate. This sought to give women equality in many areas – including employment.
Once again, in the northern states the penalty for any form of LGBT-related act is covered by the horrific Sharia law and the penalty is death by stoning. Elsewhere in the country, it is not a question of legal protection, but of severe persecution and the penalty for homosexual acts is fourteen years imprisonment.
The Labour Act offers no requirement for equal treatment for older workers. It does, however, contain provisions protecting children. The protection of individuals under the age of 18 is also safeguarded by the Child’s Right Act. Both pieces legislation dictate that children may only be engaged in light work in agricultural or domestic-related duties.
The constitution stipulates that no central or state governments may establish a state religion and prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. There are in operation sharia courts to cater for the Muslim population in the north of the country and section 204 of the criminal code forbids anyone to “insult a religion”. But that is where protection ends. In reality there is widespread racial and religious discrimination against minorities by state bodies and local employers – that touches not only on the ability to obtain employment, but also permission to build houses, obtain healthcare and even to vote.
Most Surprising of all, in a country that has historically been so riddled by ethnic tensions, there is no explicit legislation that protects race as a characteristic. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of ethnic groups, or community participation and place of origin, but this means very little in practice – especially for those who are from the Ibo or northern Nigerian minority groups.
Finally, there is one ray of hope in the field of disability. The Disability law strives to promote the integration of disabled individuals into employment. Currently, the state of Lagos also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability – through the State Special Peoples’ Law.
There is nothing to prevent you as a company operating your own equal opportunities policy, but it will not be backed up by serious statutory provisions.