Nigeria’s 10 most powerful trade unions

Trade Unions have become an integral part of many professional bodies across the world. 

In Nigeria, workers have various unions which serve as the mouthpiece of members within the profession. The major aim of such unions is to defend the rights of members.

There are numerous trade unions in Nigeria under the larger coalition of two unions – The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC.

However, in recent years, some professional unions, because of their strategic roles, have been more heard in the public space than others. Their threats and industrial actions always bring tension to the nation thus making them receive quick attention and intervention from the public and government.

Some are so powerful that they can hold the government to ransom, either by crippling the economy or paralysing service delivery in strategic areas.

Here are 10 of such influential unions.

1. NLC: Nigeria Labour Congress

NLC is an umbrella organisation for trade unions in Nigeria. It was founded in 1978 following a merger of four different organisations: Nigeria Trade Union Congress, NTUC; Labour Unity Front, LUF; United Labour Congress, ULC; and Nigeria Workers Council, NWC.

The numerous affiliated unions were restructured into 42 industrial unions. Its founding President was Wahab Goodluck. 

The NLC was dissolved twice due to conflicts with military regimes. First in 1988 under President Ibrahim Babangida and the second in 1994, under the regime of Sani Abacha.

Under Nigeria’s military governments, labour leaders were frequently arrested and union meetings disrupted.

Today, the NLC has 29 affiliated unions. In total, it boasts of around four million members, according to its own figures, making the association one of the largest trade unions in Africa.

NLC has had various clashes with the government especially on salaries, reduced subsidies and plans to deregulate the purchase and

The last national strike which NLC embarked upon which crippled the nation was on January, 2, 2012 when the union joined other socio-political groups to protest then President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to remove subsidy on petroleum products.

The action lasted twelve days.

The NLC state chapters have also had confrontations with their state governments from time to time over salaries and staff welfare.

2. NUPENG: National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers

The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, is one of the 29 industrial unions that are formally affiliated with the Nigeria Labour Congress.

It was also one of the former 42 industrial unions that emerged during the restructuring exercise between 1976 –1977.

The union comprises workers in the petroleum and natural gas sector especially tanker drivers whose role is crucial for a country dependent on road transport.

NUPENG like PENGASSAN, its sister association, cripples the economy whenever it declares a strike.

The last strike threat by the association was on July, 29.

3. PENGASSAN – Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria

This is one union that holds the country by the jugular when it embarks on strike. It comprises senior members of staff in the oil and gas sector, which is the hub of the Nigerian economy.

PENGASSAN is one of the 24 senior staff associations in Nigeria. It was formally registered as a trade union on August 15, 1978.

The association usually works closely with its sister association, NUPENG.

4. NMA: Nigeria Medical Association

The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA is the professional association for registered Nigerian doctors and dentists.

The NMA has more than 35,000 members from 36 state branches and the federal capital territory, including those registered in the diaspora. 

NMA’s membership spans all six major specialities of Internal Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Public Health and Laboratory Medicine/Pathology.

The NMA was established in 1951 and its headquarters is located in Abuja with over 30 branch offices throughout Nigeria.

The National Executive Council, NEC is the governing body of the NMA and it has full powers to act on its behalf and make policy decisions.

This body is a strong union which when on industrial action paralyses all major activities in the health sector.

It is a body that both the government and the public dreads because its strike action leads to numerous preventable deaths especially in secondary and tertiary hospitals.

5. ASUU: Academic Staff Union of Universities

The ASUU was formed in 1978, a successor to the Nigerian Association of University Teachers formed in 1965 and covering academic staff in all of the federal and state universities in the country.

After the return to democracy in 1999, the union continued to be defend the rights of its members and improved funding for universities.

The association has always elicited mixed reactions among Nigerians due to its frequent industrial actions either locally or nationally. 

In 2007, ASUU went on strike for three months. 

In May 2008, it held two one-week “warning strikes” to press home a range of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed many years earlier.

In June 2009, ASUU ordered its members in federal and state universities nationwide to proceed on an indefinite strike over disagreements with the Federal Government on an agreement it reached with the union about two and a half years earlier. In October 2009, the union and other staff unions signed a memorandum of understanding with the government and called off the industrial action. 

On July 1, 2013, ASUU embarked on another strike which lasted five months and 15 days and was called off on December 16, 2013.

Claims made by ASUU in regards to the strike are centred largely on funding and revitalisation of Nigerian public universities.

The association recently called off a nationwide strike which it started on August 13, 2017.

6. NUT: Nigeria Union of Teachers

The Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, was founded in July 1931 by the amalgamation of the first two teachers associations in Nigeria, namely, Lagos Union of Teachers, LUT, formed in 1925 with its founding President as Canhon Lucas and the Association of Headmasters of Ijebu Schools, AHIS, led by I.O. Ransome-Kuti, and formed in 1926.

The union was formally inaugurated in 1931. It came about partly as a result of vulnerabilities exposed by the great depression which led to cuts in teachers’ salaries and a seeming lack of job security.

The association, which rarely goes on strike, has one of the highest numbers of members in the country as it comprises of teachers across primary and secondary schools.

7. NASU: Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities

The Non-Academic Union of Allied and Education Institutions (NASU) is the association that represents the junior non-teaching staff in Nigerian universities.

The union came into existence in 1977 as one of the house unions, and in 1978 it was strengthened by Decree No. 22 (Davison 1977).

It was formally recognised as one of the 42 registered unions affiliated to the NLC.

The principal objectives of the union are the regulation of relations between workers and the Governing Councils of the university.

NASU, like ASUU has fought a number of pitched battles mainly in the interest of its members.

In 1992, when Babatunde Fafunwa was the minister of education, the federal government approved a separate university salary table that favoured members of the ASUU. When NASU heard of the disparity in the salary table, they embarked on a 42-day nationwide strike to demonstrate their disapproval of the action of the federal government.

Apart from strikes, NASU has been able to improve the welfare of its members by introducing lots of life-changing benefits such as financial life-lines.

Like most trade unions, NASU is frequently at loggerheads with the management, government, or themselves and this usually affects the operation of the universities

8. ASUP:  Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics

The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Nigeria is a registered Trade Union (CAP 437 of 1990). The Union is an affiliate of the NLC.

Membership of the union covers all academic staff (lecturers, technologists, instructors and librarians) in all public polytechnics and monotechnics in Nigeria.

Activities of the union are regulated through provisions in the union’s constitution approved and gazetted by the Registrar of Trade Unions, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Abuja; provisions of the Trade Union’s Act and provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.

The industrial action at the state or national level from this union usually paralyses educational activities at polytechnics.

The effect is however not as far-fetched as its university counterpart, ASUU.

9. NARD:  National Association of Medical Doctors

The Association of Resident Doctors is one of the largest medical association comprising resident doctors undergoing training in various specialities, medical officers and house officers. 
The NARD is an affiliate of the NMA.

The union also cripples medical activities when it embarks on strike as its members do the bulk of the consulting jobs at secondary and tertiary hospitals.

The association recently called off an industrial action lasting 11 days which it used to urge the government to pay members’ salary arrears.

10. TUC: Trade Union Congress

TUC was registered as a labour centre in 2005. According to its website, the TUC had gone through various transformations starting in 1980, first as Federation of Senior Staff Associations of Nigeria (FESSAN), then as Senior Staff Consultative Association of Nigeria (SESCAN) and, finally, TUC.

The union is a coalition of various senior staff unions of different sectors. It is the equivalent of the NLC for senior civil servants and workers in various sectors. It is also less powerful and influential than the NLC. Some of its member associations include Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, and Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance & Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI.