The source of labour laws in Nigeria is rooted in the English Common Law System and the principles that have defined labour matters have been established for decades. The Common Law principle of the master-servant relationship between an employer and an employee implies that the master (“employer”) may fire his servant (“employee”) at will and without reason. Notably, it is an established principle of the law of contract that parties are bound by terms of a contract voluntarily executed by them.
Under Nigerian law, unless a statute otherwise directs, the question of the duration of an employment or the length and nature of the notice to terminate it will be determined by the intention of the parties, as indicated or agreed to in the employment contract. The courts are usually not inclined to interfere, create or impose terms of a contract on the parties. The courts will not look outside the contract to determine whether or not a contract of employment was validly terminated. Hence, a contract of employment that indicates that an employer may terminate the employment of an employee with or without reason, will naturally be interpreted by the courts in line with the understanding of the parties. There have however been decisions of the National Industrial Court Nigeria (“NICN”) in recent times that appear to contradict the well-established principle that there is a power to fire at will and without reason in a Master-Servant relationship.
Therefore, this paper seeks to examine the position of Nigeria law on the determination of employment unilaterally by one party (the employer) and whether such may be done without cause or reason.