In Nigeria, the general industrial unrest and disharmony that characterized the industrial sector soon after the civil war and fear of possible socio- political as well as the economic effect on the nation precipitated the need for special formal mechanisms for settlement of labour disputes outside the regular court system with their attendant delay in dispute resolution in Nigeria. It was thought that a special system with a court dedicated to handling trade dispute matters would provide an effective and efficient mechanism for handling trade dispute matters. The response to this was the promulgation of the Trade Dispute Decree No. 7 of 1976 which later became the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) 1976 (as amended). The TDA in its part II provides for the establishment of the National Industrial Court (NIC), the aim among others was to provide and promote settlement of labour disputes. The NIC was conferred with jurisdiction and power with respect to settlement of trade disputes, interpretation of collective agreements and matters connected therewith.
Since the establishment of the NIC, it has to some extent contributed to the maintenance of industrial peace as well as impacted greatly on industrial relations in Nigeria. However the roles ascribed to the court over the years became fraught with controversies particularly with its status, powers and jurisdiction in the hierarchy of courts under the Nigeria legal system. These controversies greatly impeded the functionality of the NIC and quick settlement of labour disputes through adjudication in some cases. The NIC was not regarded as a unit of the judiciary, deserving of a separate Act of the Legislature, establishing it and vesting it with powers but was seen and functioned as a court without technical rules of practice and procedure for purpose of resolution of labour and trade disputes. To solve the inadequacies that hitherto existed and fill the gaps which had previously hindered the smooth working of the NIC and impeded its attaining the primary objective of settlement of labour disputes, the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 (NIC Act) was enacted.
The long title of the NIC Act noted that the Act is enacted to provide for the establishment of the NIC as a superior court of record and confer jurisdiction on the court with respect to labour and industrial relations matters. The NIC Act expanded the original and appellate jurisdictions of the NIC. It should be noted that with the advent of the NIC Act and NIC Rules 2007, the NIC is now a court established specially by statue and its powers and jurisdiction are now properly defined. The jurisdiction of the NIC in civil cases and matters is related to labour, trade unions and industrial action, interpretation of collective agreements, award of arbitral tribunal, terms of settlement of labour disputes, etc.
In spite of the above pragmatic steps taken by the government in identifying the jurisdiction of the NIC, litigants continued to institute their cases in the High Courts of the various states, High court of the Federal Capital Territory and the Federal High Court instead of the NIC. The problem with this amongst others was that the jurisdictions of these other courts extended to other civil causes and matters. Due to this, proceedings before this regular courts took years before they are resolved. To completely checkmate this seemingly self imposed problems, on the part of litigants, the Nigeria National Assembly in collaboration with the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria in 2010 amended the Nigeria Constitution through the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Third Alteration) Amendment Act, 2010 thus incorporating the establishment of the NIC, its composition and power like other superior courts of record into the provisions of the Constitution.