By Damian Ugwu
A few years ago, I walked into the main hall of my former office one morning to behold the most heart-wrenching sight I had seen in years. My female colleague, who was happily married and had three kids, was crying. I didn’t need her to explain what was going on. I knew the story.
The management had decided to make the place very uncomfortable for her due to her rising public profile and outspokenness. They followed up with a series of subtle verbal aggression, intrusion, coercion, threats, offensive communication, and actions designed to embarrass and humiliate her.
Despite her repeated complaints to a higher authority within the organization, nothing was done, and her case was treated as a mere office conflict. No investigation was ever carried out into her complaint of bullying, and no one was ever reprimanded for bullying her. She eventually suffered from depression and became suicidal before her husband pulled her out of the organization.
This is the reality for thousands of Nigerian workers who face workplace bullying on a daily basis. Many of them, unable to get help from colleagues, management, trade unions, or even the government, slide into depression, mental breakdown, and other forms of mental health challenges.
Workplace bullying is a form of harassment that involves repeated, unwanted, and aggressive behaviour that is intended to intimidate, humiliate, or harm the victim. It can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical threats, social isolation, and sabotage.
The United Nations Human Rights Council defines workplace bullying as “repeated, unwelcomed verbal or physical conduct intended to intimidate, humiliate, or undermine the victim. The International Labour Organization (ILO) on the other hand defines workplace bullying as “repeated unwanted, aggressive behaviour, directed towards one or more individuals, that is intended to intimidate, humiliate, or undermine that person or group.” The ILO also states that workplace bullying is a form of harassment and a violation of human rights.
Workplace bullying can have a devastating impact on the victim, both physically and mentally. Victims may experience anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem. They may also have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and making decisions. In some cases, workplace bullying can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Workplace bullying is a serious problem that can have devastating consequences for the victim. It can lead to physical and mental health problems, decreased productivity, and even suicide.
Workplace bullying is real and widespread in Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is under-reported and highly unacknowledged as a human rights abuse.
Workplace bullying can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, or position. However, it is more likely to target people who are seen as different or vulnerable, such as new employees, women, and people with disabilities.
The effects of workplace bullying can be far-reaching. Victims may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and sleep problems. They may also suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. In some cases, bullying can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Workplace bullying can also have a negative impact on a person’s work performance. Victims may be less productive, make more mistakes, and be more likely to call in sick. They may also be reluctant to take on new challenges or responsibilities.
In severe cases, workplace bullying can lead to suicide. A study by the US-based Workplace Bullying Institute found that 1 in 10 victims of workplace bullying have attempted suicide.
An Emerging Human Rights Issue In Nigeria
Despite the widespread cases of workplace bullying in Nigeria, few people regard it as a human rights issue. This is in contrast to the situation in many parts of the world, especially Europe. The United Nations Human Rights Council has also recognized workplace bullying as a human rights violation. In a 2014 resolution, the Council called on governments to take steps to prevent and address workplace bullying. This follows the council’s recognition of the fact that workplace bullying is a human rights issue because it violates the right to work in a safe and healthy environment. It also violates the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Nigerian law, specifically The Nigeria Labour Act does not specifically mention workplace bullying. However, the Act, sets out the general principles of employment law, including the employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
Similarly, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to dignity of the human person and the right to freedom from discrimination.
Other relevant laws such as the Employees’ Compensation Act, provide compensation for employees who suffer mental stress as a result of their employment while the Penal Code, criminalizes a number of acts that could be considered workplace bullying, such as assault, battery, and intimidation. In addition to these laws, employers may also be held liable for workplace bullying under common law principles of negligence or vicarious liability.
However, these existing measures are not enough. Nigeria’s labour and human rights organizations need to do more. The current situation is that the anti-bullying and harassment policies in many organizations are mere ornamental documents for the sole purpose of fulfilling legal requirements. Bullies need to be made accountable for their actions.
Luckily the federal government has taken the positive step in ratifying the International Labour Organization Convention 190 which aims to eradicate violence and harassment in workplaces. A major part of the convention deals with psychological violence, a bullying component. This is a great milestone but there’s a need to go a step further by domesticating the Convention.
To address workplace bullying in Nigeria, a multifaceted approach is essential. First and foremost, the government can play a pivotal role by enacting comprehensive labor laws that explicitly define and prohibit workplace bullying. These laws should clearly outline the responsibilities of both employers and employees in preventing and addressing such issues. Additionally, establishing regulatory bodies or commissions to oversee workplace ethics and enforce anti-bullying regulations would be instrumental in holding organizations accountable.
Moreover, workplace bullying prevention programs should become an integral part of corporate culture in Nigeria. Companies can take proactive steps by implementing policies and procedures that promote a safe and respectful work environment. This includes fostering open communication channels where employees can report incidents without fear of retaliation.
Ultimately, a collective effort involving government intervention, corporate commitment, and individual awareness is crucial to effectively combat workplace bullying in Nigeria.
Human rights groups can also play an important role by stepping up advocacy against workplace bullying. Luckily, a non-governmental organization, EDR Centre is already leading the fight against workplace bullying in Nigeria. They need all the support to combat this monster and perhaps address this emerging human rights crisis.BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis