Ikechukwu (lastname witheld) was working with a machine at one of the expatriate owned hair extentions and wigs factory when some hot liquid fell on his arm. He described the pain that ripped through him as immense. He was wounded for weeks and scarred for life.
On December 9, 2011 “at about 3pm”, Bolaji Sekoni was working with a body cream mixing machine at the Patterson Zochonis Industries (PZ), Ikorodu Branch. Sekoni resumed for his duties that morning and ended up at the mortuary of the Ikeja General Hospital. As the story goes; the machine exploded and severely injured Sekoni and a colleague of his. The 39 year old died from those injuries. His colleague suffered a great deal and is gradually recuperating.
Sekoni’s death was reported to the police by PZ and is being treated as an ‘industrial accident’. The tragedy was confirmed by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for Lagos State, Samuel Jinadu. But the Corporate Affairs Director of PZ, Yomi Ifaturoti, came forward to deny that the accident was due to an explosion. She is quoted thus: “We have set machinery in motion to find out what was the cause of the accident,” “PZ is a very responsible organisation; we have well structured insurance and life compensation benefits. His family had been here, we have started discussions and they know what the management is doing.”
But that is for PZ. How about the cluster of factories, mostly set up by foreigners who exploit their ‘Oyinbo privileges,’ exploit their Nigerian employees, pay these workers peanuts, expose them to hideous hazards, ignore their health needs and sometimes go all out to physically and sexually abuse them?
Mr. Maaji Meriga, was declared impotent and on the watch list for castration in 2011 after he was kicked in the scrotum by one of his expatriate bosses while working to construct railway tracks in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, for the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). His attacker was named as the company's transport manager, Marcho Chin, who kicked him on his testicles and punched him on the ear to establish his superiority.
Meriga had received two conflicting instructions; one from Chin and another from Chin’s fellow Chinese rival in the company. The assault was Chin’s way of telling Meriga whose orders were superior. This practice is very common in ‘expatriate companies’ as they know their employees are neither protected by the government, nor the unions.
On January 23, 2012, just as the country was resuming work after the ‘fuel subsidy strike’ Happiness Okon was killed by a plastic moulding machine at IMPCO Company Limited. The 21 year old was a new girl in the factory; it was only her 5th day at work. Could she have been sufficiently trained to use a plastic moulding machine in that time especially with the notorious maintenance habits, and neglect of protective gear these factories are known for? The company was sealed by the state government on Tuesday February 7, 2012, but how far would the state go amidst all the cries for justice?
Perhaps you recall the death of over twenty Nigerian workers at a factory in Ikorodu: The Chinese business owner had locked the employees inside the factory to work overnight. When tragedy struck there was nowhere to run.
Even the lamentations of Femi Martins the spokesman for the workers at Nigeria Bottling Company is still fresh. The workers took to the streets to protest against their working conditions and ‘poor wages’; they were paid four hundred naira (N400.) a day.
The superiority complex many of these expatriates possess is fuelled by greed and the country’s skyrocketing unemployment rate; these foreigners have tens of thousands of youths begging them for employment. This situation is leading to really ugly incidents; faulty and dangerous factory equipment, no protective gear, prolonged exposure to toxins, and harm, no first aid etc. These factory workers have to battle with breakdowns, recurrent illness, defective senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste), defective organs, lifelong and terminal conditions and many times instant death.
The average factory worker is extremely overworked and extremely underpaid. Too many of them work for up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week and get no overtime payment or any privilege or allowance whatsoever. With hundreds of thousands of people on the unemployment line, they simply cling to their jobs; slaving away and risking their limbs and lives.
These same companies boldly engage in tax evasion, pollution and ill management of toxic waste. A visit to some of these factories to see the conditions that Nigerians are subjected to in their own countries would bring tears to their eyes.
Some of these ‘sweat shops’ hire hundreds of underage workers who are easier to exploit. These vulnerable children are abused by these foreign business owners, their (expatriate) executives and the older (bitter) Nigerian factory workers, many of whom have been working there for years with no escape in sight. Needless to say that the top ranks are reserved for Caucasians alone; no matter how long and how hard you have toiled for them.
This is not to say that the Nigerian-owned factories are havens; far from it.
In Ijeshatedo, Surulere, Lagos a few years ago a handful of young bread factory workers were having an argument with another teen from the factory. When it came to blows the other youth took to his heels and the gang chased him all the way to his nearby home and pushed him into a well. The boy drowned. This was the brutality they had been ‘nurtured’ with at the factory. Many of our local factories are nasty, but it is their expatriate counterparts that rule the slavery trade ‘mafia’ of today.
In all fairness to the labour unions, the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr.Peter Esele, and his counterpart at the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Abdulwaheed Omar have been talking about the situation, but so far it is all talk as foreigners continue maltreat our people in these post-colonial times.
For instance KHS Machines Limited a member of the Nigerian-German Business Association situated at 50 Oduduwa Street, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos has been reported severally as one of the most notorious companies in country. The Mobilising Officer of the NLC, Mr. Yacub Denja once told the media that they were well aware of the company’s long history of abusing, overworking, and exploiting workers whilst withholding their wages and entitlements. They are made to work as long as 16 hours a day, 7 days a week with the threat of a mass sack perpetually hanging over their heads. To make it even worse, these factory workers are exposed to the serious hazards with little or no training at all.
Some workers of KHS Machines Limited took the bold step to litigate some time ago. As expected the company got lawyers to delay the proceedings perpetually; knowing very well that these workers were couldn’t keep up with their legal fees for too long.
The frequency and magnitude of these allegations, the evidence as well as the large number of witnesses is more than enough to warrant a probe by the state government. Add that to list of reports in the media about the company. Research also revealed that Nigerians may not the only ones complaining about the company. A certain Mihir Shah had made complaints about a certain KHS Machinery Pvt Ltd which he had worked with while in Ahmedabad from June 2006 to Jan 2010. He complained about being forced into departments outside his training, sack threat, withhold of his allowances and privileges, refusal to accept his resignation and then he simply cleared out of the company in frustration. For leaving he being litigated against and harassed with legal notices.
Nobody has a right come into this country called Nigeria to set up a business and completely take our laws for granted.
The Secretary General of Workers United Nigeria, Mr. Princewill Onaregho reportedly told the media that he believed the situation would improve if the government used the KHS Machines Limited as an example to others: Just so that they understood the magnitude of its wrath.
Today, even deportees would testify that Nigerian factory workers got
better treatment in foreign lands as none of these expatriates would dare the governments of their own homeland the way they dare ours.