Nigeria: Modern slavery of local workers

By John O. Oba

In 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as the head of the Anglican Church, apologised on behalf of the church for the sins it committed during the slavery era. Many did not know what exactly the slave master had done during that despicable era that the Caribbean plantation was a “slaughter house” owned by the church.

Thank God that the Church of England had realised the wrong or, evil done to the black race. But with an understanding of the time we live in, one would ask: Has slavery really stopped? Who will plead on behalf of those involved in this modern time slavery of our workers today?

Most international companies in Nigeria are guilty of grose abuse of the rights of Nigerians working in those companies. The actions of Deutsche Gesellschaftfur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the German company that was last two years dragged to an Abuja High Court by one Nneka Akunwa, is a tip of an ice berg of what most multi-national companies are doing to Nigeria workers. Nneka is one of the fortunate workers who could afford to drag her employer to court. There are many Nigerian workers who are constantly been ill-treated with no one to advocate for them, neither are they buoyant or knowledgeable enough to seek justice in court of law, but they simply take solace in God. Even the NLC that should have advocated for the workers are simply not doing their job. May be their focus is only on workers in public service than on company or factory workers who are being oppressed on daily basis.

Thank God for the warning given by the attorney-general of the federation and the minister of justice, Mike Aondoakaa, in recent past to multi-national and foreign companies that are the major defaulters to stop violating the rights of Nigerian workers. But the issue of violation of workers rights by these companies can not be view in isolation without looking at the part played by some Nigerian workers who are in management positions in those organisations and are, most a times, advisers to these companies’ management. In fact, most of them deliberately sell their colleagues out. They know and are seeing the abuses consistently being meted out to their fellow brothers but keep mute just because they are in privileged positions. They are there to satisfy their selfish interest at the detriment of other workers. In fact, at first, when these companies bring a proposal that would better the lives of the workers, the top Nigerians in such companies are the ones who would surprisingly advise the management of the companies against such proposal. They believe that if Nigerian workers are well paid, they would run away after working.

Those so-called expatriates, who flock into Nigeria in the name of investment and misbehave because they know that, there is no record of their presence with the immigration or Custom here in Nigeria. They are mostly illegal immigrants who have no valid international passport and those that have are only here on visit with no stay permit. They are not supposed to be gainfully employed, yet, they connive with some top immigration officers for cover up. They end up becoming project managers, supervisor, and directors in most of these companies. A careful investigation by the appropriate agencies will revealed an awful rot in these practices.

Most of these foreigners treat Nigerians working under them as slave. As the saying goes, “it is cheaper to buy than to breed”. The managers hire and fire the workers at will believing that they would employ other people waiting outside the gate at cheaper rate that training their staff for improved performance. The construction companies are the worst in this practice.

The companies like Reynolds Construction Company Nigeria Limited is a case study of such alleged violation of workers rights. To them, the workers have no right, and since there is no work in Nigeria, workers could be hired at anytime and fired at will, because of lack of job security in the country. Even the consultants who have the contractual duty as project managers and supervisors in ensuring that the rights of workers as clearly spelt out are strictly adhered do not care about this. The contractors, as usual, would claim ten time higher wages from their clients than they pay the workers.

Most of these workers in many of those companies have no life or health insurance scheme. Those of them who have died leave their families in the cold with little or nothing to live upon. Those who have permanent disability remain miserable for the rest of their lives. No good medical provisions for the staff despite the rigorous nature of their jobs. Those who have only stock their clinic with menial tablets that could not meet the medical need of the workers. And most are sacked when the management discovers that they are sick and their treatment would cost the companies some monies.

In most of these construction companies, it is as though the workers are still in the Caribbean plantation.

Even the NLC is residence close to one of their project sites of one of the companies alleged to be involved in this practice, Reynolds Construction Company, has never taken time to consider or find out what the staff are going through. In some companies, many workers are sacked with their pay-off slashed for unimaginable reasons, while those that are involved in accident while on duty are left to bear the brunt of their misfortune with flimsy excuses against them, such as carelessness or negligent on the part of the workers.

While the Nigerian workers, including the qualified engineers, are loaded in trucks, even in Abuja here, with no safety precaution, their foreign counterparts with less qualifications are driving luxurious cars with drivers attached to them with weekly allowance that equals the total take home of the well qualified engineers working in the same company.

It is time NLC stemmed and nailed these abuses of workers. Also, the National Assembly should enact laws that would cub this companies from taking the rights of their workers for granted and also regulate these discrepancies between the Nigerian workers and their foreign counterparts.


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