3rd September, 2010
Horrifying photographs displayed by protesters of Celplas Industry Nigeria at the Federal HighÂ Court annex recently evoked different emotions from onlookers, lawyers and even police officersÂ detailed to forestall breakdown of law and order.
While the aggrieved workers chanted anti-labour songs, the police officers suggested other waysÂ and places the protesters could go to press home the inhuman treatment by their employers.
Several photographs showed various degrees of injury sustained by the workers while on dutyÂ working with what they described as obsolete machines used by the company which producesÂ plastic products. The firm is owned by Indians and Lebanese.
As the protest went on, prominent Lagos lawyer, Wahab Shittu, who was apparently disturbed,Â described the treatment by the company as barbaric. He also advised the coordinator of theÂ Citizens Right Watch, Barrister Gabriel Ojumah, to solicit the support of other lawyers to joinÂ him in the fight for the victims who have also been sacked by the company.
One of the workers, Yinka Oluwale, explained how his hand was amputated. He been a casualÂ worker with the company since 2007, and one day, while working with a machine, his hand gotÂ broken. But the companyâ€™s doctor amputated it.
For Ejike Okonkwo who said he had been a casual labourer with the company for the past twoÂ years, â€œwe are placed on targets of 500 plastic products every hour and if you donâ€™t meet it,Â they mark you absent for that day.”
â€œI was working on a blockage in the machine and the thing exploded and the chemical poured onÂ my face,â€ he added. Now he has to wear glasses. He said he has been asked to take good care ofÂ the eyes or he may soon go blind, but the company has refused to take care of him.
Nnamdi Ezekiel, another worker with the company accused the firm of not training workers on howÂ to use the machines. â€œThey give you N50,000 two weeks after you are injured and fire you. TheyÂ sacked us because we asked that the machines be changed.â€
He said there were no safety gadgets in the company. â€œSome people now have internal diseases,Â because their health has not been taken into consideration. There are no nose masks and if youÂ complain they would ask you to go.
â€œThere is one Dele whose hand was amputated and for lack of care, he died. The white men wouldÂ wear gloves and ask you to work with bare hands. Some people have been electrocuted. We receiveÂ N9,000 monthly, but if you go and ask them, they would tell you we receive N20,000. Our basicÂ salary is N5,000 and with the allowances, it becomes N9,000.
He said the company, located on Fatai Atere Road, Matori, Lagos, burnt the files of affectedÂ workers after sacking them.
Shittu, who promised to assist the workers free of charge if contacted, said though he does notÂ know the full details of the issue. â€œOne can see that these Nigerians have been subjected toÂ severe deprivation,” he said.
â€œThis is an abuse of their dignity as citizens and it amounts to callousness. Whoever isÂ responsible for this must be brought to book because human beings everywhere have the right toÂ fair treatment and that this is happening in our country, in a democracy. It is very, very sadÂ and totally condemnable,â€ he told P.M.NEWS.
He accused the government of not sufficiently protecting the rights of its citizens. â€œWe needÂ massive intervention on the part of the government and perhaps, the populace has to demonstrateÂ a massive protest to force the government to be accountable, because once people come to ourÂ soil and do things like this and go free, it is an insult on our collective intelligence,â€Â Shittu said, betraying his emotion.
Gabriel Ojumah, who is currently standing for the aggrieved workers in the court, said heÂ decided to assist them because as Nigerians, they were his brothers.
Reacting to the accusations, lawyer to the company and coordinator of Socio-Economic Rights andÂ Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni, said Celplas was not the only company withÂ casual workers. He also said the company tried to compensate the victims but they refused toÂ collect the money, adding that the company is challenging the jurisdiction of the Federal HighÂ Court to handle the issue.
â€”Eromosele Ebhomele & Igbanor Rukayat