Monday, 12 January 2015

How Nigerian Officials Aid Indian Company in Corrupt Practices, Former Staff Reveals

Mr. Jonathan Abimbola was a former Safety Officer of the Indian company, African Fertilizers and Chemicals Nigeria Limited. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he reveals things about the operations of the Indian company in Nigeria.

What is your educational background and qualifications in safety management?
I attended St. Finbarr's College Akoka Yaba Lagos; University of Lagos (Chemical Engineering dept.), and University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom where I graduated from the Department of Chemical and Bio-Systems Engineering in 2009. After my second year at Surrey, I gained an industrial placement year with RWE power, a leading power generating company at Didcot Oxfordshire, as an assistant Chemist to the Power Station.

During the placement year in 2008, I attended several safety courses such as Fire Marshall with the commercial training department of Oxfordshire Fire Service, Breath of life with St John Ambulance, Chemical Handling, General Safety, Manual Handling etc. In 2011, I attended Cranfield University, Cranfield Bedfordshire United Kingdom where I had a short course programme in Msc Ultra Precision and Nano-Engineering.

How, and when, did you go to work at the Indian company called African Fertilizers and Chemicals Nigeria Limited?
On getting to Nigeria on 18 November 2011, I went for an interview at African Fertilizer and Chemicals Nigeria Ltd, Silicate plant section. I was interviewed by Mr. Victor Adhaeze, the factory manager of the company, and later by the general manager, Mr. G. Ramesh and Mr. Chackraborthy. After I was told that my work hours would be 7am - 7pm, Monday - Saturday and that I would be paid N40, 000 monthly.

I was not happy with the salary. But in order to build a work experience in Nigeria I took the offer and on 18th April 2012, I started work at the acid/alum plant branch of the company as the safety officer of African Fertilizer and Chemical Nigeria Ltd covering the acid plant, Parco warehouse, and the silicate plant which has four companies in one i.e. AWAIL, African Glass, Ispat, and Silicate plant.

Why did you leave the company?
My job as a safety officer was challenging in the Indian company. The Indians do not care for the safety of Nigerians who work for them, especially at African Fertilizer and Chemicals Nigeria Ltd. They believe it is a waste of resources to spend money on the safety of Nigerians. They make Nigerian workers to work without protection. It was a bit better in acid plant of AFCL because Mr. G. Ramesh, the general manager, tried to buy a few helmets (but very inferior ones), and some nose masks which were not enough at all. The plant manager in acid plant was a very wicked man. He forced workers to work bare footed in the acidic sludge. I tried many times to stop workers working unprotected there but I was frustrated. At a time I was allowed to sign the issue slip to enable workers take safety items from the store. This was later stopped by the management of AFCL. As a safety officer, I have the right to stop an unsafe procedure, but the Indians instead told me never to do so. Many times they called me a foolish man. It was fight everyday while working with them.

I will cite three cases that show the Indians never wanted me to succeed or perform as a safety officer. They only hired me so that the company would be portrayed to outsiders as having a safety officer.

At a time, the company was expecting visitors from Ogun State Environmental Protection Agency (OGEPA). The back of the acid plant is a place where the company initially used the tractor to store the acidic sludge to solidify before taking it to somewhere outside the company. The job was contracted out to a Nigerian man who had to find where to take the acidic sludge from the alum plant.

Now, if any worker in the company enters the black book of the acid plant manager, he transfers that person to a very difficult job. I guess one Anato Emmanuel offended him, so he sent him and his two friends to go and pack the acidic sludge with shovels. This is a very difficult job only an excavator or a JCB tractor should do. The men, after some attempt, came and complained to me that they were sinking because the ground of the work area was very weak. I told them to go and tell the factory manager, Mr. Victor Adhaeze and the quality control manager Mr. Sam Ibiloye.

The factory manager and I went there to assess the work area and we saw that truly, it was dangerous and hazardous. On our way to see Mr. Chacraborthy, he met us with the guys and asked them why they were not doing the job he assigned them. Mr. Anato told him that they came to me because they could not do the job. He then faced me and pointed his finger directly in my face and told me that I was foolish for stopping the work. He asked me what right I had to stop a work he ordered to be done. I told him to remove his finger from my face. His fingers were already touching my eyes. He reported me to the general manager and I sat waiting for my punishment.

Later, Mr. Anato Emmanuel was fired because he refused to go and die in the acid sludge.

Second, the company was importing bauxite, the raw material for the production of alum. The bauxite yard was where tractors and cars are packed because there was large space there due to very little bauxite left there. Now they had to look for somewhere else to pack the tractors and cars. There is plenty of space at the admin section, the sulphur yard etc., but the plant manager ordered that the cars and tractors should be packed inside the alum plant, blocking all emergency exits in and out of the plant while production was still going on.

When I got to the acid/alum plant on safety patrol, I noticed this and complained about it to the plant manager. He said nothing would happen but I told him it was wrong, still he refused. I called his driver to take the car away from the emergency exit. The man went to him and he ignored my advice. This was barely a month after one Mr. Onyebuchi died at the acid plant.

I called the in-house Mobile Police Officers to come and be a witness to that. They came and advised him to tell his driver to remove the vehicles. He agreed. To my surprise, immediately the police officers left his office, he called the Admin Manager, Mr Malutra, and the General Manager, and told them that I called MOPOLS for him from outside the company.

The following day, a tipper loading bauxite hit a centre pole in the bauxite yard and brought down a part of the building. It narrowly missed the workers inside the building. We would have lost some souls including Mr. Okanga Ezekiel who was monitoring the tippers.

Third, there was a time the acid plant was shut down for major maintenance. The first stage of the sulphuric acid production is the melting of sulphur in a melting pit. So during this maintenance job, the solidified sulphur from the pit woul be kibbled out of the pit. It is such a long and wide pit. The job was to be contracted out. The contractor asked for a million naira, but the Indians did not want to pay. Instead they chose to use the contract staff for the job. The contract staffs are paid N600 per day.

During my usual safety patrol round the plant I went to the sluphur pit and Mr. Segun was kibbling the solidified sulphur from the pit. After assessing the work area I discovered that although the area he was working on was solidified already but then, the other part close to where he stood was still full of hot melted sulphur. So any little mistake, he could fall into the molten sulphur and would not survive it.

I advised him to stop the job but he started abusing me. He went and reported me to Mr. Navik, the acid plant manager. The following day, Mr. Navik saw me and said that I was a foolish man. He was angry that I told Mr. Segun to stop the work. The Indians are very quick in abusing Nigerians and enjoy it a lot. It's so annoying. I reported the case to the Managing director of the company, Mr. Narayana. He said if it was Mr. Navik he knew, he would say worse things to me. He said he has told me several times never to stop a work; that I should take permission from the person who gave the work before stopping it. I was disappointed and I felt so sorry for myself.

The real reason I left the company was my involvement in the union. I took the case to a law firm, Segun Joseph & Co. during my stay there, we contacted three unions. The first was NUCFRIANMPE. They wrote the company and later asked us to form a union. The company began mass victimization of workers and union members, threatening them to withdraw from union activities. We called the union and they kept saying that they would do something about it. Then the company began to sack workers who were union members.

We didn't give up. As the union chairman and safety officer of the company, I contacted the Agriculture and Allied Union of Nigeria (AAEUN), an affiliate of the Nigerian Labour Congress.

I drew strength and confidence from God and Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

Under the International Labour Organization Convention, a treaty ratified by Nigerian, and incorporated in its 1999 Constitution, workers have the freedom of association and the right to organize workers into a union.
The state secretary of AAEUN, Comrade Aviri and Comrade Benco were both present at the inauguration ceremony of the branch union executives of AAEUN of which I was the union chairman.

Trouble began a day after the inauguration ceremony. First, the Indians introduced gate pass system. Before I left the acid plant where I resume duty every morning, I was required to take a gate pass, even to other plants, if I needed to go out and work. Getting gate pass became difficult and my movement to other plants on safety patrol was restricted and safety of the workers and enforcement of wearing of PPE was affected.

Prior to this time, in December, every staff got a little salary increment of N3, 000, N2, 000, N10, 000 etc. depending on how the Indians liked you. They used this to get some workers to dance to their tune. Workers who were not involved in union activities and those who spied on members of the union for the Indians got highest salary increment at the end of the year.

There was no salary increment for me and other union members. In addition, I was queried for being absent from work for some days in the month. Money was deducted from your salary in that company any day you were absent.

They are aware that workers work above the 40 hours as stated by the constitution. Nigerians work there from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday and sometimes on Sundays. We put in 72 hours of our life time weekly without overtime payment. Yet, if you are absent from work, for whatever reason, be it sickness, they would deduct money from your monthly salary.

After I submitted a fiery answer to their query, the factory manager instructed the security not to allow me into the company from the next day, saying the order came from the Managing Director, Mr Narayana.

Somehow, the information got to me and I got battle ready. The news spread everywhere and workers planned a big strike action the following day. This account can be read on-line in the Sahara reporter's page.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian Labor Congress, and the ministry of labour and productivity turned blind eyes on all those things.

On December 10, 2014, one Tosin Olajide died in the company...
For Mr. Tosin Olajide to die in such a manner after the death of his elder brother exactly a year and six months ago (June 20, 2013) in the same company... .oh it's just a shame to us that this country could allow Indians to be committing these atrocities against Nigerians and getting away with them all.
The death of Mr. Tosin Olajide was partly as a result of negligence of our government in dealing with issues that border on her citizens.

While you were there, were there accidents similar to the one that killed Tosin? How did those accidents happen, and how much did the company pay to the victim's relations?

A similar death occurred while I was with the company. He was Mr. Onyebuchi whose parents lived at Arikawe Street Ajangbadi Afromedia Ojo Lagos. He was about 18. One of the problems I identified at the acid plant was that there were no toilets and bathrooms for workers. The job of alum production is a very dirty and energy consuming one. Kibbling of the already solidified alum and bagging it is very difficult and hazardous. The job was contracted to about three to four contractors in the yard. Workers defecate in a nearby bush. I wrote to the company about the need to repair the old dirty toilet within the yard for workers' use. The Indians ignored my advice.

The plant runs 24 hours and workers work 24 hours. On this fateful day, I left home at 6:00 pm. At around 8.00 pm I received a call from Mr. Malutra. He is the manager whom I report to.

His words were not clear but I sensed there was a problem at the plant. I called the Personnel manager who told me that it was like someone just died at the plant. I ran to Agbara police station to find out if any member of the company has been to the police station. The police asked me why, but I told them I would be back. I ran to the company where I met a very big crowd near the water reservoir. The water reservoir was a set of six 12-feet deep container, uncovered and un-barricaded. I was told that a contract staff fell into the water and all effort to rescue him alive proved abortive and that the corpse was still in the water.

They said four guys including the deceased went to bathe in the river (reservoir) and one of them died; that it was not the first time they were going there to bathe in the water; that each time they went there, Mr Onyebuchi (the dead boy) always fetched water with bucket from the reservoir to bath; that he didn't swim. They said they were surprised to see Onyebuchi, all of a sudden remove his clothes and jump into the water. Immediately he jumped into the water, the whole company light went out. That was strange. The other two guys went home but the last four went out and cried for help. By the time people got there and managed to put on the light, he was already dead.

We called the federal and state fire services for help. Unfortunately their trucks could not pump out the water. We tried to use the company pump to pump the water out but it was not fast enough. One of the workers, a good swimmer, agreed to go in. He used a long stick for support. We tied a long rope round him so that we could pull him out if he began to drown.

At around 1.00 am, Onyebuch's corpse was brought out of the water. The Indians became afraid and ran away. I received his corpse from the swimmer and placed him near the water. Then the factory manager, Mr. Victor Adhaeze said we should take his corpse to his parents and tell them that he committed suicide. I told him to do that himself. He said Onyebuchi was looking for a way to enrich his poor family.

I insisted that nobody should touch the corpse until we inform the police. Onyebuchi's mother kept calling because Mr. Victor Adhaeze had tried calling her to break the news. The woman kept calling, wanting to find out what happened to her son. The company managers said her son was involved in an accident, and that he was receiving treatment. Then we went to the police station to report. The police came to the scene of the accident. They took photographs and asked for the workers toilet. Mr. Victor Adhaeze told me to take the police to the toilet meant for managers. I refused. I told him that I cannot do such a thing. Instead I took the police to the abandoned toilet which I have told them to repair but they refused. They also asked why the water reservoirs were exposed and not barricaded. We have also advised them on that but they never took our advice. They always ignore safety advice. The police also asked for safety signs around that water side. I have worked on this safety slogans. I told them to release money so we could print them on iron stands but they never agreed.

I followed the police and the body was deposited at Ilaro State Hospital mortuary. The family of Onyebuchi was taken to the mortuary to identify the corpse.

Later, Onyebuchi's family engaged the services of a lawyer who asked for about ten million naira compensation. The company offered to pay N300, 000 naira. Out of the N300, 000, they wanted the contractor, IBM - Mr Tunde, to pay N150, 000. The lawyer refused.

At some point I noticed that something was not right between the lawyer and the company. I told Onyebuchi's father to change his lawyer. In fact, I gave him our union lawyer who was ready to help him. He refused. The same lawyer who was claiming ten million naira compensation descended to N600, 000!

The company quickly agreed to pay the N600, 000. I was called to sign the document so that they would withdraw the case from the police station. I was not interested in his money. That was the end of Onyebuchi's life. Six hundred thousand naira was paid by Mr. Narayana, the managing director of AFCL for a life.

That same week, the Indians renovated the abandoned toilet. They barricaded the water reservoir and paid for the safety slogans which I believe are still be there till today.

Could you compare how the company treats Indians with how they treat Nigerians who work for them?
The company treats their fellow Indians very well. They pay them for overtime and annual leave allowance every six months. They have an in-house cook that cooks their breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even have their hostel in the company premises, which is well furnished. Each of them has a company car and a driver. The opposite is the case for Nigerians.

As for the salary scale, the least of the Indians get N250, 000 basic salaries paid in Indian currency to a bank account in India. They only feed on the weekly allowance of at least N40, 000 weekly. On the other hand, the highest salary I ever saw for a Nigerian was N100, 000, and that is only for managers like the personnel manager, Mr. Ogundimu, the factory manager Mr. Victor Adhaeze, and the Quality Control Manager. During my time there, I got N40, 000 as a safety officer covering all their plants in Agbara Ogun State. I got no overtime pay. The N40, 000 included all my allowances like transportation etc. This means that my basic salary was around N25, 000 monthly!

Nigerians respect Indians a lot, but Indians are so abusive of Nigerians. You would hear them say that Nigerians are foolish. I reported Mr. Navic of the Acid Plant to the general manager several times for saying that Nigerians are foolish. They say that Nigerians are very corrupt; that if you want to deal with Nigerians, just pay some money to the police and they will deal with the person for you. They say they know Nigeria more than Nigerians. They have in-house mobile policemen in the yard 24/7. They say it is for their protection. But they also use the MOPOLS to intimidate Nigerians working for them.

When an Indian is employed, he gets employment letter and all documents relating to his employment. But almost all Nigerians working for them are casual workers. They don't give them employment letters. A Nigerian must spend 6 years of hard labour there before he could be staffed, if they want to staff him. And of course, their employment letters carry no weight; even with it, you are still more or else a casual worker if you are a Nigerian.

There are a lot of allegations that the Indians who own Parco Group of Companies use some key Nigerian persons to exploit Nigerian workers and bribe government officials - Police, Standard Organisation of Nigeria - SON, Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Inland Revenue, Federal Fire Services etc. While you were there, did you identify some of these key persons and how the Indians use them?

The Nigerian Police and the Indians are very good friends. With money, the Indians can be off the hook for any crime they commit.

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity is very corrupt. The company has a friend there who helps them scuttle union matters that are meant to promote welfare of the Nigerian workers. I only know a little about the involvement of the Federal Ministry of commerce and industry. The only encounter I had with them was in relation to the union which I have already talked about. Taxes deducted from Nigerians workers' salaries are remitted regularly, but unfortunately, more than half of the Indians don't pay tax. They'd rather pay it in their home country. They don't actually pay full company income tax.

Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) comes for inspections regularly but they do not really inspect anything. With money, so many things can be waved.I am highly disappointed with the conduct and operations of the Nigerian immigrations in their dealings with AFCL. I have travelled out of this country, to the UK and America, and I have seen so much difference in the way immigration operates. The Indians at AFCL travel to Nigeria from their country on visitor's visa. It is with this visa which is not a working Visa that the Indians use to operate in Nigeria. They don't have work permits. This is not done anywhere. Nigerians living in India cannot do this. They will be deported back to Nigeria. Whenever the immigration officers come to AFCL, The Indians hide in toilets, bathrooms, undergrounds, inside plants, etc.
In the end, they collect money and go away. In fact they no longer arrest the Indians; There are monthly or quarterly settlements. The Indians know that Nigerians are so corrupt so they always have their way.

At two different occasions I have received letters for the company written by the Federal Fire Services saying they intended to visit the company. They wished to see some documents; they wished to see the safety officer, to ask of his companies' readiness to fight fire in case of fire outbreak, training records, etc.

At those two occasions somebody met with the officials of the Federal Fire Services. Before I knew it, a fat envelope had exchanged hands and they were on their way out.

Vanguard Newspaper