How Asians and Lebanese Abuse Nigerian Workers By Bayo Olupohunda
Happy New Year, Dear readers. Unfortunately, I am beginning 2014 on a depressing note. One sad incident in the closing weeks of 2013 had left me outraged about the endless crimes committed against Nigerian workers. Today’s piece is on the maltreatment of Nigerian workers by the Lebanese doing business in this country where anything and everything goes. My anger is also directed at the Nigerian government and the Nigeria Labour Congress for condoning this exploitation. It is possible for those reading this to accuse me of being xenophobic. But far from it, I am not a racist; neither do I hate people of other cultures. I am a Nigerian with friends that cut across racial boundaries. But my anger is with the Lebanese, our inept government and its corrupt institutions that encourage them. Now, the impunity has to stop. By now, Nigerians should be outraged about the activities of Lebanese firms in the county and demand action from their government. Nigerians must reject being treated like slaves in their own country by demanding that relevant agencies enforce extant labour laws that guarantee workers’ rights. I am still seething with anger at the brutal beating of a Nigerian woman by her Lebanese employer.
The plight of Alexandria Ossai who was allegedly brutalised by her Lebanese employer has outraged Nigerians and President Goodluck Jonathan. It was also shocking that Mrs Ossai was six months pregnant at the time of her assault. She, however, symbolises the predicament of Nigerian workers in many Asian firms today. She was reportedly beaten over an offence that should routinely attract a query. But no, because her employer, one Mr Kaveh Noine, who knows that Nigeria is the Orwellian Animal Farm where the value of citizenship has been grossly devalued, unleashed violence on Ossai. In a fit of fury, Noine reportedly unleashed a barrage of blows and kicked her in the stomach in spite of her advanced pregnancy. In the process, the woman later had complications leading to an operation. Her damaged foetus was removed. Now I am thinking. What in the world was the Lebanese manager thinking beating a woman like that? Does he not have an ounce of human kindness in him to beat a pregnant woman the way he did? Can he do this in his home country?
As of the time of writing this piece, Mrs Ossai was still recuperating in the hospital. There was even an attempt to sweep the case under the carpet until President Jonathan reportedly intervened. As I ponder on the case, many thoughts run through my mind. How long has such brutality been going on in Topax Printing Company, where the woman works? How many more Nigerians have been beaten cruelly by this hurtful Lebanese? Why are these workers not reporting these crimes? Is it the fear of losing their jobs? For me, the surprising fallout in this sad story is the intervention of the President who was said to have been peeved on learning about the violent assault of the woman by the Lebanese.
But why is that it was not until the President ordered an investigation into the matter that the Lagos Police Command swung into action? While the President must be commended for the rare but timely intervention, it points to the failure of policing that a case of such a magnitude would be treated with levity. Why did the Lagos State Police Command not investigate when the story was first broken by The PUNCH? While we may be justifiably outraged by the action of the Lebanese, it bears noting that such breaches are also committed by privileged Nigerians with the agents of the Nigerian government being the worst culprit. Extrajudicial killings by the police have sent many Nigerians to their early grave. Every day, Nigerians are dying of poverty induced by corruption and an inept government. All the institutions meant to safeguard peoples’ lives and properties have failed. Health care is in bad shape; insecurity has also led to uncountable loss of lives. This disdainful treatment of Nigerian workers is a reflection of how our leaders treat us. Even some Nigerian employers are worse than the Lebanese. When the Lebanese see how our governments treat the citizens, how do we expect them to respect us?
It is however, not the Lebanese only that maltreat Nigerian workers; there have been reports of dehumanisation of Nigerians by Chinese companies. They are paid slave wages and made to work in a hostile environment. Working conditions in those companies have been compared to modern slavery. But our government has largely ignored these reports. Newspapers have also recorded cases of workplace abuse leading to injuries in many Asian factories in the country. In many Chinese companies, workers are made to work without observing basic safety precautions. So, Nigerians who work in those companies have sustained life-threatening injuries that have led to amputation of limbs and other body parts. These injuries are sustained in the course of the job. The dehumanising treatment of Nigerian workers is reminiscent of condition of work in pre-industrial revolution Britain.
In Nigeria, workers’ health, safety and dignity are being violated despite the relevant factories’ rules and laws of the land. The Chinese and Lebanese also engage Nigerians as casual labourers and are subjected to inhumane treatment. One prominent case of workplace abuse that resulted in tragedy was the Ikorodu factory fire in 2002. Twenty workers of a Chinese factory were roasted alive because they were always locked inside the factory without any outlet in case of any emergency. The workers are made to work 12 compulsory hours with income of less than 70 cents (seven yuan) daily. In Lagos, where there is high concentration of Chinese and Lebanese companies, working conditions are said to be bad and workers worst than slaves. Their salaries are deducted at will, the women among them do not get maternity pay and workers are generally paid below the minimum wage. The case of Mrs Ossai, a supervisor, who earns N12, 000 monthly, is a metaphor of the widespread deplorable working conditions that exist in many Chinese and Lebanese run companies in the country.
The Lebanese, in particular, have so ingrained themselves into the system that they circumvent it at will. This they do in connivance with their Nigerian partners. How, for examples, do they still manage to operate despite several complaints about their illegal activities? The case of Ossai is a typical example. Yet, there are many of such cases that are never reported.
It is shocking that Nigerians are not bothered by these grievous brutalities against fellow citizens. This makes me ask: Where are our women groups, human rights organisations and lawyers? Why have they not demanded that the Lebanese face justice? Why are the NLC and the Trade Union Congress silent on the matter? Nigerians should be reminded that an injustice to one is injustice to all. Let’s hope that the brutal assault on Ossai is not swept under the carpet.
•Follow me on twitter: @bayoolupohunda
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to email@example.com