Tears of sacked Abuja construction workers

by Sunnewsonline
(10/11/15)

The relocation of the seat of power, the Federal Capital Territory, from Lagos to Abuja in 1991 came with employment boom in the construction companies. Abuja became convergence point to most Nigerians from all walks of life.

The literates, semi-literates and illiterates converged on Abuja to take up jobs with the construction companies, without caring about the conditions of services.
While some lived like kings, others enjoyed it as survival employment. Twenty four years down the line, most of them are gnashing their teeth and writhing in pains in regret for taking up the jobs.
Regrettably, while many of them have died, others have sustained permanent disabilities that have rendered them destitute and paupers. The situation is attributable to the harsh condition of services and hostile treatment the foreign companies meted to them.
One of them, Ignatius Nwokolo, employed by Julius Berger on April 15, 1995, went through an admixture of joy and agony. In his 19 years in the service of the construction company, he trained thousands of Nigerians and expatriates on the use of hard chemicals like metal primer, XC-400 and hardener to re-trade tyres, turning old ones to new. He tells his touchy story to Abuja Metro.

What actually happened?
I served Julius Berger Construction Company for 19 years. I first served four years as a foreman until they had problem with foremen, resulting in laying all of us off during the 1999 riot but they paid us off. They later reabsorbed some others and me.
Apart from that temporary lay-off, I have been with them since I joined the company on April 15, 1995 and even as they insisted that we start afresh with them, I still spent 15 years in the company’s employment. I graduated from headman to foreman and later, to senior foreman and to supervisor.
I was in charge of the recondition department under the supervision of the expatriate, who I even taught the job when he first arrived in Nigeria. I was sent from one state to another to establish offices and train staff in the use of metal primer, XC-400 and hardener to re-trade tyres.
Unfortunately, one Friday in April 2011, I was traveling to Enugu for a wedding, when I encountered armed robbers along Nsukka road. They had robbed one bank and on their way out, they saw me with my Hilux official vehicle and felt that it could help them to get away quickly with their loot.
I tried to dodge them, when they started shooting sporadically and bullets shattered my hands. I only saw myself at the Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu. They did skin grafting and told me they would amputate the hand but I refused.
After managing the case to an extent, I arrived in Abuja on flight, but Julius Berger was only interested in investigating what happened and confirmed that what I narrated actually happened.
When I recovered a bit and came to resume, I told my immediate boss that the money I spent on my health was over N2 million but Berger refused to assist me with anything because they claimed that I did not embark on the trip officially.
I decided to pick my medical bills because I want to keep my job, but I did not even know he had other plans for me. I was directed by the doctor to be on permanent night duty since I cannot do anything very physical.
When I had another sickness and was hospitalised, the doctor advised after an x-ray, that I should undergo another surgery to remove the plastic I am still carrying till date. When I left the hospital, my expatriate boss directed me to stay at home and have a good rest instead of coming at night; but unknown to me that he used the time I was away to plan against me.
When I finally resumed, I was directed to report to the hospital and get doctor’s clearance. I was shocked when the doctor told me that I was no longer fit to continue with the job, forcing me to proceed on compulsory retirement. I took the matter to the personnel manager, who stood against it until a superior order came from the top echelon that I must be retired.
I have passed through untold hardship for the past years because I cannot use the hand to do anything. Apart from a little over N1 million retirement benefit they gave to every other person, they did not pay my hospital bill running into more than N8 million.
I picked the bills to protect my job. I needed over N500,000 to undergo another surgery but I do not have a dime to pay. I have sold almost everything I have to stay alive. I cannot drive or bath with one hand and it is my wife, a seamstress, who sustains the family.

ACC abandoned me after machine cut off my hand —Bello
The case of Taraba-born Ahmadu Bello, amputated by a machine belonging to his former employer, ACC Construction Company Nigeria Limited, is even more pathetic. Like others, he cursed the day he joined the company, when he realized how insignificant the value his company attached to his life. He was also abandoned and left to leak his wounds.

What transpired?
I was an employee of ACC Construction Company Nigeria Limited for three years. On January 12, my co-worker, Peter, from Sokoto State fell from a crusher and died. I could not but imagine that it could have been any of us that just lost his life. What the company did was to close the site that day, put him in the mortuary and ordered us to return to site the next day.
On our return that morning, I did not even know that my turn for misfortune was very much nearer. As we routinely do every morning, we usually check and service the machine, but I noticed that the conveyor belt of the machine was not well positioned. Usually, we have to set the double adjustments to position it very well.
As I put the spinner to adjust the belt properly, the belt severed my right hand like a razor would cut a tread. My hand even got hooked in the machine and for over one hour, I continued to cry for help, without getting it from anyone. Even as I groaned in pain and helplessly watched my already severed hand on the floor, help rather came too late.

Long route to get justice
I have passed through hell trying to get justice from the company that just sacked me, while on my hospital bed instead of sympathising with me and taking total care of me. I took the case to court but there was no lawyer to stand for me. I tried to hire one, but he demanded N150,000.
I pleaded with him that I have even borrowed a lot to take care of the treatment of the amputated hand, but he insisted, I must give him something. I managed to borrow N40,000 and gave to him. We demanded for N500 million compensation from the company.
The case lingered for almost two years, without any headway. However, an insurance company later invited me to Abuja, begged me to discontinue the litigation and agreed to pay the money. They collected my account number and every other data, but to my greatest surprise, they paid only N300,000 into my account.
I alerted my lawyer and he promised to continue with the case but till today, he never did and that was how he bungled the case. With an amputated hand, my life has never been the same since the day of this incident. I have a wife and four children but they have been surviving through the help of my father, who is a commercial motorcyclist.

I lost my DTV job for refusing to fleece staff —Michael
For Michael Ideghe, a former staff of DTV Construction Company, his sin was the refusal to connive with the company’s accountant to fleece his co-workers of their welfare from the Lagos head office. His story equally touches the heart.

His ordeal
I was with DTV Construction Company as electrician, when we built the Federal High Court Abuja. I worked with them for an initial period of three years and when we finished the construction of the Federal High Court in 2007, the foreigner known as Zamaike, gave me redeployment letter to their new site in Kano.
On my arrival in the company on January 7, 2008, and handing over the letter written in Italia to the project manager, he welcomed me and told me to resume immediately. He told me that since I know much about caterpillar, I should immediately start to work on their two dossers and two excavators that had broken down for a long time now.
Even when I protested that I did not have coverall to change, he provided me with one immediately. He made me understand that many expatriates had worked on the machines without any hope of fixing them. But before 12pm, I fixed the machines without buying any parts as they expected.
Out of joy, he ordered that I should not take the company staff bus, promising that his driver should be picking and dropping me daily as compensation for what I did.

Where things fell apart
On May 27, 2008, members of staff elected me the vice chairman of the staff union, even when I refused to be part of the election as a good Christian. From May to June, I was among those that travelled to our Lagos headquarters to discuss our condition of service.
In Lagos, they told us that each staff should be given N9000 as bonus and another N5000 for the staff to buy edibles for their Christmas celebration, a total of N14,000. The accountant of the company invited four Exco members namely, the chairman, secretary, treasurer and myself, when the company released the money to us.
He told us that the whole amount was over N12 million and that we should give each staff N6000 instead of N14000 approved by the company, while we share the remainder of over N8 million among us.
The chairman and two others accepted the proposal but I told them I would not be part of the arrangement as a Christian. I told them that the owners of that money deserved to enjoy their sweat. They did not take it easy and they tried to forge my signature, but I kept signing different signatures each time they called me to sign one thing or the other, until they became confused.

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