When the then president general, Comrade Onikolease Irabor started visiting the management without the knowledge of the unit or branch officers, we knew that we had lost it.
Mohammed Dungus (Unit Chairman, MWUN),
Are you by any means insinuating that the management of ENL is not union-friendly?
They are not union friendly at all right from the beginning, because the workshop manager always attested to that on several occasion, even when we are having a little gathering, the man always make such utterance like saying that workers do not need unions in the company and they do tell us when they see two or three people gathering in the workshop that the management of ENL is not willing to see anybody forming any form of union. They never wanted us.
There was allegations form the management of ENL that some of you are thieves
Well, that is not true because when the union came in, one of the issues they preached against was vices of such nature: stealing and pilfering in any form, those are the thing we really went against and that was why we brought in the union to try to curtail some of these excesses of some of the workers who might be having the idea. On our part, we also tried to let the management understand that we are also an eye to them, being people who are supposed to be watchful of the management’s interest in the company and that, we have done on several occasions whereby we always called meetings to explain to our colleagues and try to tell them not to go embrace such issues like stealing and any other form of vices, that we did on several occasions. It is part of what we have been doing and it will not be true if anybody accept that we encourage stealing.
What role did the national secretariat of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria play in your travails?
From the events that took place and the way that the national body approached it, makes us to see that the issue of positive response from the part of our national body was not expected, because we only saw the shipping and courier services branch wading into this matter. But due to the way the hierarchy of the union is, whatever we do, we are still subject to the national body. As at the time when the national body came in, they even gave us assurances that they would try to handle some of these issues. When the then president general, Comrade Onikolease Irabor started visiting the management without the knowledge of the unit or branch officers, we knew that we had lost it. All these things probably led our management into telling us that the union’s national leadership is in their pockets.
How real is the allegation of threat to lives of your members?
Yes, I, in particular have had threats and some of my colleagues, especially some principal officers in the unit; a lot of threats have come. First and foremost, when we were even in service, the management was giving us verbal threats, trying to let us know that we can not get away with it since the national secretariat of our union is on their side, then after the incident of 20th of October, 2008 when they arrested our innocent colleagues, the management through the executive vice chairman, Mrs Vicky Hastrup has also called me on phone restricting her number though I recognize her voice. She called me and made threats on phone to me by saying that I am definitely going to rot in jail. We were only requesting for them to put in place a proper and acceptable condition of service for the workers, which was what we were requesting for from the management. For the past two years that the company has been in existence, there is no condition of service in place, so we requested them to try to put a condition of service in place and that was why we sent in a proposal to them particularly on April 1st 2008 when we proposed an in- house document for them to now see and it is also subject to negotiations where we can come to terms and then have a proper condition of service. The management on their own side brought in their own condition of service which was not accepted by the workers, because they brought in a condition of service without the input of the unit or the branch of the union. When we came in, there was no condition of service and we expected them to invite us to put in our recommendation; that was one of the things we had with them. The16th of October, 2008 was the agreed date for us to have a final agreement on that document.
I am surprised to hear that there is no condition of service, we were told that dockworker have, what about your group?
We have 12 departments in ENL and these twelve departments comprise the administrative staff and the operational staff, these two departments do not have a written condition of service even as at when they took over IN 2006 till the year 2008 and it was as a result of the agitation from our unit in the shipping branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria; (we have been agitating for a condition of service), that is why management now prepared a hurried document and brought it out. Though from the information that we got, there was a time they proposed a document around 2007, but it was disapproved by the Executive Vice Chairman, we were able to lay our hands on the document which was not implemented but they later come out with another one which they brought in now just to counter the proposal of the union, because we have our own in place which we are already negotiating.
VICTOR OGBEWI(One of the 89)
When were you sacked?
I was sacked on the 20th of October, my letter had the same contents with that of others, but it has a different heading, because I was given sudden dismissal. So, I went back there after all the troubles, on the 20th of October which we were supposed to resume that morning, on my way to the office, somebody who was sneaking out called me and said that I should not go on the bus for security reasons, because if I should go into the terminal, security men will pick me. But, I took it for granted that maybe he was just trying to fool me, so I went ahead. When I was about to board the bus, the security manager said I should come down from the bus and I said okay, because I remembered what happened on the 18th of October, 2008. So I went back, I stood with my unit’s vice chairman, not quite long, he said he was going to the branch office to see the unit chairman and the secretary because they were supposed to have a meeting that day for reconciliation. I was waiting for them to come back only for me to see police men; the first set came and asked us what we were doing and ordered that we should enter the bus. About 10 minutes later, another set of police men came and demanded for our union leader and we told him that he was not our management or our national body. They started shooting tear gas on us and laid hand on those that they could catch.
What is your assessment of ENL in terms of condition of service?
Since I was employed and up till when I left there, I did not see any good package from the management, the only good package from the management is to sack, without being given any query; you can be sacked anytime and if the union comes up with any good suggestion, they don’t want to hear it. There was an operations staff called Sunny Eboigbo at shed 10, because we do not have any medical facility or any hospital and we handle hazardous chemicals and lots of other dangerous cargoes in the shed; this man worked there, just a few month after he commenced work, the man began to have heart problem; he told me about the problem before he died. After his death, the union tried all its best, but nothing came out of it. To confirm to you that the management of ENL is totally fake and wicked, up till today as I am talking to you, the family of Sunny Eboigbe is still roaming around the company without being able to collect anything form the management. That alone can tell you that the company does not have any good package for the welfare of its staff.
JOHN IGIETEMOH (One of the Nine Detainees)
What happened thereafter, were you taken immediately to the police station or where?
So they(the police men) became frustrated and annoyed and decided to use tear gas to scare all of us and we started running; some people fell and broke there hands, legs and so on, we were arrested and taken to the police station. When we got there, one Mr. Onu and the Divisional Crime Officer took us in; we were about eight. I don’t know if madam executive vice chairman has given them any instructions, because we were thoroughly beaten inside the cell, even one of us by the name – Samsudeen Lawal was beaten to coma and we thought he was dead already, they collected our telephones in order for us not to call our relations and they kept us there.
How did the Police treat your cases?
Hey, it was the DCO was the one who was giving the order that they should beat us, even to give us water was very hard except the guys that always come at night and help us to buy pure water to drink, so we were in that place thinking that they will take us to court. But the DPO said we should remain there. On the third day, around one o’clock in the afternoon, they now called us and ENL management brought out cheques and termination letters and we refused to sign, we insisted that without seeing our union leaders we would not sign, the DCO ordered them to beat us again, he said that whether we like it or not, we must sign the papers or we are going to rot in jail.
So you signed for your letters of termination of appointment under duress?
Yes, we signed under duress because there was nothing we can do because the first beating was enough for us. On the third day, they came around one o’clock in the afternoon that we were going to court, it was then that they now gave us our phones and by then it was too late because most of the batteries in the telephones were dead, we could not call anybody again, they put us in the pick up van and drove us to magistrate court one at Apapa, under fifteen minutes, the matter had been judged, no bail, no nothing, we were put back in the van and we were taken straight to Kirikiri, that was in the afternoon on the 22nd of October, 2008.
At the court, did the magistrate give you option of a fine or bail?
The option is that they said we should go and produce N1Million, or two sureties; one of whom must have property in Lagos. We were then sent to Kirikiri prison. It was then that we were able to get to our families. Even in the prison cell, we were beaten as new comers, we were able to make friends with some ‘marshals’ who gave us phones to reach our relations and it was then that they know that we were in Kirikiri and we were there thinking about what might have made madam to do this to us. We were there until our relations started to come to bail us one by one. In my own case, my lawyer took N200,000, because of the gravity of the bail; the lawyers increased their charges too, even the surety that came for me took N250,000, not to mention the miscellaneous spending like transportation, the warders and clerks were all given money. I spent about n470, 000 before I was released.
When exactly were you released?
I was released after more than a month but I can’t really remember the exact date.
Since your release from Kirikiri, have you or any of your mates established contact with the management of ENL?
No, because they were threatening everybody and they don’t even want to see anybody, it was after we were bailed that they arrested another person called Ade.
How many people were arrested altogether?
Nine of us were arrested for the same offence.
What did your union do to assist when you were at Kirikiri?
Our unit of the branch of the union was running up and down to bail us, but we never knew that the president general of the union has met with madam the executive vice chairman. According to what we heard when we came out, he did not give any support. It’s only our leaders and members at the unit level that were running everywhere to bail us and they are the ones who even helped us up till now, so we thank them very much.