Nigeria has become a place where foreigners come to set up companies, flourish from the country’s resources and goodwill but turn round to treat Nigerian citizens like trash while transacting their affairs with total disregard for extant laws, regulations, agreements and even government polices and officials.
This is the story of Mrs Elo Victor-Ogbondah.
This woman, from Rivers State in Nigeria, has dedicated her life working tirelessly for the company. All the intimidation, harassment and mistreatment she has been suffering in the company blew over in June, 2014, when she was elected as a National executive of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, to serve as the Zonal Secretary of the Port Harcourt Zone of the Association.
The Company immediately moved to prevent her from assuming duties as an executive of PENGASSAN by transferring her from the Port Harcourt branch of the Company to the Lagos Branch of the Company in August 2014. Our investigation revealed that this transfer was done without regard to the company’s policy and extant laws like the Trade Union Act.
PENGASSAN reacted to this move by Total to prevent Elo from assuming executive duties by declaring a nationwide strike that shut down the entire oil and gas sector in Nigeria. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the then president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had to mandate the relevant government ministers and heads of agencies to mediate between the Association and the company to call of the strike.
We sighted a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the representative of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the representative of Total E & P Limited, the representative of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN and the representative of Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, on the 18th of December, 2014; where Total E & P Limited pledged to give Mrs Elo Victor-Ogbondah a three (3) years Leave of Absence to take up responsibilities as an elected executive of the Association at the Port Harcourt Zone of the Association and to reabsorb her after the leave of absence. The signing of this MoU brought the strike action to an end immediately.
We sighted the letter granting Mrs Elo the leave of absence. The letter stated that the leave of absence is an exception to the company’s policy and as such she proceeded for the leave of absence without full pay. This was strange because the company policy states clearly that such leave of absence will be with full pay. The letter also stated that she was to adhere to the company policy. She was confused as to how she was to adhere to a company policy if the letter is stating that her leave of absence is an exception to the company’s policy. When she received this letter she requested clarification on this point but wasn’t given any clarifications.
The company had other plans. Apparently, they had no intention to adhere to this MoU signed with the Nigerian Government; a MoU that was their proposal. About one year to the expiration of the leave of absence, the company wrote Mrs Elo informing her to resume work on the 7th of August, 2017. But shockingly, on the 19th of July, 2017, about one month to the expiration of the leave of absence, the Company proceeded to terminate the employment of the woman in total disregard of the MoU they signed with the Nigerian Government. Our investigations revealed that she was not even summoned, queried or given a fair hearing before this purported termination. They wrote to her asking her to resume on the 7th of August, 2017, without stating any condition or need to adhere to any item of the company’s policy but proceeded to terminate her employment on the 19th of July, 2017, before the date they gave her to resume and citing the breach of the company policy (of writing to them two months to resumption notifying them that she wants to resume) they admitted they were not relying on to grant her the leave of absence. The whole procedure smacks of high level deceit with impunity that a company like Total can only dare to pull in a country like Nigeria.
PENGASSAN, again reacted by going on strike in October 2017.
After all internal dispute channels had failed to settle this issue between the Company and PENGASSAN; the Federal Government again stepped in through the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment as conciliators between Mrs Elo, the Company and PENGASSAN. We sighted a letter written by the Minister of Labour and Employment dated the 29th March 2018 with Ref No: MLHB/7586/T/29 and addressed to both the Managing Director of the Total and the General Secretary of PENGASSAN, signed for the Honourable Minister of Labour & Employment by the Director of Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations, conveying the decision reached by the Minister on the wrongful termination of the employment of Mrs Elo Victor-Ogbondah.
Total bluntly refused to abide and follow the decision reached by the Minister of Labour to pay Mrs Elo monetary compensation for wrongful termination of her employment. Our investigations revealed that it was Total who insisted that the Ministry state an amount for them to pay as compensation; but they surprisingly refused to pay the stated amount. Apparently they had lobbied for a particular amount to be stated in the Minister’s decision and when this failed, they decided to disobey the decision altogether. We spoke to a source in Total who boasted that there is nothing the Government can do to Total. He boasted that the company has the capability to lobby its way around any decision the Government will reach in favour of Mrs Elo Vivtor-Ogbondah. He claimed that the government is in their “pocket.”
The whole of this has worsened the health condition of Mrs Elo; nowadays she spends more time in the hospital than she spends out of it. Mrs Elo Victor-Ogbondah represents countless other Nigerians who are constantly being harassed, intimidated, used and dumped by foreign companies who are making billions of dollars in this country, while looking helplessly to the system to defend them.
Nigerians will recall how this matter took front pages in national news in 2014, with the DSS spokesperson issuing a statement and even the President of Nigeria making a public statement too. The matter was dealt with decisively then, but is seems this time around, the company has been emboldened to disrespect the government. But who is interested in perpetuating this injustice against this woman? Which government agency or official is conniving with this company to hound and haunt her? Which government official or agency is in the pocket of this company as our source claimed? Why has the DSS who investigated this case and reported to the President in 2014 refused to reopen it? These and many other questions will be answered in subsequent publications.
The last has not been heard on this matter.