By Cletus Opukeme
As a young industrial worker from the Ijaw speaking tribe back in 1995, in Forcados Terminal, Ogulagha town with NISCO company. A year after my secondary school education to fend for myself. I observed two things which geared my consciousness and feeling as a second class citizen as Ijaw man in Nigeria.
The company had two sets of staff. One set of workers were called company staff another contract staff, those workers from the host communities. There is disparity in terms of condition of services, include welfare and salary. The company provided accommodation, free feeding, free medical care, free light, free water, free transportation. The salary of company labourer, otherwise called ‘Helper” was higher than the community ‘ Helper’ The company staff were all employed from different tribes in Nigeria.
The irony is, the community staff who are the host were contracted out to local pay masters who in turn deducted little amount from each casual staff at the end of the month.
Here is the main subject, while the company joined Nigerians to celebrate 1996 Independence anniversary, the company in their magnanimity gathered some of the casual staff from the two communities, Odimodi and Ogulagha and offered an Independent gift of ” wrapped frozen Chicken’ to all of us. Behold! at that age 19 years, the blood was boiling in me and I rejected my ‘ Gift’ by throwing it into a nearby ‘trashcan’ screaming at the top of my voice that the company cheated me by not feeding me everyday with chickens as it did to every company staff. My very good friends were all looking at me when I made one-man-squad protest. They reported me to the General site supervisor with an intent to punish me.
The Generall site Supervisor, Mr. Trevor from France who was told that one of the community workers rejected his Independence gift. He came to me and dragged me into his office. I followed him without resistance. In his office, he looked at my eyes without saying a word. I was looking at him eyeball to eyeball. He brought a white handkerchief and wiped his face and asked “What is your name?” I told him in confidence, “Cletus” He roared. “Why did you take laws into your hands?” He queried. I told him that I took responsibility in my action without fear or favour and that as an employ from oil producing community working him, I should have had the opportunity to enjoy all benefits, such as free feeding, free medication, free transportation, free bottle water to drink, free as every worker in the company. He had a deep sigh and began “Mr. Cletus I am very sorry, what you did if all your brothers could follow you to protest the way you did, it could generate industrial unrest that would bring about renegotiation of community workers welfare.”
He continued “I will give you money and approve T-card and accommodation in the junior staff quarter to create shelter for you. I will also give you money after closure of work and take you out for evening merriment”
I was ready for the worst with the site supervisor in his office between two of us. Yes, before my graduation in secondary school, I have been graded locally as a ” Blue Belt Karate fighter” that gives me the confidence that the result of our meeting would be disastrous, if he behaves funny at me. Those of you in the karate field know what ” Blue belt” means. That I will not l spare him with my bare feasts and legs at age 19.
Behold, he fulfilled his promises and after three months enjoyment in the companies quarter, my brothers from Odimodi community where I secured my job raised an eye brow and made a mild protest that all workers should be accommodated just like Cletus, a community worker enjoying company’s free food and accommodation. This brought to the company another challenge and my friend came to the rescue by asking me to relocate from the company’s quarter by deceiving them to allow peace reign. In truth, he did not withdraw my ‘Mess T-card’ a card, the instrument that allows you to have access to the company’s quarter and mess without molestation by any staff or security agent at the gate. So, after my scam relocation, I was having access to the canteen, although, I lost or missed several of my ration as I was officially relocated my room to sleep with my brothers in Odimodi.
Let me describe vividly the NISCO canteen in Forcados in 1996. The canteen is beautifully decorated with Italian flowers and curtains with sparkling lights. The sweet-scenting aroma of stew and other continental dishes in the canteen could make a first time to salivate until his appetite is satisfied without necessarily consuming a meal.
Two persons were given one big fried frozen chicken everyday. It was that year I realized balanced diet which breakfast, Lunch and dinner were served with highly nutritious meals that per head feeding could cost approximately over N100, 000 monthly at that time, whereas individual community worker “Helper” was just between N15,000 and N16,000 based on production from welders. One tin cup of peak milk daily, one big Coker cola drink, three big Ragolis bottle water, two eggs everyday. If you preserve you provisions for three months, your wife can start a big provision shop. These are some of the benefits Ijaw oil bearing community workers were barred from enjoying. Of course, when I grew older, the food disparity that made me to protest in Ogulagha was experienced in all facets of human development as the Niger Delta region who produces the bulk of economy that develop other areas is virtually living in abject poverty without hospitals, access roads, modern schools, drinkable water and so on.
I don’t know how it is in Ogulagha now after about 25 years, whether the condition of services for indigenous workers has changed this day. But last month, I saw video clips of Ogulagha SPDC workers protesting over illegal retrenchment and something was telling my mind that the slavery of workers still continues.
Yes, you have read summary of my initiation into agitation, ask yourself why I must stop agitating in the face of this oppression and celebrate Nigeria Independence anniversary. I did it one man-squad protest as a teenager during the military era of Abacha in a company surrounded with soldiers. #ENDSARS
Opukeme writes from Warri, Delta state. He is the Publisher/Editor-in- Chief Daily Watch