By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
NOT many people knew Inner Galaxy Steel Company Limited until 12 August 2020 when an unknown individual with the Twitter handle @Truthfully83 made mischievous allegations against the company that employs 1,500 Nigerians and a few Chinese. Nigerians were furious at the allegations.
He painted the company in cruel colours.
The faceless author alleged that the steel, iron, and allied products manufacturing plant located at Umuahala, Obuzor Asa, Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State and the Chinese management, ran a “Modern Day Slave Camp” where employees were imprisoned against their will.
According to him, “For over 3 months and counting, Inner Galaxy Group has been holding workers on hostage because of Covid19 ‘in a prison like accommodation’. They locked the gates, denying workers access to go home. If you dare complain, the @PoliceNG DPO of Obehie Police Station CSP Isiguzo (no relation of the writer) will be called, to arrest you”.
The author made further claims. “Nigerians are violated and molested by their Chinese employers daily” while “female counterparts are sexually assaulted without consequence”. A picture which he posted showed the feet of which the toes of the left foot was amputated (without the legs, torso and face of the person the feet belonged to being shown or disclosed), claiming they belonged to unnamed employee of the company who “was injured right inside the company premises, while on production duty” and that “up till this moment, he has not been compensated, but has long been sacked by the company”.
Other allegations the Twitter user made were that the Abia State Government and its Governor Okezie Ikpeazu were chummy with the company and protected it. He made similar allegations against the Federal Governments and that security agencies were siding the Chinese management of the company.
The allegations were retweeted over 6,000 in three days with quotes, and comments following in condemnation of the company’s alleged practices.
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Inner Galaxy discussed the details of continued production with its staff,” said the company’s solicitor, Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe. Nobody was forced to stay. The company uncertain that staff coming from home could maintain the same COVID-19 protocols within the company premises until the pandemic was over, and restrictions in movement relaxed, decided to house them in temporarily, hastily erected accommodation that did not exist prior to the pandemic.
Those who could not stay were to be paid N15, 000 per month until they resumed work. Workers who chose to remain within the premises were to receive their full salaries, and bonuses ranging from N20,000 and N30,000 monthly, according to their grades.
Officials of the federal and state governments, who made separate visits to the premises of the organisation, at very short notice, discussed freely with staff. Their suggestion was for improvements on the temporary accommodation. “The company has already started constructing two buildings to house employees when similar situations. They are various stages of completion,” Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe said.
Mr. Elohor Edehor Eshke, the injured worker, was on 30 March 2017, napping within the factory. He placed his left foot on the rail track. Mr. Ugochukwu Godwin, an operator, failed to observe that Mr. Elohor’s left foot was on the rail track. He operated the panel and the moving cart on the rail smashed Mr. Elohor’s left foot.
The company immediately rushed Mr. Elohor to a hospital Port Harcourt and settled the bill of N1, 040,660. Mr. Elohor required further therapy. Another Port Harcourt hospital did that at a cost of N85, 750 which the company also paid. Mr. Elohor’s had not been paid because the matter went to court following the damages of his lawyers, Mr. Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe said, showing copies of the receipts of the hospital bills.
The basic salary of the least paid worker in the company, when added to their bonuses, is above the monthly national minimum wage which many State Governments, public and private companies have been unable to pay.
He said the company’s door were open to those who wanted to investigate its activities.
Its Corporate Social Responsibility obligations to their host community where it does its business peacefully included Covid-19 palliatives worth millions of Naira shared to surrounding communities, in addition to regular interventions which have been ongoing since the company started operations.
Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe paints the cordial image of the relations between staff, management, and the host communities since the company began its operations in 2012. “It is an economic centre that spins activities that generate incomes for trucks, suppliers for other businesses beyond its immediate environment,” he said.
For him, the Twitter user was deliberate in the effort to de-market the company.
The incident again showed the damages that some uses of the social media can cause. The company is picking up the pieces of its shattered image believing Nigerians would ignore the baseless allegations.