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Nigeria's unlovable ones?


Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

Recently, a friend told me a story about his uncle who retired as a top executive of one of the foremost multinationals operating in Nigeria. My friend's uncle lived in the city and only came to
the village during festive periods. He had a very big house in the village, which was far removed
from the houses of his brothers and sisters. My friend's uncle's children had little or no
interaction with their extended family who resided in the village. The only time these children
would reach out to their extended family would be when they needed someone to do menial jobs
which they were loathe to do. They acquired good eductions, within and outside Nigeria, and
continued in the tradition of their father.

A few
years ago, their mother died, and, as is customary in Igbo land, the body was brought back
home for burial. As the dead woman lay in state, people weeped for her. She was acknowledged as a good woman, who inspite of her personal wealth and her husband's high office, interacted with the downtrodden. Her generosity was felt even beyond her immediate family. During the wake, her husband called on his nephews to start digging the grave. As he talked they stared right through him and when he was done speaking they all walked away. "Where are you going to?" he queried, "Our wife is dead and we need to get ready for important visitors who will come for the burial."

One of the young men retorted, "Don't your important visitors have hands to dig graves?
If your friends can't help you maybe your money will." The big shot shed bitter tears. "My own family abandoned me in my hour of need," he wailed. "No," replied one of the young men, "We could not have abandoned you. We never had you. Your family is your children and your money. They should be able to help you out here. What can common people like us do for you? You have never had any need for us until now. Until recently you called us hoodlums and saw us embarrassments to you. Death cannot wipe away all those years we were shunned and ignored by you."

The above story came to my mind on Friday, September 20, as I read a story in the Lagos-based Guardian that I found very offensive and insulting. The story is about the fire incident at the West African Rubber Products Nigeria Limited, Ikorodu. In the said story, Afe Babalola, the company's attorney, claimed that the people killed in the fire were hoodlums, not company staffers. This was the lawyers attempt to minimize the liability exposure of his Asian clients. However, other reports indicate that loss of lives could have been minimized if the company's management had taken steps and committed the necessary funds to provide adequate security for lives and property.

Afe Babalola, is a well-respected legal practitioner in Nigeria. But after reading his utterances concerning the fire incident, one begins to question the rationale for respecting him. While he may be a good lawyer, we ought to be asking questions about his humanity, judgment and character.

For him to dismiss those who died in a fire at his clients factory as hoodlums is outrageous. Even if they were hoodlums, did they deserve to be roasted alive? What about their survivors, did they deserve this kind of insult in their period of grief? If a man does not know when to stop being a lawyer and become a human being, he not only shows that he lacks character, it is a clear demonstration that he is a fugitive from his own conscience.

This is the classic mentality of the Nigerian elite. Afe Babalola, I am sure, has used the services of those he now describes as hoodlums. He would have patronized them at "owambes" (Nigeria's Yoruba show parties) when he had to display his wealth. Certainly, he has used these people as security guards in his home and offices. So-called hoodlums have provided services for the high and mighty, Afe Babalola.

Now they are unworthy of justice. They can be roasted alive so that his clients can go free and continue to take advantage of the loopholes in our labor laws and the ignorance of the poor Nigerian worker. But these people were not hoodlums that died in the factory fire; they were human beings. The Nigerian Labor Congress president, Adams Oshiomhole, says that they were casual workers. And because they were casual workers, they were not entitled to any benefits, including insurance. They were entitled to a decent treatment as human beings and respect, even in death.

Did Afe Babalola not know these, or was he making a feeble attempt at spin?

At every turn, institutions that are supposed to protect the common man from the shenanigans of the rich and powerful leave more to be desired in the way they carry out their duties. The Federal
and State ministries of works and housing are supposed to ensure that buildings are constructed with safety of lives and property as a paramount concern.

The factory fire that killed, by some estimates, one hundred and twenty Nigerians, need not have happened if the regulatory authorities were alive to their responsibilities. If we cannot trust them to ensure that safety regulations are carried out to the letter, how can we entrust them with the awesome responsibility of investigating the cause or causes of the fire? The insurance company that insured the factory and all the buildings in the premises should be held accountable. Did they simply insure the buildings without making sure that proper safety codes were complied with?

Why are the state and federal governments not asking questions? For instance, why were the factory doors locked when workers were inside? Is it really true that one of the expatriate workers had a habit of locking the doors to the factory when he goes out for errands? How many people were killed in the fires and what are their names? Recent reports show that the company has yet to know the exact number of people who were killed in that fire and what their identities are. If this is true, the company management should explain to Nigerians what kind of operation they run that makes it impossible for them carry out a proper census of their staff.

The Nigerian Police has not disappointed us. They have yet to make a single arrest. Adedayo Adeoye, Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 11 is reported to have said that they are investigating gun shots that were fired during the inferno. The bizarre aspect of his statement is that he says he does not suspect anybody for shootings that were done in a private and enclosed compound. The premises is protected by security men employed by the company.
Were they armed on that day? Who reported the shots and in what direction did the shots come from? If this incident had involved poor Nigerians without a Babalola to protect them, many people would have been paraded before television cameras as the perpetrators.

It is sad that Nigerians are not outraged by the Ikorodu fire incident, especially given the stories that have come out about the treatment of workers at that factory. I commend Oshiomhole and I pray that he lead the fight for justice for the common people. Our politicians, once again, have abdicated their duty. Their silence on this issue is deafening. To dismiss the dead as being just hoodlums should be condemned by all Nigerians. I hope that the families of the deceased will take actions that will send a message to Afe Babalola and his clients. After all, even the homeless, insane members of society were born into a families.
Elendu is a contributing editor of and He writes every Friday, exclusively for Archiving of this essay on another web site is not authorized; only web links are allowed.

Is Obasanjo ordained by God to rule Nigeria? And, other fallacies. By Prof. Sola Adeyeye
RELIGION AND ETHNIC CONFLICT: Sharia-related killings and carnage in Kaduna reenact deadly prologue to Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. By Chido Nwangwu

Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun
Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue).

On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer.

He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence."

Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997),
Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament."

Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement."

He noted in backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.

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Index of Founder's Notes (1)

Index of Founder's Notes (2)

Index of other Viewpoints
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