NLC pickets ECOWAS secretariat under construction


Ongoing construction work was literally suspended for hours on Wednesday, as members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) staged a protest at the site of the new headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Lugbe, Federal Capital Territory.

The Chinese firm, Shaanxi Construction Engineering Group Corporation, was alleged to be ill-treating some Nigerian staff under its employment, a development that prompted the protest.

The picketing was led by Emma Ugboaja, NLC’s General Secretary.

Trouble started at 7:30 am when workers gathered at Labour House, NLC’s headquarters, to mobilise for the picketing. The workers, numbering over 600, stormed the premises and met initial resistance at the gate of the company.

At first, the gate was locked against the NLC leadership and its placard-bearing picketing team, who later forced it open.

Despite the disruption, the management of the construction company neither addressed the protesters nor responded to the allegations raised by Labour.

The project to build a permanent secretariat for ECOWAS in Abuja is being undertaken by the Chinese government under its international aid programme.

Addressing the protesting workers, Ugboaja lamented the alleged inhuman treatment meted out to workers on the site. He said the workers union responded to complaints by its FCT chapter over bad working conditions at the construction site.

According to Ugboaja, the Chinese company engaged the workers on an ad hoc basis with no condition of service attached or any welfare or medical services in place.

He regretted that, due to the deplorable work conditions at the place, one of the workers, a driver named Augustine, died of neglect and a lack of timely medical attention.

Ugboaja said that while the picketing action continues, the leadership of NLC hopes to engage the management of Shaanxi Construction Engineering Group Corporation in discussion to address the concerns of their workers.

Regarding the demise of the driver, Ugboaja said: “Mrs Ruth Augustine migrated with her husband and family to Abuja to come and earn a living. Now the man, in a bid to help build the ECOWAS Secretariat, has ended up six feet down, leaving his poor widow to face the vagaries of life with no pension, no gratuity, no food, no water, and no explanation of where help will come from.

“Every day we plead with government to provide minimal social security, to no avail. That is the challenge we have. This challenge is real.”

Narrating her ordeal, Ruth said her husband was employed last year as a driver by the Chinese company with stringent work conditions that did not allow him to return home after work.

“He would work from Monday until Sunday. I asked him whether they gave him bonuses for the overtime and extra work he was doing. He said no. My husband would work from morning till night with no food, and he would not be allowed to come home. Even when he returned home, he would not stay up to an hour before rushing back to the site,” the woman lamented.

She recalled that after her late husband returned to work in January, following the Christmas festivities, he stayed back for two months at the company without visiting home.

She, however, became worried and called him.

“From the conversation, I knew he was very sick,” she recounted.

According to her, the company failed to take her husband to the hospital and still did not allow him to go home for treatment.

“When they eventually permitted him to go home, his situation had worsened. He had a swollen neck and looked highly malnourished,” she said.

She said she took her husband to the Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital in Abuja and later to the National Hospital, where he passed away.

In all this ordeal, the widow said the Chinese company failed to heed her pleas for assistance and instead got a letter of termination of appointment for her husband

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