Sunday, 2 March 2014
Chinese Expats Treat Nigerian Employees As Punching Bags
The Chinese kick Nigerian workers on the testicles when they are not submissive.
If you are a Nigerian working for the Chinese, you are at risk of losing your private parts, says Maaji Meriga, after he practically lost the use of his manhood while working to construct railway tracks in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, for the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), a major overseas interest of the Chinese government.
The 62-year-old casual worker and bread winner of a family of 6 children was left potentially impotent when the company’s transport manager, Marcho Chin, popularly called ‘old soldier’, allegedly kicked him on his testicles and punched him on the ear to prove who is boss.
It all began a month into his job as a water tanker driver on January 29, 2011 at about 11:00am when Old Soldier asked Mr. Meriga to fill his tank and water the road leading to the CCECC yard, around Karamajiji Village near the Abuja airport. Mr. Meriga said while en route and spraying the ground, another Chinese in charge of drainages stopped him close to the yard and asked he fill two drums with water. He obliged, turned off the main spray machine, opened the side tap and began filling the drums when Old Soldier came and queried him.
“He said I am wasting resources, that I want to spoil the tanker. I told him that I can’t spoil it. He just went and opened the spray machine,” said Mr. Meriga. “I told him that it is his brother that asked me to fill the drums. I bent down to switch off the spray machine when he then kicked me from behind on my scrotum and testes. I immediately fell down. As I got up and asked him ‘master why?’ he then blew me on the ear before entering his jeep and drove to the yard.
Mr. Meriga immediately reported the case to the company’s personnel manager, Mr. Austin, but was ordered out of the premises, without any medical attention given to him.
“I reported at Karamajiji Police Station. I naked myself before the Police and showed them what happened to me. They saw my thing was swelling. I told them I am dying, I need,” Mr. Meriga said. “One officer followed me to the company but Mr. Austin told the Policeman he will not allow the white man go to station unless order comes from above.”
But several days later the order never came. By this time, Mr. Meriga’s left testicle had become swollen to the extent he was admitted for five days at the Garaku General Hospital in Nasarawa State. He was in need of urgent surgery as “examination of the testis showed grossly enlarged left hemi scrotum with marked tenderness of contiguous testis”. One medical record stated that an impression of inflammation was “made secondary to direct blow resulting from a beating”.
Regardless, the Chinese company had made it clear the Nigeria Police couldn’t do them anything; after all Mr. Meriga wouldn’t be the first to receive a ‘Chinese kick to the balls’ and nothing would come out of it.
A year earlier, on February 5, 2010, another of the company’s water tanker drivers, Michael Francis, a casual staff for over a year, had on resumption of duty that morning told Old Soldier the pump of the tanker to be used to wet the ground was faulty. He was asked to manage it.
But later that day, the assistant transport manager, Mr. Lie, better known as ‘Bedebede’, wanted to reduce his daily wage as the ground he had been allotted was not properly wet. His refusal allegedly earned him a kick to the groin. He fainted on the spot and was subsequently hospitalised for over a week at Access Hospital located along Police Barracks Road, Gwagwa, Abuja.
“He held my shirt, slapped and kicked me in the penis when I refused to give my wages card for him to cut some hours from the work I had done that day,” said the 29-year-old. “The pay is N600 a day and we can work from 7am to 5pm. I refused since it wasn’t my fault, because they can cut your money by half, then how much do I have left?”
The company had tried denying having any Chinese staff bearing that name but conceded when Mr. Francis produced a picture of himself and Bedebede taken together on December 16, 2009 at the CCECC yard. But again, the company’s Nigerian personnel manager, Mr. Austin, was involved in sweeping the case under the carpet. Mr. Francis resigned from the company on February 16, 2010 as he couldn’t resume work immediately after he was discharged, as the company had mandated. He was not compensated.
In pains, distraught, and in urgent need of money for his operation, Mr. Meriga in February 2011 took his plight to the Brekete Family Show, a human rights radio magazine talk show, run by Ahmad Isah, who brought him and Mr. Francis on live radio to tell their stories.
“Nigerians are being brutalised by foreigners in our own country. In their country, this can never happen. We reported to the Human Rights Commission, Police, Ministry of Justice, everywhere. What has anyone done to the foreigners or the company? Nothing!” Mr. Isah lamented. “If you see how swollen his testicles were. He couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t wear pant, even to stand was a problem. I had to spend over N350,000 of my own personal money to pay for Meriga’s surgery and hospital bills at the National Hospital, just to save his life. The company did nothing for him. It is pathetic!”
Mr. Meriga petitioned the Commissioner of Police of the FCT Police Command on February 22, 2011, in a case of criminal force and assault. Eight months later, the Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, says investigations are still on.
“The DPO Lugbe handling the case told me the matter has not being charged to court because the complainant went for medical treatment and has not returned for the police to conclude their investigation and charge the person to court,” Mr. Moshood said.
But contrary to Mr. Moshood’s claims, the Police in an unprecedented record time of six days had concluded the case in favour of the Chinese eight months ago, through Chief Superintendent of Police Olufemi Abaniwonda, the Divisional Police Officer of Lugbe Division.
CSP Abaniwonda declared in his report dated February 28 that as a “matter of fact, there is no case to be arraigned in court because no witness to facilitate the prosecution”. But Mr. Meriga had provided several witnesses whom the DPO dismissed as “hostile witnesses” collaborating “to see how they can make false claim on the Chineseman”. He then wrote that Mr. Meriga be warned to “desist in parading himself within the company”.
CSP Abaniwonda further compromised his authority. He had received a letter from the Chinese company on February 28 requesting for his report on the case. Despite being a criminal case with police reports only to be given to courts of law, the DPO in a few hours quickly dispatched a signed copy of the 3-page Police report directly to CCECC’s Managing Director at Plot 215 Cadastral Zone, KM 10, Umaru Yar’Adua Way, Airport Road, Abuja. To please the Chinese, he wrote Mr. Meriga was never kicked in the groin.
The DPO by his actions effectively denied Mr. Meriga his right to seek justice for the assault he acknowledged occurred when he wrote that Old Soldier “slapped the complainant on the face as the complainant alleged”. The content of the Police report further suggests Old Soldier was never interviewed on the incident, as he was never identified by his real name, only described as a suspect named “Mr. Old Soldier”.
A lawyer, Nsikan Robinson, had also voluntarily taken up the case then. His best effort was to write CCECC on February 22, 2011 giving the company seven days to repatriate Old Soldier and Bedebede, pay N10 million compensation to each of his clients, and for the company to bear their medical expenses. Eight months on he says lack of funds and not fear has hindered him from instituting legal action against the company.
Very little has indeed being done in the eight months since Messrs. Meriga and Francis also petitioned the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on February 16, 2011 and the Director General, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria on June 24, 2011.
Only once since July did Mr. Francis say a lady called him from the Legal Aid Council, a government agency which gives free legal aid, promising to call again to give him an appointment. The most the NHRC, which has constitutional powers to prosecute cases of Human Rights abuse, have done is exchange of letters with the Chinese company.
“We demanded a full response from the alleged company. The company’s lawyer wrote back referring us to the police report which rather blamed Meriga than the company,” said Lambert Oparah, the Human Rights Commission spokesperson, who said the commission has being pushing to settle the case by dialogue with all parties.
Phone calls, text and email messages to the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, including Mr. Wang, the embassy’s representative in Lagos State, went unanswered. But the Chinese company through their solicitors, Paul Attayi and Co, categorically dismissed Messrs. Meriga and Francis stories as “gold digging exercises” and told the Human Rights Commission that they should go to court to seek redress.
“Our clients are prepared and determined to frustrate this exercise. Our client is prepared to defend itself against such frivolous and vexation claims with fanatical determination,” said Mr. Attayi while stating that the company “recognises and protects” the rights of all employees as contained in their employment letters.
But employees of the company who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal say their working conditions are greatly abused and the worst in the construction industry. Most workers say they don’t have employment letters and have remained casual labourers for months, some years, thus being denied such benefits as health insurance and pensions.
“If you say you can use a machine or you can drive, they test you. If you pass they give you a form you fill there and return to them before you start work. They don’t give you a copy,” said one labourer. “In 40 people, maybe five are staff, the rest are casual. They keep promising they will staff us. A lot of us are getting injured but because we are not staff, company will not take care of you. Our Nigerians in company management are not helping us. What can we do? To find work is difficult. We just have to accept.”
When Mr. Austin, the company’s personnel manager was contacted on Messrs. Meriga and Francis case, he feigned ignorance of them stating: “I don’t know very well. Actually we have many cases on ground but I can’t recall now. Are they our workers?” On the illegality of the company engaging people on casual labour for extended periods, he quickly said, “that’s where my statement stops”.
A successful surgery was performed on Mr. Meriga’s testicle on July 7. He is still on medication but says he doesn’t take for granted anytime he has an erection. Some months back, his manhood was dysfunctional. His case is one of justice delayed is justice denied as he is losing faith in Nigeria defending the rights of its citizens at home and abroad.
“I don’t think Nigerians can go to China and behave like that and go free. I want Nigeria to follow the law and give me justice,” Mr. Meriga says.