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Nigeria: Threats Over NAFCON’s Terminal Benefits

Unease, Threats Over Nafcon’s Terminal Benefits


By Akanimo Sampson
Port Harcourt,Nigeria

ALL is not well at Onne, Rivers State,of Nigeria, home of the failed fertiliser giants, National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria (NAFCON). The management of the company is alleging that there is a plot by some sacked workers of NAFCON to “burn down” the physical assets of the company.

But the angry sacked workers are claiming that the allegation is a ploy by NAFCON to either delay or suspend the payment of their terminal benefits. The allegation and counter-allegation at the fertiliser company is fuelling fresh unease at Onne. There is even heightened undercover security activities within and around the industrial complex.

Over 2000 sacked NAFCON workers are currently accusing the company of unwillingness to pay their “agreed” terminal benefits and other entitlements. They are claiming that the fertiliser company has reneged on their “negotiated agreements”. According to them, there is a subsisting Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) duly endorsed by the company management and the sacked workers.

Daily Independent gathered that on October 8, 2003 they agreed that staff contributory pension (provident fund) would be verified and paid by June this year. It was also agreed that all terminal benefits including outstanding allowances of the entire staff, would be paid on or before October 31, this year.

Before NAFCON raised the alarm that there were plans to “burn down” the company’s physical assets, they have always reaffirmed the commitment to honour the terms of the MOU. The management had always claimed, “efforts are being made to ensure that the due dates for the payment of the outstanding allowances, contributory pension and terminal benefits, based on the MOU are \honoured by the government agencies responsible.”

The dsacked workers are seeing in the alarm, an intent to breach the MOU. They have, however, started to warn those concerned to stop their games, as any attempt to breach the October 31 deadline wold be suicidal.

The alleged threat to burn down the plant seems to have come after a tri-partite meeting between the company management, the Federal Ministry of Industry and the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE). At this meeting, it was reportedly agreed that the BPE will immediately verify the staff entitlements in question and, at the same time, source for funds to settle them.

All concerned then, were warned to desist from taking any action that would amount to taking the law into their hands, as this would be counter-productive. But barely days later, the potentially dangerous alarm came. NAFCON is alleging that some “disillusioned disengaged” workers are the brains behind the threats to burn down the Nafcon plant.

However, one of the articles in the MOU is said to provide that every permanent staff of the fertiliser company whose services were disengaged as at December 31, 2002 or July 31 2003 is entitled to enforce the terms of the MOU in the event that the Federal Government fails to meet its obligation under the MOU.

Company watchers are deducing from the alleged threat to burn down Nafcon, a veiled move by management to creat obstacles in the process of effecting payment of the workers terminal benefits. Some of the human rights groups like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) that are intereted in the sacked Nafcon workers’ care, are claiming that the retrenched workers are not interested in arson.

Steve Obodoekwe, a top CLO official in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, told Daily Independent in an interview, “it is wickedness of the worse order, to accuse the peace loving retrenched workers of Nafcon of plotting to burn down the failed industrial complex.” According to the CLO activist, “they are not interested in anything like that. They are not interested in crude and illegal means in pursuing their legitimate cause.”

In the even of any arson, the human rights community is pushing that Nafcon’s management and their collaborators should be held responsible. For the human rights groups, it is the management and not the sacked workers, are aiming to benefit from the prolonged suffering of the off loaded workers.

The sacked workers are also seeing in the “false alarm”, a calculated attempt to divert attention from their continued suffering, resulting from their being thrown out of job. For them, the alarm is like trying to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.

Nafcon was established in 1980 by the Federal Government during the Shehu Shagari administration. But the initiative was by then Olusegun Obasanjo military rule that allegedly programmed the electoral victory of the defunct National Party fo Nigeria (NPN) via the 12 ½ formula. The fertiliser company was established with the aim of boosting agricultural production, not only in Nigeria, but through out the West African sub-region and beyond. It was also designed to provide massive employment for Nigerians.

Initially, the company was managed by its expatriate partners in conjunction with Nigerian technocrats who represented the national interest. During that period, the fertiliser company reportedly made very encouraging progress which allegedly convinced its founding fathers that it would realise their dream. The company during that period employed over 2,300 Nigerians.

But the fortunes of the company reportedly started to nose-dive in the late 1980s during the Ibrahim Babangida military rule, when Nigerian were on the driving seat of Nafcon. The collapsing company finally crashed tow years ago. As a result, 2300 workers were down-sized in 2002.

Last November, the transition mnagment of the company recalled 300 technical workers mainly from the maintenance department, for the purpose of keeping the Nafcon plants and machines running, to prevent rust. The rumour mill around the company has been awash with claims that some prominent members of the Obasanjo administration are stealthinly scheming to buy Nafcon under the cover of the adminstration’s controversial privatisation programme.

Early last year, the sacked workers had dragged government, BPE and the company to the Federal High Courts, Port Harcourt, in two suits – FHC/PH/CS/19/2003 AND FHC/PH/CS/48/2003. In these two suits, the sacked workers were praying the court for the payment of their outstanding salaries, staff contributory pension, other terminal benefits and allowances.

At the instance of Abuja, the sacked sworkers agreed to withdraw the suits in a bid to pave way for dialogue and negotiations, which resulted in the October 8, 2003 MOU. The MOU stipulates inter alia that staff contributory pension would be verified and paid on or before June 30, this year and that the terminal benefits of the entire workers would be paid on or before this coming October 31, all in accordance with the staff conditions of service.

Although the company claimed that they could not meet their June 30 obligation due to lack of funds, they are however, said that they are still committed to the terms of the MOU. Much as the sacked workers do not seem to be persuaded, Nafcon’s management says they are very optimistic that everything would end well.

ENDS.


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