This is the first of what might turn out a revealing series, about a company, masquerading as a respectable and responsible player in the oil sector in Nigeria. Baker Hughes was formed about 29 years ago (the legacy companies that merged to form this entity had been in existence for over a century) in Texas, USA. Back home in their native country, and indeed most geomarkets where they operate, they have a fairly standard process, and their operations are guided by the legislation of the host nations.
Unfortunately, same cannot be said of their operations in Nigeria, where they subject their staff to brutish slave contracts, that outrightly undermines our national laws and international labour statutes. It is particularly sad that over 2 centuries after slavery was abolished in their home country, an American company audaciously subjects Nigerians to cruel serfdom and helotry. In this first series, I’ll take you through a quick trip of how this company treats Nigerians with utter disdain and strips them of their rights as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.
Like we are all aware, the fall in oil price affected the fortunes of both Nigeria as a nation, and the oil operators. Expectedly, Baker Hughes was not insulated from the global shock. Most companies, in a bid to remain a going concern, were forced to take certain cost-cutting measures such as down-sizing, implementation of cost-effective strategies, etc. That is understood, but such must be done in accordance with our labour laws and global best practices. Nigeria remains the most profitable market for Baker Hughes in Africa. Even in the face of the plummet, the Nigerian operations remain profitable; unlike their operations in other African nations. Even without sacking any Nigerian, the Nigerian operations would remain profitable.
Curiously, rather than downsize proportionately across the entire African geomarket, they have concentrated on their profitable Nigerian operations, where over 300 Nigerians have been brutally laid off in the last 2 years, to make room for their expatriate staff (Africans and non-Africans). They do this to avoid the wrath of the other African nations that enforce their labour laws. So, rather than sack one Angolan, or a Gabonese or an Ghanaian, they’ll choose to sack 20 Nigerians instead, since they consider Nigerians easy targets. Nigerians have become the sacrificial lambs for the rest of Africa, yet it is the profit from the Nigerian geomarket that sets-off the losses of the other “untouchable” African operations. This is no disrespecting our African brothers; in fact, I am proud of their nations for enforcing the labour laws. You don’t come to this continent and do things you will dare not think about in your home country. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government has allowed her citizens to be used for “target practice”.
Curiously, while Nigerians are being laid off in their numbers, staff of other nationalities (with no special skills) are being transferred to Nigeria at a huge cost, to replace them. Let me give a few examples that defy every economic and strategic logic. There’s the case of a certain Manager brought in from an African country to replace a Nigerian, from the host state of Rivers, who was laid off for no fault of his. The company spends 30 million Naira per annum for the expatriate’s accommodation alone, aside the astronomical allowances he gets (in comparison to what the Nigerian laid off was paid). Yet, this Nigerian, a Rivers man, who was highly effective in his role, and who was paid a paltry salary while he worked, was laid off (“for no fault of his”) to make room for the foreign replacement. The man’s annual take home is not up to 10 million Naira, yet the company laid him off and brought a foreigner whose housing alone is 30 million Naira per annum. Yet, they tell you they are downsizing for economic reasons?
While it is bad enough to be summarily laid off, for no fault of yours, it is even more depressing to be tossed out with a miserly redundancy package. To put things in perspective, let’s juxtapose their redundancy package with what their competitors pay in similar circumstances in Nigeria. While two of their leading competitors at same level with them, pay as much 2 months per year worked and 3 months per year worked, respectively, Baker Hughes pays their Nigerian staff laid off, a paltry 2 weeks per year worked.
Also, let’s juxtapose this with what same company pays elsewhere in the African continent. In neighbouring Ghana, same company, Baker Hughes pays a staff made redundant, three and half months of pay per year worked. In Congo, they pay 45% of their total annual salary per year worked. Yet, in Nigeria, their most profitable market in Africa, same company pays 2 weeks per year worked. That’s aside the heavy humiliation of armed mobile police officers deployed to escort the staff (a staff that committed no offence whatsoever) out of the premises in a most derogatory and disrespectful manner when they’re declared redundant. Are Nigerians less superior to other African employees? Is this the right way to treat a loyal staff who was laid off for no fault of his?
The Nigerian constitution expressly guarantees freedom of association. Specifically, section 40 of the Nigerian constitution states that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”. Yet, Baker Hughes, a company operating in Nigeria, in outright disregard to the letters of the Nigerian constitution threatens its staff against membership of industrial trade unions such as NUPENG and PENGASSAN.
Following the consistent vilification, threat and maltreatment of their Nigerian employees, they (the employees) decided to press for the fundamental rights by reaching out to PENGASSAN. As expected, the company immediately threatened members of staff with a sack, should they go ahead to exercise their fundamental right of freedom of association. The staff were defiant, and insisted on exercising their rights as guaranteed by the constitution. The situation was brought to the notice of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Minister of State for Petroleum, as well as Rivers State government.
A meeting was convened in Abuja last week, where all parties were advised to stay action. Baker Hughes in their usual bullying tactics afterwards sent out an encrypted mail (see screenshot below) to all Nigerian staff, threatening to sack anyone that dares join PENGASSAN.
Specifically, on Friday 15th of July, they made do their threat by sacking the first batch of 19 staff; they were summarily dismissed “for no fault of theirs”, under a veiled cover of redundancy. They said they wanted to use them to teach others a lesson, to discourage them from joining PENGASSAN. The “slave masters” acted out their threat; something they would not dare in any other African country, let alone their home country. Why do we have laws, if corporate bodies will not obey them? Why do we expect citizens to obey laws, but corporate bodies disregard same? Why do we allow foreign companies treat Nigerians like slaves, right here in Nigeria?
Only yesterday, in a meeting with the Minister of labour, PENGASSAN, Baker Hughes and other stakeholders, the minister ordered that the company should immediately reinstate the staff they victimized by declaring redundant, and should proceed to commence negotiation with their staff and PENGASSAN on a collective bargaining agreement.
While I commend the minister and the stakeholders for this bold decision and prompt intervention, however, I urge them to closely monitor the progress of the situation. The antecedents of this company show them as very oppressive and vindictive, and they would employ all possible tactics to punish, threaten, victimize and bully their staff against exercising their right of association. As a people, we cannot allow foreign companies disobey our laws with reckless abandonment, and maltreat our citizens.
At the time of this report, many more Nigerians have been penciled down for victimization and sack. The company has no regard for our people or our laws. Nigeria is their most profitable market in all of Africa (profit from the Nigerian market is used to fund the rest of the African geomarket), yet Nigerians are treated like slaves. The company has enjoyed the good hospitality of the Government and people of Rivers State, yet the Rivers people (and Nigerians) in their employ appear targeted for a cleansing operation; they have been penciled down for sack in the coming weeks and months, and they will make do with their threats except the Federal Ministry of Labour, Rivers State Government and the Rivers State House of Assembly calls them to other. Nigerians should not be used for corporate “target practice”.
This company should be called to order. We have laws, and our citizens have rights. Nigerians should not be treated any less than people from other nationalities. Nigerians cannot be treated as slaves in their own country!
Gift Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Abuja. He can be reached via email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.