All 25-year-old Aina Adebobola wanted to do was make a living. For her, even though she had to work under tough conditions (according to her co-workers), sitting at home wasn’t an option.
But on the premises of Linda Manufacturing Company, a Korean factory producing hair extension on Iju-Ishaga Road, Agege, Lagos, she nearly met her death on Monday, February 1, when a policeman from the Pen Cinema Division, Agege aimed a teargas canister at her and shot her in the face.
The canister tore into the young lady’s nasal region, inflicting an injury that now requires reconstructive surgery.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the day Adebobola was attacked by the policeman, a protest had broken out at the factory when workers downed tools for ill-treatment by the company’s management.
The victim, who is now at home because she could not afford to pay for further treatment of her damaged face, told our correspondent that during the protest, she was simply standing in front of the gate when a policeman aimed his teargas gun at her.
She said, “I did not do anything wrong. Many of the workers stood outside and the gate was closed against them. They were protesting because of something one of the senior officers did to a worker. Justice must be done for what the police and the company have done to me. I have been treated like a nobody.
“I stood in front of the gate so that I could enter and go to work whenever the gate would be opened. I don’t have any other work. We are treated as slaves but I still go to work every day because I need the money.
“After I was shot, I realised that the police picked me up and put me inside their van. I fainted and did not know how I got to the hospital. I woke up in the hospital and people had to call my family members who came to pay for my treatment.”
Adebobola said the wound was patched up as much as the little money paid by her family could go but that she had been told that if she did not want a permanent gash on her face, she would need a reconstructive surgery.
But working for a monthly salary of between N35,000 and N40,000, Adebobola, who has worked in the scaling section of the factory for over two years, wondered how she could possibly afford such a treatment when the company has refused to take responsibility for the incident.
When our correspondent visited the company on Tuesday, a horde of protesting factory workers were in front of its factory, said they had decided to shut down operations of the company until the company acceded to their request by taking action against some officers who had been brutal to workers.
One of the workers and an executive member of the union set up by the workers, Akinbolade Ojo, toldSaturday PUNCH that an officer spat on the chairman of their union and this riled workers who said they had had enough of the dehumanising way they are treated at the company.
Ojo said the protest was initially peaceful but the company management called the police at the Pen Cinema Division, who arrived the scene in several police vans and unleashed violence on the workers.
Ojo told our correspondent, “After our eight hours normal work period, we are made to work overtime which takes additional hours. So, by the time we leave work, it is around 8pm, Yet, our salary does not exceed N39,000. The problem is that no one knows our actual salary. Sometimes, it is N39,000, sometimes they pay N37,000, sometimes, less.
“After the protest, the company sent termination letters to some of us. Mine was brought to my house by a stranger.”
It was learnt that the protesting workers broke into the company in anger and destroyed computers, glass windows and doors.
It would be recalled that a similar protest broke out in the company in October 2014 when the workers alleged that the dehumanising condition in which they worked led to the death of one of their colleagues, whose body was found in a gutter within the premises of the factory two days after he died.
He was said to have complained about acute pain before his death but was allegedly prevented from leaving work that day. The workers said after the 2014 incident, government took no step to investigate the matter.
The workers made a few other allegations, stating that some of the Nigerian workers who are supervisors in the company also extort their factory workers before they allocate them to their daily schedule.
“Not being allocated to daily work means no points. And when you don’t have enough points, you don’t get salary. Some of the workers would tell you to pay ‘tithe’ before you can be allocated. Some collect N1,000 or N2,000 from us,” one of the workers explained.
The police at the Pen Cinema division have denied having any link to the policeman who shot the canister at Adebobola during the protest.
When all their protests have got no response, the workers approached the Lagos office of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights and the Esther Child Rights Foundation for intervention.
The Chairman of the Lagos branch of CDHR, Mr. Alex Omoteyinse, told our correspondent that he mobilised some of his officials to visit Area G Police Command where four of the workers were detained after the protest. They were later released on bail.
He said, “We also visited the factory where they told us that the management could not see us as the senior officers were not available. The CSO told us that the issue of the woman did not concern the company since she was shot by the police. He said the company did not send the police to shoot anybody.
“We moved to the Pen Cinema Police Division and we were again told that the divisional police officer and other senior officers were unavailable. Obviously they did not want to attend to us. The station is known for terror.
“We are prepared to mobilise against the company and the police in a peaceful mass action. As a human rights group, we will stand behind the workers to ensure that their rights are not trampled on.”
The ECRF has also submitted a petition to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice’s Office of the Public Defender.
Director of the Foundation, Esther Ogwu, told Saturday PUNCH that there is need for the police to take responsibility for the injury sustained by the worker since she worked with them and she was attacked on their premises.
“The police also need to investigate the policeman who shot the canister. This lady was not shot by a ghost. She was shot by a policeman who has a name and rank. What if it was a bullet. When there is an incident like this, the proper thing is for the force to conduct a thorough investigation?
The spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Dolapo Badmus, she it would be wrong to say Adebobola was shot. According to her, one of the policemen attached to the company was simply trying to disperse the violent protesters when a teargas canister hit the young woman.
She said Adebobola was one of the protesters.