OUR INDUSTRIAL ESTATES- THE ROT, A COMMON DENOMINATOR!
Curious about the secret behind our new-found "tickling economy", I recently did an appraisal of one of our numerous indusrial estates....a way I presumed fruitful for spending my holiday.
Of course, the choice of which particular industrial estate to select for this probe was no less daunting as the need to work discreetly and meet up with other logistics.
Many such estates in the South-West like Agbara, Ilupeju, Apapa and Isolo appear to be prim and proper....at least to the external observer. But I needed one a bit tucked away from direct public glare....by which I mean an enlightened concerned critical discerning public.
So I chose the Otta-Ifo Industrial Axis....as a prototype. I summise that my findings on this axis may be applicable to other axes.
First, where to stay for the month-long exrcise? I registered in a cheap hotel under an assumed name. And how to get about? A car would not do....too fast. An "Okada" then? Too fast! Bad roads! It then dawned on me that I might have to accomplish this mission on foot!
My journey to the appointed rendevous was rough to say the least.....the traffic logjam, the countless potholes, an air full of exhaust fumes, swearing and uncouth motorists....left my body a jumble of aches and pains by the time I reached my destination.
Entering a nearby community, I made immediate enquiries about hotels and motels as the youth who eagerly directed me to one wondered why I wasn't carrying a "chuchu" along!
Having checked into my hotel, I fell into a deep sleep to wear off my awful trip. It was a Saturday.
Sunday morning brought some spring into my legs as I felt much better, wolfed down a horrid breakfast and raced down the stairs to make enquiries from the Desk Receptionist where the nearest play-ground was. My work had begun in earnest!
I knew our youths...as factory workers....would be the choiceless tools with which the factory owners would be "making their money" and it was necessary to gain their trust by establishing rapport with them!....through football! They were as eager to talk about The English Premiership as they freely aired opinions about Coach Keshi and his choice of players in the Super Eagles! I mingled with them freely....yelling "eh eh" when a player did a fine dribble and juggling the ball before kicking it back whenever it came to me. Every day after my long treks to the factories and their precints, I made a point of visiting this playground.....and learning more about the inner workings of the factories. I learnt a lot!
And so I now had a pattern....modus operandi: Studying the factories externally on foot.....and "internally" on this playground.
My EXTERNAL obsevations:
Most factories were unmarked. There were no signs or names....painted or otherwise on their walls or gates to indicate the manner of work going on therin. You may be easily deceived if you focus on those near the expressway. You would find them a little laid back....not abutting directly on the expressway. They might as well be purifying cocaine, enriching uranium or processing chemical weapons....upstream or downstream.....so our authorities need to have a peep into their activities!
Most factories had their gates barred. Much as I tried to reason a way for workers to escape a fire incident, I found none. And why all this secrecy. Solely on a platters of preventing industrial espionage or sabotage? I think not....
Most factories had very high concrete fences with no escape exits in case of fire or other emergencies.
Most of these fences were built right to the edges of the vertical nodes of the Shell BP Gas Pipeline. If those walls were to collapse on the nodes....gas explosion?....on confined Nigerians?....inside a barricades compound? My fears....
Among the few factories marked with company names, most were identified as Chemical Companies....aside from a few that are pharmaceutical companies, food processing plants and a foundary.
The air around most factories was thick with pungent smell....acrid....turpentine....or some other odious emmissions.
The immediate environments of the factories were dirty and unkekpt....tall grasses, faeces, thrash!....leaidng me to wonder if our laws on enviromental sanitation do not extend to these companies.
Their frontages were extended right to the edges of their unclean gutters with no consideration for pedestrian walkways. Unique Pharmaceuticals on Veepee Road and several ones on "Pipeline" Road actually used chain barriers for such delineation as they pegged the ground with signs warning pedestrians about tresspassing! I simply ignored the signs, scaled the short barriers and walked on the lawn....expecting to be challeged for "tresspassing", but no one dared!
The road network within the industrial estate is very bad.....a consequence of the heavy trucks these companies use to haul their products! I wonder why someone is not compelling them to reconstruct and maintain there roads!
All cars...neat and prim...entering and exiting the factory premises had a unique characteristic....a white-skinned person (oriental) in the back-seat being chauffered by a Negroid.
The adjoining communities to these companies reek of extreme poverty....contrasting sharply with the neat cars and their occupants that bypass this author in his countless treks.....and the opulence that is next-door!
In few instances where there were drainages, the gutters are filled with strange-coloured water....leading me to wonder if these strange companies undertaking strange activities are compelled to treat their effluents. And as these untreated effluents drain into our seas and rivers....and percolate onto our water tables....and as we drink and use aquiffer water (wells and bore-holes), we may be drinking poisoned water. Future cancers, birth defects, end-stage organ diseases and organ failures. My thoughts.....
My INTERNAL observations:
As gleaned from my "ball-mates", former factory workers and some other sources, these companies mainly employ Nigerians as factory workers....importing most of their intermediate and senior staff from their home countries....India, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan!
Such factory workers do straight 12-HOUR shift duties which entails "clocking in" and "clocking out".
Factory workers are mandatory casual workers.
They are paid between N512 and N720 per shift amounting to N15,000 per month at the most!....for a 23-day month work.
They talked about "closing of vouchers" at momth-end after which no further additions or deletions could be made.
They are allowed one off-day per week or in 2 weeks.
They have no health benefits.
It is general knowledge that many of these companies tried to locate or relocate in Ghana but prefered Nigeria as the Ghanaian authorities made it mandatory for them to apply to Ghanaians the same conditions of service that apply to "their" people. So they find in Nigeria extremely cheap labour with loose control on labour matters.
And so what is the essence of working so strenously....and having little or nothing to show for it by way of living standards?
Who monitors the activities of these foreigners?
Do these monitors and regulators do their work with due diligence and honesty....or merely attract and collect bribes from these foreigners....leaving our people to the vagaries of the elements?
Do they even pay taxes?
Dr Tosin Akindele is a Lagos-based medical practitioner and good health advocate.