AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.
Attn: President MUHAMMADU BUHARI GCFR
“SAVE THE SOUL OF COMRADE ELO VICTOR-OGBONDAH”
• I the undersigned wish to intimate your Excellency of the misdeed that Total E&P Nig. Ltd. has perpetrated to myself and members of my immediate family.
• I view this as a clear case of victimization and intimidation attributable to the fact that I am a woman who has done all within her means to advocate for better welfare of the downtrodden.
• I worked as a contract staff in Total E & P Nigeria limited, for eight years before I was employed as a full-time staff of Total E & P Limited (hereinafter referred to as “the Company”) on the 25th of September 2008 and I have worked meritoriously for the Company since then.
• The extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (particularly the Trace Union Act) allow staff members of the Company to join Trade Union and participate in Trade Union activities. I decided to join a Trade Union, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN (hereinafter referred to as “the Association”) two years after my employment.
• In June 2014, I was elected as a National Executive of the Association to serve as the Zonal Secretary of the Port Harcourt Zone of the Association.
• Sir, the Company’s policy and the Collective Agreement signed by the Association and the Company stipulates that the Company will not be against any staff who wish to join the Association and that any staff who has official duties to carry out in the Association will be given leave of absence with pay to attend to such official duties.
• However, in my case, the Company was clearly against my joining the Association and taking up official duties in the Association clearly because I am female. They rather approached me to sponsor a man for that position. We all went into the contest, which I won. Ever since then, the management of the company has never allowed me to rest; they did everything within their disposal to traumatize and victimize me.
• In clear breach of the Trade Union Act, the Collective Agreement and the Company’s Policy, I was transferred from the Port Harcourt to the Lagos within the same Company, (in August 2014, immediately after I was elected to serve as Zonal Secretary of the Port Harcourt Zone of the Association) in other to prevent me from taking up the official duties in the Association which I was elected into; and to frustrate me out of the Association and all other Union Activities.
• This was done against the grain of the Company’s policy, which stipulates that the company must discuss with and/or inform a staff who is to be transferred before such a transfer can be effected, the company transferred me without discussing with me. The said transfer letter was sent two (2) days AFTER I was supposed to resume, showing clearly that it was a desperate effort to victimize me and prevent me from taking up Union Executive activities.
• The attempt by the Company to prevent me from taking up official duties as an elected executive of the Association and frustrate me out of Union activities caused a massive fallout between the Company and the Association; and in November 2014, the Association called a nationwide strike that grounded the entire oil and gas sector in Nigeria.
• The then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had to wade into the issue and mandated the relevant government ministers and heads of parastatals to take steps to settle the issue.
• A conciliatory meeting was held on the 18th of December 2014 where the Minister of Labour, the representative of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the representatives of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Total E & P Limited, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, were in attendance and signed an Agreement/Memorandum of Understanding.
• In the said Agreement/Memorandum of Understanding, the company agreed to give me a three (3) years Leave of Absence to enable me take up responsibilities as an elected executive of the Association at the Port Harcourt Zone of the Association and the Company also pledged in the said agreement to reabsorb me to resume duties at the Company at the expiration of my three (3) year tenure as a National Executive of the PENGASSAN.
• In the letter granting Leave of Absence to me, the company was in denial of their own leave of absence; it was stated clearly that the said Leave of Absence is a special one and not strictly hinged on the Company’s Policy; therefore, I was paid only my basic salary which is a paltry sum compared to my total emolument which according to the Company’s policy I would have been entitled to, during the said Leave of Absence. Sir, the Company’s policy actually provides for Leave of Absence with full pay; this was denied me on the condition that mine was a special kind of Leave of Absence not hinged on the Company’s policy.
• When I got the letter granting me the said Leave of Absence. I sought clarification from the company on the point that touches on the company policy: I wanted to know how I will be granted a leave of absence which states that same is not strictly hinged on the company’s policy and yet be asked to sign that I will adhere to a company policy. I wanted to know everything that will guide this special leave of absence or if I am to adhere to some aspects of the existing one, since the company has stated that my leave of absence is not hinged on the existing company policy. I was never given audience to discuss and clarify this point even after trying severally.
• I received a letter dated August 8th, 2016 from the Company about one year to the expiration of my Leave of Absence instructing me of a resumption date of August 7th 2017, without any option to extend. I acknowledged the said letter.
• It was then indeed shocking when I received a letter of purported termination dated the 19th of July, 2017, in clear breach of the aforesaid Memorandum of Understanding. Strangely the reason given in the purported termination letter was that I breached the Company policy; the same subsisting company policy that was denied in that letter granting my Leave of Absence. No one would have imagined that Total E & P Limited will deliberately flout a subsisting agreement, thereby putting the company’s business reputation at stake and risking the entire business environment with reckless abandon.
• This purported termination, just like others before it, and the transfer orchestrated to prevent me from taking up Union Executive duties, was done without the basic, universal and fundamental principle of fair hearing which a company like Total E &P Limited should be known for.
• The Association (PENGASSAN) intervened immediately and was able to establish that the termination was illegal, done clearly to settle old scores with me (by punishing me for joining a Trade Union and taking up executive responsibilities, which the Company did not want me to do). Total management could not provide any reasonable ground why I was terminated but behind the scene, they referred to the fact that their company ego was affected by the 2014 strike.
• Relevant stakeholders had to intervene to get both the Company and the Association on the negotiation table. The Company later requested that they should be allowed to continue, the “off table discussion they were having with the Chairman of Total E & P branch of the Association”, this was granted. As a middle point, The Company finally requested that the Association come up with a proposal to settle the issue amicably. The Association then calculated a certain amount of money to be paid to me using a formula that the company has hitherto established for one of its employee in similar circumstances.
• However, the Company refused to go through with the off the table negotiations they requested with the Total Branch Chairman of the Association. The Company’s refusal to adopt this precedent in settling me is also clearly punitive and an act of victimization and vindictiveness.
• The Company rather chose to approach the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment for settlement of this issue, requesting for a guideline and after several conciliatory meetings between me, the Company and the Association, the Minister of Labour and Employment via a letter dated the 29th March 2018 with Ref No: MLHB/7586/T/29 and addressed to both the Managing Director of the Company and the General Secretary of the Association, signed for the Honourable Minister of Labour & Employment by the Director of Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations, conveyed the decision reached by the Minister acting as a conciliator between the association( on my behalf) and the Company, on the issue of the said wrongful termination and the benefits/damages accruing therefrom.
• The Company, the Association and myself were all parties and present, in the meetings where the Ministry mediated and reached the decision contained in their letter of 29th March 2018. Once again Total failed to obey the directive from the ministry it initially ran to for succor and insisted on getting a directive, which both parties came back for in the following meeting.
• The Company turned around to complain about the directive to the same Ministry they insisted should give a directive. All entreaties made to the company to pay me my entitlement as awarded by the ministry fell on deaf ears. It became obvious that the Company only wants to accept decisions that favours their envisaged result.
• The said sum recommended by the Ministry was less than the sum (s) demanded by the Association on my behalf. In fact, The Company approached the Ministry for a downward review of the sum demanded by the Association and indeed they succeeded because the sum was reviewed downward.
• They have consistently threatened, that I will become history before getting whatever is due me, citing cases between the IOCs and their employees that ended after the employees were already dead. Boasting of their ability to buyout any organization or umpire that I will take this case to, as well as their strength in your government. In their own words they claim, “this is our government”.
• It has been over a year now, they have been delaying this payment in every way possible despite being aware of my health conditions. They stopped paying my medical bills since 2014 despite the reconciliatory meeting and agreement. I consistently borrowed money to cater this, but this has further deteriorated.
• I have no doubt that this ill action was melted out to me because I am a Nigerian woman, Total cannot certainly do this in their homeland in France to their citizen most especially when she is a woman.
• This letter is my last hope of seeking redress despite the threat by some directors within the company claiming that I cannot get justice anywhere as they are in control of all facet of government (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary including the press).
• I made up my mind few days ago to write this; damning their threat because I believe Your Excellency sir, that as a man of integrity who has fought tirelessly for the masses, you cannot be corrupted by Total to obstruct justice.
• I hereby pray the President to use your good office to come to the aid of this “poor woman”, by causing the Company to respect to the decision of the Federal Ministry of Labour, which is to pay the amount advised by labour, as a result of their appeal to the ministry. This is supposed to be my entitlement for wrongful termination, computed using the precedent existence in the company. To enable me take care of my medical bills and to move on with my life.
Be assured of my esteemed regards.
Elo Victor-Ogbondah (Mrs)