Former Zonal Secretary of the Port Harcourt branch of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and staff member of Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, Elo Victor-Ogbondah, has lamented what she described as “victimisation and unlawful” dismissal by her employer, the France Oil Giant.
Mrs. Victor-Ogbondah disclosed that her appointment was wrongfully and unlawfully terminated in mid 2017, after a prolonged trade union dispute between the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), Total E & P Limited and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, and standing for an elective position in PENGASSAN.
In a petition entitled: ‘Save the Soul of Comrade Elo Victor-Ogbondah’, addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and obtained by SaharaReporters, she noted that she was a contract staff in Total E & P Nigeria Limited, for eight years before she was employed as a full-time staff of the company on September 25, 2008, where she had worked since then.
“My petition is to intimate Mr. President of the misdeed that Total E&P Nig. Ltd. has perpetrated against me and members of my immediate family. What happened to me was a clear case of victimisation 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.
“My ordeal with Total E & P Nig. Limited started after I won the PENGASSAN elections against a colleague sponsored by the company. Before my vying for the position, the company had approached me to step down for the man because I am a woman. The company’s policy and the collective agreement signed by PENGASSANA stipulates that it will not be against any staff who wishes to join the Association, and 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.
“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 traumatise and victimise me,” she wrote in the petition.
Giving details of how she was frustrated, Victor-Ogbodah said in a desperate effort to victimise and prevent her from taking up the union’s activities, the company transferred her from its Port Harcourt office to Lagos in August 2014, immediately after she was elected to serve as zonal secretary of the Port Harcourt branch of PENGASSAN.
She wrote: “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 days after I was supposed to resume, showing clearly that it was a desperate effort to victimise me and prevent me from taking up union activities.
“The bid to frustrate me out of Union activities caused massive fallout between the company and the Association, thus in November 2014, the Association called a nationwide strike that grounded the entire oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Owing to the strike action, former President Goodluck Jonathan waded 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 December 18, 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-year 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-year tenure as a national executive of PENGASSAN.
“But, 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.
“The association intervened immediately and was able to establish that my 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. 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.
“It has been over a year now; they have been delaying this payment in every way possible, despite being aware of my health condition. They stopped paying my medical bills since 2014 despite the reconciliatory meeting and agreement. I consistently borrowed money to cater to this, but this has further deteriorated. The petition was my last hope owing to the threat by some of the company’s directors that I cannot get justice as they are in control of the three arms of government, including the press.
“I made up my mind few days ago to write this; damning their threats 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 his good office to come to my aid by causing the company to respect the decision of the Federal Ministry of Labour to pay the amount advised by labour.”
When our correspondent contacted management of Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, they said they would issue an official statement on the matter on a later date.