“We were treated like slaves for three months…”
This was the testimony of one of the scores of workers rescued by the Kano State Police Command from a rice factory where they had been confined for the last three months following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The workers were freed from the premises of Popular Farms and Mills Limited located in Challawa Industrial Estate area of the state.
Abdullahi Haruna, police public relations officer who confirmed the incident, revealed that on June 21, 2020, a complaint was received from Global Community for Human Rights Network, Kano, that some labourers were wrongly confined inside the said mill.
According to the police spokesman, “on receiving the information a team of policemen was deployed and when a search was conducted, 126 labourers trapped inside the factory for three months were rescued.”
He further disclosed that four officials of the factory have been arrested and investigation has commenced to get to the root of the matter.
The rescued workers told newsmen that they were denied exit from the mill since the beginning of the nationwide lockdown imposed in March for fear of importing COVID-19 into the factory.
They said they were promised an increase in their monthly salary, and that those who did not accept were threatened with dismissal.
The workers alleged that they were forced to work in poor condition during their lock up.
According to one of the workers, “we were all set free on Monday. It was a nasty experience. I don’t know how to describe the food we were fed with. The head of the administration recruited one woman who was cooking the food for us to buy.
“My monthly salary was N32,000. We were working day and night. I wanted to leave but there was no way; my wife and children were traumatized.”
Karibu Kabara, a member of the human rights network, said his organisation was taking up the case to ensure that the men got justice.
“What I saw was heartbreaking. Where the company kept these people to live isn’t fit for animals,” he said.
“Their meals weren’t enough and there were no drugs for those that took ill.”
Violation of workers right by employers have been rife in the country with many treated abysmally in their places of work, paid a pittance and often sacked with little or no benefit. The government has been slow to respond to the serial violation of internationally accepted labour standards by several employers, especially in the private sector.