Blood, tears in chambers of steel (1)

By 11:08 Thu, 11 Jun 2015 Comments

Toxic emissions settle over Oruku

Deaths, injuries and environmental degradation are the silent trend in Nigeria’s steel industry,

James Sunday was heating iron scraps in the furnace unit of the Metal Africa Steel Company, Oruku, Ogun State, in 2012 when a running engine seized his right leg. Predictably, the 25-year-old struggled to break free.

But he could not match the automated power of the device. It mauled his right leg and thigh, eventually pulling off his left arm onto the floor of the furnace room.

A ‘lone wolf’ incident, the community did not hear a sound (which usually accompanies explosions resulting from industrial accidents), until the next morning. By that time, Sunday was lying almost lifeless at a private hospital in Odogunyan, a nearby community, with his young wife and Sunday, his only son, by his side. He was still at the said hospital, one week later, when he breathed his last.

Sitting on his mother’s legs on June 2, 2015, in a makeshift kitchen built outside their home in Oruku, the younger Sunday, 3, coughed repeatedly. His mother said it was not a reaction to the smoke rising from the dying embers of a local stove nearby, but to an untreated chest infection.

Ever since losing their breadwinner, money to pay for medical necessities has become a luxury for this small family. Apart from her husband’s hospitals bills, Elizabeth, 24, claimed no monetary compensation was paid to the family almost three years after his death.

“I have been going to the company ever since my husband died. Nobody paid me any money. It has been a case of ‘Come today, come tomorrow’. So, I stopped going there. All I have been doing is to help my mother to sell fufu — a local staple made from cassava.

Although my husband was a casual worker, I feel sad that there is nothing to help my son or to start our lives afresh,’’ she said.

Similarly, the grass promised to be greener in Lagos when Lucky Idoko left his village in Benue State to work in Reel Steel Company, also within the Oruku environs, as a casual worker in 2011. Melting tons of iron scraps under unpredictable and dangerous conditions, Idoko, 33, and other casual workers earned N1,000, ($5) daily, for their sweat. He toiled in the oven of liquid fire for two years, working three shifts in a day, until July 2013 when an industrial accident popped out his two eyes in the Finishing Unit. Instantly, the golden dream he pursued to Lagos transited to a colossal tragedy.

Aside a sum of N183,000 paid to the hospital to cover his medical expenses, James’ half-brother, Emmanuel Idoko, told our correspondent a few weeks ago that the company had yet to pay compensation claims to the family.

He further said, “His wife and son are still in the village as I am talking to you. They cannot even raise money to come back to Lagos after the burial. The N183,000 paid last year was spent on his treatment at the hospital. Although he was discharged in 2013, he was never

himself till he died last March,’’ he claimed.

A deluge of disabilities

Aside fatal accidents in which workers unceremoniously lose their lives, our correspondent has learnt that there are cases of non-fatal accidents and permanent disabilities where victims are practically left to die in mushroom hospitals.

Although, the Ikorodu General Hospital is only a few kilometers away from these firms, wounded workers in critical conditions are rarely taken there.

For instance, seven workers who were burnt to death in an industrial accident at Phoenix Steel Mills Limited, Ogijo, in 2012 were spirited to Rolayo and Jobi Hospitals, in the Benson Area of Ikorodu. The tragedy, which shook the community, forced the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity to shut down the company for two weeks.

A former worker with Metal Africa Steel Company, Mr. Ogooluwa Moses, made it to a maternity hospital when an overhead crane landed on his right foot in the Rolling Unit of the company in 2013. Although an industrial boot could have saved him the pain, Moses, who earned N900 daily at the time, was not provided with any personal protective equipment.



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