The Federal Government of Nigeria tend to have deliberately looked away at the violation of its lockdown order by the Dangote Group in Lagos at the site of the Africa’s biggest oil refinery in the making.
Despite the outbreak of COVID-19 among the workers, which resulted in the death of at least two Indians, and some others infected at the Lekki site in Lagos; no call to order, strigent or punitive measures was taken by both state and federal government.
The Nigerian police have denied knowledge of the ongoing massive construction works on the site, during and after the lockdown.
This denial by the police is maintained in spite of the violent protest on April 27 by the youth of the host communities such as Eleko, Tiye, Idasho, Akodo, Lekki, among others.
The youths had accused the police of providing escort service to many of the line managers of various contractors working on the project as they shuttle between the site and Sapphire Estate, a private housing estate located on Awoyaya area of Lekki, where they live.
“Even their truck drivers are allowed free access while innocent members of our communities are constantly harassed and arrested over allegations of loitering,” The Chairman of Tiye Youth Association, Nurudeen Saka stated.
The Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Plant is promoted by the Nigerian multinational industrial conglomerate – Dangote Group. The group is founded by Aliko Dangote, said to have a net worth of $10.9 billion, according to Forbes 2019 list of black billionaires.
The expansive project, covering an area of 2,635 hectares, and located in Idasho community, near Akodo town, Ibeju Lekki, on the outskirt of Lagos, is said to be capable of meeting 100 per cent of Nigeria’s requirement of all liquid products – gasoline, diesel, kerosene, aviation jet fuel and fuel oils, and also with capacity to export.
It encompasses the world’s biggest fertilizer plant with a capacity of three million tonnes per annum; subsea pipeline infrastructure spanning 1,100 kilometres, and a 480MW power plant to serve the complex.
A seaport is also under construction on the site, with its first phase already completed.
The refinery is planned to be the world’s largest single-train petroleum refinery, with a capacity of 650,000 barrels per day and 838 Kilo Tonnes Per Annum (KTPA) polypropylene plant.
With an estimated $12 billion already invested, and the failure to meet the 2019 completion deadline, there is a race against time, especially since the project is partly funded by a loan from a consortium of financial institutions.
Whilst the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari on March 29 had declared total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja – Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as part of measures to curtail the pandemc which lasted between March 30 and May 3.
The partial ease of the lockdown as later announced by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, which also came with lots of restrictions, only took effect on May 4.
The Lagos State Government had also enacted the “Lagos Infection Diseases Regulations 2020,” which prescribes a jail term of one month or N100,000 fine or both for anyone found guilty of flouting the order.
However, there were exceptions to the rule; essential workers such as healthcare workers, security operatives, food processors, petroleum distributors, power generating, transmitting and distribution officials, and the medis were permitted to work.
Construction workers however, were not exempted.
Contrary to the restriction orders, we gather that thousands of workers, mostly Chinese, Indians, and hundreds of locals, daily resumed work on the Dangote Refinery site.
Unfortunately, Satyendra Sharma, a health, safety and environmental (HSE) manager at the fertilizer plant, became the first coronavirus fatality recorded on the site according to PREMIUM TIMES.
” Mr Sharma’s death could not be ascertained as the details of his travails were shrouded in secrecy. But this newspaper can confirm that the deceased was first managed at a branch of Jajo Hospital located in Saphire Estate in Lekki.
“With its headquarters on 6A, Badagry Street, Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Jajo Hospital Limited, which is owned by an Indian, is one of the official healthcare consultants for the Dangote Group.
“One of Mr Sharma’s colleagues, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, told our reporter how the deceased struggled for life at the hospital for more than five days while the hospital’s headquarters refused its doctor’s plea to allow him to be transferred to the headquarters for further review.
“The doctor had complained bitterly of the hospital’s negligence and the risk they were being exposed to as they attended to Sharma and other patients without PPE,” our source explained.
‘ Mr Sharma, who had earlier been diagnosed of fly infestation, had returned to the hospital about a week later with symptoms of the coronavirus disease.
This narration was corroborated by voice notes that soon went viral among the workers’ various WhatsApp groups.
The voice notes, which were confirmed by many sources among the workers to be one of the doctors that attended to Mr Sharma, exposed the frustration of the hospital’s healthcare workers who accused the managements of the hospital and the Dangote Group of pleading with them to keep the cause of Mr Sharma’s death secret.
The voice notes stated;
“So last week Monday, he (Mr. Sharma) came with one of his roommates, saying he was weak and so we should give him a drip. We checked his temperature and found out his temperature was above 39oC. We immediately put him on IV drip, normal saline and then ran his Full Blood Count (FBC). So the FBC revealed leukopenia; his PVC too was low and temperature was high.
“Then he started coughing but it wasn’t much. He was on nose masks throughout. We asked for his history, he said he only travelled home last year. So we placed him on antibiotics and by Tuesday, we called Jajo Hospital Limited to explain the condition.
“Jajo said we should not refer to him but we should continue to manage him. The cough became severe. So on Wednesday morning, we ran another FBC, which also revealed bacterial infection. Meanwhile, the first day he came on Monday, it was the day we diagnosed him with diabetes, and he never knew until then.
“We sent him for x-ray on Thursday which revealed a pneumonia infection. So we called Jajo and said that he would be referred on Friday to Jajo but they said he should be referred to Lagoon Hospital and that I should follow him. So they begged me to follow him, even without PPE.”
The doctor noted that ‘a chest CT’ done for the patient revealed symptoms peculiar to COVID-19, and the hospital simply informed the doctor that took him there to “proceed to the infectious disease hospital (IDH), Yaba,” where he reportedly died a few days after he was confirmed positive.
The led to NCDC’s contact tracing at both the hospital and on the construction site. Where some of the health workers were confirmed positive, as well as some of Mr Sharma’s friends and associates, and other locals including a 36-year-old Nigerian female steward was later confirmed positive. The woman was later treated for COVID-19 at the Lagos government isolation facility in Onikan.
Investigations shows that one of the cases, a 28-year-old mechanical engineer with OIL company limited – an Indian construction firm – Shivajeet Kumar, on Sunday, April 26, hanged himself right on the site following his positive test for COVID-19.
The Jajo hospital was shut down owing to the aforementioned.
The community staged a protest against what they referred to as injustice and unfair treatment of their people on Monday, April 27.
According to the Lagos State Police Command 51, the angry youth burnt down police posts and a vehicle around the Eleko area with 5 officers injured while arrest was made.
The Lagos State Police spokesperson, Bala Elkana, confirmed that many of those arrested were arraigned in court.
Elkana said since no one came to lodge formal complaint, the police could not have known of the company’s operation.
A group of aggrieved workers on the site also held a peaceful protest accusing their employers of forcing them to work without pay or protection amid the pandemic.
In a video published on YouTube on May 2, the same day our reporter visited the site, they called on Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, to take “necessary steps” for their safety.
The workers, who said they were employed by GTA Power Mech Nigeria Limited, a joint venture between Power Mech Projects Limited and Skipper T&D, expressed their frustration in foreign language.
The leader of the team, in the video said;
“We, the citizens of India, are speaking from Dangote Refinery, which is situated almost 60km away from Lagos in Nigeria. We are workers of the Dangote Refinery.
“The whole world is suffering from coronavirus, which is a global pandemic. Nigeria has also announced its lockdown. During this lockdown, the workers of Power Mech Company are being forced to work. The staff here are forcing us to work through physical violence.
“We request our Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah, and Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, to kindly understand our problems and help us get out of this situation by taking necessary steps to protect and save our lives.”
However, the Dangote Group, contractors have neither debunked the claims nor accepted fault.
The Punch newspaper however reported that Mr Chiejina responded to its inquiry on the video that has gone viral.
According to its report on the protest published on May 2, the newspaper quoted Mr Chiejina to have described the video as two months old.
He told The Punch reporter; “That video is more than two months old. It’s just an unrelated issue. People are just doing what they like.”
“When our correspondent pointed out that the video made reference to COVID-19, Chiejina said, ‘What they are saying is rubbish. Three months ago, was coronavirus there? It is an old thing that is unrelated,” The Punch reported.
In all of these, both government; federal and state keeps mum on the developments.
While the Lagos State government did not make any comment on the issues, Mr Mustapha, who doubles as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman Presidential Task Force on Control of COVID-19 claims he is unaware and would find out and revert when been questioned at media briefing on COVID-19.