126 Hostage Workers: Kano Govt May Sanction Indian Company

*As Rescued Victims Narrate Ordeal

From Maduabuchi Nmeribeh, Kano

More troubles are mounting for a Kano-based Indian company, Popular Rice Mill, as some of the 126 workers rescued by police from the company, have narrated their ordeals, insisting that they were forced to work for long hours against their wish for three months during the lockdown period, occassioned by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, an impeccable source from Kano Government House told our Correspondent that the state Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, has expressed displeasure over the attitude of the Indian Company.

The source said Governor Ganduje is only waiting for the completion of the investigation launched by the police, before taking drastic action against the company.

“I must tell you that His Excellency, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is not happy over what is happening. The Governor expressed concern that the company refused to obey the lockdown order. He is also dismayed that workers could be treated in such an inhuman manner.

“He is waiting to get the full report from security agencies before taking any action; but I can assure you that drastic measures must be taken by the state government to address the situation,” the source added.

Some of the workers who spoke to journalists on Wednesday said the management of the company subjected them to hard labour under hash working condition with a threat of sack or non-payment of salary.

Accounts from the rescued workers indicated that they were disallowed from visiting their families, made to work long hours and sleep under hash weather, with only N5, 000 incentive for three months.

The rescued workers got relief through the intervention of a human rights group, Global Human Rights Network being coordinated by Mr. Kabiru Yahaya Kabara.

The Global Human Rights Network had sponsored a petition which prompted the police to raid Popular Farms Rice Mill located in Challawa Industrial Estate, where 126 workers held hostage against their wish were rescued.

According to some of the workers who spoke to the Media, they were held hostage within the Rice Mill premises by the management of Popular Farms since March 2020, even in the face of the lockdown order, occassioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rescued workers also alleged that they were treated below humans as they were being fed with little food, but subjected to hard labour all day long.

According to them, they were also disallowed from seeing their families who could only visit the factory to see them at the permission of their employers.

The AUTHORITY reports that BBC Hausa Service had featured one of the rescued workers, Hamza Ibrahim (28) who claimed to have gained employment in the Indian company in 2019 after completing his degree programme at Bayero University Kano (BUK).

Ibrahim told BBC Hausa Service that as a degree holder, he is being paid N28,000, per month by the Indian Company, which he alleged had little or no regards for their Nigerian workers.

According to him, they were forced to remain and work in the factory since the first lockdown order imposed by the Kano state government in March to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

He added that despite the fact that the government ordered all factories to shutdown, Popular Farms ignored the directive, only to force them inito an unfavourable working condition with additional pay of only N5,000.

He said the management of Popular Farms, a subsidiary of the Stallion Group of Companies threatened to sack and punish workers who opposed to the obnoxious decision.

According to him, “I am among the workers that were rescued by the police from Popular Farms rice mill on Monday. We were held in the factory since the Kano government imposed the first lockdown to tackle coronavirus.

“Instead of obeying the government order, our employers promised to increase N5,000 on our usual salaries so that we could continue to work. This is what enticed many of us to stay.

“After sometime, our employers threatened those who refused their offer with dismissal and then went ahead to lock us in the factory and forced us to work for long hours.

“They only give us little time to rest and we were not even allowed to perform our five daily prayers. They don’t allow our families to visit us.

“This is how we spent three months here. I know a colleague that worked 24 hours non-stop.

“I am very happy to be rescued from this inhumane situation. I also appeal to the government to establish these kind of factories so that foreigners would not be coming here to enslave us.”

Speaking to The AUTHORITY on Wednesday, the spokesman of Kano state Police Command, DSP Abdullahi Haruna, said the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Habu Sani has ordered for a thorough investigation into the matter.

He, however, vowed that the full wrath of the law will descend heavily on anyone found guilty in the alleged human rights abuse of the rescued wprlers.

The AUTHORITY online had earlier reported that police in Kano rescued about 126 Nigerian labourers confined inside Popular Rice Limited, where they were forced to engage in hard labour since late March this year, even with the COVID-19 lockdown.

Though some online newspapers reported that the “abducted” labourers were over 300, the spokesman of Kano state Police Command, DSP Abdullahi Haruna confirmed to our Correspondent that police rescued only 126 labourers from the company, while four officials were invited for questioning.

According to the police spokesman, “on the 21 June, 2020, at about 6 P.M., a complaint was received from Global Community for Human Right Network, Kano, that some labourers were wrongly confined inside Popular Farms and Mills Limited located at No. 54 Challawa Industrial Estate Kano.

“On receipt, teams of Policemen were deployed and when search was conducted, 126 labourers trapped inside the Factory for three months were discovered. Investigation is in progress.”

When contacted on phone, the Managing Director of Stallion Group, Amit Kumar Rai, said they were still in a meeting to review the situation, and begged for sometime for official reaction, as at the time of filling in this report.

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