Inside Inner Galaxy
For one month, ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE goes undercover pretending that he was seeking for an employment at Inner Galaxy Group, a Chinese steel company that is situated in the remote Obuzor Community, Asa of Abia State. His findings are shocking, to say the least.
A journey to Inner Galaxy complex is like a journey to a dungeon, where the Chinese operators stealthily situated their steel company for the reprocessing of scrapped metals for the production of anything steel, although with government awareness.
The journey takes one from the dilapidated Umuahala road, Obuzor, to a site where there is a sand dredging location, just close to the Inner Galaxy Group.
The environment is serene and can easily spark suspicion in a discerning mind that something devious is ongoing in the compound of the Inner Galaxy.
The first instruction that greets you at the entrance of the company is a drawn camera on the billboard with a red ribbon crossing it like a zebra sign, with the inscription, “No photo.”
With this, the writer knows that he is at risk and that something shifty is going on in the company that the management will not want to be made public.
The writer summons courage and attempts to enter the compound, but the presence of security personnel at gate scares him and he leaves. He goes around asking how he can enter the gate and is told to pretend he is a worker.
Next time, the gate is yet not as easy as he was told. A stern-looking soldier, who seems to have climbed down from an Observation Point (OP) in the complex holding a coiled wire suspected to be for bullying offenders, frightens the writer.
On another day, there is the presence of MOPOL here and there. Now, the writer summons the courage and wangles his way in the midst of the danger.
Not knowing where to go to or who to approach, he meets a worker who simply gives his name as Ugochukwu.
“How are you, young man?” the writer draws Ugochukwu’s attention.
“I’m fine, thank you,” Ugochukwu responds. “May I know how to help you?”
“I’m here for a job opportunity, but do not know who to approach. Can you help me?” the writer entreats.
“I’m not sure you will like to work here with what we are encountering in the hands of our Chinese employers,” Ugochukwu bitterly says, now unknowingly opening a chapter for the writer’s mission.
“How do you mean?” the writer asks.
“Even as we work, many of us do not take to knowledge that we are gradually and unknowingly and painfully dying in the hands of the Chinese,” responds Ugochukwu.
About Inner Galaxy Group
With national head office at Plot 52c Nosak Road, Amuwo-Odofin Industrial Layout, Lagos, Inner Galaxy Group is one of the major Chinese companies active in the actual sector of Nigeria’s economy.
It has five subsidiaries operating in Nigeria that include Hongxing Steel Company Ltd; Inner Galaxy Steel Company Ltd; Inner Galaxy Ship Scrapping Company Ltd; Jiuxing Integrated Industries Ltd; and Paramount Gas Co., Ltd.
In 2015, Inner Galaxy came to Ahala Ukwu village, Umuahala Community, Obuzor Ukwu Autonomous Community of Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State. It is located some 25km to the industrial and commercial city of Aba.
Investigation reveals that while the company landed in the community in 2015, the origination of the construction of the company was in 2014 and the sum of $150 million was invested in the project. Curiously, Inner Galaxy has not deemed it fit to erect signposts to show its existence in Obuzor.
Enticing Obuzor People: Hope raised, hopes dashed
When the management of the company set foot in the community, the indigenes were over-joyed because of the millions of naira that it was to pay for the hectares of land it wanted to purchase from the indigenes. The people were overwhelmed given that for a plot of land that was ordinarily sold for N200,000 or N250,000, the Chinese management paid hundreds of thousands of naira, thereby acquiring as many hectares of land as possible.
In addition, the Chinese management promised employment opportunities for the natives, non-truncated power supply, and physical development.
In what may be termed a fraud, Ugochukwu says: “Every initially held hope has been dashed. Instead, the company has been of highhandedness, flagrant abuse of human rights, pollution of the environment, sexual abuse, modern-day slavery, brazen disobedience of the law of the country (labour and immigration laws). In fact, the company has inexhaustible litany of misdeeds which cannot be sufficiently said here due to time.”
Ugochukwu cries out that the company is taking advantage of the unemployment and underemployment situations in the country to exploit the workers.
“Workers are meant to work like beasts – from 6am to 6pm and vis-à-vis – without commensurate salaries for their over-labour. They are paid pittance,” Ugochukwu cries.
“The workers with Zenith Bank accounts receive their salaries every 10th day of the month while those without the Zenith bank accounts receive their salaries every 25th of the month,” he added.
Sexual exploitation and sacking of workers
Ugochukwu alleges that the female workers are at the mercy of the Chinese employers.
“They are good at molesting the female workers and in the event that any female refused the Chinese’ advances, her job will be abruptly terminated,” he said.
This reporter learnt that a popular Chinese slang in the company is “No kavi, kavi; no worker, worker”; which translates to, “No sex, no work.”
The workers have no job security as they are sacked at will – usually without a reason or compensation.
“They are sacked whenever any Chinese feels he woke from the wrong side of the bed,” a source says. He laments that even victims of hot liquids that always spray from the liquefying pots used in melting metals are not spared of this inhuman treatment.
“The victims of this are even left on their own with little or no treatment or compensation whatsoever,” he said.
Tales of sacked workers
As Ugochukwu and the writer are surreptitiously talking, comes around a young man in his late 20s.
He greets us and passes. Ugochukwu gossips to the writer that the young man, who showed traits of burnt skin, was sacked recently without any remuneration.
When he had the accident resulting from the melting pots, it is said that the Chinese team leader was seen laughing and talking loudly in Chinese without empathy for the young man, leading to suspicion that he was mocking the victim.
“Later, the young man was taken to Save a Life Medical Centre, Port Harcourt,” says the source. “And while the young man was in the hospital, he received a paltry sum of N500 as his upkeep daily for the few days he stayed in the hospital.”
When he was discharged from the hospital and wanted to resume work, instead of being treated with the kid’s glove, he was sacked.
What the workers take home
Ugochukwu points to another young man, whom he identifies as Mike working at the scrap department.
“That department is one of the difficult departments that are laced with hard jobs, yet the workers are paid between N600 to N900 per each person per day; an amount that is not up to $3,” says the source.
Ugochukwu adds that bonuses are not also specified, but left for the Chinese nationals to decide.
While the workers are paid double of their wages per day at the weekends and public holidays, they stand losing their three days wages as a result of slight slip-up. Some of the errors do not often come from the workers, Ugochukwu says.
What Obuzor people think of Inner Galaxy
The Chinese loathe Nigerians as less human being, the writer gathers. They are in the habit of saying that they are a god to Nigerians for the reason that they provided jobs for the people of Obuzor.
When this writer disembarks from the Inner Galaxy (with industrial complex which at present encompasses five companies with about 3,000 Nigerians in its employ with the hope of bringing in 15 other companies) to seek the views of the natives of Obuzor, they do not sing a different chorus.
One of the community leaders, who pleads anonymity, says that the only road to Umuahala constructed by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2014 that links to the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, was destroyed by heavy trucks that were conveying loads of scrapped metals to the Inner Galaxy compound.
“When the Chinese were approached, they had assured the natives that they would reconstruct the road. That was when they were still constructing their company.
“Immediately they were through, they abandoned the road and bought lands on which they created their not-public road, thereby abandoning the natives to their peril,” says the community leader.
Another says: “The air in the community is now foggy since the Chinese came. We no longer make use of rain water. The zinc is darkened by pollution emitting from the Inner Galaxy.
“Apart from that, crime and vices such as prostitution, theft and drug abuse, which were not known of our community, are on the increase since the company berthed.”
Company insists it is in business for development
In all of this, the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Inner Galaxy Group, Mr. Andy Lu, in a public presentation says that the company is resolute to prop up Nigeria in the steel development markets globally.
“The steel industry is the backbone of industrial revolution, because all the construction needed as part of infrastructure improvement will largely ride on the back of the steel industry. Even machinery in the production process, the automotive industry and most other industries will be supported by the steel industry,” Lu says.
•Odimegwu Onwumere is a multiple award-winning journalist based in Rivers State, Nigeria. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org