By Archibong Jeremiah
For leading a peaceful protest against management rascality, abuses and demand for improved working conditions, Transcorp Hotels Calabar allegedly sacked eight staff.
After the peaceful protest Kanu Okpo, Fred Ogar, Ezra Osim, Lawrence Ebony, Stella Etim, Bassey Ediba, Geraldine Itoe and Abel Eshiet reportedly became targets of abuse of power from the branch management.
One year after the peaceful protest which was held in October last year, as well as over 6 months after the controversial dismissal, the hotel has not paid them their full entitlement, either as sacked or resigned staff.
The controversial disengagement did not follow due process and was meant to punish the critical members of the National Union of Hotel and Personal Service Workers, NUHPSW, Transcorp Hotels Calabar chapter, CrossRiverWatch investigation reveals.
The protest did not violate clause 8.3 and 8.4 of the company’s Junior Staff Rules, Regulations and Condition of Service of 2018 which spelt out what misconduct is and its categories.
Also, clause 8.2 provides that, the disciplinary committee whose decision is final shall be composed of the General Manager, Chief Finance Officer, Human Resources Manager, Company Secretary and a member of the Junior Staff Union. Everybody was present during the trial of those accused of misconduct, except for a member of the junior staff union.
Trouble began when NUHPSW picketed Mr. Chuma Mgbojikwe, the General Manager, and his team for not paying some staff their emolument from March to July, 2020.
The then NUHPSW, Transcorp Hotels Calabar chapter Chairman, Kanu Okpo told CrossRiverWatch that, “early 2020 we had that because of COVID-19 the hotel will be shut down. The management called for a meeting to tell us that in the event of total shut down, we will be working on a skeletal structure. Meaning few staff will serve our guests who couldn’t travel and others will go home.
“We agreed since the staff nor the management is the cause, but we told them it would be unfair not to pay those at home. We agreed that those who would go home will be paid 50% of their salary, those working will be given accommodation and receive 100% monthly pay. We told them as a condition also that only single staff be called to work during that period while those with family be home.
“Later on we were told that those who will be at home won’t be paid at all. We had a gentleman’s agreement, perhaps we would have asked for a written and signed agreement before we made any move. But this is us trying to trust the management we have worked with for years.”
Okpo went on to reveal that, “we followed all laid down processes to no avail and we had a peaceful protest. The protest was just asking our staff to go outside for the GM to come address us. Few things happened during the peaceful protest that would have been violent but it wasn’t. We went everywhere we could to get help but they (Transcorp) were able to close their mouths.”
He alleged that the management was involved in shoddy deals, “anyone who tries to speak becomes a victim and they will stop at nothing until you’re removed.” Okpo added that, “tribalism and nepotism has caged staff in Transcorp hotels Calabar.”
Afterwards, Fred Ogar was accused of being drunk on duty which contravened clause 8.4.1 and 9.3 of the company’s Junior Staff Rules, Regulations and Condition of Service of 2018. Fred, however, denied the accusation.
“I came to work on an evening shift, signed in and was heading to my post when I encountered Mr. Olalekan Oluewu, the immediate past Human Resource Manager. I greeted him and he accused me of being drunk.” Fred recalls adding that, “he called one of my colleagues, Osim Ezra, and said that I should breathe for him to inhale, I did and he said my mouth smelled of alcohol jokingly. I told him it’s not true but the HR insisted I go home. I left, days passed and I didn’t hear from them.”
Mr. Fred alleged that Mr. Olalekan wrote “a tannishing e-mail as his report to the head office, this is because of how critical we are towards the misdeeds of the hotel management. When I came back to work he called me to his office and demanded I sign a summary dismissal letter. I refused, he threatened me. My question to him was how does he assess someone who is drunk? I was responsible and resumed work early as usual, heading to my post. I left.”
When CrossRiverWatch contacted Osim Ezra, he denied confirming that Fred was drunk as held by the hotel management.
His words, “he (Mr. Olalekan) brought Fred Ogar and asked me to look at him to see if he is drunk and I said he is not drunk, he was with tom tom in his mouth. In front of me he threatened Fred and asked him to go home, as soon as Fred left he called the MD, Dukpe, lied to her and got the go ahead to sack Fred for nothing.”
The National Union of Hotel and Personal Service Workers, Transcorp Hotels Calabar chapter at the time confirmed Osim’s position that Fred’s right to fair hearing was violated.
Mr. Osim reiterated that they were targeted because of how critical they were to the shoddy deals of the management. “There is a lot of victimization in Transcorp. He (then Human Resource Manager) targeted me and fired me. He tried and failed until the day we had a peaceful demonstration. I turned off the cooker to avoid a fire outbreak since it wasn’t in use and I was sacked for that.”
Mr. Mathias Enang, a former staff member, acknowledged that Fred was sacked for being critical, “he was the best staff in the front office. He didn’t drink but he was sacked.”
He also recalls that “Orok in Food and Beverages was sacked for just misplacing N500. Because Kanu Okpo refused to cut corners they sacked him, Stella Etim too did nothing and was sacked.”
Tales of Deception and Shoddy Deals
Mrs. Bernadette Edem, the first indegenous staff to retire from Transcorp Hotels Calabar told CrossRiverWatch she was denied her retirement benefits.
She transitioned from Metropolitan Hotel and Conference owned by the Cross River State Government into the now Transcorp hotels Calabar, worked from 1999 and left after a while. Mrs. Edem reemployed 19 March, 2007 and retired on 31 July, 2020 as Executive Secretary, yet the company said she was not entitled to any benefits.
According to her, “I was supposed to go to a workshop to prepare for retirement, but that never happened. The company reminded me about retiring in November, but I did early because my arthritis had become worse. I asked Olalekan to assist draft a retirement letter, erroneously he wrote a resignation letter instead, I corrected it.”
Furthermore, she disclosed that, “he even told me that when the company is ready a send-forth will be organized for me and a pathing gift will be given to me. He asked me what I would want and I told him, I need a sewing machine. Till date nothing like final gratuity has been paid to me nor has a send-forth been organized.”
On other abuses in the hotel she revealed that, “working experience in Transcorp was okay until Mr. Ngbojikwe came on board. I was asked as a Secretary to appraise him, I did as truthfully as I could at that time. I presume he must have placed his hands on it or seen it and that is when the problem began.
“He became unnecessarily angry and made the atmosphere in the office unbearable for me. I was always afraid because he had beaten up a staff member before and denied it, even though there was video evidence. There was a case where a DJ was sacked because he spoke to his wife during an art exhibition. The DJ comes to work at night, he didn’t know that was his wife.
“The Disciplinary Committee recommended suspension without pay and Chuma was mad that he wanted someone sacked. After a while I was transferred to the outside laundry as Cashier, a management staff enquired why he did so and he said I didn’t want his progress. He ordered the security to record the sign in and out time of the DJ and report to him daily, the DJ resigned eventually.”
According to her, “there is no promotion of any kind, staff are stagnant, there was a time the NLC officers came to investigate an allegation that contract staff has been working for over 8 years without being confirmed, terminated and recalled. When the NLC officers came, the management asked the contract staff to gather at the staff canteen for a meeting, when they converged the doors of the canteen were locked, they remained there for hours until the investigating team left. This was cleverly arranged by the management.“
Mr. Mathias Enang, who was CCTV and ICT maintenance officer, had an accident in Ugep and that marked the beginning of his journey into the tricky style of the Chuma led management.
“On my way back from home I had an accident in Ugep in 2019. I was receiving treatment in Ugep then I was moved to Ebonyi because that’s where the man who hit me is from, luckily one of his brothers from Germany was around and I was taken to Lagos for native treatment. From Lagos I did my job,” Enang recounted.
He went on, “when I came back, Mr. Olalekan told me to bring all my treatment documents. I gave it to him and he looked at it and refused to collect it. Later on he said the management said I should become a consultant and I accepted even though the company has refused to support me medically. For over 6 months I worked and had no pay. I withdrew and wrote to them through my lawyer and they said my lawyer should advise me and I stopped coming. But in 2018, I was the best staff.”
While battling with his health and survival, he got contacted by the then Human Resource Manager about an inverter he stole. “Along the line he (Olalekan) told me of an inverter he has, that I should help him sell it, that he bought it for his wife and she doesn’t want to do the business he intended. He directed me to where the inverter was, it was in a shop along Marian road, between Old Ikang and Prof. Eyo Ita House. I had seen that inverter there before and noted that it resembles one in my (former) office at the Transcorp.
“I was pursuing a contract then that involved inverters so I told him I would need it for the job but my aim was to get the full details. When I got to the shop and saw the inverter, I noticed that the serial number and other details proved it was Trancorp property, it had a stamp under it. So I went to the GM who called the head office and they gave me N100, 000 to go pay in advance.
“I went with the Operation Manager and paid the money into his account in UBA, I have the teller. After payment, he was invited and I was called to present my facts. He tried denying it but I revealed that it was me and another staff member that helped him transfer it into his vehicle for repairs, but nothing was wrong with it. The management went to that place and picked the inverter and nothing happened, Olalekan was not punished. He is more than them because he has charms all around, he frequents Akpabuyo for charms. Till date nothing has been done.”
Mrs. Stella Etim told CrossRiverWatch that “in 2019 I was confirmed as the Pool Manager after being there for a lot of years. In 2018 I was the best staff of the month for November. In April 2019, it was the same and overall in 2019. I wasn’t part of the protest, I wasn’t in town.
“I was to go for a performance improvement plan for 3 months, my HOD was to train me but nothing happened. But to my surprise on the 4th of March, 2021 the General Manager called me to his office, the then HR, Mr. Olalekan was still working with the hotel then and he was there. I was told they want to transfer me to Port Harcourt, but the letter before me was termination of employment. I was trying to digest the oral information by the GM and the written information before me.
“I asked why termination instead of transfer, I told them after working with them for 12 years and I don’t think that’s the way it should be done. I didn’t sign the letter. I excused them and tried consulting with the union. The next day I was asked to be worked out by the security ordered by the GM. I’ve never stolen or gone against the hotel policy. In 2016, I was accused of stealing their money. It was investigated and after 3 days it was realized I didn’t steal. Until this moment, I haven’t gotten my entitlement.”
Barrister Kehole Enya, a rights advocate said: “Generally, employees especially as a union have the right to embark on industrial action, which is usually geared towards workplace improvement, entitlement and benefits. The law recognises the rights of employees to embark on a protest.”
He went on to say that, “it is sad that Transcorp would sack staff for the mere fact that they protested, though it depends on their company policy. But the mere fact that they protested to improve their welfare, the law frowns at that, those affected can approach the National Industrial Court and enforce their rights.”
All efforts made to get Mr. Chuma Mgbojikwe, General Manager of Transcorp Hotels Calabar to answer for the alleged abuses and shoddy deals under his watch proved abortive.
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab through its Grassroots News Project.