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FENRAD condemns tragic death of Ocheze at Inner Galaxy, calls for prosecution of Chinese suspect

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Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development (FENRAD), a pro-democracy and environmental rights advocacy group based in Abia State has strongly condemned the death of Ms. Ocheze Ogbonna whose tragic death, allegedly, occurred following an altercation and fisticuffs with her Chinese employer, an expatriate.

The advocacy group in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor, regretted this tragic event as it sends its condolences to all who are bereaved, or left to mourn Ms. Ogbonna, including family and friends

“That said, following reports from multiple sources, it was alleged that Ocheze was pushed off a storeyed building culminating in instant death. Push has come to shove, and this case requires urgent and decisive response from both Abia State Government and the Federal Government under whose laws Galaxy Steel Company was incorporated and registered. This, to the Foundation is a matter of right. Nobody would want to imagine what would happen if the story is to be reversed. The question is, what will it take to bring a Nigerian under the Chinese laws for killing a citizen of China on Chinese soil?

“FENRAD regrets that this is not the first time Inner Galaxy Steel Company would be in the news for the wrong reasons. In 2020, during the past administration, reports of workers being dehumanised, exploited and abused sexually circulated. The Foundation recalls that the past administration only sent a ‘fact-finding team’ to go and ‘investigate’ the activities of Inner Galaxy Steel Company. Later, a committee was set up whose report has yet to be made public.

“According to the Punch newspaper of August 14, 2020, a former victim and employee of the Group summed up the inhuman experiences of workers when, through his tweets, he averred:

“‘Male Nigerian workers are physically assaulted, why [sic] their female counterparts are sexually assaulted without any consequence. Chinese MASTERS will use derogatory words on Nigerian employees, and you dare not talk back at them because the consequence is grievous. After the physical assaults you will get, you will still be sacked. Chinese MASTERS will boast of killing you and getting away with it.’

“The experiences of workplace victimisation had been shared in the past, on various media platforms, especially how the Group crammed Abians in a ‘concentration camp’ called hostel, not allowing workers to leave during the COVID-19 era. Even the Nigeria Police Force was accused of aiding and abetting this crime on Nigerian soil. Gory details of amputees who lost a limb working in the company who were later dumped are also in the public domain”, the statement partly reads.

Speaking further in the statement, comrade Nwafor expressed disappointment over the inability of the authorities to thoroughly investigate the activities of the Chinese company despite documented evidence of right abuse.

It stressed that the ‘I don’t care’ attitude of the government on this matter could lead the firm to double down on its alleged exploitative mode of operations against indigent citizens.

“Currently, sexual harassment is also part of the story of late Ms. Ocheze Ogbonna. It is such a shame that the activities and operations of the Galaxy Steel Group of Company were not investigated thoroughly to enhance justice and closure. The result of the government being lackadaisical or lukewarm on this matter could lead the firm to double down on its alleged exploitative mode of operations against indigent citizens.

“Previous media reports abound on how the Group exploited Abians and rubbed it in their face as if they are above the laws of Nigeria or parts thereof Nigeria has laws, Abia too does. The meaning is that all legal persons, be they citizens, aliens, corporate bodies, indigenous or foreign, are guided by the laws of Nigeria or any part thereof being where such a firm is located and pay taxes. There must be a thorough investigation here because no firm registered under the law should rise above the law or function as ‘a state within a state.’

“Today, the whole allegations had resurfaced with Ms. Ocheze Ogbonna’s tragic death, as alleged. Governor Alex Otti must not behave like past administration. He must rise to the occasion and see to it that justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. This is important because the operations of Galaxy Steel Company today face an integrity challenge.”

FENRAD however, called on the government of Abia State to  constitute an independent panel to investigate Inner Galaxy, beginning from old and previous unpublished findings, if they still exist, to date.

“Lastly, the Foundation calls on the Abia State Government to empanel an independent body to investigate this company, beginning from old and previous unpublished findings, if they still exist, to date. Should the death of Ms. Ocheze Ogbonna be as a result of physical affront by a foreign expatriate as alleged, the Attorney General of the state must, as a matter of urgent need, institute legal proceedings.

“Also should federation of female lawyers, FIDA, join in this matter as rife allegations of sexual exploitation keep surfacing. For now, Governor Otti MUST see to it that justice is done.

“FENRAD want the Governor Otti to open the old report (if there is such record) and pursue the death of Ms. Ogbonna until justice is properly dispensed. While Abia is open to foreign investors, having begun improving its ease of doing business index under the current government, FENRAD does not believe this should be a reenactment of the master-servant affair, where citizens, seen as servants or mere objects, rather than humans, are brutalised and tortured by cruel taskmasters. The law should take its course where this happens.

“Enough is enough”, the statement concluded.

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