LAWAL EDUCATION AND ISLAMIC FOUNDATION: A PRESENT DAY SLAVEHOLDING
OPEN CALL ON THE NUT, CDWR AND PRO-WORKERS ORGANISATIONS TO INTERVENE
By Gideon Adeyeni (a sacked teacher)
Like many other Nigerian workers, the story of the workers at Lawal Education and Islamic Foundation, Ile-Ife, Osun State, as regards their experiences at work is generally that of gross exploitation and serious abuse. What makes Ibikunle Lawal, the owner of the establishment, notorious for the maltreatment of workers and more vicious is the unscrupulous cloaking of the exploitation and abuse under the hood of the propagation of religion, which has enabled him to continuously carry out these heinous acts over the past years, such that he has now become a master of the tricks for worker exploitation, manipulating his way through and boastful of his ability to evade being brought to justice. “You are not the first to fight like this” he would often say to workers who dare to challenge his crookedness. The few cases in which the law has caught up with him, have done too little – if anything at all – to restrain him; otherwise there wouldn’t be the outcry as it is being heard now of many who have worked there over the past years. It is important to note that the establishment is a purely for-profit entity – camouflaged otherwise, apparently, for the deception of the public.
It does not take long for a new employee or any close observer of Mr. Ibikunle to observe his grievously anti-worker character. Hardly can anyone work with the said man without being falsely alleged of either theft or embezzlement. Such a worker or observer would also soon observe how the man constantly calls the workers all sorts of unprintable names, and many at times putting all the workers together without sparing anyone to describe them in the most ridiculous manner. Statements like “all my workers are idiots and morons” are not far from his mouth. And the man would no doubt leave any right thinking man cringing too many times after watching him relate with the workers for just a little time. One cannot but also note his lack of respect for the feelings and privacy of others. He is fond of bumping on workers schedules by frequently calling emergency meetings which often begin as soon as they are called and last many hours, often resulting in the interruption of classes. He constantly says “a fool can teach, but no fool can manage” when teachers complain about the intermittent interruption of classes. Delaying workers endlessly when there is the need to meet with him is another proof of his lack of respect for the workers.
Many are the horrific experiences of the workers. Common stories among the workers include those of a colleague who had been laid off upon getting to work after his car broke down on his way to work; that of the school driver who had asked his son to come down to his place of work – after he (the son) was sent away from school due to nonpayment of school fees – in the hope that this would prompt Mr. Ibikunle to pay his owed two months salary, only for the driver to be abused and insulted for this action; that of a worker whose son had died because she had been denied the chance to take a leave from work and take the boy to the clinic; or that of staff members developing high blood pressure and having sleepless nights due to abuse and threats of maltreatment from the said man; that of a colleague who had actually died under circumstances not unconnected to the working conditions, and who was yet blamed for his own death by Mr. Ibikunle; and that of many workers who had left the establishment after outburst of emotions and pleas and cries and open fights with the man, while many had forgone their salaries of one, two, three or so months.
The most obvious implications of the abuse and maltreatment being perpetrated by Mr. Ibikunle as an employer are the acute frustration and dejection that characterize working in the establishment. How does one not feel frustrated seeing co-workers sacked at whim, without any justifiable reason? How does one not get dejected when uncertainty concerning one’s source of livelihood constantly clouds one’s mental sky? How does one not get depressed when one is being owed two months salary and one knows that the possibility of being sacked and never getting the salaries are high? There are insinuations – which are not without basis – that Mr. Ibikunle has a scheme of using free labour by sacking workers at the end of a month or two after refusing to pay salaries when due. The numberless workers who have been sacked under such conditions over the past years is a testament to the possibility of such a scheme. Of course, the workers are never laid off without some excuses and more than enough dosage of insults and abuses. Such an excuse might be ‘not following proper bureaucratic procedure,’ which, when how often procedures are changed and how the workers are never taken through any orientation process are considered, is just flimsy – like every other one of the excuses. Suffice to add that is also the confusion of roles within the establishment.
Many are the workers who have been baselessly sacked for simply daring to ask questions or for just speaking up against the abuses and exploitation going on in the establishment. One of the stories of such workers is that of Ms. Leah, who was issued a sack letter after she had spoken on behalf of other workers to demand the salary for a month around the end of the following month. She is not to receive the salary until after about six months when the sacking of some other workers made litigation against Mr. Ibikunle imminent. She has not been paid the salary of the other month till date – a year after she was unjustly sacked. The story of Mrs. Umar is another. She had been called by Mr. Ibikunle on a holiday to “show up immediately” and had pointed out that she was at a very important event. She was immediately “fired” over the phone and was not to have an opportunity to say goodbye to the little children that she was teaching and who were obviously emotionally attached to her. There was also the case of the worker who had approached him to ask not to be falsely alleged of fraud again after he had done it twice. The man was offended beyond measure. He is never to be corrected nor is his abuses to be challenged. He had thus sacked the worker within him but was afraid of putting it on paper for some strange reason. He thus decided on a plot to embarrass the worker out of the establishment, a plot which was not successful as he was later forced to issue a sack letter to the said worker.
As it stands, the current workers at the secondary school session of the establishment are all set to be sacked soon for no given reason. Many more persons will be victims of the viciousness of Mr. Ibikunle in the coming months if he is not stopped. Students of the schools within the establishment also pay gravely for the exploitation of the workers; the recent results of those who wrote secondary school certificate examinations is proof of this. But since the parents of these students have been made to believe that the schools imbibe Islamic teachings in the students, many still have their wards there, even as the student population continues to fall exponentially. Without doubt, there is at this moment an urgent need for persons of goodwill to ensure that there is an end to the abuse and exploitation of workers going on at Lawal Education and Islamic Foundation. Therefore, I call on the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), pro-workers organisations’ like the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) and human rights groups to intervene in the plight of the workers in this school.