Nigeria: One hundred workers burnt alive after boss locked them in

The boss needs a rest. He goes home and locks the doors to the factory. A fire breaks out and a hundred workers are burnt alive as they desperately try to escape. The horror of 21st century capitalism in Nigeria.

We often quote the famous line of Lenin that capitalism is "horror without end". What recently happened in a Nigerian factory is a most horrendous story. It is not something out of the 19th century. It is a story of factory workers in the 21st century. The boss needed a rest, so he went to his quarters and to make sure no workers went out of the building he locked the door. The result was a hundred charred bodies of poor Nigerian workers. What greater argument can there be for the need to overthrow this barbaric capitalist system? This article appeared in the recent May issue of the Nigerian Marxist journal, the Workers' Alternative, under the title "Capitalism means hunger, poverty and death". Indeed it does!

The stench hits you metres away even three days after the event - the acrid smell of burnt human flesh, bones and entrails. It was a horror story. Until three days earlier these people had been ordinary workers who saw the normal shadows even on this black September morning.

At 6.45pm the previous day, Kamoru Saula left his pregnant wife and two children at home for his work place across the road. He had been doing this for the last six years - as a casual worker until he was made a staff member about a year ago. At plot 68, Ikorodu Industrial Estate, where Kamoru works for the Super Engineering Company Limited, those on morning shift were already closing for the day. By 7pm this 35-year-old breadwinner and only son of his mother took his place among 249 other workers who are mostly casuals, for the night shift. It would be a long twelve hours with no break.

Soon it was midnight. The Chinese supervisor needed some rest so he locked the factory gate and left for the "White House" - the nickname for the official quarters of the Chinese owners located within the factory premises. In doing this - locking the gate which was the only exit - he sealed the fate of their slaves. Barely thirty minutes later thick smoke came billowing out of the factory store. Instinctively, Kamoru made for the exit with his co-workers. He never made it. Trapped in the raging inferno they were simply burnt to death - over a hundred of them.

Asuquo Umana, who worked in the refining section, said, "the fire had covered the whole place and the main gate was locked. I jumped down from upstairs and ran towards the main gate where rod was processed." Others were not so lucky. "Smoke came into the section where I worked", recounts Simon Obasi, a survivor from the oven section, "Then we tried to escape. There were two exits but one was locked, so we ran to the other door, which was open. By the time we left the section, the whole place was on fire. But the place we ran to was also full of smoke and fire. And we didn't know how to escape, the gate was locked and the Chinese man with the key had gone to his quarters".

However, fire alone was not responsible for all the deaths. Most of the survivors are being treated for gunshot wounds. One such was Henry Wilson who had actually escaped but was shot while trying to rescue some of his colleagues. He was shot from behind by the factory owners. Henry claimed he saw some of the Chinese men shooting randomly and indeed the General Manager of Super Engineering Ltd., Mr Mukwam Lai, admitted to shooting at so-called "hoodlums" to protect company property. He finds it easier to lie about the tragedy, denying the fact that workers were locked in. According to him, "only ten people died".

Peter Enechie, the local union chairman, described Mr Lai as a liar: "The management of the company are violators of human rights who do not have the interest of workers at heart". He accused the company of violating the regulation of employment rules as regards casualisation and contracting of labour. Workers were not allowed any form of break or even to talk to the person next to them on the production line. No fire extinguisher and no emergency fire exit… what was this but a slave camp. It was a horror story, and was treated as such. From the surrounding working class quarters and villages angry men, women and youth poured out to vent their anger.

Not just a line of blood divides us from the capitalists, but whole rivers of blood, hundreds of thousands of broken and destroyed working class lives, victims of a system that places profit above human lives. Now, as the anguished cries of dying workers ring in our ears, as their scream still echoes in our hearts we have got to reach out towards one another. We must remember the old maxim, "an injury to one is an injury to all". This fight is your fight. Don't sit on the fence. You cannot have capitalism without such accidents.

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