About ten thousand (10,000) direct and indirect workers have been sacked by the Nigeria Bottling Company, NBC, franchise owners of Coca-Cola Company in Nigeria, Enugu production plant at 9th mile corner in Udi local government area of Enugu state. The workers are now jobless. The company has operated for 44 years, having been established in 1975.
To this end , the Enugu plant has been shut down and its operations relocated to Benin, Edo state by the management of the company. The company has not been able to give any reason for their action as all efforts to get them speak proved abortive.
The company is now a ghost of itself as casual workers and loaders were still in shock as at press time over the sudden closure of the Enugu plant.
When our team visited the Coca Cola production plant in Enugu, it was deserted as only about 12 staff were seen entering and going out of the compound for 4 hours of observation by our team.
When we requested to see any of the management staff or the Corporate Affairs Department but none was available even the Chief Security was not available and the few staff who had no authority to speak to us were filled with lamentations.
They described the action of their management as wicked and inhuman for sacking them without any notice, insisting that hundreds of families have been endangered by that singular action of management of Coca Cola Nigeria, Enugu production plant.
But, confirming the sack of workers at the Enugu Bottling Company, the President General of Ifeke community, Mr Samuel Uche Nwude said the action of Coca Cola was disgusting as the community visited the company two times to ascertain if they were relocating as rumoured but the management denied any such news only to shut down the company suddenly without justification.
Nwude said Coca cola has breached the agreement they entered with the community in 1973 when they leased the land for 99 years at no cost but on trust to Coca Cola. He said Coca Cola has only stayed 49 years.
Ifeke community leader said: ‘’We heard that Coca Cola was relocating to Benin in October 2018. We went to meet with the management. We asked them but they denied it. They said they were doing overhauling.
‘’We went back on November but they denied it again only to summon us for a meeting shortly after at Golden Royale Hotel to announce to us that they want us to know officially that they were leaving 9th mile , Udi, Enugu state. That they would bring to us the largest and best logistics center in the East but we rejected it. We only demanded one thing. If they want to continue to have that land they should bring to us a line of their production, say the Eva water production line and close all other places it is produced. It should only be produced in Enugu.
‘’We contacted our lawyer and after that meeting we told them that it was not part of the lease agreement they had with us. That if they want to leave, they should leave for us to discuss business with another company because Hero Company is coming for our land.
‘’ we categorically rejected logistics center, we want a line of their production ….Eva water production line of Coca Cola. Why would Kano reject their relocation plans but they came here and relocated without a hiss and the Enugu state government we petitioned several times did nothing.
‘’We are in pains. There are no tenants again in our community. Businesses have shut down. The free water they were giving us has stopped. Corporate Social Responsibility has vanished.
‘’We set up a committee since December 4th Coco Cola left our land till now nothing has happened. But we have decided, if Coca Cola wants to leave our land but stopping its production land, they should do that but return our land to us or bring a production line to Enugu. If it is Eva water, they should close all other plants producing Eva and produce only in 9th mile plant because we have the best water. If not we shall give our land to other companies seeking for a land.
‘’We wrote Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi but he did nothing. The commissioner for Commerce and Industry , Hon Sam Ogbu Nwobodo did nothing too. Coca Cola with impunity took over our land even when they had gone and nobody is speaking for us, not the Governor, not the commissioner , not the chairman of council area but in Kano , the people said they wont allow it and the production line remained till date. So why us? Why Enugu?
We wrote Coca Cola, copied our Governor , but he abandoned us. We copied the Commerce Commissioner, the police and the local government chairman of Udi, and nobody did anything. Now Coca Cola left without our knowledge and still occupy our land.
‘’I am the person holding my people from taking over possession of our land. Coca Cola should do the needful by bringing one line here say Eva water , Pellets or pack and go for us to bring another company.
‘’We don’t want depot in Enugu. We want a production line like Eva water since they shut down Coca Cola production line. If not, they should pack and go.
Confirming the stories about increased crime rate and killing of about 30 persons since Coca Cola was shut down, Chief Nwude said:‘’ People have been shot in the past one month. A pregnant hotelier was shot the other day inside her office. Another was shot near the pass and another near tyre business and we suspect it was those retrenched that were doing this.
‘’Do you know that a group are being accused of trying to collect a bribe of over N5Million to ensure our community is divided on our stand on this issue but I assure you, they would fail’’, he concluded.
Reacting when contacted, the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry Enugu state, Hon Ogbu Nwobodo queried our reporter to know if the government has any right to prevail on any private company on how to operate its businesses. He insisted that Coca Cola has right to decide to change their line of business and owes no one any explanation.
‘’Is Coca Cola a government company? What would government say to a public company that is quoted in the stock market? No government has a right to stop Coca Cola from relocating and insisted that the duty of Enugu state is to support them in any line they so desire for better operation.
Nwobodo who turned to interview our man on the reactions of Coca Cola when they were contacted, however claimed that the Ugwuanyi led government is actively engaging Coca Cola to know how they can be assisted more. He claimed as well that he knows about company’s existence and operations faulting the claims that Kano government never prevailed on Coca Cola to stop relocating of Kano Bottling company.
He was not worried on the large number of people who lost their jobs but however requested for a detailed interview on the issue at stake. He even said Coca cola has not left Enugu but was not assertive on the new company they would bring to Enugu.Though , Igwe J C Okolo of Ameke Ngwo was not at his palace when we visited, he asked another community leader from Umuezeani Ameke, Ngwo , Ozo Basil Alor to speak to us. He affirmed that their own part of Ngwo is hosting Akwa Rapha table water and 7up Bottling company but they are disgusted on what Coca Cola did to its host community.
He wondered why Coca Cola should shut down a company where its cost in water treatment is zero kobo and relocate to where it’s cost on water treatment is outrageous, wondering what kind of Business sense that was. He described the situation between Coca Cola and its host communities as a sad commentary. He said they are completely in support of complete relocation and handover of the land by Coca Cola if that is what they wanted as they would not continue to hold the land at ransom yet no production line as entered in their agreement 49 years ago when it took lease for 99 years.
He claimed that the Yoruba people that filled the board of Coca Cola perfected the shut down in order to deny Enugu benefits of the factory location. He wondered why the Coca Cola that requested for land for expansion only last year , should come and shut down operations if not Yoruba sabotage against Ndigbo as they did to Hero Beer company Intafact Breweries Onitsha situated in the heart of Igbo land at Onitsha which now operates a skeletal services in its original base.
He recalled that St Jude’s Catholic Church gave up its land for expansion of Coca Cola provided another worship place is provided for them which was agreed before sudden pull out from Enugu unannounced. He reminded that Enugu was the 3rd in Nigeria after Lagos and Ibadan.
At the palace of 105 years old traditional ruler of Ngwo, Igwe IOU Ayalogu , he was bitter over the shut down even though he never heard anything like that. He said it was a humiliating decision. He recalled that same experience happened to Coal Business in Enugu which is a bad omen.
A source at the security post, said some workers were paid compensation and others transferred to plants, such as Benin, Lagos and other places where Coca-Cola has their production plants in Nigeria.
Investigations revealed that hundreds of casual workers making a minimum of N4,000 daily from loading and offloading sugar. Chukwu Johnson confirmed some workers were paid entitlements.
By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu