THE federal government has set up a Panel of Inquiry to carry out a detailed investigation of the accident that led to death of Richard Gbadebo, the 21-year-old student of the University of Ibadan on July 28, 2020 while on duty in the premises of his employers, Expand Global Industries Ltd (Henkel), a soap-making factory in Ibadan, Oyo State.

This was revealed in a letter from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to human rights lawyer and Managing Partner of Abope Chambers, Femi Aborisade, who had in August written to the Minister of Labour on behalf of the late Richard’s family, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), Oyo State Chapter, as well as International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network.

In the letter with reference number ML.OSH/03/27/1/36, dated 5th October, 2020 and signed by Mrs Lauretta Nneka Adogu, Director, Occupational Safety and Health, on behalf of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, the Ministry stated that following ILAW and the family’s request for a commission of inquiry and a subsequent investigation of the accident by the ministry’s Occupational Safety and Health Department, a panel of inquiry to investigate the fatal accident was approved and set up by the Minister of Labour and Employment.

In the letter, which was sighted by National Record, entitled: “Factories Act, Cap F1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 – Expand Global Industries Ltd Ibadan (Henkel): Re: Accident Investigation Into the Death of Late Richard Gbadebo in the Course of Working in the Premises of Expand Global Industries Ltd (Henkel), Ibadan, Oyo State,” Dr Ngige, among other things, stated: “Your letter dated 24th August, 2020 refers, please.

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“Sequel to your request for a commission of inquiry into the death of Late Richard Gbadebo, in a fatal accident that occurred at the above named factory premises on 28th July, 2020, and subsequent investigation of the accident by Occupational Safety and Health Department of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment Ibadan, a Panel of Inquiry to investigate into the fatality has been approved and set up by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment.

“Please, be informed that sequel to the directives of the Honourable Minister, more vigorous and robust investigation into the death of the victim will be carried out on the factory premises by the Panel of Inquiry. The date of the visit of the panel members will be communicated in due course.”

Flashback

It will be recalled that Aborisade had, on behalf of the deceased’s family, ASCAB and ILAW, demanded for the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry into the death Richard who died as a result of an accident while working in an Ibadan-based soap-making factory.

Aborisade, in the letter addressed to both the Oyo State Governor and the Minister of Labour and Employment, stated that the call for a Commission of Inquiry was predicated on Article 11(d) of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 155 of 1981 on Occupational Health and Safety and Sections 33 to 36 of the Trade Disputes Act.

In the letter entitled; “An Open Call for a Commission of Inquiry Into the Death of Richard Gbadebo in the Course of Working in the Premises of Henkel Nigeria Limited and Expand Global Industries Limited;” Aborisade noted that Article 11(d) of Convention No. 155 of 1981 is clear on the required steps to be taken in relation to occupational accidents, occupational diseases or any other injuries to health.

Aborisade had argued that: “Article 11(d) of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 155 of 1981 on Occupational Health and Safety provides that the competent authority or authorities shall ensure the holding of inquiries, “where cases of occupational accidents, occupational diseases or any other injuries to health which arise in the course of or in connection with work appear to reflect situations which are serious.”

“By virtue of Section 254C(1)(h) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, all international standards relating to labour, employment, matters arising from workplace, including health and safety, and so on, are deemed to be incorporated into the Constitution and they enjoy constitutional flavour. As ILO’s Convention No. 155 of 1981 on Occupational Health and Safety is an international standard, it is deemed enforceable.

“In particular, by the provisions of Convention No. 155 of 1981 on Occupational Health and Safety, the aim of a public inquiry is with a view to “identifying their causes and establishing preventive measures”.

“By the provisions of Sections 33 to 36 of the Trade Disputes Act (TDA), the Minister of Labour is empowered to appoint Board of Inquiry to investigate “industrial conditions” or “any other matter” of interest.”

The Commission of Inquiry, Aborisade stated, should include representatives of organised labour, including the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLAMPE), the Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association (CANMPSSA), occupational health and safety professional bodies, student union of the University of Ibadan, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and the Nigeria Bar Association, among others.

“The findings made through the public inquiry may be useful in determining the real challenge posed by the state of working environment in HENKEL NIGERIA LIMITED AND EXPAND GLOBAL INDUSTRIES LIMITED in order to safeguard the welfare, safety and security of workers.

“We therefore call on the Oyo State Government to work collaboratively with relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government to conduct a public inquiry into the gruesome death of Richard Gbadebo. HENKEL NIGERIA LIMITED AND EXPAND GLOBAL INDUSTRIES LIMITED should be made to produce the CCTV footage and/or grant Our Clients’ experts access to the CCTV installed in the companies’ premises for expert examination.

“As far as Our Clients are concerned, they are determined to work in partnership with governmental authorities and use the death of Richard Gbadebo to ensure that never again shall any life be lost due to unsafe work environment, not only in Oyo State but indeed in the whole of Nigeria,” Aborisade asserted.

He noted that up to now, “apart from the post mortem report which definitively links the death to the machine he was operating, very little is known about the circumstances leading to the death of Richard Gbadebo. He also revealed that there has not been any official explanation to the family as to the circumstances leading to the death of the young undergraduate.

“It was only in the course of taking the corpse to Teju Hospital that the father had an opportunity to see the corpse of his son for the 1st time since about 7.30am he had arrived the companies’ premises. Indeed, the agents of the two companies initially resisted the father entering the ambulance…

“We have the brief of Our Clients to invite the Oyo State Government to carry out a public inquiry to factually establish the circumstances surrounding the death of Richard Gbadebo. According to the family, Richard was the only son in the family and a 300-level student in the Department of European Studies, University of Ibadan. The urge to assist the family finances pushed him to accept to work to earn some income during the COVID-19 lockdowns involving stay at home of students.

“The Alliance On Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), Oyo State Chapter and the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) represent the interest of the public and the international community of pro-labour lawyers in ensuring justice for the deceased Richard Gbadebo…

“Unless the Oyo State Government ensures justice for Richard Gbadebo, employers of labour may not take seriously the life, safety and health of workers by providing the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and fencing of every dangerous part of any machinery.

“It is the concern of our clients that justice for Richard Gbadebo lies in establishing the circumstances leading to his death, prosecuting those who are deemed to have killed him by failure of duty of care, in order to serve as deterrence for future reoccurrence in Oyo State as well as in the country as a whole,” Aborisade further argued.

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