Richard Gbadebo’s Death and a Look at Casualization of Workers in Oyo State

By: Deji Yesufu

On the 27th of July, 2020, Richard Gbadebo left his home in Ibadan, where he resides with his parents and headed to work, on an evening shift, at the Henkel Nigerian Limited, makers of WAW detergent. Richard was operating one of the heavy duty industrial machines used for manufacturing the product, when he slipped and fell into the machine. It was reported that no one was around to rescue him and it was not until fellow workers began to see blood coming out of the machine, where normally water should come out, did they suspect that someone may have fallen into the machine. By the time they got Richard out, he was dead. Richard Gbadebo was twenty one years old. He was a 300 level student at the University of Ibadan where he was studying European Languages. He was specializing in German. He was the only son of his parent. Richard had taken up the job as a casual worker at the company to earn some money and keep himself busy pending resumption at school, following the forced shut-down of educational institutions in the country in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report on Richard’s death by Vanguard news online, quoting an anonymous person, stated as follows:

“Over the years, operators and owners of industries, within Oluyole Industrial Estate axis, had gained infamy and considerable notoriety as terrible employers. Its industries tagged as unsafe places to work, even as some Ibadan residents (have) labelled Oluyole industries simply as spectacles of companies who operate reckless, tyrannical and repressive labor laws by its inhumane foreign owners. The public perception of Oluyole Industries in Ibadan is summarized as a slave camp with repressive labor laws, supervised by evil taskmasters…”

As I read those words by this anonymous person, I realized that I may also have inadvertently partaken in the death of Richard Gbadebo by keeping quiet on a matter that I knew about but chose to keep quiet on. I hope that I can find some redemption by making what I know about this evil axis of Oluyole employers to the public. And I pray that this information will forestall future death in our great city of Ibadan.

A few months ago a young man by the name of Peter Shotola got in touch with me and told me that he works in one of the biggest companies at Oluyole as a casual worker. He had been working there for close to two years. Lately, he stated, he had begun to have serious health issues. He said that he believes that this was not unconnected with the many hours of work that he and his colleagues had to endure at his place of work. Before the COVID-19 matter began, the company where he worked had operated three shifts of 8 hours each for workers. But with the coming of COVID, this had been reduced to two shifts of 12 hours each. Peter explained that he and his colleagues will stand on their feet for 12 hours packing and packaging biscuits – they were allowed only 30 minutes break. After a while, the 28 year old strong young man began to experience serious health challenges. He said when he got home, his whole body will be aching and swollen over. He told me that it was not unusual to have people drop and faint in the middle of work at this company. He said such persons would be taken to the company’s clinic and given paracetamol and possibly given an off for that day. But if the fainting spell continues, such a person would be summarily sacked – since casual staffs had no entitlement. They were not even legal workers at the company because they were not given letters of employment. They did all these under the close oversight of their supervisors who often operated as evil taskmasters and ensured that no one sat down while working.

When I got hold of this story, I felt it was news worthy but I decided to carry out a little more investigation on this company. My findings were not pretty. I compiled the report and I shared them with three lawyer friends. All of them said that while the story was very catchy, it also contained statements in them that were libelous. They explained that except I had the funds and strength for a long legal battle with one of the biggest companies in Oyo State, it was better I let the matter die off.

During my investigations, I met with a man called Abbey Trotsky. He is the Oyo State coordinator for Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) – a socialist group that advocates for good welfare among workers in Oyo State. This group focuses more on getting good working regimen for workers in the private sector in Oyo State. When I met up with Comrade Abbey at his office, I came face to face with the reality of what private sector workers are enduring in Oyo State. Since most private companies do not permit unions on their campus, CDWR is the body that fights for these workers’ rights. It was CDWR that originally won better working conditions for workers at that company Peter worked for in Oluyole. Prior to their intervention, workers worked for 12 hours straight without break. After CDWR had engaged the management, they reduced their working hours to 8 hours and allowed the workers have half an hour break. CDWR also got improved wages for these workers.

Comrade Abbey however explained to me that all of these did not come on a platter of gold. He said that CDWR began the struggle by carrying out sustained demonstrations in front of the offices of this company in Oluyole. He said he was arrested and slammed in detention. But he and his fellow comrade were not deterred. Eventually the management of the company gave in and reached a middle line with them. Unfortunately, with the coming of COVID, some of the improved working conditions had been removed by the company – leading to Peter’s health challenge and my involvement in this matter.

Today, 8th August, 2020, Richard Gbadebo’s sister was on Edmund Obilo’s radio program where she relayed some of the things that happened that might have occasioned her brother’s death. First, she explained that Richard was employed as a “packer” of the products. Subsequently, she said, he was introduced to working the heavy machinery for producing the product. On the day Richard had the accident, it was reported that at least four persons should have been working with that machine. This is besides a supervisor that was supposed to be on site. That day, only Richard was there. It is possible that due to long hours of work, and being in the dead of the night, the young man may have succumb to weariness and drop into the machine and perished. If other workers were on ground at the time, he could have been quickly rescued. But alas, someone employed as a casual worker to pack products ended up working as an engineer on the machine. Edmund Obilo’s guests explained that Richard’s fellow workers, that were supposed to be with him that day, have been arrested by the police. The company, Henkel Nigerian Limited, owned by foreigners, had been shut down by the Oyo State government.

Richard Gbadebo was buried this past Wednesday and we are all left to rue the fact that we could have done something to perhaps prevent his death. There is the writer, yours truly, who had some facts on the evil casualization of workers in a company in Oluyole but who would not publish the story for fear of legal battles. There is a State government, who is aware of this evil casualization of Oyo State residents but who would not do anything about it until some Richard perish – then they will begin to run around shutting down companies. Because I knew I did not have the legal powers to challenge this company, I sent my report to one of Seyi Makinde’s senior special assistant. The young man explained that he would do his best to get the report to his boss. Whether he did or not, I do not know. There is also a Nigerian government that has allowed corruption to ravage the whole fabric of our national life such that the monies that are meant to circulate within the Nigerian State are exported to foreign countries, while Nigerian youths walk the streets doing nothing and then succumbing to situations where they are used as casual workers.

The question we should all ask is this: how do we prevent another Richard Gbadebo death in Nigeria? The answer will begin with what every one of us do with the information we have at hand on this matter. When I shared my report with a friend, he explained that what people in more developed climes do is to arm string multinationals and companies to obey the wishes of the masses by simply not buying their products. For now, I cannot reveal the name of the company that I investigated but the truth is that many other companies like these one, owned by foreigners, continue to use Nigerians like slaves and this must stop. Casualization of Nigerian youths must stop! Government must lead by example by outlawing all the casual staffs that they have on their payroll and only employ the number they can adequately cater for. Then government must compel all companies in the country to ensure that every person working for them has legal working status with them and enjoy the benefits of work there.

As we pay attention to these details, we are likely to have less of these sorts of death on our hands.

Posted by Deji Yesufu


  1. Great Write up. It’s unfortunate that rather than address these issues, our government officials collects monies from these people and allow the citizens to be maltreated. Most of the foreign owners of this company’s cannot try this were they are from.
    You also look at a government that cannot provide employment for its youths and is not able to attract genuine foreign investors because of corruption and the question is “when will this end”.


  2. Thanks Jummai for your comment. You are very right.


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