After spending nearly three months locked in a rice-processing factory, forced to work throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, over 100 people were freed from the facility by Nigerian police on Monday, June 22. The workers had been barred from leaving the mill since the end of March, and were promised an extra $13 each month on top of their regular $72 monthly salary.
Although police have reported that just 126 people were rescued from the plant on Monday, workers told BBC News there were more than 300 people being held against their will. Not only were the men forced to work long hours, but they say they were also given little food.
One of the freed workers spoke to BBC News, saying, “We were only allowed to rest for a short time, no prayers were aloud, no family visits.” Workers were confined to the mill located in Kano, a city in the northern region of Nigeria.
Police only learned of the situation after one of the workers made contact with the Global Human Rights Network. A representative of the organization described the working conditions at the plant as unfit for animals. After obtaining court approval, officers surrounded the factory and rescued the workers. One man alleged he hadn’t set foot outside since March 23.
Police arrested several managers at the Indian-owned mill. The Indian nationals led the workers to believe they would be confined to the premises for just a few days, then threatened to fire them if they tried to leave. It has been reported that the facility was locked down to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Workers also say the company asked them to double their hours amid coronavirus shutdowns in February, to stockpile resources.
Although reports circulated that the plant was shut down after the raid, Hassan Sufi, a factory official, told a local outlet that claims alleging the factory was closed are false, saying, “Our company was never shut down even after the police invaded our premises and evacuated some staff on Monday.” According to Sufi, workers even stayed to work through on Monday night after the raid. He added that since then, production has continued “as normal.”
Some workers have claimed that they were denied entry to the plant upon their return on Wednesday, and that only a few men were allowed inside to resume working. The Global Human Rights Network is currently working to make sure all workers are fairly compensated for their long hours spent confined to the factory.