Gender discrimination: NECA DG forces pregnant woman to resign

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Timothy Olawale
Timothy Olawale

By Anayo Ezugwu

THE Nigerian government has a law against gender discrimination but the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, appears bent on flouting the law. Timothy Olawale, director-general, NECA, who appears to dislike working with pregnant women is forcing Victoria Akanji, a NECA employee to resign her appointment.

His latest action followed his purported effort at addressing the injustice meted out to Akanji who was sacked on January 27, after her three-month maternity leave was approved by Olawale. The sacking and subsequent forced resignation of Akanji by Olawale is coming at a time when Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, approved six months of maternity leave for nursing mothers in the state public service.

Before her sack letter was sent to her, Akanji had been above average employee of NECA.  Her travails began two weeks after she commenced her maternity leave which was duly approved by the NECA director-general.

Realnews gathered that the shock of her dismissal triggered Akanji’s high blood pressure and subsequently the baby in her womb which weighed 3kg dropped to 2kg within a week of receiving the sack letter.

Realnews had, in its story entitled: “NECA’s Discrimination against Pregnant Woman,” on Wednesday, February 5, first reported the inhuman treatment meted out to her. Following the report, Olawale quickly called Akanji and her family for reconciliation with the help of one Pastor Noruwa who mediated on her behalf. During the negotiation, NECA proposed to withdraw its termination letter and allow Akanji to resign. Unlike when her appointment was terminated, NECA also offered to pay her all the terminal benefits due to her provided she retracts the news report published by Realnews and also tender apologies for what Olawale described as “offensive publication”.

NECA, in a memo dated February 10, 2020, and signed by Olawale, said: “Enclosed is a cheque for her benefit as detailed above, upon the receipt of a letter of resignation and return of the earlier letter served, a substitution of correspondences would be made. She should call the Admin Officer for arrangements made for maternity medicals, based on your plea, in place of the HMO. We request a letter of retraction and apology for the offensive publication in Realnews (an online media).”

Realnews gathered that Akanji may be forced to tender her resignation letter to NECA  just to make sure the letter of termination was withdrawn so as not to ruin her chances of getting another employment in future. Realnews also gathered that there is pressure on Akanji to appreciate the pastor who brokered the peace deal leading to her entitlements being paid by NECA.

Realnews reports that some Nigerians and gender activists are not happy with the way NECA, as an umbrella association of employers in Nigeria, handled the case of Akanji, the pregnant woman, who performed her duty very well before going on approved maternity leave. They feel that if NECA is allowed to get away with this malfeasance, other employers in the country will cash in on it to weed out women for performing their nature-given role of procreation which does not hinder their performance in the job.

Monday Ubani, former second vice president, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, said NECA has no right to sack an employee while he/she is on approved leave. According to him, if employee resigns without NECA compensating her for the trauma she passed through, it will count against her and she can’t claim anything again.

“She can pursue legal action against them but my problem with legal action is that our judicial system takes so much time to get justice. If not she has a very good case in court. They have no right to do what they have done. But it depends on whether she is ready to wait for justice to be served. If she can wait and damn the consequences, she has a very good case,” he said.

Realnews had in its earlier report stated how Akanji was dismissed by NECA on the pretence of unsatisfactory performance. In the report, she explained how her ordeal started when she applied for her three months of maternity leave, which the organisation approved on January 14. The approved letter made available to Realnews indicated that she should proceed on the maternity leave on January 14, and resume back on April 7. The approved letter was signed by Adebola Bankole, personal assistant to the director-general of NECA.

In line with the association’s lay down procedures, on January 20, Akanji handed over to Kemi Ogundipe to work in her absence. In the internal memo to Ogundipe, Akanji said: “I have proceeded on a 12-week leave from Thursday, 14th January 7, to April 2020. In my absence, you will both be functioning as the pool secretary, while also performing your core responsibilities as instructed.”

But to the greatest surprise of Akanji and her family, on January 27, two weeks after commencing her maternity leave, she was sacked by NECA. The association alleged that her unsatisfactory performance led to the termination of her appointment. The termination letter signed by Olawale stated: “We wish to inform you that your services will no longer be required with effect from 31st January, 2020.

“This is due to unsatisfactory performance on the job. In line with the organizations terms and conditions of service, kindly hand overall association’s documents and possession by 31st January, 2020. Please note that your January salary has been paid into your account and a cheque in lieu of notice is also ready for pick up at the account office upon post handing over clearance.”

Since receiving the termination of the appointment letter, Akanji as an expectant mother has suffered traumatic and psychological stress.  She is presently being attended and observed by her physicians because the letter almost led to threatened abortion and adversely affected her pregnancy.

But when contacted on Wednesday, February 5, Olawale said if she is satisfied with the outcome of the association’s disciplinary measures, she is at liberty to go to the industrial court. “How did you come about the story? These are routine disciplinary issues and I wonder why it has become a subject of the media.

“That is why I wanted to know how you come about it. We hire, we discipline, we disengage and there is nothing about it. It is just a routine that happens in the cause of work. I’m just curious why you are interested in this particular one. There are lay down procedures in every organization, if she is not happy with the situation report, she should exploit other lay down procedures.

“And the laydown procedure is to go to an industrial court. So there are internal mechanisms which she can avail herself of and I’m not aware she has done that. And there are other external mechanisms and since she has commissioned you to be her spokesperson, you should help her to go through all the mechanisms,” he said.

Realnews reports that NECA is the umbrella organization of employers in the organised private sector of Nigeria. It was formed in 1957 to provide the forum for the government to consult with private sector employers on socio-economic and labour policy issues. NECA provides a platform for private-sector employers to interact with the government, labour, communities and other relevant institutions in and outside Nigeria for the purpose of promoting harmonious business environment that will engender productivity and prosperity for the benefit of all.

– Feb. 17, 2020 @ 14:39 GMT |

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