There was outrage on Tuesday over the alleged dehumanisation of four employees of the Signatious Hotel, Warri, Delta State, by the management.
The Chairman of the hotel and former Minister of State for Education, Mr Kenneth Gbagi, was alleged to have ordered that the workers – three women and a man – be stripped naked.
Their nudes were filmed and the snapshots sent online.
Activists and social media users condemned the act and urged the state Commissioner of Police, Hafiz Inuwa, to investigate the incident and arrest all those complicit.
Some right groups also took to the streets of Asaba to protest the dehumanisation of the hotel workers, identified as Gloria Oguzie, Victor Ephraim, Rosslyn Okiemute and Precious Achibong.
The activists, who carried placards with different inscriptions, such as, ‘Human rights under attack in Delta State’, and ‘We say no to bad justice in Nigeria,’ called on the federal and state governments and lawyers to assist the victims to get justice.
The leader of the protesters and Director, Young Nigerian Right Organisation, Victor Ojei, alleged that the hotel owner ordered the arrest of the workers over N5,000.
He claimed that the ladies were stripped naked in the presence of the police, who were called in to take them into custody.
He said, “Three females and one man were held hostage, stripped naked in the hotel room, photographed and put on video camera by the management of the hotel.
“Last week Friday, the management of the hotel stripped the ladies naked, filmed them in the presence of the police and at gunpoint. Cash was also withdrawn from the victims’ accounts through their ATM cards, before the police bundled them into a waiting van.
“The police, who should protect the citizens, connived with the hotel management and dehumanised them. Let’s assume that they stole the money, there are channels to address such matters.”
Also, a lawyer, Collins Chidiebere, said human rights organisations could no longer keep quiet over abuses in the state.
Chidiebere stated, “Human rights are supposed to be respected; those victims were kidnapped, held hostage, stripped naked for a period of four days, because of a mere allegation of stealing.
“There is a court of competent jurisdiction that should look into the matter and confirm whether these persons are innocent or guilty of the allegation. No one should take the law into their own hands.”
Another lawyer, Omemiroro Ogedegbe, told PUNCH Metro that a petition would be sent to the state Commissioner of Police over the matter.
He said, “The workers were arrested on Friday. By Sunday, we got information that they were not granted bail, because of their economic conditions. We intervened and asked the Divisional Police Officer to charge them.
“It was after their bail that they narrated their ordeal. They said Gbagi ordered that they should be stripped naked and videoed.”
The Director, Human Resources, Signatious Hotel, Egba Ederoghene, in a statement, said the allegations were meant to tarnish the reputation of Gbagi.
The statement was titled, ‘The futile attempt of political detractors to blackmail Gbagi’.
Ederoghene said, “We wish to categorically state that at no time did Gbagi subject any staff of the hotel to such humiliation, as he is presently bereaved and occupied with preparing for the funeral of his sister, who passed away recently.
“The management also wishes to use this opportunity to inform the public that the staff members in the pictures are part of a malicious conspiracy by some political detractors to bring Gbagi’s character to disrepute. This is not the first time an attempt has been made to smear the character of our chairman for whatever reason.
“In the absence of any dirt to nail Gbagi’s pristine reputation, they have descended to mudslinging by concocting fictitious stories to stir emotions and gain public attention.
“However, what those behind the recent blackmail against Gbagi do not realise is that the employees, whom they handpicked for their dirty and poorly executed job, were already under investigation by the management for conniving to steal huge sums of money from the hotel, some of which have been recovered. Confessional statements to this effect can be obtained from the Ebrumede Police Station.”
Ederoghene said the lawyers and activists speaking for the victims were sponsored “so as to serve the political interest of their paymasters.”
The former minister, in his personal reaction, expressed shock at the dehumanisation of the workers and promised to look into it.
While addressing journalists on Tuesday, he denied any involvement in the matter.
“I have handed over the running of the hotel to a management team,” he added.
He, however, accused his political enemies of taking advantage of the incident to rubbish his ambition ahead of the 2023 governorship race in the state.
Two of the affected workers, who were contacted by PUNCH Metro, declined comments.
Instead, they referred our correspondents to their lawyers.
Our correspondents gathered that they were arraigned on five counts of stealing various sums from the hotel, including N156,000; N111,000; N5,000 and N2,000, and the magistrate admitted them to bail in liberal terms.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Onome Onovwakpoyeya, said she was not aware that the workers were stripped naked.