GUEST REPORT: How Ghosts From Past Haunt Umo Eno's Governorship Ambition
An investigation has revealed that Umo Eno, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial hopeful and hospitality magnate, is haunted by documented past misdeeds and disputes with workers.
Umo Eno is a former Akwa Ibom State commissioner of lands and chairman of Royalty Group, a major hospitality and service company in Nigeria.
While his supporters and media aides portray him as a labor-friendly and kind-hearted man, many of his former employees and even current employees have made very damaging allegations against him.
A former worker at one of Mr. Eno's hospitality outlets, who gave his name simply as Sunday, alleged that he is not only cruel and disrespectful, but also operates a "slave camp."
“When people say Umo Eno runs companies and employs hundreds, I laugh because they don’t know the man at all. I can tell you that Umo Eno runs slave camps where labour laws and conventions are not respected,” Mr. Sunday told our correspondent.
He insisted that most serving staff in the politicians' companies are so intimidated that they cannot speak openly about the everyday injustices and cruelty they face.
Continuing, Mr. Sunday said, “Many staff are so afraid and won’t open to you about what they are going through. He doesn’t subscribe to any labour law in any of his companies and doesn’t allow staff to join labour unions.
“He stopped staff from eating at his hotels and on top of that if a staff goes outside to buy something like garri and comes back to sip and he catches the person, he deducts N4,000 from the person’s salary on the allegation that he stole the garri from the company.
“He doesn’t treat staff like human beings. He treats them like animals except you are related to him in some ways. Some staff will work at Royalty Eket from 8am and close by 11pm or even 3.am when there are major events.
“A shift is supposed to last for eight hours but you see people at his hotels working for more than 12 hours and not even a kobo is paid as overtime.
“When there is a major function at the hotel and a staff who resumed at 8am goes home at about 3am the next day, he or she will be still be expected to report to work at 8am.
“If the person sleeps off on getting home and reports to work a few minutes past 8.am, two days salary will be taken from him or her. No mercy is shown no matter how long the person worked the previous day.”
Another former employee, Bassey, said he began working at Royalty Catering in 2006 after Mr. Eno was awarded a contract to serve in an ExxonMobil offshore facility.
Mr. Bassey maintained that Mr. Eno violated every applicable regulation and reneged on many work obligations over the eleven-year contract.
“I started working for Umo Eno in 2006. It was a Lebanese firm, Courdeau Catering Nigeria Limited that worked on the platform before ExxonMobil that owned it awarded the service contract to Royalty Catering Limited before it was changed to Royalty Group.
“We worked on that offshore platform for four years and there was no promotion and no salary increment even when we knew ExxonMobil paid him annually for increment on staff salary and allowances. Umo Eno pocketed everything and never implemented any salary increment or promotion.
“After every attempt at persuasion failed, the staff decided to go on strike. He immediately came around begging and making promises. You know he is good at sweet talking and is very sneaky.
“That is why we pity Udom because he doesn’t know the person he is dealing with. The man is a green snake in a green grass. If by any stroke of ill luck, he becomes governor, he will deal with Udom Emmanuel. He doesn’t keep to terms of agreement.
“He begged the staff and promised to implement a salary increase and we returned to work. It was in that 2010 he implemented a paltry salary increment and that was the end.”
In a verified notice of disgorgement obtained from one of the staff, it is clearly indicated that the disengaged staff are entitled to terminal benefits.
“We are currently working with ExxonMobil on the terminal benefits as contained in the contract and shall communicate same to you individually in your end of contract letter,” a part of the document read.
But no none of the former staff who spoke to this newspaper said they have been paid terminal benefits by Mr. Eno or ExxonMobil Plc.
A former employee who asked not to be identified for his own safety, said Mr. Eno refused to apply the new minimum wage even after ExxonMobil changed the service contract to accommodate it in 2011.
He added that when a delegation of staff met him and requested that he implement the new minimum wage because it was widely known that ExxonMobil had integrated the new wage into the contract, Mr. Eno refused.
“Instead of implementing the new minimum wage which we knew ExxonMobil had paid him, he blocked the access of those who spearheaded the protest to offshore facilities and later sacked them.
“We the crisis affected service delivery, Mobil steeped in, negotiated with him, and paid him so he could implement the new wage policy.
“Umo Eno did not pay anyone anything extra till the contract ended in 2017. Ask those who worked with him at the time, and they will tell you everything.
“When we started the project, he had promised to pay us terminal and other benefits. But from 2017 till today, he hasn’t paid us anything, but we knew ExxonMobil paid him for all the benefits he withheld,” the source said.
When ExxonMobil's offshore contract expired in 2017 and Mr. Eno refused to pay terminal benefits, he was said to have secured a multimillion-dollar service contract at the Quo Iboe Terminal (QIT), Ibeno in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta state of Akwa Ibom.
He is said to have recruited members of his church and employees of SJ Abed, an oil service company that was unable to deploy all its staff to its offshore operations at the time, to perform the task.
The over 100 employees who worked on the two-year contract were paid an average monthly salary of between N20,000 and N30,000, except for the three camp managers.
When the job ended in 2019, just like always, none of the staff was paid a terminal benefit even when it was part of the contract's terms.
As usual, he reneged on many of the promises. Over 100 staff who were deployed for the contract only got their monthly salaries and nothing more even when ExxonMobil had provided many allowances including payment at the end of every contract.
A staff who had worked on the project and gave his name as Emmanuel said Mr. Eno paid the least among the oil-servicing companies working with ExxonMobil at the time.
“Don’t mind those who are hyping him. None of them has worked with him. When I see people saying all the nice things about Umo Eno I laugh because I know that there’s no one who worked with us offshore who will tell you the man is a good person.
“Like those of us who worked at the POP offshore platform will tell you Umo Eno doesn’t respect his workers. He talks down on people and will always remind you about how he helped you when you had nothing and that except for his benevolence, you won’t amount to anything.
“He believes that every staff working with him is going to steal from him and so he treats everyone as a suspect. You can imagine working under someone like that. If he finds you dressing so well always, he will suspect you have been stealing from the company and will find a way to frustrate you.
“If you work with Umo Eno and you buy a car or organise a big party, he will pretend as if there’s nothing wrong and will smile with you.
“The next thing an external auditor will come to audit your office apparently to know where you got the money to buy the car or do the party. If the audit is completed and they can’t find a way to indict you, they will remove you from the office and send you to another position that will render you utterly useless.
“One of our colleagues at the POP offshore platform, Itauma Udoeyo, had done his marriage blessing and child dedication. Many of our colleagues attended the ceremony.
“Weeks after he returned to work, he was sent on indefinite suspension and later his appointment was terminated. Itauma never recovered from that experience. He died after some time.
“It was so bad that when a staff died in service, the deceased family will have to go through hell before Umo Eno will pay them what is due to them. ExxonMobil will always pay when a staff dies during the contract, but Umo Eno will find ways to cut corners to keep a part of the money for himself. He will pay peanut after family members would have visited and even keep vigil in his office.”
Asked whether tithe was ever taken from their salary while working on the with the former commissioner in any of the ExxonMobil contracts, Emmanuel said that never happened.
“At no time was any money taken from our salary for tithe. I am telling you the truth and nothing but the truth. I won’t tell you what did not happen and none of us who worked with him offshore will ever tell you that he took tithe from our salaries.
“If anyone tells you that, then it is a lie. Maybe he did that in his other businesses but not with any of the jobs associated with ExxonMobil,” Emmanuel told our correspondent.
Emmanuel also noted how staff dragged Mr. Eno to the Industrial Court over his failure to uphold contractual agreements and how he frustrated the staff involved in the case.
“I can tell you that all those who were involved in dragging him to the Industrial Aberration Court were sacked by Umo Eno. He stopped us from joining our professional union and even the NLC. He is anti-union.
“The NLC had made several attempts at the time to intervene in our matter, but he shut them out. He has no respect for labour and its leadership,” said Emmanuel.
A staff of Royalty Hotels, who pleaded not to be named for fear of sanctions said that Mr. Umo Eno does not pay salaries regularly to staff of the company.
According to her, a lot of people have left the company because of the failure of management to pay them their full salaries.
“Someone who earns N150, 000 will get between N30, 000 to N50, 000 and those who earn N50, 000 will get N10, 000. He doesn’t explain to anyone why they are short paid.
“If Umo Eno had known that he would one day want to be the governor of Akwa Ibom State, he would have treated people well.
“Don’t mind those who are singing his praise. None of them knows the man very well. Let them ask those who have worked with him offshore and at QIT and even those here. They will tell you he doesn’t respect his workers and he always feel they will steal from him apparently because he is not an honest person himself,” the source said.
She also referred this newspaper to a story on Sahara Reporters, where Mr. Eno was accused of forging court document and using security operatives to arrest workers of the hotel.
The source claimed that everything Sahara Reporters published was true, and that Mr. Eno never imagined he would be held accountable for the way he treated his employees.
ExxonMobil could not be reached for comments on the issues raised by former Royalty Hotels and Recreations Ltd employees who worked on its Offshore platforms and in QIT because calls to the company's verified public affairs lines were not answered.
Concerning labor and land issues
Apart from his personal workers, Mr. Eno has attracted the full fury of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Akwa Ibom State chapter.
The anger became public after Governor Udom Emmanuel had announced him as his preferred successor and he fixed an appointment to meet with leaders of the congress in Uyo.
While the Chairman of the congress, Sunny James, was positively disposed to the visit, some members including top officials of the body did not approve it.
A few days to the planned meeting, the Vice Chairman of the congress, Iboro Ibara, issued a strong-worded letter to congress chairman, indicated that Akwa Ibom workers were averse to the meeting.
In a highly publicised statement letter titled, “On the Planned Consultation of the Leadership of the NLC by Pastor Umo Eno,” Mr. Ibara said the planned visit was an insult to the labour movement.
“As the immediate past commissioner in charge of lands under whose watch the land donated to the labour movement by the Government of Akwa Ibom State by the government of Chief Godswill Akpabio was grabbed and auctioned to private businessmen from Lagos, it is first and foremost an insult to our sensibilities as a group that the same person who could not respond to our protestations over the land grab would so easily cajole us to appear for consultation at a flick of the finger,” a part of the statement reads.
“Mr. Chairman, has it occurred to you that this is the only administration since that of Group Captain John Ebiye that has not thought of a low-cost mass housing project for workers?
“My concern, Sir, is whether the leadership of the NLC should subject the movement to the grave danger of political exposure which accompanies such ‘consultation’ especially as the visitor, at least in the instances we have witnessed so far would ‘land’ with some amount of money as part of the consultation.
“Won’t it amount to a ridiculous tokenism of our struggles if we were to be found to have received such a Greek gift? Would such donation be a ‘thank you for a job well done’ for our not demanding an account of stewardship from the former commissioner or even our seized land?” Mr. Ibara asked.
While the consultation never took place, the state NLC chairman did not react to the letter which trended on social media for many days.
But in a conversation with this newspaper, he said he came into office to see a land said to have been allocated to the congress but admitted he never say any document of the property.
Mr. James also said that admitted that the said land was taken over by the government on the orders of the Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel and said the former lands commissioner, Mr. Eno had no hand in it.
“I came to see a land which was given to my two predecessors. They said the land belongs to the workers. I have not seen the document anyway.
“But it was the former commissioner, late Ime Ekpo who said that the land was given to a private developer on the orders of the governor to develop it for workers.
“I said no because I wasn’t carried along and I wasn’t in the picture. But as we speak now, the government is at a near completion stage to replace the land for us,” Mr. James told this newspaper.
Asked why the congress never spoke up until Umo Eno was to visit the NLC leadership before a letter came out, he responded, “That was the one you saw. You were not following the matter. I wrote a letter to Ime Ekpo twice before he died. So, when you said we didn’t protest I don’t know what you wanted us to do.
“We needed to follow the normal procedure. We had told the governor that the land that was given to us was used for the same purpose, but the only difference is that I was not carried along before they gave it to the developers.
“If you want to follow the logic, the people are building the houses for Akwa Ibom workers. But I said as the labour chairman that they did not follow the procedure by carrying me along enough and therefore, let them take that one and give us another one. We had written to the immediate past commissioner, Mr. Umo Eno,” he explained.
That’s not the Umo Eno we know about
We made several attempts to speak with Mr. Eno including calls to his verified telephone number and messages to his WhatsApp, but he did not pick calls or respond to the messages.
However, his campaign spokesperson, Anietie Usen, in a conversation with this newspaper insisted that his principal is none of the things said about him.
“I think the NLC chairman has said the truth about the state of their land. The matter predates the arrival of Pastor Umo Eno as the commissioner for lands and water resources.
“Based on the information at my disposal, the land was given to them but it took a long time for them to develop the land and government took it over and gave to another organisation to develop the land.
“They came to Umo Eno after he had resigned to contest for the governorship. The leadership of the NLC came to see Umo Eno because he intervened when he came to office and heard the story of how they lost their land.
“Umo Eno had spoken with the head of service and has been a go-between to make peace and has succeeded in making peace. Given that the other land was developed, Umo Eno successfully got the governor to approve another land for them.
“He didn’t stop there, but also facilitated a meeting between the NLC and the new commissioner of lands and asked his successor to push the issue for the labour union. That is a story. What did he do wrong there that it should be news for you? He should be praised for doing the right thing.
On the allegation of high-handed by former staff and non-honouring contractual agreements, Mr. Usen said that Mr. Eno as know by majority of the people is a very simple, humble, and godly man.
While arguing that there was no way a pastor would not be simple and humble, Mr. Usen added that his principal is just and fair person in his relationship with people.
“For a man who has a record of employing over 2,000 workers, the highest outside government. I would be surprised if they were no recalcitrant staff.
“I will get across to him if you give me details of this Itauma but for a man who has over 2000 staff in this Akwa Ibom. I will get across to him about it,” Mr. Usen said.
You are not telling the truth
When we cross-checked the information from both the NLC chairman and Mr Usen with the Vice Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Ibara, he vehemently disagreed with the duo on many points.
Mr. Ibara censured the idea by the NLC chairman that there were no titles to the land seized by the state government, adding that the Godswill Akpabio administration could not have allocated the land to the congress without the relevant title document.
“I don’t know why the chairman is saying there were no document to the land. If that was the case, how did we get to know that the land existed in the first place?
“It is true that the land was not taken when Umo Eno was the commissioner. But government is a continuum. We wrote letters seeking audience with him, but he never replied any of the letters and did not grant us audience,” Mr. Ibara said.
Mr. Ibara also rejected the claims that Mr. Eno acted swiftly when he learnt of the case of the seized land and even brokered a meeting to resolve the matter after he had resigned, adding that the former commissioner ignored the congress when he was in office.
According the NLC vice chairman, it was after he wrote an open letter expressing the unwillingness of the congress to meet with Mr. Eno for his political consultation that Governor Emmanuel called for a meeting between the leadership of the congress and the government.
He argued that Mr. Eno never mediated or convened any meeting to resolve the lingering land issue while he was in office and after he resigned.
“It was after the wrote an open letter declining to see Umo Eno that the governor called for a meeting with the leadership of labour in the state. At the meeting he promised to address all the issues we raised and asked us to support not only his completion agenda but his transition plan.
“After the meeting, very little has happened in terms of fulfilling the promises made to us. But I can tell you that was the first meeting we have had with the governor in the last three years.
“Mr. Emmanuel has not attended any labour programme in the last three years including the Workers’ Day celebrations. No other governor in the history of the state has done that,” Mr. Ibara said.