Sunday, May 29, 2005

NAFCON, Onne: Trauma in Enugu

Enugu was home to me. I grew up here. My parents had lived in Abakaliki before the Nigeria/Biafra war and there I was born. My family got dislodged by the civil war. When the war ended my mother had little choice but to settle in Enugu and try to bring us up here. We had lost our father in the war. Thus it was that I attended my primary schools in Enugu, first at (St Michael’s) Construction Primary School, Asata; and then finishing at (Christ Church) Uwani River Primary School, Uwani. From here I attended College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC), still in Uwani Enugu. My University education was again at Nsukka, 50km from Enugu, or 45 munites by road. I knew Enugu very well and most friends that I had at this time also had their backgrounds in Enugu. Hence, the trip to the National Orthopaedic Hospital Enugu was to me like coming home.

On 23rd November 1996, a welfare nurse, Mrs Opara appointed by Nafcon, and another from Pamo Clinic were to make the trip to Enugu with me in the Nafcon ambulance. A number of friends, many my Nafcon colleagues, were on hand at Pamo to see us off. So also was my girl friend at the time, Amaka. Quite unknown to me, Amaka was waiting at home for me to come back from work when she heard of my ghastly mishap. She had come to Pamo Clinic to see me, and now wanted to join me to Enugu in the ambulance. This request was turned down because there wasn’t room enough in the ambulance. She was advised to come by public transport. Thus, even without going back to tell her folks Amaka also proceeded to Enugu.

There wasn’t much incident on the way to Enugu, except for my pains, of course. I prayed that we'd get there in time for me to get some relief. I’d followed the journey as much as I could. Situated at Thinker’s Corner, where the roads to Abakpa, New Haven and Emene intersected, I knew the location of the Orthopaedic hospital from every direction in Enugu. Some friends and family of mine had worked there and some still did, even at that time. I’d visited the hospital on quite a good number of occasions. So when we approached the exit point on the Port Harcourt-Enugu express I warned my colleagues. After a little argument they decided I wasn’t sure what I was saying and continued on a course that was sure to end us up at Abakaliki. Too weak to be effective, I let them be. When it became obvious to them that we had veered off our track they had to turn back. We were then a munite to Orie Emene market!

It was late evening therefore, when we got to the premises of the Orthopaedic Hospital. I was deposited in a place called "Trauma". This was the Accident and Emergency unit of the hospital! Mrs Opara and company went through the protocol of late reception, registration and admission, and proceeded to find hotel accomodation in town for the night. It was also at this stage, I think, that my folks in Enugu were made aware of my troubles. Meanwhile, people who had gathered around at the news of 'a new arrival' were discussing and speculating on my situation and possible course of treatment. In my misery I could still hear some whispers. Someone suggested that I was in really very bad shape and that they might have to cut off my hand! O no, I thought, surely my situation couldn't be this desparate. I was particularly worried about the possibility of losing my arm.

Dr Ogbonna was the medic that supervised my reception on arrival at Trauma. He led the team that immediately commenced my preparation for treatment that night. There had been speculations as to whether they were going to cut off my hand. My anxiety had forced me to inquire first hand from Dr Ogbonna concerning my situation. His reaction was quite reassuring,
We do not cut people's hands here, he said.
I was sent into the operating theatre immediately after protocols, and the staff were to begin what I later learnt was called 'debreadment' in medical terms. From that day also I was to spend the next 18 months of my life in this hospital, passing through stages of impossible agony and pain, stabilization, rehabilitation, frustration, and one incident of death and resurrection! The accident or its treatment, I couldn't say for sure which was more directly agonizing and painful. But I quickly realised that my life would never be the same again after this.

As soon as they applied that dreaded injection it was oblivion...

Friday, May 27, 2005

NAFCON, Onne: My Ordeal

The NPK Plant had acquired a reputation for incessant breakdowns. This was as a result of aged and ill maintained machinery and equipment. The management wouldn’t commit funds for proper and adequate maintenance routines, but insisted on having results/products. This meant managing the neglected equipment as much as co-ordinated efforts would permit. The Plant was run with most fingers crossed! Sometime after 2100 hrs, I’d gone from the Raw Materials storage bay to the NPK Control Room for a drink of cold water. Jude, my colleague, was on The Board, and he was training to take over from Abraham who was on leave, and who normally handled this function. Jude said to me, “BJ, any quantity of materials you send into this plant this evening, I will consume it". This was his way of telling me that the plant was cruising fine, and thus exhorted to work harder I took up Jude’s challenge.

I decided to go back and inform the others, but first I needed to go through the RMDC discharge end, to be sure it was doing alright and equal to the task. It wasn’t. The belt was playing. It was out of alignment as the drum was wobbling. I stopped to make the necessary adjustments as the equipment was already discharging materials along its length.

Now the NPK plant was designed to run as a dry plant, but with so many changes made to the original design, everything became a challenge! Of course the machines and equipment had in-built safety devices but most of these were no more in place. Complaints and recommendations for repairs were never honoured. Emergency and makeshift arrangements were devised to handle some of these problems. It was to these that I turned to at this time. Anyway, I wasn’t about to lose out on Jude’s challenge.

First, I checked the metal pipe we kept tied to the far side of the belt to help align it. The pipe was free, meaning that the belt had shifted towards where I stood with the continuous wobbling of the head drum. This happened from the wetness under the belt resulting from the belt carrying wet or delicassent materials. This wetness got very bad when we handled off-spec Urea. The wetness got under the belt causing friction loss on the drum. The belt would then tend to slip. To keep the drum dry we kept a bag of dry sand handy. I located this bag and began to throw the sand unto the drum.

Suddenly, my coverall sleeve, folded at the cuff, caught in the moving belt. Then, being that close to the head drum, it immediately seized my hand! It was so fast I didn’t believe it was actually happening. Then it began to pull my hand. Trapped between the belt and the rotating drum I tried to pull my hand free; but the 40hp electric motor-driven drum was too much for me. I was in trouble! It suddenly swallowed my whole arm, twisted and wrapped it around itself and began to grind away!! I became alarmed!!!

In my current state I saw that I could reach the local control panel of this equipment with my left foot, but I could not depress the button to switch it off because I wore rubber boots.

Unable to help myself, I started screaming for help. How would anyone hear my screams amidst the cacophony of noise that was the NPK Plant? It dawned on me that I could die just as easily. I was really scared. Ages later someone heard me (I later learnt it was Anderson) and came over, saw my trouble, and ran to get help. I was now screaming like mad. The machine was grinding away steadily. Then the drum suddenly stopped rotating. It had been switched off. But my hand remained trapped in there. In between screaming, fainting and coming to, I noticed that quite a large crowd had gathered and was frantically trying to free me from the equipment. The rusted bolts wouldn’t give easily! The crowd felt my pain. I prayed gibberish!

It took well over 50 minutes to free me from the machine. I had bled a lot. I’d lost all the tissues from my palm through to my elbow and triceps. Nerves, tendons, veins, arteries, everything! All the bones in my hand were exposed, and what remained of the tissues were falling off! I could hardly notice this at this time. People were crying and screaming on my behalf. I never realised how much trouble I was really in. Such was the relief to be free of that machine trap. I just managed to climb down the flights, ten storeys down, to a waiting pickup vehicle - not an ambulance! The car took me to the site clinic where I finally passed out.

I was later taken to Pamo Clinic in Port Harcourt in a Nafcon ambulance wrapped in bloody white bedsheets. I spent drowsy moments there while the company management debated my problem. The doctors here refused me any active medication, allowing only supervised quantities of water and the drip, I guess. Convinced that I would lose my arm or die if something wasn’t done fast, the doctors at Pamo recommended that I be taken straight away to the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Enugu, some 200km by road. Thus began my battle to live!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

NAFCON, Onne: 9 to 5ive

With a background in Engineering, I joined NAFCON in April of 1996 after a six month intensive training at the Company Training School in Onne. I had a 9-year post-graduation working experience behind me at this time. Two of those years had been spent at two different engineering firms, and seven as a senior lecturer and head of engineering department at an agricultural college. I left my lectureship job to join Nafcon because it presented a better future for me.

By the time I came to NAFCON its Nigerian managers had been running it for more than 4 years. Signs of physical decay had already become visible, especially in the NPK Plant where I was eventually deployed. The company’s financial predicament had perhaps not become very obvious, even though complaints were going round the rumour mill.

The plant ran a 4-shift 8-hour system - Shift A, Shift B, Shift C and Shift D in its Production Department, for 24-hour daily production. A shift comprised different categories of staff - the Plant Superintendent, Shift Supervisor, Boardman, Operators and Casuals, all under the Plant Manager. The shifts rotated from Morning - Afternoon - Night - Off and back to Morning, in turn.

NPK Plant
NPK Plant showing the Raw Materials Distribution Conveyor and the Finished Products Conveyor
The NPK Plant had several units, from Raw Materials through to the Pre-Neutralizer, the Granulator, the Dryer, the Chiller, the Mixer, on to products Bagging. The various inputs and final products are controlled from the NPK Control Room, from the Instruments control panel. Raw Materials also had sections of solids raw materials and liquid/acid/gas.

Shift C was my schedule, and on this fateful November day it was an afternoon schedule running from 1530 hrs to 2230 hrs. There were about 15 of us on duty this time. My section was solids Raw Materials. The schedule involved taking up such solid materials like sand, urea granules, potash, filler, etc and feeding them into the plant via the RMDC - raw materials distribution conveyor.

I ran this schedule with Iruka, and Amadi who operated the pay-loader machine. Other members of this shift included Abraham, Jude, Ufot, Anderson, etc. On the higher echelon were Nwaneri as Supervisor, Iyke Obinwa as Shift Supervisor, and Tony Okafor as Superintendent. A moment ago the Plant Manager was Engr Charles Essien, while Managing Director was Nathaniel Ejiga, who had taken over from Ombo Isokrari, but another transition was already underway.

Monday, May 23, 2005


nafcon logo
NAFCON, the National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria at Onne, Port Harcourt, was established in 1986 by the Federal Government. The facility was designed and built by a consortium of companies led by M W Kellogg of Houston, Texas USA. Others included Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Marubeni Corporation and Nissho-Iwai Corporation of Japan, and Jacobs Engineering also of the USA. It was built to produce Ammonia and granulated Urea. The NPK Plant was added as an extension to produce mono- and di-ammonium phosphate fertilizers to feed the local market. This here investment held great promises. In fact, NAFCON's motto was: A Nation's wise move to help herself.

Arial view of Nafcon Complex at Onne
NAFCON was the first large modern fertilizer complex in West Africa. Immediately after its start-up in 1987, it had established a very high reputation, becoming a benchmark for subsequent fertilizer facilities, not only in the African continent, but worldwide. NAFCON was managed by Kellogg for the first 6 years after inception, and then indigenised. The first Nigerian MD was Ombo Isokrari.

NPK Plant. Ammonia and Urea Plants are in the background
NAFCON's early years were almost too good to be true; in a country full of contrasting economic, political and social realities, the company was the darling of Port Harcourt, the oil capital of Nigeria. Staff were resigning from Shell, NNPC, the infamous Ajaokuta Steel, and similar big companies, to join NAFCON. But, could Saul also be among the prophets? Could anything good really come out of Nazareth? It wasn't long before the political and social malaise that has largely defined Nigeria's very existence crept into the affairs of this company.

Visitors are shown round the Plant by some Staff
The dreamer was very rudely woken before dawn! By 1995 the company was already experiencing serious financial stress. Seven years later it shut down for good. Total life span - 15 years! And the dream? The dream died, naturally; in it's wake laid a trail of thousands of families abandoned to their fate. With debts running into several billions of Naira the government calculated that the only way out was to liquidate the company and try to pay off its contractors and the staff.

Four years later this process has largely remained just that - a process. Who really cares?!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Africa's Anthem

Sweet Mother is Africa’s anthem! So says a recent poll by the BBC, where readers and listeners voted for their favourite all-time African song. But what do you know about the singer? What about other songs by Prince Nico Mbarga? Do you know about other African musicians?

Discography is the name :-)

Created by T. Endo, follow the link below for information on some of Africa’s most prolific musicians to this day: African Music

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Thanks Blogger for making Virtual Life even more interesting.

Hello World!