'TOTAL sacked me while I was battling brain surgery, disability,' ex-female employee says

Mrs. Ozobeme says her employer showed no mercy as she fought to stay alive in various hospitals.

Mrs. Oghenero Ozobeme

After returning from emergency brain surgery in Malaysia in 2015 on her husband's credit card, Oghenero Ozobeme, who hails from Orogun, Delta State, was given the cold treatment by her employer TOTAL E&P, and reminded that her job was on the line.

On April 30, 2020--and smack in the middle of COVID-19 induced lockdowns and restrictions--TOTAL told Ozobeme, one of its exceptional staff, that her services were no longer required.

"I was sacked just after the delivery of vital subpoena to top management staff of TOTAL to appear and testify in court," Ozobeme says.

"My termination letter was delivered to me at home on the 29th of April 2020 while observing the COVID-19 restrictions. It came directly from the Managing Director.

"In fact, the line manager had assigned tasks to me on that 29th of April as I worked from home...." she says, tears welling up in her eyes.

Wrong diagnosis

Ozobeme says her relationship with TOTAL became frosty after a wrong medical diagnosis.

In 2006, she presented details of extended missed periods and negative pregnancy to TOTAL, she says.

She was sent for pregnancy test and abdominal scan instead of a hormonal assay test.

The scan however revealed polycystic growths on her ovaries, a condition that was wrongly diagnosed as an isolated ovarian cyst.

Ozobeme required hormonal drug treatment, but was negligently put through multiple avoidable surgeries that sliced and diced her ovaries.

Afraid that she could lose her ovaries following the wrong diagnosis, she had to privately seek further medical assistance abroad or a second opinion.

In Canada, she was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumour, with an impending brain surgery.

"Before the brain surgery, I first had to undergo a complex surgery to save and reconstruct at least one of my ovaries. I contacted my employers to seek guidance on my medical absence. I was literally on my death bed at this point.

"The response I got from TOTAL was shockingly dehumanizing," Ozobeme says, fighting back tears as her husband, Charles, clasps her hand in his, her head on his broad shoulders.

"I was asked to certify my anticipated recovery date. TOTAL threatened me with termination. I was viciously kicked out of the payroll with no health or sickness benefits. I had to cut short my trip abroad where I was undergoing brain surgery treatment, to return back to Nigeria to resume work," she adds.

To add salt to the wounds, Ozobeme says her case was mismanaged at St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, for almost a year, "till an MRI scan revealed an associated tumour bleed."

Before she was eventually sacked in 2020, she says TOTAL "orchestrated a smear campaign to discredit me. They engaged in intimidation and desperate fraudulent cover-up to humiliate and silence me.

"I had to seek legal redress, a course of action that drew the attention of PENGASSAN (Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria) executives.

"PENGASSAN tried to dissuade me from filing a suit. When they failed, they joined the smear campaign to vilify me," Ozobeme says.

Scarred for life

Charles Ozobeme says: "We have had to come to terms with the fact that my wife would no longer give birth to a biological child again.

"We had to go through the trauma of open-head surgery with huge fatality risks that has left her a victim of permanent hormonal derangement. She can no longer drive because she suffers permanent visual impairment.

"Our greatest pain is that the company, rather than express regret or sympathy, sought to intimidate and victimize her for reporting her near-miss experience. They engage in malicious falsehood and a campaign of calumny to discredit and humiliate her."

TOTAL, doctors respond

When contacted for a response to Mrs. Ozobeme's allegations and plight, TOTAL referred this writer to its lawyers and law firm.

TEMPLARS law firm, which is representing TOTAL in its litigation with Ozobeme, says: "Be advised that the allegations contained in your email under reference, form the subject of two lawsuits currently pending before the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.

"These matters are not only live and pending before the court, but also the claimant has proceeded with the trial and closed her case in one of these matters."

TOTAL and TEMPLARS say to comment on this story would be sub judice and "contemptuous of the authority of the court."

Asked about the mismanagement of Ozobeme's case, St Nicholas said: "Thank you very much for your email. The case in question was reported then to the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and was subsequently presented before a court of law.

"This case is now sub judice, prohibiting us from any further discussion on the case outside the court of law."

Dr. Eghonghon Olawepo-Adeoti, who was accused of refusing to release Ozobeme's medical records, was also reached for a comment for this story.

"This matter was reported to Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) by the complainant," Olawepo-Adeoti says.

"Investigation in this regard has since commenced with statements obtained from all parties; consequently it will be prejudicial, inappropriate and pre-mature for parties in this matter to make statements at this moment.

"We believe it will be apt for all of us to allow the government agency that the complainant approached to conclude their investigation," he adds

The Ozobemes say this is about "fighting discrimination, victimization, dehumanization and unfair labour practice" for them.

"Our prayers for restitution are for re-imbursement for medical expenses and extensive compensation for medical damages and permanent disability. We also ask for indefinite overseas medical coverage for all future related illness," the couple says.

The couple also says they are pursuing the case in line with corporate governance ethics.

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