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Nigerian nurse Mary Onuoha loses job in UK for wearing cross necklace

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Among Mary Onuoha’s most prized possessions is the small gold cross she has worn around her neck every day of her life since childhood, a symbol of this 61-year-old nurse’s devout faith.

‘Every time I look at it, I think of Jesus, His love, how much He loved me, and the need for me to love Him back,’ she says.

Few could fail to be moved by the sincerity of those sentiments, even if they do not share them. Nor, you may think, could this small and discreet symbol of her belief possibly offend.

Alas, Mary’s employers at the south London hospital where she worked as a theatre practitioner for 19 years took a different view, and in recent years she was repeatedly asked to remove the cross, a present at her baptism.

Mary was told that the necklace ‘harboured bacteria’, but she believes she was targeted for displaying a symbol of her Christian faith – even though many colleagues were allowed to sport other items expressing their religious beliefs, be they turbans, hijabs or bracelets.

On one occasion a manager even called her away from her nursing duties in an operating theatre in the middle of surgery to discipline her for wearing it – potentially risking patients’ safety, she claims.

When she refused to take it off, Mary was moved to clerical duties and became subject to what she describes as a sustained campaign of bullying that left her unable to work.

Having been signed off with stress, last October she brought a legal case against Croydon Health Services NHS Trust on the grounds of harassment, victimisation, direct and indirect discrimination, and constructive and unfair dismissal.

Last week her case ended in victory when employment judge Daniel Dyal found that Mary had been constructively dismissed in a way that was both unfair and discriminatory.

He said the trust had created a ‘humiliating, hostile and threatening environment’ and that when Mary complained, the response had been ‘offensive and intimidating’.

It is a vindication, albeit a bittersweet one, for Mary as she believes the case exposes the hostility and discrimination experienced by many Christians in the workplace, a view shared by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

In her only newspaper interview, she tells The Mail on Sunday: ‘This has always been an attack on my faith. My cross has been with me for more than 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm.

‘At this hospital there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them.

‘Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job.’

It is a turn of events that has astonished a woman who believed she was coming to a free country when she arrived in Britain from Nigeria in 1988 to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

‘I am a strong woman, but I have been treated like a criminal,’ she says. ‘I love my job, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith for it, and neither should other Christian NHS staff in this country.’

It is clear that what Mary has endured runs deep. A proud, softly-spoken woman, she finds it hard to relate the events of recent years, and her voice falters frequently as she tells of her experience.

The Christian faith was at the heart of the Nigerian village where Mary was raised, the eldest of ten siblings in a loving family. And it was there that a family tragedy set her on the path to becoming a nurse.

‘When I was 15 my beloved two-year-old brother died of measles,’ she recalls. ‘I was so sad that there wasn’t the medical care available for him that could have saved him at that time in the area where I lived. This made me passionate about caring for people and about medicine.

‘I was determined to help my mother and make sure it did not happen again.’

Mary moved to the UK with her husband Charles, settling in South London, where the couple have lived ever since with their family and where Mary qualified as a nurse.

In November 2001, she started to work at Croydon University Hospital, employed latterly as a theatre practitioner, a nursing role performed primarily in the operating theatre and providing pre- and post-operative care. Her cross was sometimes concealed by her scrubs, but was visible on other occasions.

However, it never attracted comment until 2014, when the theatre manager at the time asked her to remove it on health-and-safety grounds.

‘I refused and said words to the effect of ‘What about hijabs, turbans and kalava bracelets?’,’ Mary recalls. ‘She said she would get back to me but did not do so.’

A year passed without further incident until, in late 2015, a matron asked Mary to wear a longer chain to conceal the cross under her uniform. ‘Again, I asked why I should hide my faith while others were allowed to show their own,’ Mary says. ‘She did not take the matter any further.’

It was the first of many similar incidents, with a succession of managers asking her to conceal or remove her cross, deeming it a health-and-safety risk. If not, Mary was told, the matter would face ‘escalation’.

Mary continually refused. ‘It felt like bullying,’ she says.

Then, in November 2016, Mary was attending a patient in surgery when her manager came in to the operating theatre and ordered her into a side room, saying she needed to discuss her necklace.

‘I said ‘I cannot leave the patient’, but the manager insisted,’ Mary says.

‘I was so embarrassed. Theatre is a pressured environment, and I was astonished that senior staff were prepared to potentially endanger a patient’s life in order to intimidate me to remove it.’

It was the start of what Mary says she can only describe as an ongoing campaign of intimidation by senior hospital managers, during which she was subjected to an investigation into her conduct.

By November 2018, she was suspended from clinical duties and instead assigned clerical work and told that security would be called if she attempted to enter a theatre area while still wearing her cross.

Effectively, she was ostracised. ‘I am a strong woman, but this was demeaning to me and caused me a lot of stress,’ she says. ‘It was degrading.’

Of course, there will be some who think the simplest thing to have done was remove it – but that is not to reckon with the depth of Mary’s faith.

‘People did say to me, ‘Why don’t you just remove your necklace?’ But I know that if I did, I would feel as if I had compromised, that I would have stepped back from my faith,’ she says.

‘I don’t want to be a lukewarm Christian. I love my job, but God comes first.’

Nonetheless, by June 2020 the stress had become too much and Mary was signed off work by her doctor.

Two months later she resigned, effectively forced out of a job she loved.

For months afterwards she was unable to work, though she has now found a new job.

‘I never thought I would ever be in a situation like this, but I was determined to get through it,’ she says.

She was equally determined to hold her employers to account – and last week her courage was vindicated by Judge Dyal who, in a damning ruling, said that the dress-code policy was applied ‘in an arbitrary way’ and with ‘no cogent explanation’ why plain rings, neckties, hijabs and turbans were permitted, but a cross necklace was not.

Her financial compensation will be determined at a later hearing.

For Mary, it is the principle that really matters – a welcome and long overdue boost for Christian freedom.

‘I am so pleased that the tribunal has defended freedom to worship God,’ she says.

‘I know there are other Christians across the country experiencing similar issues to me – and I hope this encourages all of them to be courageous.’

It is a sentiment echoed by Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who supported Mary in her legal battle.

‘The courts have finally admitted that the cross is a Christian symbol in a crucial ruling that protects a Christian’s right to express their faith in the workplace,’ she said.

‘The tribunal has found that the cross is not just a piece of jewellery or a fashion accessory, but ruled that it is a symbol of Christianity and it is of central importance to the faith of many Christians.

‘This victory has, however, been achieved at a high price. Many Christians in the NHS and other workplaces have had to hide their crosses and Mary had to persevere through two years of incessant harassment by her managers.’

A spokesman for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: ‘We would like to apologise to Mrs Onuoha. It is important that NHS staff feel able to express their beliefs, and that our policies are applied in a consistent, compassionate and inclusive way.’

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Nnamdi Kanu chose to appear in same attire because ‘it is designers’ – FG tells court

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Despite the order of Justice Binta Nyako of a Federal High Court in Abuja, the leader of the Indigenious People of Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, on Wednesday, appeared on the same Fendi designers clothes he had been wearing since June last year when he was arrested.

Justice Nyako had on Tuesday, ordered the Department of State Services, to allow Kanu to have a change of cloth.

“I don’t want to see him in this cloth again. This one is almost off-white. Also, make sure that you allow him to exercise and give him a good mattress”, Justice Nyako had ordered.

Meanwhile, when the matter was called up on Wednesday, the prosecution counsel, Shuaibu Labaran, told the Court that Kanu was the one that chose to wear his designer Fendi clothes.

He said, “My lord, based on your order yesterday, we provided the defendant with a new Orthopedic mattress, pillows and blankets.

“As for his appearance, he chose to wear this particular one because he said that it is designers”.

In his response, Kanu’s lead counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, told the Court that it was not true that his client insisted on wearing his designer’s clothes.

“My Lord, what happened was that by the time proceedings ended yesterday, and because it was not his visiting day, we were not able to pass to him, some clothes we obtained for him.

“We even discussed it with him this morning and he said that on the next visiting day he would want to have the new clothes”, Ozekhome added.

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He however commended the DSS for providing the IPOB leader with new mattress and pillows.

“I want to commend the DSS and the Court for ensuring that it was done”, Ozekhome said.

Before allowing Kanu to be re-arraigned on the amended 15-count treasonable felony charge the Federal Government preferred against him, Justice Nyako reiterated her demand for the defendant to have a change of clothes.

Kanu is currently entering his plea to the fresh amended charge against him which borders on his alleged commission of acts of terrorism, felony, incitement, unlawful importation of a radio transmitter, and headship of an illegal organization.

Already, the DSS had before Kanu was ushered into the courtroom around 10:15 am, produced several documentary evidence, including electronic devices it would use to play some of the alleged inciting broadcasts that were made by the Defendant.

Details soon…

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[BREAKING] Nnamdi Kanu: FG brings documentary evidence to court

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File: Leader of the Indigenous People Of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu

The Federal Government may today (Wednesday) open the trial of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu on the terrorism charges after his formal arraignment.

reports that exhibits likely to be tendered against Kanu by the government have been brought to the courtroom where the arraignment is scheduled to hold today.

Also, electronic equipment comprising various cameras have been brought to court and being inspected by the lead counsel to the Federal Government, Shuaib Labaran.

Kanu has just been brought into the courtroom exchanging pleasantries with his lawyers led by Mike Ozekhome (SAN).

Similarly, family members of the Biafran leader including a nursing mother have taken their seats in the courtroom.

A representative of the British High Commissioner billed to watch the trial for the United Kingdom has also been allowed into the courtroom.

Details later…

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NIPOST growth thwarted by 28 years exclusion from capital projects – Postmaster General

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From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja

...master General/CEO of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), Dr Ismail Adebayo Adewusi, on Tuesday lamented exclusion from capital projects and absence of budget that has grossly impeded the growth and development of the Nigerian postal service.

Mr Adewusi spoke at a media parley to mark the 2nd anniversary of his appointment held in Utako, Abuja.

According to the PMG, the negligence of ...al Service has slowed its evolution and is responsible for its dilapidated structures across the nation.

He, however, praised President Muhammadu Buhari for the initiative to unbundle NIPOST. This, he explained would enable ...al Service to fully utilise all its assets scattered all over the country to maximise revenue generation.

He said the restructuring would see to the emergence of a NIPOST Property Company which would be highly commercialised and would oversee the massive renovation of the structures.

“NIPOST has not had a budget or benefited from capital projects in the past 28 years. This is why our infrastructure across the country is dilapidated. It has not been easy at all. But we have to appreciate the President or the policy to unbundle NIPOST. It is an initiative that will commercialise most of our processes. Our new NIPOST Property Company will be saddled with the responsibility of renovating the NIPOST facilities across the nation. Most of the facilities that you see that are dilapidated will then be taken over by the new NIPOST Property company,” he stated.

Speaking on the issue of unauthorised courier operators parading the nation, the NIPOST boss disclosed that information reaching him showed that some of the bikes across the major cities were being used to transport and sell hard drugs. He assured that the organisation will not rest until it had eliminated unlicensed operators and people who do illegal businesses through Courier.

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“I wish to inform you today, that after nineteen (19) years, a new Courier Regulations, more in tune with the new order and way of doing business, was presented, and approved for the regulation of the courier industry. The last such review of the Regulations was in 2001.

The new Regulations empowers NIPOST to regulate the courier and logistics industry, checkmate the activities of illegal and nefarious logistics and courier companies in the country. The new Regulations would sanitize the logistics ecosystem and put in check dubious activities of the criminal-minded operators.” He announced.

The PMG recounted the various giant strides undertaken by NIPOST in the last two years even in the face of insufficient funding challenges. Part of these he mentioned were the efforts to digitalise NIPOST’s processes and services. He further reiterated his commitment to achieving full digitisation for the organisation.

He said, “In a bid to expand the frontiers of NIPOST products and services, a B2B agreement was signed with eGATE of Egypt on digital transformation. With this agreement, job opportunities will be created. It will also help to address the infrastructure gap in the organization, as well as reposition NIPOST on the path of full digitalisation. It would interest you to note that the new addressing system, that is, the Digital Addressing system, is being developed as a strategic infrastructure for national development. It will facilitate mail handling, identify locations precisely, ensure consistency in address related databases and enable efficient services in government agencies, financial institutions, and businesses in a consistent manner.

He listed others to include: Western Union Money Transfer which commenced pilot operations in Lagos in 2020; reconciliation of account with Cameroon Post (Campost), culminating in the resumption of international remittance transactions which, has accrued over N10 million in revenue;

Others are; joining of UPU Clearing House, to facilitate the expansion of remittance transaction beyond the Cameroon Nigeria corridor; roll out of co-branded credit/debit card with Data Mining; payment services partnership, with System Specs, which allows NIPOST to carry out bill payment using Remita on its counters and promotion of NIPOST card for seamless IFS transactions with more UPU member countries, among others.

“Given the modest achievements we have recorded in the last two years of my administration; it is my candid belief that we are on the right track and determined to reposition NIPOST to an enviable height for effective service delivery to the citizenry. As we braced up to confront emerging challenges in the digital world, NIPOST is working assiduously to remain a veritable force, one to reckon with in the courier and logistics industry. We will be available to work in partnership with other related agencies, both government and private sector, to ensure we provide reliable and efficient services for the socio-economic development of our country.” Adewusi said.

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