Court restrains Kogi from shutting down Dangote Cement's Obajana plant
Dangote Cement factory

By OBINNA OBINNA

The invasion, last week Wednesday, of the Obajana, Kogi State plant of Dangote Cement, has continued to attract condemnations by relevant stakeholders in the country, even as the continent’s leading cement maker, has soundly refuted claims by the state government that the plant was not legally acquired.

Recall that about 500 armed thugs backed by the Governor Yahaya Bello-led government, shot no less than 26 staffers of Dangote Cement, many of whom are battling for their lives in hospital, in an effort to shut down the plant.

The thugs had stormed the cement company alongside some armed vigilante group to enforce the resolution of the State House of Assembly, which had on Tuesday, after plenary ordered the closure of the plant over what it described as “fraudulent acquisition of Kogi Cement by Dangote Group,” a claim insiders have dismissed as untrue.

The development, which follows last month’s sealing off of all First Bank branches operating in the state as a result of a disagreement on alleged tax liabilities of over N411.12 million, was led by the state Director-General of Lands; Commissioner for Solid Minerals, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security, Commodore Jerry Omodara(rtd), Chairman of Kabba/Bunnu LGA, Chairman of Ijumu LGA and the State ALGON Chairman, Alhaji. Taofeek; Senior Special Assistant on Job Creation, Mr. Dele Iselewa and Chairman of Lokoja LGA, Alhaji. Mohammed Dansabe.

It has continued to attract the condemnation of industry stakeholders who say it’s a bad signal to investors, and explains why the state now ranks low on investment.

This is as the cement company has insisted that contrary to the state government’s claims, it legally acquired the plant and has 100 percent ownership.

The cement company in a statement by its managing director, Michael Puchercos, maintained that the Obajana Cement plant is 100 per cent owned by it.

The management which notified members of the public, its customers and other stakeholders of the attack in the statement, said it’s taking steps to apprehend the attackers, even as it assured that the issues would be resolved.

“The vigilantes, led by some officials of the State government were apparently acting on a resolution of the Kogi state House of Assembly on controversial tax claims; claims that the state governor had also contradicted when he said the shutdown was due to an alleged invalid acquisition of the company by Dangote Industries Limited,” the statement said.

It noted that, “in the process of forcefully evicting the workers to enforce the shutdown, the vigilantes shots at 27 of our workers and also destroyed some of the company’s property at the plant.

“We have taken steps to get the hoodlums apprehended by the law enforcement agencies, and we will ensure that full legal action is taken against them.”

Dangote Cement appealed to all its staff and its customers to remain calm while we explore all possible legal steps to address the situation.

It stated that “the welfare of our staff remains our key focus as we work hard to minimise further impact on our people and operations.

“While we reiterate that Obajana Cement plant is 100 per cent owned by Dangote Cement, we remain resolute in transforming Africa, while creating sustainable value for our people, communities, investors and customers.”

Stakeholders Fray Kogi Govt’s Action

Describing the action of the state government as retrogressive and discouraging to investors, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in a statement last week, noted that such action will discourage new investments in the State.

MAN president, Engr. Mansur Ahmed, said the action by Kogi State is of great concern, and added that it is unimaginable that a State government would take such drastic action to shut down a plant that provides job opportunities and economic activities on a huge scale for the people of Kogi State.

“The action appears to be taken by government and it is alleged to be an effort for some alleged claim on some alleged payment of taxes that have not been made or recovered from the company,” Ahmed said.

He added that the move is totally illegitimate, pointing out that if the State government has any issue against any member of its association or corporate citizen, the appropriate thing to do is to take the member to court.

“You cannot use strong-arm tactics to shut them down or impose very severe restrictions on their operations simply to force them. This is illegal and I believe that what has happened will not happen in a normal operating environment,” the MAN boss said. He said the association has taken up the matter with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment in its bid to help address the anomaly in Kogi State.

“We have no reason not to pay taxes to the Kogi State government as and when due and I am aware that Dangote Industries is one of the highest tax-payers in Nigeria. But, if indeed for whatever reason that there is a tax dispute for the Kogi State government on Dangote, it has measures and ways of recovery and there is no justification to threaten the closure of that industry.

“We are totally opposed to that kind of measure because there are ways to resolve this amicably in a legal manner and we hope that the relevant authorities in both the federal and state levels would intervene to ensure that this kind of action is not repeated,” he said.

On their part, the Organised Private Sector (OPS), berated the state government over the closure of the plant, describing the action as being hasty.

The OPS under the aegis of National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in separate statements described the action of the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello as shocking and disappointing, saying, for every day the factory is shut, millions of naira are lost and the reputation of Kogi state takes a negative hit.

The director-general of NACCIMA, Olusola Obadimu said that the issues between the company and the state over tax dispute ought not to have led to sealing of the company but should have been resolved in a conciliatory and amicable atmosphere.

Obadimu said the state government should have trodden a path of caution, and called for the immediate reopening of the factory for normal production activities to resume.

He stated that NACCIMA’s position was based on some key considerations bordering on the impact of the factory’s closure on the economy and thousands of people whose means of livelihood depend on the production activities of the factory.

The NACCIMA boss urged that the factory be reopened as quickly as possible to enable it continue its operation and fulfil its necessary responsibilities, not just on tax obligations, but also keep the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in its direct and indirect employment dutifully engaged; while sustaining its crucial services not just to the people and government of Kogi State but Nigeria in general.

Also, the director-general of LCCI, Dr. Chinyere Almona said the attack on the cement factory reflected the poor handling of investment protection issues in the country.

The Chamber said it believed there are more decent ways to handle regulatory and legislative matters concerning businesses in Nigeria than resorting to violence.

According to the Chamber, the invasion of the Dangote Cement Factory by youths that led to the shooting of factory workers is unfortunate, ill-construed, and avoidable.

The LCCI boss noted that the federal government and Kogi State government had hitherto benefited from business revenues and social investments, saying “it is therefore expected that the government would be interested in creating an enabling business environment that can attract both local and foreign investors.

“And where there are infractions, handling such should be in accordance with best practices and the rule of law that protect investors’ rights and human lives.”

LCCI called for a meeting of all government agencies connected with the acquisition of the cement plant to resolve any differences thereof.

The Chamber noted that the growing mining industry in Kogi State has benefited from the production activities of the Dangote Cement Factory, which offers both infrastructural and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects to enhance the standard of living in the state.

“We see a role for the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the Nigeria Investment Protection Commission (NIPC), and the Kogi State government in resolving this issue. We, therefore, expect to see a swift intervention by these agencies toward a win-win resolution,” LCCI advised.

Director-general of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Ms. Victoria Akai urged the state government to employ dialogue in resolving whatever differences it has with the cement company so as to protect the image of the state as an investment destination.

She said both the state governor and the owner of Dangote Cement Plc, Alhaji Aliko Dangote are men of peace who should resolve any business dispute through consensus without jeopardizing the multi-billion naira investment and thousands of jobs of Kogi indigenes.

“We therefore call for the immediate re-opening of the factory and commencement of alternative dispute resolution. Dangote Cement is a company with commendable sustainability records. The company has blazed the trail within Nigeria and across Africa.

“Nothing should therefore be done to truncate the growing business at a time other African countries are opening their doors wide for Dangote investment. The factory has been able to take many out of the street thereby reducing unemployment that has been a major problem in the country.

“The closure of the factory will further increase unemployment. It is in the best interest of Kogi state to reopen the factory so as not to scare away local and foreign investors,” ACCI noted.

Protesting Trailer Drivers Block Lokoja-Abuja Highway

Meanwhile, on Friday, trailer drivers blocked the Abuja–Lokoja dual carriageway in protest against the closure of Obajana Plant by the Kogi government.

They blockage at Koton-Karfe end of the highway that was bedeviled with flood water challenge for almost a week has compounded the woes of motorists playing the route.

A motorist, Mallam Usman Odaudu, who cut short his journey and returned back to Lokoja on Friday afternoon, said the situation had gone beyond control for now.

“We were contending with Ravaging flooding that has taken over the bridge at kotonkarfei end of this highway over a week now, with it attendant consequences.

“This afternoon to our surprise , trailer drivers , claiming to be protesting over closure of Dangote cement factory took their vehicles and blocked the two main lines on the highway, making whatever efforts being made for motorists to cross over the flooded area to nothing,” an angry motorist from Lokoja lamented.

According to him, the protesting drivers have vowed not to suspend their protest until the Kogi State government reopens the cement plant that had been shut for three days.

 

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