By Bassey Udo
Condemnations have continued to trail the alleged organised attack on Dangote Cement plant located at Obajana in Kogi State, as a cross section of Nigerians described the action as ill-advised and barbaric.
Over 500 Government Vigilantes popularly called Governor Yahaya Bello’s extra-judicial forces or ‘Government Government Hunters.’ were said to have invaded the plant last Wednesday.
The attack allegedly on the instruction of the State Governor, Yahaya Bello, resulted in the forceful closure of operations at the plant, but not without several workers wounded and company property destroyed.
Witnesses said several of the company’s delivery trucks were either burnt or vandalized, while buses and vans conveying staff forcefully hijacked.
Market and business activities in the area were disrupted during the attack, with the company reporting that no fewer than 27 of its staff sustained injuries from the attacks and are receiving treatment in the emergency section of the Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja.
The company also claimed its production operations were abruptly halted, while traffic through adjoining roads to the plant were blocked and vehicular movements restricted.
The Commissioner who said the state government had uncovered a plot by the Dangote Group to cause chaos across the state as a fight back strategy against its quest.
“The latest strategy stems from frustrations occasioned by the failure of the Dangote Group to misinform the general public and its shareholders as the State Government has consistently and continuously presented the facts of the matter to the general public,” the Commissioner said in the statement.
Mixed reactions have trailed the crisis, with some Nigerians arguing that although the state government may have a good cause, its approach to invade the plant without recourse to the due process of law was condemnable.
The shareholders associations in Nigeria have asked the Federal Government to intervene and prevail on the Kogi State Government to stop further harassment of investors in the state.
Dangote Group, in a statement, quoted the association as describing the use of thugs to attack Dangote Cement and other companies located in Kogi State as barbaric and embarrassing.
Such unsavoury development, the shareholders group noted, would strongly discourage both local and foreign investments into the country.
The President of the Association for the Advancement of the Rights of Shareholders, Umar Faruk, criticised the State Government for being so insensitive to its populace, thousands of whom he said were depending on the Dangote Obajana plant for their means of livelihood.
Faruk described as unfortunate a situation where Dangote Group that has championed investments worth billions of Naira into the state has been maltreated by the state government.
He called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, caution the Kogi State Governor to be more circumspect and professional in its dealings with Investors in the State.
“Why should the governor of a state in Nigeria, mobilize vigilantes to seal a publicly quoted company? The same Governor did exactly the same thing to First Bank, making the bank close down some of its branches in the state. Is that not executive rascality, using the State House of Assembly to commit such an atrocious act?
“The Federal Government should swing into action by protecting investors, else, the efforts being made to attract both foreign and local investors will come to naught. I hope the state realizes that Dangote Cement has foreign shareholders.
“What impression does the state government want these people to have of our country? I also urge the Federal Government to fish out those thugs used by the State government, for prosecution, so as to serve as a deterrent to others. This action will lead to loss of revenue, even for the Government, in terms of taxes, and erode the shareholder’s value,” Faruk said.
Also, the founder of the Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Sunny Nwosu, said a reasonable state government would have gone to court against any publicly quoted company for any infraction, rather than resort to a barbaric and ruthless method of chasing workers with guns and cutlass in the civilized age.
“What the Kogi State Government did honestly was very bad and disappointing. How can a state use vigilantes with guns and cutlasses against a company that is feeding thousands of its people? A reasonable government should have gone to Court and not taken laws into its hands.
“This action is bad and will smear the image of both the Federal and State government. It will also affect the ranking of ease of doing business in Nigeria. Kogi is blessed with so many natural resources. But with the attitude of this government, I doubt if any reasonable investor, either local or foreign, will want to do anything with the state anymore.” Nwosu said.
In his reaction, the President, Pragmatic Shareholders Association, Bisi Bakare, also criticised the action by the Kogi State Government.
“As an investor, we are not happy about the way things are going. If the State has problems with Dangote Cement on tax issues, or any other issue at all, there are far better civilized ways of handling it than forcefully sealing a factory that is contributing more than 30 percent of the cement Nigerians consume.
“The governor should realize that his position is transient and that the people of his state, whom he has deprived of their means of livelihood, will always remember him for bad!
“Can you imagine the number of people that will be out of jobs and the huge revenue loss to the state government, the company, and the shareholders? The state, to me, has made a very grave mistake and the earlier the company is re-opened the better,” she said.
On its part, the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), also criticised the State Government for its action, which resulted in the closure of the Cement company.
NACCIMA, which is the platform for the organised private sector (OPS) operators also expressed regrets that the dispute between Dangote Group and the state government over tax ought not to have led to the plant being sealed, rather should have been resolved in a conciliatory and amicable atmosphere.
The body said in a statement signed by its Director-General, Olusola Obadimu, that the state government should have taken the path of caution and called for the immediate reopening of the factory for normal production activities to resume.
Obadimu said 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.
“It is vital to note that a huge production plant that supplies key domestic input (cement) into the economy and employs hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, directly and indirectly is involved. This is aside from its substantial budget for corporate social responsibility, outside of taxes.
“Shutting off the factory does not necessarily help the controversial issue of compliance on tax remittable to Kogi State Government. Rather a continuous operation of the plant would more likely facilitate a faster resolution of the dispute,” he said.
The NACCIMA boss said the issue was not just for tax obligations, but also to 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.