Obajana Cement: Gov. Bello Rare Courage

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By Mustafa Haliru Giwa

One of the major requirements for effective leadership is courage to always protect the interest of the led from being trampled upon by the powerful forces that dictate happenings in any given society.

This is one of the core mandates of leadership as encapsulated in a machinery called government from which delegated leaders exercise their powers and influence. This however presupposes that a leader must at all times justify the decision of the leader who had to confer their mandate and legitimacy to lead them (leaders).

Though a leader must at all times strike a delicate balance in a manner to ensure peace and tranquility within his domain, he is however expected to stand up to defend his vulnerable and hapless citizens when the occasion demands him to act so.

This is what played out recently in the North Central State of Kogi when in a feat of uncommon courage, Governor Yahaya Bello did what many felt was unthinkable when he decided to confront headlong a formidable and powerful force who has cornered one of the prized assets of the state in what many now see as pure asset grab.

Bello did what could be termed what principled men do, which is to mind standing alone on the part of truth and justice in the overall interest of his people. The problem predated his government, Bello took a brave and courageous approach to ask the right and vital question from the high and mighty.

The question is, how did the prized asset of Obajana Cement Factory pass into the hands of Dangote Group? Did the process of transfer pass through the right procedure in line with best global practices or not?

The Kogi governor’s recent clash with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has followed the same pattern with how leaders take up the gauntlet on behalf of their people in a battle of wit that lasted for over a week.

The action of Bello followed a resolution of the State House of Assembly that the Cement Plant should be shut pending the resolution of ownership issues between the state and the conglomerate. In the end, Bello-led executive took Dangote Group to the cleaners with facts and figures to show the world that the company has been shortchanging the people of the state in all its operations.

Though Dangote Group had initially claimed that it owned the cement factory, the state government countered that by issuing a statement to show the world that the company was solely founded in 1992 by it, which held 100% shareholding in trust for the people of the state, long before the existence of Dangote Cement Plc (DCP) and the Dangote Industries Limited (DIL).

The state government disclosed that successive administrations had always invited DIL and DCP to prove that they paid for the acquisition of Obajana and to prove its alleged 100 per cent ownership, “but every time, DIL and DCP have woefully failed to do so.”

Bello on behalf of the state government proved the difference between legal acquisition and asset grabbing, adding that the latter is what Dangote Group is involved in.

The state government further disclosed that it took a loan of at least 15 million Deutsche mark to conduct feasibility assessments, which confirmed the existence of those ‘vast limestone deposits’ that DIL found so enticing years later to take over the plant.

And sadly, it still struggles and labours to pay back the loan, while DCP and DIL were posting profits from the operation of the Obajana Cement plants.

The state government asked Dangote to answer the following questions: “How come years after DIL and DCP claim they acquired 100 per cent of the equity and assets of Obajana Cement Plc, Kogi State officials were still listed as shareholders of the company, holding shares for and on behalf of the people of Kogi State in filings made by DIL and DCP at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC)?”

The state contended that DIL and DCP could not deny that Kogi State once invited them to invest in Obajana Cement Plc, but that the company is making false claims that Kogi State allegedly abandoned her allotted shares and was subsequently kicked out of the company it founded, thereby allegedly extinguishing all rights and interests of the state and her people in the operations of the company.

In order for things not to spiral out of control, a meeting of all government agencies connected with the acquisition of the cement plant was recommended to help resolve any form of differences whatsoever to forestall a situation whereby shutting down the factory for too long could leave many jobless and also affect government revenue.

To resolve the ownership dispute, Governor Bello said they would be ready to negotiate with Dangote Group once the firm was ready to admit that the plant belonged to the state, and the decision to seal off the plant followed several petitions by members of the local community over marginalisation by the company. He disclosed this while presenting the document from the report of the Specialised Technical Committee on the Evaluation of the Legality of the Alleged Acquisition of Obajana Cement Company Plc by Dangote Cement Company Limited to back the state’s claim to the ownership of the plant.

“We received several petitions from the general public over this particular subject matter. In the past five to six years, all efforts to sit with the proprietors of the Dangote Conglomerate failed”, Bello added.

Also speaking on the face-off, the state Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, in a statement titled, ‘Dangote is distorting facts,’ noted that the state had all the relevant documents to prove that the purported acquisition of Obajana (cement plant) by Dangote was null and void.

“And we want to assure the people of Kogi State that, with God on our side, what belongs to the state shall be recovered, including all dividends and interests on profits from inception till date. The Dangote Group is just distorting facts to save its face,” Fanwo added.

The governor’s spokesman, Muhammed Onogwu, also had this to say on the issue recently: “Our God-given atural resources that have been taken away by some individuals under the leadership of those who never had the interest of the people at heart shall be recovered no matter how long it takes. You are all aware that a company registered by the Kogi State government and in Kogi’s name was fraudulently transferred to an individual who has been milking the state dry and impoverishing the people, causing all manner of environmental hazards and degradation with monumental destruction of our ecosystem. Yahaya Bello stands to win this case for the people of Kogi State again no matter how long it takes.

“Between 2016 and 2021, over 10 different companies have been established in Kogi State. This is a result of the government’s determination and commitment to providing security, a conducive business climate, a friendly available labour force and the cooperation of our people. The state is continually open to those genuine investors from around the world who want to invest their money in Kogi. We will continue to protect the state for the people and businessmen to carry out their businesses.”

While a presidential intervention caused a cessation of hostilities meant to lead to an amicable resolution, there is no doubting the fact that Kogi State will be the winner in this battle as all evidences in public domain show that the Dangote Group has not over the years covered itself in glory. It takes a man of courage dedicated to truth and justice to cause a big conglomerate like Dangote to swallow the humble pie, learn to treat people right and adhere to the rules of the game.

Alh. Mustafa Haliru Giwa writes from Kaduna

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