By Festus Adedayo
Lokoja, the capital of Kogi state, is facing one of its worst disasters ever. Four persons, which included a three-year-old baby, according to reports, were swept away to their deaths last week by a flood which broke its barriers. Ibaji local government area of the state is the worst hit by a flood that broke the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers coursing through Lokoja. Travellers passing through the 196-kilometre-Lokoja-Abuja highway which connects the north and south got stranded and the road literally cut off. The Niger and Benue rivers had broken their banks, resulting in a flood disaster unprecedented in the state’s history. As a result, a wide swath of the state is currently underwater. Economic activities have practically come to a standstill in these Kogi communities. The magnitude of the destruction is benumbing as people mourn their losses.
Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, is however battling a bigger flood of greater intensity. Dangote Cement Plant in Obajana appears a flood of more immense purport. In the heat of the flood disaster, last Wednesday, Bello caused the cement plant to be shut. According to him, the ownership of the plant is shrouded in a miasma of doubts. The government then began a process of recovering the plant. In a report of a specialised technical committee, it set up for an evaluation of the legality or otherwise of Dangote Cement’s acquisition of the plant in Obajana, a sleepy Kogi town, secretary to the state government, Folashade Ayoade, said the transfer of Obajana Cement Company to Dangote Industries Limited was “invalid, null and void”.
On paper, the plant belongs to Dangote Industries Limited. Formerly known as Obajana Cement Plc, it changed its name to Dangote Cement Plc in July 2010, becoming a subsidiary of the Dangote Group. Obajana Cement, before the acquisition, was solely owned by the Kogi state government, having been incorporated in 1992. In 2010, it got listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. The company said that between 2007 and 2012, its founder, Dangote, invested the sum of US$6.5 billion into the company and cement production and trading constitute a large chunk of the Dangote Group’s core businesses.
From available data about it, this same Dangote Cement plant in Obajana is the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a production capacity of 10.25 million tonnes per year across three lines. It also said it had “a further 3 million tonnes per year capacity currently being built”. Since 2012 when its $1 billion cement plant in Ibese, Ogun state, was built, with a production capacity of six million metric tonnes of cement per year, it had further gone to Gboko, Benue state where in 2013, it had a three million tonnes per year capacity.
For Governor Yahaya Bello however, that was immaterial. Dangote Cement has to vacate the soil of Obajana and its investments sink. Giving reasons why this has to be so, the SSG alleged that Dangote Industries converted three Obajana Cement Company Plc certificates of occupancy to obtain a loan of N63 billion. Thus, in view of the findings, the SSG’s committee recommended that Kogi state should take steps to recover the cement plant from the Dangote Group. It also recommended that the overall seven CofOs acquired by Dangote should be cancelled.
The state governor, Yahaya Bello, who apparently was the drummer egging on the dancing steps of the hyacinths on the waters, came out in the open to say that the decision to void Dangote Cement’s ownership of the plant was a bold step taken to safeguard the lives and livelihood of his Kogi people who gave him their mandate as governor. Whatever that means.
In its defence, however, the Dangote Cement Company, through its group managing director, Michael Puchercos, alleged that the Bello government illegally shut down its Obajana plant, maintaining that government’s claim to its ownership contained tissues of falsehood. The cement company also alleged that Yahaya Bello caused the invasion of the plant by armed vigilantes.
“The vigilantes (were) led by some officials of the state government… In the process of forcefully evicting the workers to enforce the shutdown, the vigilantes shot at 27 of our workers and also destroyed some of the company’s property at the plant,” said Puchercos.
Now, the ongoing spat between Yahaya Bello, with the Kogi state government as a façade, and Dangote Cement Plant, should be of great concern to Nigerians. For a federal government that has been worried over scant investments in Nigeria recently, it should be a development that must be viewed with tremendous concern. Being emergency judges in the court of public opinion, and with the initial facts presented before us, two things are germane in our consideration of the matter. One is precedents, and another is antecedents and the hard facts presented at the court. With these, we may be availed of a window to appropriately look into the matter.
A major allegation against Aliko Dangote, owner of Dangote Cement Plant, by his competitors is head-butting of business competitors. Other than this, Dangote and his companies have established the renown of clean businesses guided by law. The Nigerian corporate environment, though bespattered with underhand dealings, boasts of fastidious adherence to rules. You do not achieve this level of corporate behemoth that Dangote has attained by circumventing rules and practices. It then stands to reason that even if Dangote head-butted other competitors – which businessmen, shylocks and vultures that they are, do anyway – in acquiring the franchise on Obajana, his corporate wizardry and acumen must have taken the company further up from there. Not perfecting the papers of acquisition of Obajana and the equivocation in alleging tax evasion are not likely to arise for Dangote who, from what has been said about his companies, is about the hugest tax-paying corporate concern in Nigeria today.
Yahaya Bello of Kogi state was right in claiming that he is doing all these to safeguard the interest of his people, especially the Obajana community, who he alleged had been shortchanged. After all, a governor is elected to stand in the gap for his people. However, the baggage the governor carries is far weightier and casts the burden of guilt more on his shoulders. First is that as a Nigerian politician and governor, he belongs to a class of unbroken thievery of the public patrimony which is often legitimised by roguery. In other words, the political class of which Bello is a major player has a reputation for a persistent quest for corruption and armed tactics. Most of the time, this is shrouded around the claim of safeguarding people’s interests. This is often sustained by a criminal assemblage of jobless young boys who are used to legitimize it.
Yahaya Bello has been in government for close to eight years now. How come this gangsterism as a method of swinging Obajana back to his people is coming at a time when he is almost on the verge of leaving office? The transaction that midwifed Obajana is over a decade now. Governors have come and gone. It took only Bello’s eagle eyes, a few months to leaving office, before locating the alleged illegalities in the transfer of title from the state government to Dangote. Why this beggars belief is that allegations are flying in the air that this whole scaremongering is a renter system gone awry and that this scaremongering is aimed at upping the ante of personal entitlements that successive governors always get from every bag of cement that comes out of the Obajana plant.
This is because the oscillation by the state government from tax payment evasion allegations to improper transfer of title makes the whole sordid and cynical game very suspicious. While it may not be enough, it is doubtful that Dangote would not observe its corporate social responsibility to the Obajana community. If you ask Dangote to give statistics, there is also no doubt that the sons and daughters of Obajana will constitute the highest bulk of beneficiaries of the siting of the industry in their locality. That argument that Bello’s latest primitive machismo in Obajana is on behalf of the people will not wash.
The major question that needed to be answered is, why is Yahaya Bello always resorting to violence as a medium of action? Wherever violence as a medium of securing the upper hand is at issue, all eyes rivet towards Bello’s Kogi. He is held as typifying the archetype of violence in politics and Kogi the headquarters of unruly thugs used to put a governmental imprimatur on primitive actions. Dangote Cement, through its managing director, Puchercos, has alleged that Bello caused a forceful eviction of its workers in the process of enforcing the shutdown. It also alleged that vigilantes, on the assignment of the governor, shot at 27 of its workers, who also destroyed some of the company’s property at the plant.
In November 2019, a tragic viral video of some young Kogi ladies chanting the panegyrics of Governor Bello at a pre-election rally went viral. In the video, the ladies delivered in a local dialect a highly melodious song which went, inter alia: “Who is saying that Yahaya will not be Governor?// Dem go hear am ta-ta-ta-ta-ta//What are you saying?//What are you talking?//What a tyranny4+4”. In a piece I did shortly after, entitled Kogi’s ta-ta-ta-ta-ta and Nigeria’s head of the Medusa, I submitted that the video was of Hiroshima and Nagasaki proportion -a tragedy that Nigeria found itself in the hands of gangsters masquerading as politicians. I also called the ladies’ legitimization of violence a euphemistic of violence, delivered in a melodious tune.
In the said piece, I had written: “Enraptured by the very rhythmic song, you would almost lose track of the fact that the young ladies were ratifying and justifying the violence and murders which eventually engulfed Kogi in the melee of the elections. While I listened to it, I didn’t know the time I got sucked into the beautiful song and began to wriggle my body to the melody. The beautiful ladies delivering the song and their apparent mastery of the art of dancing also blithely delivered the parcel of electoral intolerance. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta was undoubtedly the unfriendly rhythm of a rifle. Do the ladies know or realize that ta-ta-ta-ta-ta means that votes will not count? Did they bother at all? Did they know that ta-ta-ta-ta-ta is sorrow for some persons’ children? Do they care?
“It was as if the choristers of death were presaging what would be parcelled to the world shortly after, a broth of political hatred, blood and outright disdain for the sanctity of electoral politics. The ta-ta-ta-ta-ta caught me gasping for breath. Like the euphemism that it was, it cushioned the blow of bloody electoral reality that it portended. But, why would a people give a political, cultural and societal stamp to gangsterism and violence like this in Bello’s Kogi and Buhari’s Nigeria?”
The election that brought Bello into office in 2019 was very violent. To date, no one can say with precision the number of persons martyred for this so-called “victory” which was celebrated with juvenile excitement, neither can anyone count on the fingertips how many homes lapsed into sorrow on account of it. The most horrifying of the violence was the one that consumed Acheju Abuh. Abuh, the women leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Wada/Aro Campaign Council, was set ablaze in her residence at Ochadamu in Ofu local government area of Kogi on Monday, November 18, 2019. From accounts of Abuh’s gruesome murder, the killers were identifiable. Were those killers brought to book for the dastardly act? I doubt. It was a permanent scar on the election that reportedly produced Bello for a second term.
Questions that further arise on the Kogi government’s waylay of activities at Obajana are: Does the alleged conversion of the three Obajana Cement Company Plc Certificates of Occupancy to obtain a loan of N63 billion, if it is true, void its ownership? If the Folashade Ayoade technical committee recommended that Kogi state should take steps to take over the plant from Dangote, does that recommendation include strong-arm tactics and can it be done outside of the law courts? Since Bello’s Kogi claimed that there was no evidence of consideration paid by Dangote for the acquisition of the Obajana plant, can the Dangote Cement furnish this court of public opinion same?
Bello had claimed that his government received petitions from several people and all attempts to sit down with the conglomerate failed, so how has the government been able to get the other side’s position against its? Going by the incoherence and contradictions as to the real reason for the invasion of the company, the world out here will need to know whether the shutdown was occasioned by alleged evasion of tax or illegality of acquisition.
The gangsterism exhibited in Kogi by the governor is a great dent in the rule of law that should undergird human relations. It is also an apparent attempt by Bello to use raw political power to achieve personal scores. It has been said that in third-world countries, governments, that have parliaments at their beck and call, deploy manipulative means to subvert rules, using their anvils planted in the parliament as enforcers. Otherwise, a house of assembly’s resolution, which the Kogi government is harping on, is a mere legislative opinion and doesn’t have the force of law.
What Bello is seeking in Obajana is a continuation of a rentier system into which many states have sunk in Nigeria. In rent-seeking, an entity seeks to gain added wealth, without any reciprocal contribution or productivity. While the Bellos operate at the cusp of that system, at its lowest level are thugs who go around about-to-be-developed lands in south-west Nigeria forcefully asking to be paid rent as Omo Onile.
Rather than the Kogi governor deploying his usual weaponry of violence to seek rent in Obajana, what civilized governments do all over the world is to go to court to enforce their claims. A rent-seeking by-force system makes humanity indistinguishable from a band of apes who use raw brunt to tackle their traducers. Yes, governors have limitless access to violence and can manipulate state power to do their bidding, but this deployment of raw power will scare away investors from Nigeria. What is happening in Kogi has the same scary and scaring import as the violence in Nigeria’s north-east which has shut the door against potential investors. If a state government could, through the naked deployment of machismo, shut down a plant that provides jobs for hundreds of people and which sustains large-scale economic activities as the Dangote Plant in Obajana does, then, look towards the window: Armageddon is here!