KOGI, DANGOTE FIGHT DIRTY OVER OBAJANA CEMENT PLANT

The crisis over the ownership of the Obajan cement plant in Kogi State deepened on Friday as the state government and Dangote Cement Plc continued to lay claims to the facility.

The management of the firm also vowed to take legal action over the recent invasion of the plant and the shooting of its employees by armed vigilantes allegedly on the orders of the government.

There was pandemonium on Wednesday when officials of the Kogi State Government reportedly moved to seal the cement plant which it claimed belonged to the state.

Although the government said one person was shot during the chaos that ensued, the cement company claimed that 27 of its workers were shot by vigilantes acting on the orders of the state government.

Governor Yahaya Bello had on Thursday said the state government would be ready to negotiate with Dangote Group once the firm was ready to admit that the plant belonged to the state.

Speaking when he presented documents 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, Yahaya said the decision to seal the plant followed several petitions by members of the local community over marginalisation by the company.

“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,” he said.

But Dangote Cement Plc, in a statement titled, ‘Illegal Shutdown of Dangote Cement, Obajana Plant,’ and signed by its Group Managing Director, Michel Puchercos, said the armed invaders acted on a resolution of the state House of Assembly on controversial tax claims, which it added that the governor had contradicted when he said the shutdown was due to an alleged invalid acquisition of the company by Dangote Industries Limited.

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

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

However, the state government accused the cement company of distorting the facts and vowed to recover all accrued dividends from profits made over the years by the Dangote Group, including accrued interests on the same.

The Commissioner for Information, Kinglsey Fanwo, in a statement on Friday, titled, ‘Dangote is distorting facts – Govt,’ said the state had all the relevant documents to prove that the purported acquisition of Obajana (cement plant) by Dangote was null and void.

“We want to assure the good 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.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, has condemned the closure of the cement factory, adding that the action does not necessarily help the controversial issue of compliance on tax remittable to state government.

“Rather a continuous operation of the plant would more likely facilitate a faster resolution of the dispute,” its Director-General, Olusola Obadimu, added.

Similarly, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned that wrong handling of the ownership tussle or unprofessional approaches to resolutions could send negative signals to potential foreign investors.

While condemning what it described as an “attack on the Dangote Cement plant located in Obajana,” and condoling with the families of those injured, it said the situation was a reflection of the poor handling of investment protection issues in the country.

The LCCI, in a statement by its Director-General, Dr Chinyere Almona, “We recommend a meeting of all government agencies connected with the acquisition of the cement plant to resolve any differences thereof. This process can be taken without necessarily shutting down the factory and endangering jobs, products, and government revenues. This point is critical as wrong handling or unprofessional approaches to resolutions can send negative signals to potential foreign investors.”

Also, the Director-General, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Victoria Akai, called for the immediate reopening of the factory and the commencement of alternative dispute resolution.

Akai said, “Tax and ownership disputes are issues top leaders should amicably resolve. We, therefore, call for the immediate reopening of the factory and the commencement of alternative dispute resolution. 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.”

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