Nigeria’s federal government has waded into the raging dispute between the Kogi State Government (KGSG) and the Dangote Group over the ownership of Dangote Cement Plc and the alleged non-payment of taxes and revenues due to the state government by the company.
Also, while the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) has condemned the position of the state government on the matter, a former vice president, Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC), Mr. Issa Aremu at the weekend urged the Kogi State government and the Dangote Group of Companies to cease-fire in order not to discourage the badly needed investments into the country.
Kogi State government had last Wednesday sealed Dangote Cement’s factory located in Obajana over alleged tax evasion and equity ownership in an exercise that several staff of the Dangote Cement were pelted with gun bullets.
However, an exclusive interview with THISDAY at the weekend, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Niyi Adebayo, said the manner the KGSG was going about the imbroglio was capable of eroding investors’ confidence in the Nigerian economy and could rubbish the federal government’s programme on promoting ease of doing business in Nigeria.
Adebayo said: “You are aware that we do not like situation like this because it makes a mockery of the ease of doing business programme of the federal government. I have no doubt that His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, will reach out to the governor of Kogi State with the view of talking to him.
“The view of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) is basically that if there is a dispute between a state government and any industry within the state, we have the courts of law to deal with the issue. We believe that it is very wrong for the state governments to take laws into their own hands to address such situations. The courts are there.
“I understand that there is an original agreement between the state government and the Dangote Industries that called for arbitration in the event of a dispute. I believe that all these legal steps should have been taken rather than a state government taking the laws into its own hands. It does not portray Nigeria in good light for sub-nationals to be creating problems for people who have invested money in Nigeria.”
The minister also said the manner the KGSG was addressing its relationship with the Dangote Group was a contradiction of the noble efforts of the Buhari’s government to attract investments into the country.
He said: “You are aware Mr. President just returned from the United States of America where he went to address the United Nations General Assembly. And on the sidelines of that visit to America there was a business summit where Mr. President reached out to foreign investors and was inviting them to come and invest in Nigeria.
“These foreign investors follow the news on events that are happening in Nigeria and if they see that in Nigeria that a sub-national government is treating one of our biggest investors within Nigeria the way that they have done to Dangote Cement in Obajana, it will not portend well for us as a country.”
Adebayo cautioned that, “nobody will be interested in coming to invest in Nigeria in such situation. It is incumbent on us as Nigerians, and as government within Nigeria, especially the sub-nationals to do things in accordance with the law as opposed to just resorting to self-help in troubled times.”
However, Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, has explained that the state government was constrained to take decisive actions due to Dangote Cement Plc’s intransigent attitude to resolving the dispute amicably.
Bello said the state government had tried for nearly six years to meet with Dangote Cement’s management over the vexing issues but to no avail.
He said: “We received several petitions from the general public about this particular subject matter. This is about five to six years now. And all efforts to sit down with the proprietor of Dangote conglomerate failed.
“We set up committee to look into this matter and the report came and all efforts to make those very important people, let us put it that way in quotes, to realise the impending danger that the operation of Dangote in Kogi State is posing to himself, his investment, the people of Kogi State and Nigeria generally all fell on deaf ears.
“And here we come to set up another technical committee to review that same particular report. This report was ready since September and I have gone through all. I have received a lot of accusations that I have interest; that every government that have come to this state have interest or have something to do in terms of shady deal with Dangote, especially as it concerns Obajana cement factory.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, I came into this office with my integrity and I will leave here with my integrity.”
Bello said that in a bid to clear himself of every suspicion, he directed the petitioners against the Dangote Cement to the Kogi State House of Assembly.
“Hence they went to the State House of Assembly. And we have seen so far those results that come out from the state assembly after their investigations,” Bello said, declaring that “I am here to defend and protect the lives and livelihood” of the people of the state.
In his reaction to the matter, the Director General of NECA, Mr. Adewale-Smart Oyerinde, told THISDAY that the development at Dangote Cement’s factory in Obajana, Kogi State, was both unfortunate and worrisome.
Oyerinde stated that the Dangote Cement industry remains one of the major employers of labour in Nigeria and the location of the cement plant presented an awesome opportunity for the locals to be gainfully employed.
He said: If there are issues arising from ownership of the cement plant, the most responsible thing that should have been done is to explore conciliatory or legal options rather than the gangster option that was used.
“That action alone portends danger to our quest for foreign direct investment as a rational investor will be concerned about the security and legal system of any clime.”
The NECA, therefore, “condemn absolutely the steps taken by the state government and hope that reason and sound judgment will prevail. We also urge that the perpetrators of the dastardly act should be prosecuted.
“The signs to investors are bad. The natural expectation is that every state government will make his state attractive to local and foreign investors. The action of the Kogi State Government will only send the wrong signal to investors.”