By Tordue Simon Targema
At a time like this, Public-Private Partnership is undoubtedly the surest blueprint for economic prosperity in Nigeria. This explains why Prince Abubakar Audu, the visionary Executive Governor of Kogi State in 2002 invited the Dangote Industries Ltd. to the State to partner on cement production, a venture that has been so far productive and economically rewarding to both the State and Dangote Industries Ltd., and indeed, Nigerians at large.
It thus smacks of apparent permittivity for the State Government to wake up today, over 20years after the deal was struck with Dangote Industries Ltd. and shut down the Company on the grounds of alleged illegal acquisition.
Apart from the physical damage that this dastardly act will incur the Company, it is also important to consider the bad signal it sends to prospective investors preparing to go into public-private partnerships with governments at all levels.
At the moment, calls are rife for governments in Nigeria to privatize moribund ventures and hands-off their operations in the interest of productivity. NNPC has just been privatised with the registration of the NNPCL, so also are calls for privatization of other assets that gulp billions in annual budgets without tangible results.
Yet, it is at a time like this that Governor Yahaya Bello and the Kogi State House of Assembly consider it most appropriate to wield their sledge hammer on Obajana Cement Company and shut it down in the most primitive manner possible.
A statement by the company’s management indicates that the invasion by armed vigilante groups has caused enormous damage on the plant ranging from physical destruction of the Company’s assets to wounding about 26 staff among other scores of incurred damages.
The report of death of a staff that was shot during the invasion cannot be substantiated at the moment, and appears as an exaggeration to attract public sympathy to the Company. It must be noted at this point that Dangote Industries Ltd. cannot be absolved completely of sharp practices in the course of its operations.
Just recently, the Benue State Internal Revenue Service shut down Dangote Cement Plant in Gboko due to the unwillingness of the Company to remit due taxes to Benue State. Like the current saga at Obajana, a war of words trended between State officials and the Company’s management over claims and counter claims regarding remittance of taxes.
Prior to the incident and until recently, the road around the plant was a terrible nightmare to commuters plying the busy Katsina Ala – Makurdi federal highway which leaves many wondering how serious Dangote Industries Ltd. is with its corporate social responsibility.
The road around Savannah Sugar Company in Numan, Adamawa State is equally a nightmare, so much such that commuters would always ask whether it is customary to Dangote companies to live roads around their plants terribly devastated.
A visit to Obajana where the cement factory is situated leaves one wondering if at all it hosts a company of that magnitude, as no meaningful development project commensurate to the company’s prestige can be spotted around.
One would have expected critical interventions of the Company in basic infrastructures of the town such as educational institutions, healthcare facilities, road networks, water and other critical infrastructure as part of the company’s compensation to the host community for the concomitant environmental effects occasioned by its operations.
This is not the case at Obajana which is but a glorified village remitting billions into Dangote’s coffers, even as Dangote Industries Ltd. is among the most renowned donors doing what one would regard as “Father Christmas” to places that it has no investments!
Another critical question worthy to ask pertains to who owns the remaining 10% of the Company’s shares due to Kogi State as provided in the agreement transferring ownership of the Company to Dangote Industries Ltd.
This question is crucial as the Company in its reaction to the invasion claimed 100% ownership of the plant, even as existing laws stipulate that a State is entitled to 10% equity shares of such investments within its domain, 5% of which belong to the indigenes while the remaining 5% to the State Government.
One must also be curious to ask if all taxes rightfully due to the Kogi State Government are being remitted as at when du. Recall the incident at the Gboko cement factory! These are critical questions that must be carefully interrogated as one wraps his head around the current crisis at Obajana.
Notwithstanding all these, however, given the strategic position of the Obajana cement factory in Nigeria’s economic sphere especially with regards to cement production, distribution and consumption, the consequences of shutting it down at the moment can best be imagined.
Consequently, it behoves on the State Government and management of the Company to shelve their swords and immediately return to the discussion table to resolve the crisis within the shortest possible time in the interest of all and sundry. It is worthy to note that Public-Private Partnership benefits all parties wherever it exists.
Kogi State Government and the Dangote Industries Ltd. should have known this better. In this regard, efforts must be made to strengthen existing partnerships and encourage new ones to emerge exponentially.
Individuals and groups going into such agreements with governments must, as a matter of necessity, exhibit the highest sense of responsibility by constantly dialoguing with government agents towards addressing all grey areas that might arise on a regular basis to ensure peace and tranquillity in the course of their operations.
In doing this, impunity and arrogance must be avoided and business operations must thrive purely based on mutual understanding and corporate best practices in line with existing legal frameworks.
In a similar way, governments going into agreements with private investors must be prepared to respect their fundamental rights and privileges, and must desist from all primitive and draconian acts that are capable of causing untold damage to such investments.
This is necessary if industrial harmony must be attained in jointly owned ventures for greater economic prosperity of Nigeria and her component states.
Tordue Simon Targema writes from the department of Journalism and Media Studies, Taraba State University, Jalingo. Email: email@example.com