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Uneasy Calm In Obajana Over Operations Of Africa’s Largest Cement Plant

ObajanaON April 1, 2012, indigenes of Obajana community, Kogi State, resident in Abuja held a meeting at the end of which they issues a communiqué urging the government and the management of Obajana Cement Plant to provide basic amenities for inhabitants of the host community. The convener of the meeting, Alhaji Tajudeen Bisimilahi, had explained that it was convened to seek ways of addressing the challenges being faced by the people of Obajana.

The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting read in part: “Dangote Cement Company should respect the terms of agreement signed with the state government, which entails the dualisation of the Lokoja—Obajana and Kaba road. The company should make provision for houses, electricity, water, roads, health facilities for the people of Obajana and also pay adequate compensation and relocate those living close to the production site, to avoid undue health hazards posed by chemical emission and pollution during cement production.

“The people of Obajana in Kogi State are faced with the same scenario that brought about the Niger Delta agitations. The peaceful nature of Kogi people should not be taken for granted. If the situation persists, the youths of Kogi State may resort to violence, which may pose another security challenge in addition to the existing Boko Haram crisis. We ask that meaningful measure be urgently implored to avert an uproar of youth restiveness in the area.”

More than two years after the meeting was convened and the communiqué issued, the people of Obajana community continue to live under the same agonising conditions that they wanted the management of Obajana Cement Plant to address. The Guardian learnt that before the Abuja meeting was convened, the people had also made representation to the management of Dangote Cement Plc, owners of the Obajana plant, to implore them to assuage the plights of their host community.

Obajana Cement plant is seen as the largest cement factory in sub-Saharan Africa. Though it was incorporated in 1992, it was in 2012 that former President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned it. The plant has 13.25mt of capacity across four lines, the newest of which was commissioned in late 2014. Obajana uses gas for its kilns and power plants and until late 2014, relied on low-pour fuel oil as a back-up fuel for its kilns. In November 2014, the company commissioned a coal mill to serve Line 3 and it is currently installing coal mills to serve Lines 1, 2 and 4.

The plant has limestone reserves of 647 million tonnes expected to last for about 45 years. A fleet of about 2,370 trucks supports it. Ordinarily, this multi-billion dollar project should be the pride of the host community as the company is expected to address the basic needs of the host community through its corporate social responsibility initiatives but that is not just the case. The people of Obajana appear to have received a short end of the stick in their relationship with the company.

According to the youth leader of the community, Comrade Bamidele Adeyanju, it is painful that after about nine years of operation, the company has not made any positive impact on the community.

In an interview with The Guardian, Adeyanju lamented that the community has suffered so much deprivation and environmental degradation since the factory was cited there.

“Regrettably we donated our land free of charge for Dangote to set up his cement factory with the hope that we would benefit immensely from the project but our hope has been dashed as he failed to meet our expectations.

“As far as I know, if any company is investing in any community, it is duty bound to at least provide the basic social amenities that are lacking in such a community. These amenities include good roads, potable water, electricity, hospitals, schools, youth and women empowerment, etc. The non-provision of these basic amenities has caused much pain and distress to us.

“We have suffered so much deprivation and environmental degradation since this factory was established in our community. We are extremely sad with the turnout of events in Obajana, our community, over the way the management of Dangote Cement plant is treating our case,” Adeyanju said.

Adeyanju further alleged that they had previously tried to meet with the company’s management over the poor state of things in the community but that every effort in that regard was to no avail.

“As a youth leader in Obajana, the challenge for me is how to alleviate the sufferings of my people.  I have been working relentlessly to see that the company gainfully employs most of our youths. But the management advised us to go to school so as to acquire certain qualifications before we can be absorbed. Now that many of us have obtained the basic qualifications, to secure jobs as promised by the company has become a different story. It has not been an easy road. Out of all Obajana youths that are employable, only about 15 per cent is gainfully employed. Such a scenario does not encourage healthy relationship between Dangote Cement and the host community,” he said.

On his part, Bisimilahi, who convened the 2012 meeting that held in Abuja said: “There is no standard school in Obajana and no school project has been implemented by the management, which is unfair. So, any school that is found in the community is the sole effort of the community and government.

“There is the UBE project going on in one of our secondary schools; we approached the company to help us to rebuild the school which was originally built by government but due to long years of neglect, its walls have started cracking and the community mobilised funds to put it in shape. When we approached them, they promised to give us a contractor whom they would award the contract to. We started the work, but after a while work stopped simply because the management refused to fund it. That means the school project was irrelevant to the management.

“Similarly, the only major road in Obajana is in a terrible state of disrepair road. We have been crying to the management for intervention. As we are now in the rainy season, it has become highly impassable especially as there are no drainages in the community. So, the management has done nothing to improve the poor state of the road. Recently, we recorded a fatal accident on the road due to poor parking of trucks. The community even went further to make provision for trailer parks for the company without even collecting a dime from them, to check the menace of these trucks.”

Bisimilahi said the community has been under heavy air pollution as a result of the activities of the company.

“We have made several complaints but nobody is ready to help us out and that is how we have been living. I just hope that now that President Muhammadu Buhari is in power, things will change for the better. I just hope our new President, whom I know is a man of principle, will come to our aid and we are using this medium to tell him that people are suffering in Obajana.

“I am also using this medium to appeal to Alhaji Aliko Dangote to take a second look at the activities of the management of his cement factory in Obajana as it has not impacted positively on the lives of the community. I know he is a capitalist and core businessman and does not have such time to monitor what is going on in Obajana but time has come for him to right the wrongs as things have gone out of hand. He should take a critical look at the community where his largest cement factory in West Africa is located and try to come to its aid,” he concluded.

Even members of the community who are employed by the company are not comfortable with its operations. A staff of the company who spoke with The Guardian in confidence said: “We have not benefited anything tangible from the company. The only benefit I can boast of is that today, I am a machine operator in the cement factory and I have gained a lot of experience on how to operate it and if eventually I am able to secure a better job elsewhere, I should be able to handle such machine effectively.

“However, what we take home as salary every month is very poor when compared to the risky nature of the job that we do. I am fortunate to be a full-fledged staff of the company but many are still working as contract staff.”

Despite the grievances of the people, the community has enjoyed relative peace because according to Adeyanju “its sons and daughters are very law abiding.”

He added: “We also know that violence cannot take any community anywhere. So, we do not encourage any form of violence in our community because we are peace-loving people. But the question now is for how long shall we continue to suffer in silence because the factory management is pushing us to the wall? But I believe that with the new government headed by President Buhari, our issue can be looked into.”

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