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Dull moment in Obajana as Kogi gov’t, Dangote move to court

The people of Obajana have begun to count their losses a week after the Kogi State Government ordered the closure of Dangote Cement Industry over…

The people of Obajana have begun to count their losses a week after the Kogi State Government ordered the closure of Dangote Cement Industry over ownership dispute.  

Daily Trust correspondent who visited the town reported that many residents were beginning to fear the loss of their means of livelihood if the dispute dragged on and the company remained closed.

Thugs, allegedly acting on the orders of the state government, had invaded the premises of the company on October 5, shooting sporadically and forced the closure of the company.

The government had later accused the owners of the company of failure to pay appropriate tax and reneging on an agreement to cede 10 per cent of the shares of the company to it.

The management of the company, in response, denied all the charges against it, saying that it had followed due process in acquiring the company and had paid all that was due to the government.
Our correspondent, who was in the town, reports that the atmosphere is clouded with emotional crisis.

The beehive of activities associated with the cement town was dull, as a result of the row over alleged tax evasion and an ownership crisis that has affected activities at the factory.

Daily Trust noted that many residents of the town were seen wearing gloomy faces and discussing the situation in groups.

The sound of motorists and the blaring horns of articulated vehicles, which were part of the sounds associated with bubbling industrial community before, is  now absent from the town.

Similarly, the long queue of parked trailers that was the pride of the town has all but disappeared, as only smaller vehicles were seen.

The parking spaces, which used to be the centre of activities as trucks discharge or load products, are all empty, making the cement town look as if it were in the shroud of a ghost town.

Speaking to our correspondent, the market leader at a make-shift market along Lokoja-Kabba road said things have taken a turn for the worse for many traders.

“We started coming here to display our wares gradually since Friday. Unfortunately, most of our customers have left the town due to the unfortunate incident,” she said.

Similarly, our correspondent observed that most eateries in the town that were operating at full capacity before the crisis are now serving below capacity

The owner of one of the restaurants operating around the gate of the company, Madam Josephine Igeh, said the rate of patronage has dropped drastically since the ugly incident in the town.

She said she hardly makes N5,000 these days, as against N30,000 to N50,000 she was making each day before the crisis.

She added that even those who used to supply them with foodstuffs have stopped coming to the town, leading to a hike in prices.
She said prices of food items such as yams, rice and vegetables have hit the roof.

Equally, secondhand goods dealers, popularly called okrika, are lamenting a drastic drop in patronage.

“For days now, I have lost many of my customers. Many have relocated since the incident. I did not sell anything on Friday and Saturday.  I just sold one item around 11am today. I hope things will change soon as many that ran away are now getting back to the town,” one of the traders who declined to mention his name said.

Also, motorists plying the areas, including commercial motorcycle operators and Okada riders, in the town, are lamenting the drop in business since the face-off between the government and the company  began.

“We were just burning fuel around the streets; no customers. Hardly do we take N1, 000 home these days”, said a commercial motorcycle rider, Jimoh.

According to Fatai Idowu, a shop owner at the Obajana market, the crisis has paralysed commercial activities and transportation in the Obajana community.

“It is therefore unfortunate that protesters will be hired on this issue,” he said.

A worker who sought anonymity  said: “The crisis started around 11am on Wednesday. The youths invaded the gate of the company and forced themselves into the factory, preventing those on afternoon and night duty from resuming at their shifts  that day. But the production resumed the following morning – on Thursday.” 

Meanwhile, some truck drivers of the company have raised the alarm over the fate of some of their colleagues who were declared missing during the crisis, along with their vehicles.

They alleged that some of the company’s drivers were flagged down at the period of the crisis while on transit and forced to divert their trucks to the bush, where their cargo was off-loaded by irate youth in many areas in the state.

The Bajana of Obajana, HRH Oba Idowu Isenibi, the host  monarch, was said to be away, but some of his subjects said the situation is under control.

They said the town has got the ugly incident behind it, hoping for early and amicable settlement of the crisis for activities to pick up again.

The Chairman of the Okun Area Traditional Council and the Obaro of Kabba, Solomon Dele Owoniyi, has commended the cement company for undertaking many projects in the area.

He said  the 43km concrete road constructed by the company has elevated the status of his people.

“Without this road, Okun people would have been completely shut out of the state capital, Lokoja. We are most grateful,” he said recently during the signing of new CDS at Obajana.

Also, an influential member of the community who wanted to be referred to as,  Taiwo Babalola said: “Dangote is our son. We would protect his huge investment and gigantic concrete road. I am happy that this is happening in my lifetime and in my kingdom.”As the state government has vowed to take the matter to court, it looks like the people of Obajana may have to wait a bit longer before activities at the ancient town to resume.