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Moves to sell Benue shares in Dangote Cement stir outcry

Though most prominent Benue indigenes are keeping mum on the issue in the public, in the confines of their homes or secret places, they grumbleand…

Though most prominent Benue indigenes are keeping mum on the issue in the public, in the confines of their homes or secret places, they grumbleand express concernover the proposal, fearing that it may have already been executed on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
“Benue State government can offer (the shares) at anytime just like any individual shareholder in the market. Benue is just a shareholder in Dangote Cement which can sell off  it’s shares in the secondary market without any regulator approval.This is not the first time we are having cross-dealing on the exchange,” a source in the NSE told Weekly Trust.
Suswam told newsmen in Makurdi, the state capital, this week that he needed to sell some of the shares, warehoused with the Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC), to raise N7 billion to complete key projects and boost other sectors of the state’s economy.
“It is a good idea that was given to me to sell some of our shares. I am looking for money and I wish I will have enough shares to sell and get the kind of money that we need to solve some of our problems. The shares we have in Benue (Dangote) Cement are over 43 million units and not one of it is in the market,” he said while answering questions from journalists in Makurdion Wednesday.
“It is not me that is selling the shares. The BIPC has takenthe decision to sell the shares and the company has the mandate to do so. In fact, that was why the company was set up and nothing is wrong with that. They are not selling the shares yet, but if they decide, they can,” Suswam stressed.
The governor,who blamed BIPC for not offloading the shares much earlier, said the company was yet to fully achieve its mandate and called on the management to use the existing business potentials in the state to expand its scope.
But some citizens argue that the sale would whittle the state’s stake in Dangote Cement, stressing that even with its present shareholding, Benue has no representation on the company’s board of directors.
TheAll Progressives Congress (APC),the main opposition party in the state, condemned the governor’s position and called on thestate assembly to stop the planned mortgaging of the state’s future.
The party’s state chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro, accused the government of using the avenue to siphon public fundsfor the purpose of funding the 2015 general elections.
“The government decision to sell shares which belong to the entire Benue indigenes is criminal. The house of assembly should stop it. But they are a rubber stamphouse which would not do anything. The state government just wants to access the fund so that it can use same for the coming elections since its tenure will soon expire. Otherwise, how would it want to sell such lucrative shares in Dangote Cement?” Yaro queried.
Dangote Cement host community advocate, Mr. Sabestine Hon (SAN),faulted the plan to dispose of the shares without adequate justification. He said the issue was pertinent since it was the commonwealth of the people.
“Up till now, no person has given any reason for attempting to sell the shares. I strongly condemn the idea of attempting to sell the shares because it is the commonwealth of the people and any decision to dispose of such must be justified.
“Apart from that, the state has no other viable venture except the shares in Dangote Cement. If we have little stake in that venture, it would be sad to use it to satisfy some personal gains. And I will say that history will not forget any person that sells or attempts to dispose of those shares,” Hon maintained.
But the traditional ruler who oversees Gboko, the cement factory’s  host local government area, the TerGboko, Chief Gabriel Ishosum, told Weekly Trust that he would make proper investigation before saying anything on the matter because he was hearing it for the first time.
However, the national vice president ofthe Mbayion Development Association, the group that represents the host community, Mr. TernaAbeda, said the way politics is being played in Nigeria today does not allow the common man to voice out his opinion on several critical issues like the planned sale of Benue state government shares in Dangote Cement.
“As it is, we don’t have theright to either be happy or sad, let alone resist decisions made by politicians,” Abeda said cautiously.
Obviously, manyBenue indigenes are uncomfortable with the plan to sell the shares in Dangote Cement, Nigeria’s most capitalised quoted company, at a time its shares are performing well in the stock market.
Dangote Cement traded at N218.80 per share yesterday, meaning that those who invested in the company in 2010 have almost doubled the gainon their investment. The firm is also known for paying attractive dividend every year as it has remained profitable over time.
The governor had during the chat with newsmen explained that the right time to sell the shares was actually now thatthey are doing well in the market.
Weekly Trust gathered that the state government first mulled the sale of the Dangote Cement shares when it failed to raise N11 billion from the bond market as its offer attracted only half that amount, which the governor said is far short of the N7 billion he needs to complete some projects before his second tenure ends in May 2015.
The projects to be completed include the Oju-Utonkon road which is already 85 percent done; the Afia-Gbeji road which stands at 95 percent completion, Makurdi greater water works reticulation and Taraku-Naka-Agagbe roads among others.
The NSE had on September 7, 2010, approved the listing of “an enlarged company” arising from the merger of Dangote Cement and the then Benue Cement Company (BCC), which was sold to Nigeria’s biggest cement manufacturer by the Bureau for Privatisation (BPE) a decade earlier.
President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, acquired the federal government’s 35 percent equity stake in BCC in 2000 and took over control in 2004 and as Suswam puts it: “Our shares (in Dangote Cement) are not enough so we lost the directorship.”

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