By Ike Uchechukwu
NFAMOSING—SIX host communities to Lafarge Holcim Cement Company in Cross River State, are at daggers drawn with the company over supposed neglect of the people and non-implementation of 80 per cent Local Content Policy, LCP.
More than 500 youths from the communities: Mfamosing, Abiati, Akansoko, Ekong anaku, Mbubi and Ikong Effanga at Akamkpa and Odukpani local government areas laid siege to the company and handed and issued a 14-day ultimatum to the firm to address their demands or have its operations shut down.
However, a combined team of soldiers and policemen battled to deny them access to the Greenfield cement factory, as they read their demands openly and handed a copy to the company’s representative for onward transmission to the management.
They later marched to the palace of the traditional ruler of Akamkpa, HRM (Ntufam) Emayip, at Mfamosing, urging the federal and state governments to prevail on the firm to implement the local content policy and reposition its headquarters from Lagos to Calabar, capital of the state.
Company hired ‘strangers’
The youths, who carried placards and tree branches asked the company to treat its Cross-River host communities the way it treated Ewokoro and Ashaka host communities in Ogun and Benue states respectively.
NDV sighted inscriptions such as: “We are tired of the injustice and marginalisation done to host communities, we no go gree again oooh,” “we want the office of Financial Director,” and “we also demand that Human Resource Director should be an indigene and nothing else” on the placards carried by the protesters.
Other inscriptions were: “We demand 80 % local content in terms of job opportunities as it is done in Ogun state and in other states where Lafarge Holcim has its cement plants”.
According to them, they have been marginalized and excluded from the scheme of things by the cement giant, which brought total strangers under the guise that the host communities do not have qualified manpower.
Youth president of the host communities, Comr. Ernest Awor, who read out the protest letter of the communities at the company’s second gate, said: “The marginalization is too much; the company cannot be operating in Cross River, while its head office is located in Lagos. We want the head office to be brought back to Calabar. When we tell them to employ our youths, they come up with frivolous excuses, saying we don’t have technical know how about what they are doing.
“They are telling the world that we do not have experience; they ask us for three-five years experience without giving us opportunity. We have graduates, we have technicians who are capable, sound and willing to do this job, but they have bluntly refused to give us the opportunity.”
Speaking further, Awor said they were there to remind the company that failure to implement their demands would lead to a shutdown of the firm.
Prayers to the gods
Former youth president to host communities, Comr. Paul Oku, said that they had written series of letters to management of Lafarge Holcim, seeking redress of several contending issues, but the company treated the complaints with kid-gloves.
He added: “We are praying to the gods of our land and by their strength, we shall succeed. This is our fatherland and we cannot be intimidated here, our ancestors and their spirits will fight for us.”
The youths also called for review of all existing contracts and proper recognition of their monarch. Other demands include a Cross- Riverian to head the procurement department devoid of any form of control from anywhere, except in Calabar.
Also speaking, Deputy Leader of Akamkpa Legislative Council and Councillor representing Ojuk North, Hon. Beatrice Ntui, asked why one would execute a project for the company, only to travel to the headquarters in Lagos for payment.
Sources said the communities were exasperated having made demands through protests, SOS, letters to both management of Lafarge Holcim and government without response, over the years.
Change of tactics
Also speaking, youth leader of Mbubi community in Akampka, Ojong Etta, said: “As I speak, a position like that of an office attendant ( tea girl) is given to an expatriate, does it mean that we do not have people, who can effectively do this job? Even when they give us contracts, after six months, they will not pay us and we end up paying interest to banks for nothing,”
He added: “We have decided to change our modus operandi to see if they will listen to us. We even sent our grievances to their office in Zurich. Their policy on local content is 80 per cent local, they have implemented this at Ashaka and Ewokoro, but they do not want to do the same in Cross River.
“In fact, they are taking advantage of our peaceful nature; they are taking us for granted.”
All we want is development—Monarch
Responding, the paramount ruler, HRM Emayip said it was high time the company looked inward for employment, rather than employing people from Rivers and Lagos states, leaving out the indigenes completely.
Emayip supported the siting of the company quarters in the host communities, rather than bringing their staff everyday from Calabar, stressing that by so doing, there would be more development in the area.
“We are peace loving people and our intention is positive because we do not plan to disturb any one from doing their business, we are also praying for development in our area as well as our communities, “he asserted.
We’ll get back to you
Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Lafarge Africa Plc, Folashade Ambrose, said the company appreciated the stand of the people and promised to convey their message back to the management.
Her words: “We appreciate the stand of the people, we will take the message back to the management of the company and we will surely get back to the host communities.”
A youth leader, however, said the company had several times in the past maintained that it would look into the demands of the host communities, but ended up doing nothing, adding: “I hope that will not be the case this time around because the people are angry.”