By Owei Lakemfa
TENS of millions of Nigerians are in dire need. They do not know where the next meal will come from. They are not lazy, but there are no jobs. So when two industrial giants in a largely deindustrialised country take on each other in a fratricidal war, the death knell is sounded for thousands of jobs and their linkages. This unfolding tragedy is just a few days to the end of the year. This will doubtlessly be followed by hunger for the victims and their dependents.
BUA International Limited is a producer of foods including sugar, rice, pasta, flour and edible oils. Its tentacles extend to steel, real estate, ports, terminals and cement.
Some years ago, it acquired the Sokoto and Edo Cement companies. In the case of the latter, BUA injected US$500 million for a 2.5 million new production line which will bring its production to 2.9 million metric tons.
But its production is being halted in a bruising fight with another cement giant, Dangote Cement which has three plants in the country and is expanding into thirteen other African countries. Dangote accused BUA of illegal mining. It claimed to have an April 27, 2016 injunction seeking to restrain BUA from further mining in the area. It claims ownership of the sites in Obu, Okpella. Its ownership rights, it claims, are based on its acquisition of its predecessor company, Ado Ibrahim and Company, AICO. Dangote claims that the lease granted BUA by the Edo State Governor is null and void as only the Federal Government can grant such licence.
On its part, BUA claims that Dangote is a predatory company which like the vulture, is feeding on carcasses and engaging in underhand dealings. It said that the recent claims against it: “ …by Dangote Group stinks of desperation in its continued attempt to disregard the judicial process and scheme a viable competitor out of business as has been their legendary antecedent.” BUA claims that it has been operating the mines since 1976 when it was known as the Bendel Cement Company. It claims to have its own court ruling which directed that the status quo ante (which recognises its operations) should be maintained. However, Edo State Governor Obaseki announced that the Federal Ministry has asked that the disputed mines be shut-down. So he directed security agents to ensure the closure in order to maintain security.
In the midst of all these, walked in a delegation of the host community with the wisdom of Solomon. The people are beneficiaries of the mining and are aware that poverty will increase with the closure. They know that when two elephants fight, it is primarily they, the grass, that will suffer. They proposed that rather than stop work, both BUA and Dangote can mine in the area. They told Governor Obaseki a truth; that the court process he wants to resolve the dispute can take eternity, and in any case, it would only produce a winner and a loser. They want an Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism that will not only save jobs but increase them, and ensure a win-win outcome for all.
This is wisdom springing from a community, and hopefully, the federal and state governments will soak themselves in it. However, as things stand, the mine is being closed, jobs are slipping away and many of the workers and ancillary beneficiaries in the EDO BUA may enter 2018 without an income.
That is how tough it has become to be a Nigerian; the struggle for survival is intense. The Year 2018 is so near, yet so far. There are likely to be Nigerians who would be kidnapped from their homes for ransom. When I was young, in almost all cases, those kidnapped were children who can be enticed with sweets and free food. Now the targets are adults who can pay or whose families can pay ransom. Sometimes, even when ransom is paid, the victim is murdered. Nigerians are kidnapped anywhere; on the road, at work, in farms, leisure spots and in their homes. Also, the preferred currency of ransom for the major players in the kidnap industry, is the dollar. With the rise of such crimes as kidnapping, trafficking in drugs and human beings, armed robbery is no longer an issue. Unless it is on a big scale like holding up a number of banks, it goes virtually unreported.
I recall the first time I came across a thief; the man rifled past me as if the devil was on his heels, shortly after, a policeman followed and all around me concluded that luck had ran out for the thief. Once the police was on his trail, he had no chance of escape. In those days, thieves operate mainly in the dead of the night and any alarm raised, led to their scampering away. But we are now in the nuclear age where robbers can write letters to whole streets or a neigbourhood giving notice that they would be the victims of their operation on a particular day.
The challenges we face as Nigerians include a brutal terror war unleashed by the Boko Haram who hardly take prisoners. There are the quite bloody ‘Herdsmen-Farmers’ clashes across the country in which sometimes, whole villages are sacked. Despite the massacres, I do not know of people undergoing trial for these grisly crimes against humanity.
As the Christmas and New Year holidays set in, we are not sure of power supply. The electricity companies are gods that demand excessive payments through crazy bills, refuse to supply meters, especially pre-paid ones, and to which over N1.3 trillion public funds have been paid as sacrifice. Yet, they are insatiable. Now we face new challenges; unending fuel shortages that has made travelling during this festive period, a nightmare. If we have a fundamental right to movement, and there is no fuel in our vehicles, how do we exercise such a right?
During the three-year Civil War (1967-70), life was so brutish and short that people behind rebel lines learnt to live one day at a time. Death stalked the land, kwashiorkor reigned just as bombs did. There was so much uncertainty that people greeted themselves “Happy survival.” When 2018 comes, let us thank God we survived. I wish you happy survival.