Two workers of BUA International Limited were arrested on Wednesday on the order of Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, for allegedly flouting a stop-work order issued by the Federal Government over the disputed Obu mine in Okpella.
The suspects were arrested when the governor and some heads of security agencies visited the site in Etsako East Local Government Area of the state.
It was learnt that some explosives used for mining operations on the site were also confiscated and moved to the Army Brigade Command on the order of the commander.
The Obu mine has been a subject of disagreement between BUA and the Dangote Group, with both parties claiming ownership before the matter was taken to court.
The Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and the Edo State Government had also ordered the shutdown of the mine pending the determination of the court case on the issue.
But the governor, who was accompanied by the Commander of the 4th Brigade, Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Ibrahim Garba; Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Kokumo; and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Security, said the continuous operation on the site was a disregard for constituted authority.
According to him, the state government is more interested in the security of lives and property, adding that while there was the need for investors to make profits from their investment, “no money is worth any life.”
Obaseki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Crusoe Osagia, said, “There is a dispute over the ownership of this mine. The dispute is in court. There was a specific instruction from the Minister of Mines and Steel Development asking that work should stop pending the outcome of the matter before the court.
“I addressed a section of the Okpella community, who came to me to express concerns about the growing tension in the community because of the dispute. At that point, I issued instructions that the work should stop in line with the Federal Government’s directive and the case in court.
“I said that the status quo (should) be maintained until the determination of the case in court. I think that is the simple common sense thing to do. There is a quarrel and all parties should maintain peace and the status quo.”
The governor also accused the management of BUA of claiming that the state government had no authority and right to enforce a Federal Government directive.
He added, “What they are saying in essence is that government does not matter. That sort of utterance and position is very dangerous for our country, for a company that needs government to treat us with such disdain.
“With this, things will degenerate into anarchy. How can they operate in such an environment? We do not care who owns what; but human life is more expensive than whatever money anybody can make.”
The governor also explained that the visit to the site was to assure the people of the area that the government was on top of the situation to ensure peace in the community.
Also speaking, the Okuokphellagbe of Okpella, Alhaji Andrew Dirisu, maintained that the community was open to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Dirisu, who spoke when he received the governor at his palace, said, “There is no way we will not welcome people to invest. But what we want is for everyone to take what they get and no one should take from another.
“For now, as you have given your order, who are we to dispute it? I thank you for calling for peace in this matter.”
Meanwhile, BUA described the action of the governor as “a gestapo-style forceful shutdown of that mine despite a subsisting court pronouncement that the mine be allowed to operate.”
It said in a statement, “Upon reaching that mining site and not meeting any personnel or equipment, two BUA Cement employees were invited to the mining site to receive the governor. We later learnt that these employees were arrested upon arrival on the orders of the governor and taken away for no just reason.
“As it stands, we do not know why they were arrested but have requested our lawyers to secure their unconditional release immediately as these employees are innocent and have no knowledge of why they were being arrested.
“Now that one of our mining sites has been forcefully closed down by the governor without regard to the court’s pronouncement on maintaining the status quo at that particular site (and without any formal communication from the Edo State Government), BUA as a responsible corporate entity has instructed its lawyers to report back to the courts on this latest developments and pursue all legal channels to enforce its rights.”
BUA added, “Whilst the governor based the legitimacy of his actions on a purported stop-work order from the Ministry of Mines, BUA wishes to reiterate that there is a pronouncement of the Federal High Court sitting in Benin on December 5, 2017 that declared the stop-work order issued by the ministry as a contravention of the court’s directives to maintain the status quo and thus deemed it illegal. The same court also threatened to arrest the minister, who is the first defendant in the case, if the stop word order continues to be pursued.
“We once again ask all parties to await the conclusion of the judicial process as this matter is already before a court of competent jurisdiction.”