…We have no limestone field in Kogi- BUA Group
By Folake Ogunleye
The fight over the control and ownership of limestone fields in Okene, Kogi State worsened at the weekend following allegations and counter allegations by Dangote Group and BUA Group. The latest fight despite the Court order for parties to maintain status quo was initiated by Dangote Group at a press conference in which Dangote Group accused BUA Group of stealing and illegally mining limestones in its Mining Lease No. 2541, located in a boundary town of Oguda/Uno in Okene Kogi State.
Also recent media reports indicated that the parties were invited to a conflict resolution meeting recently by President Muhammadu Buhari so as to avoid the negative effect of the disagreement of the two giant companies on Nigerian economy.
Dangote’s Executive Director, Mr. Devakumar Edwin frowned at the alleged media war, instigated by BUA against the Dangote Group, over a matter which is already pending before the Federal High Court, Benin Division
Edwin revealed that: “Dangote Group validly acquired its interest and mining title in the disputed Mining Lease No. 2541 from AICO Ado Ibrahim & Company Ltd sometimes in 2014. AICO itself had applied to the Mining Cadastre Office and Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for the said Mining Lease No. 2541 located in a boundary town of Oguda/Ubo in Okene Kogi State in 2007. The Ministry in exercise of its power under the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 granted and issued to AICO ML. No. 2541 for the renewable period of 25 years effective from 1st February 2008 and to expire on 31 January, 2033. Thus AICO by virtue of the said grant became vested with the legal title over ML. No. 2541. In 2014, the Dangote Group approached AICO and indicated interest in acquiring AICO’s stake in ML No. 2541. In 2014, AICO in exercise of its right under the Mining Act, applied to the Ministry for the transfer of its title in the ML No. 2541 to Dangote Group. AICO and Dangote Group equally paid all the transfer and statutory fees demanded by the Ministry.”
He further explained that:” By a letter dated 05 February 2016, the Ministry wrote to the Managing Director of the Dangote Group to convey the approval of the Ministry for the Transfer/Assignment of ML No. 2541 from AICO to Dangote Group with effect from 03 February 2016. Following the successful transfer of ML. NO. 2541 to Dangote Group, the Group became the holder of the Mining Lease No. 2541.”
He said even BUA in its process in Court acknowledged that these illegal mining leases which it claimed were granted in 1997 were temporary mining leases.
Edwin also recalled that the then Minister for Solid Minerals under Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, Dr Oby Ezekwesili sometimes in 2006 waded into the dispute and invited the managements of Edo Cement Company Limited and AICO Ado Ibrahim & Company Limited for a meeting and that in the course of the meeting the then Minister again queried the legality of Mining Lease Nos 18912 and 18913 and the power of the Governor of Edo State to grant such mining leases.
“At the end of the Meeting, the Minister declared the Edo Cement’s Mining Leases Nos. 18912 and 18913 illegal and declared the mining site open for interested investors. Given that AICO’s then existing Mining Lease No. 17825 was yet to be renewed even though application for renewal was pending, AICO in 2007 (under the Mining Act, 2007) applied for the fresh Mining Lease No. 2541 and the Ministry granted it in 2008 without any objection from Edo Cement Company” Edwin said AICO, which sold the right to Dangote, continued its mining operations in the Mining Lease No. 2541 undisturbed until BUA Group acquired Edo Cement Company Limited and resuscitated the dispute again.
Edwin further revealed that it was the attempt by BUA to encroach on AICO’s mining title in Mining Lease No. 2541 that prompted AICO to write to the Ministry in 2015 complaining of BUA’s encroachment.
He said: “The Ministry after investigation in the same 2015 by the letter dated 21 January 2015 wrote to the Chairman of BUA Group directing BUA to stop mining within the ML. No. 2541. It was this same letter from the Ministry that prompted BUA to file a suit at the Federal High Court Benin in 2016.”
Edwin said: “It is therefore appalling that BUA Group in the midst of these overwhelming facts will still want the public to believe that Dangote Group is after its business when in actual fact BUA has been the one mining illegally in Dangote Mining Lease and attacking its officials without any justification… The crocodile tears being shed by BUA in its cry for help and open letter to the President is most laughable and a total distraction from BUA’s continuous illegal activities within Dangote’s ML 2541 aimed at depleting and exhausting the limestone reserves in order to sabotage Dangote Group’s legitimate investment.”
However, the Group Head Communication, BUA Group, Mr Otega Ogra in reaction to the allegations stated that the statement 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. According to him, the company will not like to join issues with anyone on this matter as it is currently before a court of competent jurisdiction but compelled to use the opportunity presented by Edwin Devakumar’s reckless statements to clarify the cycle of misinformation being proliferated.
Otega disclosed that BUA does not have any operations whatsoever in Okene, Kogi State where the purported ML2541 is situated. Our Mining operations are limited to Obu-Okpella, Edo State for which licences ML18912 & 18913 were issued and revalidated by the same ministry in a publication .He confirmed that these licenses have been owned, operated and fulfilled by BUA and its predecessors-in-title since 1976 as it is also a notorious fact that we have exercised total control and possession over the mining area covered by the above mining leases since 1976 when we operated under the name of Bendel Cement Company Limited. “We are thus wont to excuse Edwin’s claims to a lack of basic knowledge and understanding of the geography of Nigeria but he will be better served if he seeks professional opinion in critically understanding the geography of Nigeria or he should otherwise refer to documents from the boundary commission which clearly delineates boundaries within Nigeria, “he lamented.
Otega argued: “We therefore wish to ask – Why is Dangote, an international company which is also listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, so averse to letting the rule of the law and judicial process take its course? The court has maintained that Status Quo be maintained (This includes BUA’s current ownership of our mines in Edo State) but the management of Dangote Group Dangote, as has been their strategy in the past to other companies in competition with them, is still seeking to out-muscle competition through backdoor means rather than let the court decide. If anyone is not satisfied, they should write to the courts as an independent arbiter for an interpretation of “maintaining status quo” rather than spread misinformation in the court of public opinion.”
He added that It is public knowledge that neither Dangote nor AICO or anyone for that matter can claim ownership of ML2541 as was stated in a court injunction by a Federal High Court sitting in Lokoja in suit FHC/LK/CS/25/2017 between Alhaji Mohammed Otaru Adeika & Ors. Versus AICO Ado Ibrahim and Company Limited, Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel, The Mining Cadestre Office and Dangote Industries Plc. “How then can they continue to claim in obvious disregard of that court order that the ML2541 belongs to them? No one is above the law.,” he pointed out
He further stated that the antecedents of Dangote Plc in trying to outmuscle competition is not in doubt. Various cases abound within and outside the cement industry – one of which was their taking over of the limestone deposits of another competing entity in the south-south region of Nigeria until they ceded him 25% of their company. This was in turn resold to them for hundreds of millions of dollars. Or is it the case of Ibeto whose business was almost driven under but for the prompt intervention of the then late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Or is it the case of Polo House Jetty Tincan previously owned by his uncle, Usman Dantata, whose License was revoked by NPA and reallocated to Dangote on the same day in order to prevent a sugar refinery to be sited there by a competitor.
“The facts of the matter as far as we are concerned is that BUA’s operations are in Obu, Okpella, Edo State and not Okene Kogi. We once again ask that all parties should wait for the court to resolve the issue. We will not be cowed or intimidated and will continue to seek redress through the proper legal channels,” Otega warned.