A trail of broken promises: The story of Dangote Cement and the people of Obajana (1)
Years ago, when Dangote’s Obajana Cement plant was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan in Obajana, Kogi State people would have thought that in no time, the small Kogi town would be the envy of other communities that would have loved to host the acclaimed largest cement factory in Africa.
The company on its official website,www.dangote.com/cement/obajana, explained, that “With three cement production lines, the capacity of Dangote Cement Plant (DCP), Obajana unit, shall be 10.25 million metric tons per annum and when the fourth cement production line, which is completed and commissioned in 2014, we will have an additional capacity of 3 million tons at this location.
“That will make Obajana the largest cement plant not only in Nigeria but also the biggest in entire Africa and one of the largest in the world, with a total capacity of 12.25 million metric tons per annum,” the company further boasts, adding that Obajana “is a unique location where all the raw materials required for cement manufacturing are available in the same mines complex, except the mineral gypsum, that is used only up to 3.5% during cement grinding process.”
One of the signboards of the company at Obajana
In the company’s 2016 full year audited results presented on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in February, 2017, Dangote Cement said it sold 8.6 million metric tons of cement outside Nigeria which is 54 per cent higher than what it sold the previous year.
“The New Year has started well and we expect much profitability in Nigeria in 2017,” said Onne van der Weijde, the company’s CEO. As Dangote Cement expects more profitability, what has been the lot of the people of Obajana who continue to bear the brunt of hazards that arise from the production of cement?
FIRST OF ALL, THEY TOOK OUR LAND AND LIVELIHOOD FROM US
“The cement factory was an initiative of the Kogi State government, and this came after the discovery of the mineral resources deposited in the area” Chief Oluwasegun Obanla, the Obaja of Oworo Land, a former community leader in Obajana explained. “After conceiving this idea, they began to look out for companies to partner with, and that was how Dangote came in. I, however, gathered that the state government was unable to put in its own about five per cent being part of the capital to start the project,” he said, stating that where the factory is currently situated was a combination of farmlands belonging to people of Obajana.
“When Dangote came, the farmers who were original owners of the land were compensated with peanuts and driven off the land. Over the years, there have been pleas by these farmers for Dangote Cement to review what it would give them as compensation but the company has continually turned a deaf ear.
“Farmers who had grown cash crops only got compensated for the crops and not the value of the land,” Chief said. “If you have cashew, palm trees, cassava etc., they count it through the state ministry of lands, the third party that is, and pay for only that. And they pay as they wish such that farmers couldn’t even negotiate. No farmer was called to a negotiation table, they will just say okay you; on your farm we counted and cleared twenty cashew trees, take money for twenty trees.
“The approach was so authoritarian. A farmer knows how much he would make on a 50kg bag of cashew nuts. Dangote destroyed all these crops to make way for its factory and only gave compensation not commensurate with what was destroyed.
“Dangote did not only take lands for the cement factory, they also allocated lands for banks, disallowing the land owners from getting paid for the value of their lands by the banks. Even if government was going to do that, land owners would be properly compensated and such lands are used in the public interest and not for private gains”.
Chief Obanla further explained that before the coming of Dangote into Obajana, young people made money from extracting precious stone deposits in some areas where the factory now covers. Ripples Nigeria gathered from an angry Peter, who is in his late thirties, that “Many of us relied on this precious stones business. We actually do this extraction using manual techniques, but when Dangote came, the company promised to bring in powerful machines that would ease extraction and that we will get certain percentage from the proceeds, but we have since been sidelined and many of us are now jobless and with nothing to survive on.”
WE BREATHE CEMENT DUST
What anyone visiting Obajana would quickly notice is how the town is sprayed and wrapped with dust.
“We breathe, and in fact, eat dust in this town,” said Pantaleon, a businessman, coughing at intervals as he spoke with our correspondent. “Everywhere you go, dust; on your bed, sitting room, car, everywhere. When I wake in the morning, the amount of cement dust I sweep out of my house would be enough to mold one concrete block. And when one travels out of Obajana just for a day or two, you will return to a house with heaps of dusts everywhere.”
Chief Obanla has had enough of his own share of the dust as evident on his dusty hair, dusty handkerchief, dusty car and dusty house. “It is a terrible situation,” said Chief, brushing off the dust that has settled on his hair and wiping his nostrils with his brownish-white handkerchief. “The community has been going through hell since the production of cement began here, and the hazard is now becoming unbearable. My children, every morning, sweep almost one bag of cement dust from the house. For several months now, hardly would anyone have a sound night rest as we struggle with dust that is coupled with a particular poisonous smell emitting from the cement plant. Obajana is no more conducive for people to live. The mortality rate is becoming scary,” he said.
Chief Obanla’s blue roof covered with dust
Dusty flowers inside Chief Obanla’s house
“Do you know that the factory now uses coal to power some of their machines, adding to the pollution? We’ve seen people battling with cancer and lung-related ailments. We were living healthily before Dangote Cement came here, but now we are unsure of how long we can live before we all get killed by these dangerous things daily released into the community by Dangote Cement.”
In October, 2016, the President, Dangote Group of Companies, Alhaji Aliko Dangote said, “all our cement plants have been converted to coal,” adding that the Obajana facilities would use 12,000 metric tons of coal each day. He, however, noted that the move was unusual in an era when power generation is shifting away from coal.
(Coal) pollution inside the plant
Properties are not left out as Chief Obanla bitterly complained of how dust has changed the paintings of their houses and cars. “Driving at night and you wouldn’t see clearly because your windscreen is full of dust,” he said.
Wall covered with dust.
His case is no different with Mama Esther, a Living Faith Church devotee, who sells food a few miles from the cement factory. “Only God can save us from this dust o,” she screamed. “I treat myself and my children of catarrh, cough, all the time because we inhale this thing every day,” she added.
A car parked opposite the cement plant
Ripples Nigeria gathered that some farmers in Obajana had since moved to far off villages many miles away to continue their farming because crops grown on the little portion of land available for farming in Obajana get contaminated. “That is the only option we have now,” said Aiyedero, one of the frustrated farmers in Obajana.
The main source of water in Obajana, Oyin River– flowing across the House Colony, was dammed by Dangote Cement and the portion left for the public use has been contaminated. “That river was a source of livelihood for our people, because it used to serve many purposes”, Chief Obanla recollected. “We used to do fishing and other activities there, but now, apart from denying us the use of the water, the small part left out is filled with poisons,” he added.
Contaminated Oyin River
Pantaleon is scared he may not live long if he doesn’t relocate from the town. At his young age, he is now worried about his hair that is fast becoming grey owing to too much cement dust he gathers every day. “What we now tell ourselves in Obajana is; if God has planned sixty years for you, just know that you can only live half of it in this Obajana,” he said. “But, is there no technology that could be used to stop the pollution and all?” Panteleon asked.
“In the Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) report brought before operations commenced, Dangote had promised that this cement factory is a modern technology where hazardous contents would be contained and not allowed to escape onto the community,” Chief Obanla told Ripples Nigeria.
SO, WHERE IS THIS DUST COMING FROM?
Ripples Nigeria’s correspondent, with the aim of uncovering the exact area where the dust comes from, went undercover to gain access into the third production line of Dangote Cement plant.
Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP) are the major machines that exhaust dusts in the cement factory, so also are bag filters. Dusts only escape when there are bag filter failures or ESP overload. “Types of dust emissions you might see now are those that affect people working around the dust zones,” a factory worker told our correspondent. “Well, it’s the small dusts that accumulates into larger dusts and escape into the community,” he added.
A senior engineer at the factory explained that “normally, dusts resulting from the production of cement are recycled into the field.” He further explained that “there is a bag house that captures emitting dusts, and it’s when these bags fail and or there are complications with the ESP that we have dust escaping in large quantities through the chimneys, but this rarely happens.”
Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP) inside Dangote Plant
Although, sources within the factory claimed that filter bags rarely fail, ESP failure occurs frequently as much as five to six times in a year and can spit out volumes of dusts in periods of thirty minutes to as long as two hours. Ripples Nigeria gathered that when these failures occur, it takes weeks to get things fixed. “Delay in replacement is due to non-availability of spares, which the company, sometimes, have to order from abroad,” the senior engineer said.
“Asides these major incidents, normal dust emissions occur due to the nature of the production of cement,” another senior engineer admitted. “We run this process with earth materials so dust must definitely come, but we always ensure we trap the dusts with ESPs and bag house. The little inefficiencies here and there are the reasons you see dusts everywhere, because as the plant ages, the efficiency reduces.”
Bag House inside Dangote Cement Plant
Inside the bag house where the cement dust comes from
A junior cadre staff who spoke with our correspondent, however, said that “managers over manage things.” He explained that; “for instance, a machine meant to use three months would use a year without maintenance and repairs just so they could yield enough profit for the company. People should know that Dangote Cement is here to make maximum profit, and the company’s owners would run at people’s expense rather than run at loss.
“The company believes there are no hazards because the plant was designed to be hazards free.”
DETERIORATING HEALTH, YET NO HEALTH FACILTIES
“People have been coming here to complain about cough,” Adebola Teidi, the health officer stationed at the Primary Health Care center in Obajana said. The under-equipped health center, apart from a few private hospitals, is the only public health center in Obajana, and it serves Akpata, another town that is a few kilometers away from Obajana. “Obviously, the cough is caused by inhaling dusts emitting from the cement plant,” Teidi said, adding that “many people also come to complain about having ‘peppering nostrils.’ A lot of people now have difficulty with their respiratory system; they can’t breathe freely, and some also come with complains of chest pain”, he said.
The only public health center in Obajana
Sadly, however, adequate health facilities have not been put in place to ensure healthy living for people exposed to these hazards. “When we have chronic cases, we refer them to the Specialist Hospital or Federal Medical Center in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital,” Teidi told our correspondent. He further expressed his concern over the way Dangote Cement and the State Government continue to pay little or no attention to the health issues plaguing Obajana residents who are daily exposed to the hazards.
“Just take a look at the one and only health center that is supposed to serve over a million people that might have been exposed to these hazards,” Teidi said with a faint voice as he shook his head. “Before now, government used to give us drugs but now all we get are mosquito nets and anti-malaria tablets.
Poorly equipped health center
“And it is worrying that Dangote Cement, as rich as the company is, has never donated the smallest needle to this health center. There is no equipment to work with here, and even the laboratory is just one empty room without the cheapest microscope. The benches and the faulty generator you see here were donated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).”
Ripples Nigeria gathered that months ago, a group of Obajana residents went to meet the management of Dangote Cement with complaints ‘of peppering nostrils’ and they admitted that the fault was theirs, promising to make adjustments on their machines so as to contain that particular ‘thing’ disturbing their nostrils.
“Dust emission over time would definitely cause lots of problems,” a managerial staff of Dangote Cement said. “These are usually health problems associated with the dusts emission. Dangote is just about ten years, and it may take another fifteen years before these hazards would be felt adversely.”
Ripples Nigeria’s Femi Owolabi’s hair after taking a walk round the dusty town
Danladi Usman, an environmental scientist in Abuja told our correspondent that there should be an urgent need to check the quality of air that Obajana people breathe into their systems. “A Particulate Counter should be used to count the amount of particles in this air, with their varying sizes,” Usman said. “They need to check for Nitrogen Oxide, Nitrogen dioxide, Sulphur dioxide and Carbon monoxide.
Noting the complaints surrounding their health, Usman said “production of cement could bring about Suspended Particulate Matters (SPM); these are unseen particles in the air that can damage the breathing system and cause cancer.”
Dr. Abimbola Ogunleye, a specialist with the Gbagada General Hospital in Lagos, in her reaction explained that Obajana people may have to battle with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. “Basically, the lungs and the skin are the commonest sites of affection, the lungs being number one,” Dr. Ogunleye said. “The particles and substances that are byproducts of the cement production process find their way into the lungs and causes structural and functional changes over time.
“Usually, the changes are gradual rather than sudden, so a person may not come up with any problems now, but would definitely later in life. However, people who already have a predisposition to lung pathologies, for example, asthmatic patients would be exposed to allergens and may have frequent acute attacks. Skin irritations are also possible, and the eyes, too, could be affected, leading to recurrent conjunctivitis. So, symptoms like cough, chest tightness, skin irritations, excessive phlegm production are not uncommon in Obajana”, Dr Ogunleye revealed.
The company, however, in its 2004 final report on the Environmental Impacts Assessment, said “dust emitted during cement manufacture is generally non-toxic, non-corrosive, noninflammable, non-explosive, and also not hazardous.”
This claim by the company stands untrue against available studies on the effect of cement dust on humans and the environment. An Investigation of General Effects of Cement Dust to Clear the Controversy Surrounding its Toxicity published in the Asian Journal of Scientific Research, here–http://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ajsr.2011.315.325 used black rats (Rattus rattus L.) living around a Portland Cement Company in Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria to check the general health problems that may arise from prolonged exposure to cement.
“24 black rats, comprising of 12 rats from the cement factory and 12 rats from an environment free from cement dust were used for the study,” the study read. “Elemental analysis, hematology examination, histopathology examination and UV spectroscopy of the DNA of the rats in the two locations were carried out in the laboratory. The elemental analysis of the lung tissues of the exposed rats showed significant (p<0.05) concentrations of calcium, silicon, aluminum, chromium and lead compared to the control rats. The hematology examinations of the exposed rats showed marked reduction in the PCV, HB, RBC, WBC and total protein compared to the control rats. The histopathology analysis of the lung tissues of the exposed rats showed abnormal alveolar architecture, damaged bronchioles, disrupted bronchus, weak respiratory connective tissues, degenerated epithelium linings and inflammations. The liver tissues had abnormal cellular pattern, damaged central veins, disruption of portal triad and inflammations. And the kidney tissues showed damaged epithelium linings, convoluted tubules, damaged renal corpuscles and inflammations.
“The results further confirm that cement dust is both toxic and pathogenic to animals including man. There is no doubt that people working or living within the vicinity of the cement company stand the risk of being affected by different types of diseases arising from exposure to cement dust”, the report stated.
It is being rumored in Obajana that Dangote Cement is planning on expanding to a fifth production line, and as announced by the company’s CEO; they are looking at making more profit in the year 2017. But, what is in for the people of Obajana; cough, chest tightness, cancer, and maybe, eventual death?
THAT OBAJANA-KABBA ROAD
In 2012, when President Jonathan visited Obajana to commission the third phase of Dangote Cement factory, the then governor of the state, Idris Wada, in his speech said, the Obajana-Kabba Road is vital to the cement plant and other motorists, the plant especially because trucks conveying Dangote Cement products daily use this road. “This road, which passes through the front of the factory, is an eyesore,” Wada said, in an attempt to get it sunk into the minds of the President and his Minster of Works, Mike Onolememen who were both seated and listening. Surprisingly, when President Jonathan took to the podium, he made no mention of the road.
Immediately, the Okun Youth Initiative (OYI) and Yagba Change Agents Group (YA-CAG), in separate statements expressed their disappointment over the President’s silence. “What baffles our people is that the road was in last year’s budget, it was in the budget two years ago, the 2011 budget provided for 20 per cent of a part of that road, which is about 46 kilometers from Obajana to Kabba,” read a statement signed by Jude Ogunjobi, General Secretary of OYI.
“Dangote heavy trucks contributed a lot to the damages on this road!” Akinbiyi Oladimeji, an angry motorist screamed, while speaking with our correspondent. “They always overload their trucks beyond the normal capacity,” he said, adding that “a truck designed to lift thirty tons, Dangote overloads it with forty-five tons and the weighing effect is on this road, cutting short its lifespan. Some of us now run away from this road, we prefer to use the longer Okene route. And what is in a forty-four kilometer road that a whole Dangote cannot reconstruct? This road if, eventually, reconstructed, will be to the company’s advantage. Dangote will benefit more than any other user of that road, because it will ease the distribution of their products.”
Another part of the Obajana-Kabba Road
In May 2016, at a Federal Executive Council meeting, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing giving reasons why the government needs the private sector to complement its efforts in infrastructure renewal, said “…we presented a proposal by one of the subsidiaries of Dangote Group, a construction company, for the construction of a section of Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba-Ilorin road.
“Specifically, the section between Obajana-Kabba Road, using cement as demonstrative of how perhaps we should continue to build, going forward in order to reduce maintenance on the road, and the company proposing to fund the construction of that section of the road in exchange for some tax remissions.”
Fashola further stated that the Executive Council’s approval of the proposed reconstruction of that section of the road was meant to address the increasing cases of road accidents occasioned by increased heavy traffic.
“It also enables us to save lives by quickly and urgently rebuilding that road so that other communities who also depend on that road for their livelihood would also benefit from the road,” the Minister added.
Ten months after the Minister had talked about ‘quickly and urgently rebuilding the road,’ and five months after Dangote Group and the Federal Government had signed the contract document for the reconstruction (in November, 2016 the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Magaji Abdullahi Gusau signed on behalf of the Federal Government while the Honorary Adviser to the President of the Dangote Group, Joseph Makoju signed on behalf of Dangote Group), nothing seems to have changed on the Obajana-Kabba road.
“They said they are still running tests,” one of the idle laborers on site at the AG Dangote Construction yard in Oshokoshoko who doesn’t want his name mentioned, told our correspondent. “We just come to this site every day, but no serious work. They said until they are done with laboratory tests which they claim they’ve been running, since December last year,” he added.
Mohammed Imam Ayuba, a construction consultant and former site engineer with RYD Construction Company in Sokoto explained that, indeed, preliminary tests will be carried out on the existing road which is basically to know the cause of the road failure and know the types of material that would be appropriate for the reconstruction.
“Soil will be sampled, the asphalt thickness will be checked, cut to spoil for areas that have completely failed, and then borrow pit soil investigation to carry out stone base or base course analysis,” Asawe said. “At every 500m on the existing road, these samples will be taken for proper laboratory tests,” he continued, adding that, “all these processes of sampling and laboratory tests should not take more than two months, especially for a less than 50km Obajana-Kabba road”.
Also reacting to this, Olabode Jolayemi, a road construction expert and civil engineer with Cluenatic Solutions Ltd, who is familiar with the Obajana-Kabba road told Ripples Nigeria that, “geologically, that area has a good soil, one not waterlogged, and doesn’t really require this unending tests to know what kind of sub-base materials and materials for the proposed concrete road.” He added that, even for a 100km road, all tests can be done in less than two months if the needed resources are pushed into the task.”
A source inside the Dangote Group does not agree that ongoing tests are the reasons the reconstruction of the road is being delayed. “I think there is a contractual issue around the agreement,” the source told our correspondent. “Costs of things were a bit cheaper when the company and the government signed the MoU, when the job was awarded on tax concession basis at N5.24billion, but now prices of things have gone up.” he said.
He also noted that, during the signing of the MoU, the Managing Director of AG Dangote construction company, Ashif Juma said that the Dangote Group has set a 16 month target to complete the road.
Obajana residents, however see this as the usual tales that have been told over the years while the Obajana-Kabba road remained a mess.
“This road has been constructed many times on the pages of papers,” said Reuben, an Obajana resident. “The first time, in the recent time, that this road got attention was during the last electioneering, and as a campaign strategy, the APC Deputy Governorship candidate, James Faleke, who hails from this part, attempted to grade the road. The outcome of the election wasn’t a favorable one for Faleke and then the half-graded road was abandoned, and when rain began, it washed off the graded part.”
Click here to read part two on how the Obajana people have fared in terms of electricity, and water, and how those who protested were treated. Also read what the company had to say about the complaints.