A trail of broken promises: The story of Dangote Cement and the people of Obajana (2)
NO ACCESS ROAD, NO DRAINAGE SYSTEM, ILL-STRUCTURED OBAJANA-OYO ROAD
As popular as Obajana, the town hosting the largest cement producing company in Sub-Saharan Africa is, there are no tarred access roads within the town. “When Dangote came in to start business here, we were very happy because we thought the presence of the company will bring about speedy development, especially with access roads and a drainage system,” Reuben, one of the residents told our correspondent. “Take a walk through this Obajana and not 1km of tarred access road would be seen,” he lamented.
The only noticeable road is the 10km Obajana-Oyo [concrete] road, the road which stretches through the front of the main entrance of Dangote Cement factory to Oyo, a suburb of Obajana. “Dangote Cement hurriedly fixed that road for selfish interest,” the resident said. “Oyo is where the company, daily, extracts limestone, so they had to fix that road just last month (February, 2017) to ease access for those Indian supervisors who go to the mining sites in Oyo. If the company cared about us, they would have also fixed access roads within Obajana metropolis.
“And surprisingly, they did a shoddy job on that Oyo road. They told us that the road will be a dual carriage, but just go take a look at it, too narrow a road. They didn’t even construct a drainage system for the part that passes through the town and neither was the road properly raised above ground level, and you see how the said constructed road is almost covered with sand. When rain starts, everywhere will be too horrible”, Reuben lamented.
A structural engineer who examined the road for Ripples Nigeria explained that the part that passes through the town ought to have been provided with an underground drainage that will take the runoff water. “When rain starts, and there is no water passage, the concrete road will, definitely, be affected,” he said.
At a mining site in Oyo, an Indian-looking supervisor told our correspondent that they produce 55, 000 tons of limestone per day. “Dangote Cement has three mining sites here and per day, we produce 15, 000, 15, 000 and 25, 000 tons respectively,” he said.
A mining site in Oyo
NO WATER, NO ELECTRICITY, NO SCHOOLS
Although there have been attempts by Dangote Cement to help the community with water since it took away their water source, the efforts seemed not to be genuine. “As big as Obajana Dangote Cement sounds, this town doesn’t have functioning boreholes,” a frustrated restaurant owner said. “Dangote Cement gave only two boreholes to serve more than 2, 000 households in Obajana, one at Agwantifi area, the second around the trailer park, and none of these boreholes has functioned for a day since they have been sunk.
“Dangote Cement, however, now uses tankers to supply water but this is not efficient because they only do this whenever they wish, as they are not under any compulsion. We will put our containers by the roadside, waiting for these tankers that may not come and even when they come, what they have does not go round for everyone”, she narrated.
Containers waiting for water
Electricity is another major problem that the people of Obajana are battling with. Ripples Nigeria confirmed that the two transformers serving the community have been down for more than three months. “We thought Dangote Cement will be generous enough to extend the electricity generated in the plant to the community,” Sulaiman who runs a bar opposite the factory said.
Dangote Cement generates at least 1,000mw of electricity, and this is more than enough of what is required to run operations in the plant. “Each house, shop owner contributed N9, 000 before we were able to get those transformers and since they got spoilt, I spend no less than N2, 000 daily on fuel to power my refrigerator,” Sulaiman lamented.
The town cannot boast of any good school. Apart from the privately owned ones that a few can afford, Obajana has only one primary school and one secondary school. “Considering the increasing population of Obajana, it is sad that we only have two public schools,” a retired teacher said. “Even the schools are nothing to write home about. Dilapidated structures when we have the largest cement factory in Africa right behind us. These poor structures here do not paint Dangote Cement in a good light”, he noted.
One of the two public schools in Obajana
THE RISING INSECURITY
No doubt, Dangote Cement factory in Obajana has attracted both foreigners and Nigerians into the town. “We’ve never experienced such insecurity until the company came here,” said Pastor Samson who had since deserted his church in Oshokoshoko, along the Obajana-Kabba road. “Kidnapping is the order of the day, especially on this Obajana-Kabba road. Most evenings, we hear sporadic gunshots and people would start running to safety. These criminals will block the road and their targets are these road users which include Dangote Cement workers. Wisdom is profitable, and that’s why we had to run and leave the church.”
Pastor Samson’s deserted church along Obajana-Kabba road
Pastor Samson’s wife shared the unpleasant story of three civil servants who were returning from a screening exercise in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. “They were stopped, and were taken inside the bush. One of them, a woman in her fifties, died and her body was returned to the road.
“Farmers who moved towards this area from Obajana, too, have started fleeing. Just yesterday, some of these farmers were kidnapped. Many times, too, they will stop Dangote staff bus and order them out of the bus and rob them of valuables. Even in the very front of Dangote Cement factory, a staff of the company was almost kidnapped. A few days ago, a man travelling to Kabba was stopped and kidnapped in between Agbede and Agbada and up till now we are yet to hear from his abductors who always wait till after three to four days before calling for ransom. There is this Dangote staff popularly known as Russia. He was kidnapped on this road and was held captive for six days”, she explained.
The cleric added that, “as each day passes, no one can say there has not been a kidnap case until the day ends”.
GOVERNMENT IS NOT HELPING, CORRUPT COMMUNITY LEADERS, AND WHEN WE PROTEST, WE GET DEATH THREATS
“Both the federal and state governments are not helping the situation here in Obajana,” Alade, a retiree told our correspondent. “You know we like to worship rich men in Nigeria,” he continued. “And these rich people are above the law. I can remember; during Governor Idris Wada’s tenure, there was a day he invited Alhaji Dangote, the owner of the Dangote Cement factory here and he drafted him in as one of the decision makers in the Kogi State government”.
He alleged that successive governors have had one form of favour or the other from the company’s owners, hence their inability to pursue the interest of the people who daily breathe in the polluted air. “That’s why successive governments have not been able to stand and fight for us– that would be them blocking their own chances with Dangote, and they care less if Dangote Cement kills all of us here in Obajana with how the plant daily pollutes our air”, he stated.
Ripples Nigeria also gathered that people of Obajana may have been shortchanged by their community leaders. “Our leaders here can’t be trusted,” said an angry young man who doesn’t want his name mentioned. “These leaders, our royal fathers inclusive, swallow any ‘deve’ (development fund) coming from Dangote. In the past, Dangote gave ‘deve’ in form of cement; one truck for the king, one for the youths, and one for the women, but now we’ve been sidelined by these betrayals. They divert whatever little thing coming from Dangote Cement to the community, and because these Dangote people are interested in the divide and rule policy, no one cares to probe further.”
People who have, in the past, attempted to protest against this ill-treatment of Obajana people were allegedly threatened. “They will tell us that, for security reasons, we are advised not to embark on any protest or demonstration against Dangote Cement,” another young man who wants to remain anonymous told our correspondent. “And if you are becoming popular in the community for speaking up against all these wrongs, you will start receiving death threats from every corner.
“In the years that Dangote Cement started operations here and we began to experience air pollution—contrary to what we were told before commencement, we staged a peaceful protest and we were arrested by the police and transferred to Abuja. The then IG told us that he was going to ensure that we end in jail. It took the intervention of a particular senator before we were released and since then, some of us have decided to remain silent, accepting our fate. When we were released from police custody in Abuja, we heard that one big man, had bribed the IG with about N18m to have us rot in jail.”
‘COUNT IT A PRIVILEGE, THAT DANGOTE IS DOING BUSINESS IN YOUR TOWN!’
On January 20, 2017, Obajana Community, through their solicitor, C.O. Daniels & Co, addressed a letter to Imam Umar, Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly and Idris Ndako, House member representing Lokoja II Constituency. The letter titled, SAVE OUR SOUL REQUEST FROM DANGOTE CEMENT PLC, listed fourteen major issues they want urgent intervention on.
Part of the letter, exclusively obtained by Ripples Nigeria, read that; “it is no longer news that Dangote Cement Plc., a multinational company is resident, doing her businesses and making profits in Obajana.
“That the community has been magnanimous to the company in the areas of provision of land and other logistics support amenable to the convenient settlement and fast growing of the company, and despite all these, the community has not witnessed progressive development and the company seems not to bother about it.”
The people of Obajana, in the letter, cried out that, “Land and space for farming activities (which is the major occupation of the people of Obajana Community) are grossly depleted due to the presence of the company. Farm crops are continually yielding fruits in absolute decrease due to environmental pollution and chemical emission and reaction resulting from the activities of the company.”
They also mentioned that, “Dangote Cement and/or Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the proprietor of the company, has never had a written memorandum of understanding with the community and the company continues to use the community land to the chagrin of the people and without progressive compensation arrangement.”
Earlier, on the 18th of the same month, during a visit to the management of Dangote Cement in Obajana, Chief J.O Yusuf, on behalf of Okun Economic Forum, said “…of particular interest here is the Obajana-Kabba road which we know your company has graciously undertaken to construct under an understanding with the Federal Government.”
He added that, “we are deeply concerned that active work has not started on this road, more so as the dry season is fast ebbing and the onset of another raining season could further depress the hope of our people.”
Yusuf also called on the company to carry out an environmental audit, noting that the company, which has been in operation for years is now due for one. “The audit is expected to show how far the company has complied with the original Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and what should be done to enhance compliance. For example, since its operation, the trucks carrying the products of the factory have been parking on both sides of the road with the attendant risk posed to the residents and those who pass by. Also, the health hazard posed by the dust and the emissions from the furnaces as well as the high concentration of people need to be reassessed and adequate steps taken to prevent their consequences on the health condition of the residents.”
Amongst other things, the Obajana people, in their request, want Dangote Cement to control pollution and erosion, and provide immunization and control of environmental menace, diseases and hazards.
In its response, Dangote Cement in a document obtained by Ripples Nigeria, told the people of Obajana to be thankful that a factory like Dangote Cement is operating in their town. “It is a privilege that Dangote is doing business in Obajana considering the fact that other constituents of Kogi State contested and wished the business is in their domain,” Dangote Cement’s response read.
The company also said that an independent assessor may be needed to verify claims of pollution, maintaining “that the operation of the company does not deliberately give room for pollution in whatever form… We are not releasing any chemical injurious to farming activities or human beings,” the company insisted.
This is contrary to what the company stated in its 2004 final report on the Environmental Impacts Assessment available here http://www.eib.org/attachments/pipeline/1191_summary_ocp_cpp_eia_en.pdf.
“Obajana cement Plc has carried out an Environmental Impacts Assessment of its proposed cement production facility at Obajana. Negative impacts that are likely to be associated with the proposed cement production project are primary loss of farmland and vegetation, which are irreversible significant impacts and air quality deterioration due to fugitive airborne dust,” the report read. The company listed removal of vegetation cover/the destruction of wildlife habitats and accelerated erosion as one of the adverse impacts.
“We are not responsible for any hazard is what the company has always told us,” Ajagun, a retired civil servant told our correspondent. “Maybe when we start dying one after the other, some have died though, Dangote Cement will start to take responsibility and stop unleashing poisonous content into Obajana.”
WAIT, HOW ABOUT PEOPLE WORKING INSIDE THE CEMENT PLANT?
Waking 4am every day to catch the bus headed to Obajana from Lokoja has not been an easy one for Tanko Fadipe (not real name), a mid-level process engineer with Dangote Cement in Obajana. “We work round the clock, because cement production is a continuous process,” Fadipe said. “If you are on morning shift, you get to the factory before 7am, and when you close in the evening, you wait an hour or two before the staff bus arrives and these busses, apart from being old and almost worn out, are not always enough and so about two hundred staff are sandwiched inside a bus meant to lift a hundred.”
Fadipe thinks the company can employ more hands to make the work less tedious, and also provide better means of moving its staff to and from Obajana-Lokoja/Kabba.
In September, 2014, workers of the factory embarked on a strike over the company’s refusal to improve on their welfare and salary. Some workers took over the main entrance gate, disallowing members of the management staff from entering. Chizoba Kamson, one of the frustrated workers who spoke with journalists then said, “we are the ones doing the work which has put Dangote on international spotlight as one of the richest men in the world, let President Muhammadu Buhari advise the Management of Dangote Cement and Dangote himself over the matter of their poor welfare that has turned them into paupers.”
Ripples Nigeria gathered that workers are not allowed to belong to any labour union, and those who protested against the management have been sacked. “We have decided to suffer in silence,” another worker said. “Because if you try to say anything, you get sacked,” he added.
Pius Jelili (not real name), another mid-level engineer is concerned about the health of workers. “We inhale cement dust every day, and we are always exposed to other hazards that come with cement production” Jelili said. “And, sadly, what the company pays us as hazards allowance is less than N2, 000.
“You will be surprised to know that as big as Dangote Cement is, staffs are not under health insurance scheme with any Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), and you will see smaller companies even with less or no hazardous working conditions making provisions for this.”
Dangote Cement Staff waiting for treatment
As recent as 2015, a team of scientists did a study on the effects of cement dust on the hematological parameters in Obajana (Dangote) Cement Factory workers. The study conducted by Emmanuel, T.F., Department of Medical Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Kogi state University, Anyigba, Nigeria, and others revealed that the values of white blood cell (WBC), lymphocytes (LYM), monocytes (MID), haematocrit (HCT), mean corpuscular haemoglobin (MCH), mean corpuscular heamoglobin concentration (MCHC) and platelets (PLT) were significantly increased in exposed workers but red blood cell (RBC) and Haemoglobin (HGB) were significantly lower ( p < 0.05).
“The investigation of haematological parameters were performed on 60 workers in different units/sections exposed to cement dust and controls (unexposed to cement dust),” the study read. “In this study alteration in level of haemotological parameters in exposed workers is an indication of effect of cement dust on pathophysiology of blood and reticuloendothelial system of cement factory workers and in general human health.”
The study further highlighted the need for continuous cement dust environmental monitoring, mandatory use of personal protective equipment and periodic haematological assessment of factory workers to prevent related haematological hazard.
“Does the management care about the periodic health assessment of its factory workers?” Jelili asked, raising his eyebrows. “They only care about the machines and not human lives,” he said.
That the management doesn’t care is evident in the clinic stationed in the House Colony and solely meant to care for the staff, and also an unkempt Safety and Environment office.
The company’s staff clinic
Entrance to the safety and Environment office
“Staff clinic of the largest cement company in Africa that has no drugs, and we wait hours before seeing a doctor because there are not enough doctors; is that one a staff clinic?” retorted a displeased Jelili.
Inside the clinic where there are no drugs
In response to some of the complaints made of the company, Dangote Cement Plant (DCP) in a document sent to the community, and obtained by Ripples Nigeria, the company explained that it did not acquire land from the community without doing “what is expected of her”.
The company noted, that “the land was taken within the framework of the Land Use Act”, and that “the company is considered as a Public interest entity. Be that as it may, the company has paid government determined compensation, as required under the law in millions of naira, directly to some beneficiaries and to the Community as a whole through the Oba”.
On accusations that it has not provided amenities for the community, including educational and health facilities in spite of the pollution resulting from its activities, the company has this to say: “CSR activities is never to be equated with government responsibilities. CSR is only complimentary”.
DCP further highlighted that within the framework of its CSR budget it has built 2 blocks of three classrooms, and has a yearly scholarship scheme which is at One million naira per annum. It also claimed to have constructed and equipped a health centre for the community.
On claims by the Obajana community that DCP has ignored to provide employment for its able bodied youth, the company stated, that “within the policy framework of employment opportunities available and qualification level attained, we have engaged youths from Obajana for suitable job. In addition, youth leader and women leaders are being paid N30, 000 each per month. Just as secretary is on N20, 000 per month and the Oba on N150, 000 per month”.
On allegations that the coming of the company has increased criminal activities in Obajana, causing insecurity issues, Dangote Cement claimed that “This is absolutely untrue. Aside the company assisting the Community to set up a police post within Obajana, the company also reconstructed a Divisional Police Post affected by land acquisition for Coal Yard area. In addition, the company maintains 56 soldiers and 145 policemen and men of vigilante on her payroll to provide security within and outside the factory environments. The company spends on average over N5 million per month on security. In addition, the community maintains a vigilante herself which the company pays for as a rate of N500, 000 per month”.
As the back and forth accusations and claims go from one to the other, one thing is however clear, the people of Obajana feel shortchanged, and their environment is not only being raped, it is also being violated, and the people live an endangered existence. The question that begs for answer is; who will save the people of Obajana from Dangote Cement?
By Femi Owolabi