Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo (left); Governor Godwin Obaseki; Commander of 4 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Major General Ibrahim Garba and other officials at the Obu mine site in Okpella where BUA employees were arrested…yesterday
Two employees of BUA International Limited have been arrested for violating Federal Government’s directive that mining activities in a disputed site in Obu, near Okpella, Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo be stopped.
Governor Godwin Obaseki ordered the arrest when he visited the site and discovered that work was ongoing despite relaying the stop-work order from the Federal Government pending the determination of a suit involving BUA and Dangote Group over the ownership of the mine site.
The governor said the state government was more interested in the security of lives and property and that as much as there was need for investors to make returns on their investment, no money was worth any life.
“There is a dispute over the ownership of this mine site. The dispute is in Court. There was 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 status quo be maintained until the determination of the case in court. I think that is the simple, commonsensical thing to do. There is a quarrel and all parties should maintain peace and the status quo.”
Obaseki said it was regrettable that having gotten the directive, the management of BUA International Limited went on air to say that the state government had no authority and right to enforce a Federal Government’s directive.
“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 don’t care who owns what, but human life is more expensive than whatever money anybody can make.”
The Commander of 4 Brigade, Major General Ibrahim Garba, who led the army personnel for the enforcement exercise, directed that explosives being used for the mining activities be confiscated. “We gave permission for the explosives to be used here. But now, they would be sent to the brigade headquarters,” he said.
At the palace of the Okuokphellagbe of Okpella, Alhaji Andrew Dirisu, Governor Obaseki said the visit to the site was to assure the people of the area that government was on top of the situation and to ensure peace in the community.
But in its reaction, BUA faulted the arrest of its employees.
In a statement yesterday, the company said: “ Governor Obaseki, in the company of some security operatives, visited one of our mining sites in Obu-Okpella, Edo State to effect a gestapo-style forceful shutdown of that mine despite a subsisting court pronouncement that the mine be allowed to operate.
“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 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 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.”
“Whilst the governor based the legitimacy of his actions on a purported stop-work order from the Ministry of Mines, BUA reiterates 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 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-work order continues to be pursued.”