Obu Mine Tussle: Two BUA Employees Arrested For Violating Stop Work Order
The Edo State Government and Security agencies comprising officers of the Nigerian Army, the Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, State Security Services, SSS, in the state on Wednesday stormed the disputed Obu mine site and arrested two employees of BUA International Limited over violation of a Stop Work order issued by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel.
The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki ordered the arrest of the two employees when he visited the site and discovered that work was ongoing despite relaying directives from the federal government on a stop-work order pending the determination of a court suit over the ownership of the mine site.
Obaseki said that the state government was more interested in the security of lives and property.
He said though there was need for investors to make returns on their investment, no money is worth any life.
His words: “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 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.”
He said it was regrettable that having gotten the directive, the management of BUA International Limited went on air to say that the state government has no authority and right to enforce a federal government directive.
According to him, “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.”
It was gathered that there are ten other mine sites aside the disputed one, and with the stop work order, BUA International Limited could mine from its other sites in the area to sustain its production.
The Commander of 4 Brigade, Ibrahim Garba, a brigadier general, who led the Army personnel to 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.
Speaking at the Palace of the Okuokphellagbe of Okpella, His Majesty Andrew Dirisu, 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.
“With the action we have taken now, we know there would be pressure on the concerned parties to resolve the situation,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dirisu reiterated that the people want peace in the area.
“There is no way we wouldn’t 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, in a swift reaction to the arrest of its two employees, BUA Group has described the action as “brazen acts of impunity”.
In a statement on Wednesday and signed by O’tega Ogra, BUA Group Head, Corporate Communications, he stated that the arrested employees were not in the site when the governor arrived but they were invited to the mining site to receive the Governor.
His statement: “We have been made aware that today, the Edo State Governor, 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 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 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.
The Group claimed that while Governor Obaseki 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 word order continues to be pursued. We once again ask all parties to await the conclusion of judicial process as this matter is already before a court of competent jurisdiction.”