BUA: We await official communication
Jonathan Eze in Lagos and
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City

In order to quell the ongoing war between Dangote Group and BUA Group over the mining rights in Obuh, Okpella, Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State, the federal government has ordered both companies to vacate the site to prevent a breakdown of law and order in the area.

The order came just as the community leaders in the area have expressed worry over the development, accusing the Federal Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals of causing the crisis by giving licences to the warring parties to mine in the same site.

They urged both the federal and Edo State governments to urgently find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, adding that a further escalation would negatively affect both revenue and employment opportunities of the community.

Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki who revealed the federal government’s directive during a meeting with leaders and elders of Okpella community at the Government House, Benin City, yesterday, noted that parties involved in the crisis were in court, and therefore the federal government had decided that further mining in Obuh community be suspended to allow a peaceful resolution of the dispute in court.

According to Obaseki, “We are following the rule of law, there is a dispute, it is not unusual to have disputes over assets, but there are laid down methods to resolving disputes of this nature.

“What we understand as a government is that there is dispute or claim between the two parties over an existing mining right and the Mining Act of 2007 is quite clear, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development decides on how to award or issue leases.

“In this particular case, there are multiple claims and they have all gone to court. We have a letter from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development instructing that the party currently mining that particular site should vacate it, pending the outcome of the decision in court.

“So the position of the Edo State government today is that court orders must be obeyed, the federal government´s instruction should be obeyed, that the mine should be shut until the outcome or the determination of the case in court.”

Also speaking at the meeting, the spokesman of Okpella community, Ayuba Giwa, said: “What we are saying in our response to the presidency is that we blame the Federal Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals that they ought to have been more prudent in granting the mineral licences.
“We implored all parties to abide by the rule of law and the rule of law includes the fact that in 1994, Okpella took this matter to the Federal High Court in Benin and judgment was given in favour of Okpella.

“Then it dawned on us that the ministry was not complying with the judgment, which was partly responsible for this debacle we are in now. In 2014, Okpella went to the Federal High Court in Benin, so it is not just only BUA and Dangote that is in court, Okpella is also in court.
“So it is fair and just that the matter is resolved in the interest of the community and Edo State because any breach of peace impacts on our people first and foremost and that is why we came to see Mr. Governor.”

However, the BUA Group has said it would await official communication from Edo State government, adding that the state government does not have jurisdiction over the site.
In a statement signed by the Group Head, Corporate Communications, Otega Ogra, the company said it would abide by court ruling urging it to maintain status quo.

It read in part: “We heard of the alleged closing down of the Obu mines in Okpella, Edo State by the Governor of Edo State. While this remains in the territory of hearsay, our position on this matter remains very clear.

“Just as the Edo State Government said in its statement, this is an issue no state government has jurisdiction over as it is a Federal Issue. It is however interesting to note that the mine under contention, ML2541, has been claimed repeatedly by the Ministry of Mines and Dangote to be in Okene, Kogi State.

“Thus, we are curious and are at great loss as to why the Governor of Edo State is closing down a mine in Edo State which has been claimed by the other parties involved to be outside his state in Okene, Kogi State and which the purported ML2541 license also states clearly.

“The ministry has written us prior and our response was published in our open letter to the president on December 4, 2017. This case remains in a competent court of jurisdiction which has ordered all parties – BUA, Dangote, the Ministry of Mines and others to maintain status quo and we will continue to abide by the dictates of the court as a responsible corporate citizen.

“We are however yet to receive some form of official communication asking us to close our mining sites ML18912 and ML18913 in Edo State, thus this alleged closing down report still remains in the territory of hearsay. We will respond accordingly when and if we get an official communication from the proper authorities.”