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Benue govt, firm at war over N208m cassava proceeds

Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State on Friday August 22, 2009, using a truck load of anti-riot policemen, shut the gates of what used to be Lobi Cassava Flour Mills Limited. Before then, thick grass and shrubs as well as reptiles and rodents had taken over the place.

The decision, according to Suswam during a recent press briefing, was necessary due to the failure of the co-investor and managers of the mills, Dadtco Nigeria Limited to pay its share of 75 percent equity capital   amounting to over N208 million to government coffers as agreed by both partners.

The mills, according to inscriptions on the rusty sign post which is partly covered by shrubs and thick grass, was run on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), which the state governor said had failed.

The state commissioner for Commerce, Industries and Tourism, Mr. Bem Melladu who led the team of policemen, stormed the mills at the Industrial Layout along Makurdi-Naka-Ankpa road and forced out officials of Dadtco company.

The commissioner said the private managers were making profit but decided to breach the rules of engagement.

There were no workers at the mills when our correspondent visited for this report.

The gates were still under lock and key with large stones placed on the way to prevent vehicles from getting near.

Even from outside, it could be observed that the abandoned machinery at the mills is fast deteriorating.

Those who worked at the mills have been thrown out of work since the state government failed to reabsorb them.But the commissioner declined to comment much more than saying that “government is taking appropriate steps to reopen it”.

Meanwhile, the state government is threatening to prosecute the company so as to recover the money. But there has not been any move by the government to drag the investor to court more than one year after the disagreement started.

Melladu said the company had remitted the amount of N8 million representing 25 percent of the joint venture to government once but the company failed to honour this obligation in the last 15 months of its operations.

He expressed displeasure with the foreign partners for what he described as their exploitative behaviour saying cassava which is the raw material of the company is abundantly produced in the state and the management of the company had to ration supply of the flour mills as a result of surplus supply.

Melladu  also  accused  the company of taking unilateral decisions by its claim that it borrowed N200 million to  inject into the company and warned that failure of the company to meet its obligations to government within reasonable time after the closure will compel government to terminate the contract and another co-investor select to manage it.

The commissioner, who asked workers of the company not to panic, said their jobs are intact as any firm engaged to manage the company will absorb them.

“In line with my ultimatum last week and based on your failure to comply, I am here to seal off this company. As for staff working here, they have no cause to fear. We have a lot of co-investors waiting to take over the management of the company and they will engage you. Now, I expect you to immediately put off the machines,” he said.    

The Managing Director of Dadtco was not at the factory during the closure. The company’s accountant, Mr. Adidi Abdullahi who represented Dadtco promised to comply with the order of closure and communicate same to the management.   

Sunday Trust called the Abuja office of Dadtco for comments, but the line did not connect.   

State chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Captain Dennis Aernan was sought for comments and he expressed dismay that government would allow the functional mills to remain in that state for more than a year without production.

Aernan who recalled that the government of George Akume had promised a ready market for farmers with the presence of the flour mills, said the development encouraged farmers to rush into mass production only for them to now have to face the disappointment with the mills in question.

He said the development would make farmers not to take any promise government makes seriously.

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