WAR IN KOGI OVER LOCATION OF REFINERY
Ordinarily, the location of an industrial establishment by the government should bring joy to the people of the area as it would be expected to boost their economy through employment generation, improved commerce and other benefits accruing from such a venture. This, however, does not seem to be the case with the proposed refinery approved by the Federal Government to be located in Kogi State as part of measures aimed at checking the perennial crisis of petroleum products usually experienced by Nigerians.
Penultimate Friday, Senators Smart Adeyemi (PDP Kogi West) and Otaru Ohize (PDP Kogi Central) stormed the Senate Press Centre fuming over what they considered an attempt to relocate the site of a proposed refinery from choice area within the West and Central Senatorial Districts by Governor Ibrahim Idris to Kogi East Senatorial District, where the governor comes from.
This is not the first time that Senator Adeyemi has taken a position at variance with Governor Idris over political issues in the State. The first open disagreement was when the present Minister of state for Interior, Barrister Humphrey Abbah, was nominated for ministerial appointment by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Senator Adeyemi opposed against Abbah`s candidature on the floor of the Senate and lobbied powerfully to frustrate the latter screening and confirmation by the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.
At that point in time, Senator Adeyemi initially had an ally in the person of Senator Otaru Ohize, who later withdrew his support and stood in favour of Barrister Abbah, who was believed to have been recommended by Governor Idris.
Senator Adeyemi had argued then that since the Governor hails from Kogi East and the Deputy Governor from Kogi Central, it was only right that a ministerial nominee from the state should automatically come from his Kogi West Senatorial District. He, however, failed to mention and take note of the position of the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the number of commissioners appointed from his senatorial zone.
The matter jolted the administration of Governor Idris which was visibly disturbed at the development and described the action of Senator Adeyemi as a deliberate refusal to appreciate the fact that since the commencement of the present democratic dispensation, Kogi West Senatorial District had cornered all the ministerial, ambassadorial and special advisers positions among other aides of the President between 1999 and 2007 under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Since that altercation, there have been mutual distrust between Senator Adeyemi and Governor Idris. It was recently alleged that the former was responsible for the arrest of some serving key commissioners in the state by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
As a politician, Senator Adeyemi, former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) knows when to pull the political trigger at his opponent, one of which is Governor Idris, at the slightest opportunity and would therefore, not allow such an advantage to slip through his hands.
It was in this wise that the approval by the Federal Government to site a refinery in the State provided yet another opportunity for Senator Adeyemi to further launch his attack on the Idris' administration.
This became manifest as soon as Governor Idris approved a certificate -of- occupancy covering about 458 hectares of land in Itobe, Ofu local government area in Kogi East Senatorial District to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to enable a Chinese company build a refinery.
Senator Adeyemi not only condemned Governor Idris for the move but accused the Kogi Chief Executive of playing an ethnic agenda, submitting that the decision was contrary to the approval by the Federal Government to have the refinery located between Lokoja in Kogi West and Itakpe Iron, situated along the Lokoja - Okenne road bordering both Kogi Central and West Senatorial Districts.
In the understanding of Senator Adeyemi who led Senator Ohize to address journalists in Abuja, Governor Idris' decision to move the project to Kogi East was to say the least, a calculated attempt to further polarize the people of the state and in particular further marginalize the other two senatorial districts in the state.
He therefore, called on the Federal Government to jettison the political consideration adopted by Governor Idris, but should allow economic indices to guide it in the sitting of the refinery project if it is not to suffer the same fate like other dead industries in the country.
In his remarks however, Senator Otaru Ohize, representing Kogi Central refused, to go into the politics involving Senator Adeyemi and Governor Idris as he chose to dwell on the economic factors in the location of industries, saying that a refinery is purely an economic venture and not a political activity thus economic indices should be taken into due consideration in its location and construction.
According to Senator Ohize, 'this particular one the Federal Government saw already existing rail line in Ajaokuta that passes through Warri to Aladja and apart from that, there is a power plant in Geregu.
I am sure nobody will expect us to run our refinery on generators, that is why the technical team that was setup by the Federal Government initially recommended the location of the refinery between Ajaokuta Steel plant and Lokoja.'
Senator Ohize said that the steel project is an industrial territory, adding that it was not just about the steel project, but other industries that are expected to be sited by the Federal Government in the same large expanse of land that was acquired as an industrial territory which lies between Ajaokuta and Lokoja, stressing that this was where it was considered suitable for the proposed refinery because of the other advantages the refinery would benefit from.
However, in a swift counter move, four other federal legislators from the state led by Senator Nicholas Ugbane analyzed and punctured the arguments canvassed by Senators Adeyemi and Ohize.
Senator Ugbane, said the protest against the choice of location for the establishment of the refinery by Adeyemi and Ohize was targeted at purely misinforming Nigerians. Ugbane described it as lamentable and regrettable for a Senator of the Federal Republic to deliberately go out of his way to distort the structures, unity and development of his state by being soaked in an unholy sentiment.
Senator Ugbane, who was accompanied by three members of the House of Representatives from the state, Honourables Atai Aidoko Ali, Ihiaba Samson Abdul (Positive) and James Joseph Idachaba said that the approved site (Itobe) granted by the state government is a twin sister town to Ajaokuta with River Niger separating them but linked by a bridge and rail line constructed by Julius Berger some years ago.
Senator Ugbane, explained that owing to the proximity of Itobe to Ajaokuta a lot of staff of Ajaokuta Steel Company are resident there adding that in terms of nearness, Itobe is closer to Kogi Central than Kogi East.
He noted that Itobe is a boundary town that divides the Central and West Senatorial Districts, stressing that if sentiments had been taken into account by the state government, the proposed project would have been sited in the heartland of Kogi East Senatorial District particularly in the local government area of Governor Idris.
Senator Ugbane noted that at this crucial stage of Nigeria's democratic trials and travails in which President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is decrying tribal sentiments and religious bigotry, facts on ground have so far shown that the people of Kogi East are not parochial as Senator Adeyemi wants Nigerians to believe.
To buttress his point, Senator Ugbane said that the cement factory sited at Obajana in Kogi West Senatorial District that is being represented at the National Assembly by Senator Adeyemi was the brain-child of a son of Kogi East and former Governor, Prince Abubakar Audu, who got a private company (Dangote) to partner the state government.
According to Senator Ugbane: 'nNobody from Kogi East attacked either the governor at the time or the Federal Government for the choice of the site of the project which is one of the biggest in the country. Now that a project is being sited in the most suitable location within Kogi State which happens to fall on the edge of Kogi East, Senator Adeyemi rather than demonstrate fairness and understanding, has chosen to play tribal cards, devoid of objectivity and good reasoning to attack the Government of Kogi State.'
He said; 'Even in privatizing Dangote Cement Company in Obajana in Kogi West Senatorial District, many indigenes of Kogi East enthusiastically invested in the company. We hereby call on the government of Kogi State under the leadership of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris to disregard the unwarranted attacks by Senators Adeyemi and Senator Ohize. Their utterances are most unguarded and devoid of good reasoning'
Beyond the issue of the refinery project, the federal legislators from Kogi State noted that based on the current status of industries established by the Federal Government in Kogi it showed that the Central Senatorial District has five while the remaining four are located in Kogi West Senatorial District leaving the East Senatorial District of the State with none.
A graphic detail of the breakdown of the location of the industries in the State showed that Ajaokuta Steel Company, Itakpe Iron Ore Mining Company, Ceramic Industry Ajaokuta, Geregu Power Plant Ajaokuta and Electricity Training Institute Okenne are all situated in Kogi Central Senatorial District while Obajana Cement Company, River Port, Lokoja, Naval Base, Banda and Lokoja International Market are located in Kogi West Senatorial District.
Senator Ugbane therefore submitted that given the above figures, it was crystal clear that Kogi East with the largest population and landmass which provides about 60 per cent of total votes of Kogi State should be the one to complain of having been completely neglected, marginalized and oppressed.
'Yet, we have never protested because of our belief in peaceful co-existence. As a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and members of the House of Representatives from Kogi East, we have defended and supported Ajaokuta Steel Company against all odds without sentiments. It is unfortunate and sad that Senator Adeyemi is raising eyebrows on a project which has met both technical and economic viability criteria, that is sited in a boundary town separating two senatorial districts in the State“, Senator Ugbane enthused.
Making his submission, Hon Atai Ali noted that it has become increasingly clear and worrisome that the consistent opposition from Senator Adeyemi against federal political appointments and projects accruable to Kogi East Senatorial District “is an indication that he (Adeyemi) is determined to subject the people of Kogi East to perpetual poverty and permanent under-development“.
Hon. Ali noted that even though the proposed refinery is expected to be fed by crude oil through the pipeline network, it is equally instructive and educative to note that Kogi East, has the potentials for hydrocarbons in Ibaji, Alade, Idah, and Ogbogbo among other places which, he noted, would eventually feed the refinery since the approved location by the state government is essentially sedimentary while Kogi Central and Kogi West Senatorial Districts being a basement environment can only be rich in solid minerals and not hydrocarbons.
Speaking in the same vein, Hon. Ihiaba Abdul Positive noted that in a letter dated June 18, 2010 and addressed to the government by the NNPC, the technical and economic viability criteria for establishment of the refinery were clearly stated which he noted include that; the land for the proposed refinery should be located around Ajaokuta on a suitable plot that must be about 400 hectares with direct access to deep waters and should be close to the steel complex in addition to proximity to Geregu Power Plant and should as well have a rail link to the coast.
He also explained that Itobe is just about four kilometers to Geregu Power Plant while it is about 37 kilometers away from the area Senator Adeyemi wants the proposed refinery sited just as it has a river that is currently undergoing dredging to meet international standard.
Hon. Positive said that from the report of the Technical Evaluation Committee set up by the state government, only Itobe met the requirements prescribed by the NNPC.
'What is more, the Chinese investors on their visit to the site applauded the location as most suitable. It would be a political and moral burden for anybody to selfishly seek refuge in fanning the embers of sentiment among people who have lived together peacefully as a province (Kabba province). The proposed refinery should be allowed to thrive in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.'
In this wise, Senator Ugbane appealed to the people of Kogi State to remain calm, united and work vigorously for the rapid development of the state and shun tendencies, aimed at tearing the state apart.
The Kogi federal legislators expressed gratitude to President Jonathan for approving a refinery for the state as well as commended Governor Idris for the quick response in issuing NNPC the certificate- of -occupancy for the project.
For keen observers of political events in Kogi State, the cold war and now open confrontation between Senator Adeyemi and other legislators from the state, who are loyal to Governor Ibrahim Idris and always speak in his support over political decisions taken by his government in the state speak volumes.
The core issues are the 2011 elections as it affects the incumbent federal legislators from Kogi and the dicey issue of zoning of the governorship seat.
Senator Adeyemi alluded to this while briefing journalists at the National Assembly on the matter when he said that he could not continue to remain as a second class citizen in the state and would no longer tolerate a situation in which his senatorial district could not produce the governor.
Senator Adeyemi in the course of his media briefing could not hide the motive of his disagreement with Governor Idris as he said that he was even warned not to talk about the refinery project, so as not to jeorpardise his second term ticket to the Senate . But he told journalists that he would rather go with the people than a Governor.