The Eleme local council area that is host to world class Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (EPCL), now Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (IEPCL), near Port Harcourt, is now in a moment of calm and peace. This is after some months of intra-community violence by warring land-owning communities fighting over how the first batch of N14Bn equity remittance from their 7.5 per cent shares in the company was shared.
The federal government had experimented new community involvement in mega corporations by ceding 7.5 per cent during privatization to the Eleme land owners. It took the community about four years to acquire the 375,000 units of shares that make 7.5 per cent by paying the about N3Bn equity fee in 2012 through a facility from Satnbic IBTC Plc through an investment company, Elano Investment Limited after an agreement on how to manage and share out the equity.
The taste of the first fruit brought several troubles mostly between land owners who dragged over rights owners as well as wars against Elano by those who wanted the investment company out for communities to collect the dividends directly. Accusations and counter accusations flew in all directions with houses being burnt and some persons running into exile for safety. Many court cases also flew about; some civil, some criminal in nature.
In 2006, 75 per cent equity of Eleme Petrochemical Limited was sold to Indorama Consortium Ltd, the present Core Investor of the Company, for $225m while 10 per cent was sold to the NNPC Pension Fund for $30m. Following this, the company was handed over to its new owners on October 26, 2006. In 2009, the National Council on Privatization (NCP) graciously approved the sale of 7.5 per cent to the community and 2.5 per cent of the remaining government’s 15 per cent reserved equity in the company to the staff of the company, leaving a balance of five per cent with the BPE on-behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). Rivers State as a government also has 10 per cent.
The endless crisis attracted many interventions including that from the Rivers State government led by Gov Nyesom Wike and many meetings were held. Today, peace seems fast on the way back with most of the issues resolved and huge sums passing to owners.
In an exclusive interview with the chairman of Elano, a chief, Goma Okanje, the man behind the successful acquisition of the 7.5 per cent shares explained the steps to peace.
“We thank God for the peace we see now in Eleme. It is the dawn of truth and reason. The violent crisis was due to misinformation and matters in court that delayed disbursement of dividends to owners thereby causing frustration. The matters in court were not with Elano but community against community on rights to land that determine what each community gets. Now, we have explained the issues time and time again. I think some people wanted to make political gain out of the situation but truth has come out and peace is coming back. The money that was being held back due to the matter in court has been released because the matter has been dispensed. People are now in possession of their own shares and so tension is down.”
On how the peace can be sustained, Okanje added; “By human nature, we can only do our best and leave the rest to God. We will continue to uphold the right things and urge our people to reject falsehood and reject those who peddle false information. They are not doing it for the masses but for their selfish interests. So, our appeal to our people is for them to shun such peddlers and find out the truth of any matter in doubt. Our offices are open for facts.”
Giving insight into the costs of the crisis, he said the tension had led to halting of many other things especially the 2016 AGM decision to register two subsidiary companies to play deeper in the investment world to raise funds when the equity may not yield enough. “We have been striving to bring back peace because without it, you cannot achieve any other major thing. We are trying to resolve all burning issues first. We are on course.”
The chairman who declined to mention further amounts so far received from Indorama after the initial N14Bn, said; “My last word would be for my Eleme people generally to toe the line of peace. This is an investment that is one in a million. We have lived in Eleme for ages but we have not seen this opportunity despite many companies operating Eleme land. No person has come up with this kind of vision. Before now, it was about handouts; one classroom block, one this, one that, but this is different.
“People from far are asking us to give them the template to improve their own communities considering the volatility in the Niger Delta. We have a good plan. All we need is for everybody to toe the line of peace. If you don’t have the truth, you come for information and stop relying on misinformation. We have media unit to dispense up to date information. Our people are advised to maintain peace and ask questions.
There is peace in Aleto now because they have been able to access their money in the bank over the years.”
Road to peace
Giving further background to the return of peace to Eleme town, the head of media and corporate communications of Elano, Udeme Obot, said Elano was totally misunderstood along the line because gullible people were at work; politicians threw their intrigues behind it. He said the persons behind the crisis made the people believe that their dividends from the equity were embezzled by Elano. Hostilities thus began, leading to burning of houses and destruction of property.
He said some groups demanded the exit of Elano as some persons said they no-longer wanted to see Elano. “Truth is, apart from Agbonchia, Akpajo and Aleto with internal disputes, other communities in Eleme were collecting their allocations. It was Elano that raised N2.925Bn from Stanbic IBTC Bank to purchase the 375,000 units of shares (7.5 per cent) allotted to Eleme landowners as far back as 2009. The host communities thereafter mandated Elano to do this eight per cent. When this was eventually achieved, it was a big time celebration because Elano succeeded where all others failed; got the loan, bought the shares, and became the first host community to be equity shareholders in any company in the oil region. But, there was huge doubt that failure was certain but Elano succeeded.”
According to him, the Eleme communities enjoyed a lot of goodies. On projects and programmes so far: “We found the trick multinationals use to deny host communities jobs; lack of skills. So we contacted the British Council to get admission for our people. Also we sourced for slots for low-level manpower for skills acquisition (54) through Wider Perspectives limited. All have graduated thus; UK 11; Oron 54; Uniport 11. Health scheme attracted 1030 families in the health insurance.’
On roads; “We did 15km length in roads. Praises came but it attracted hostility. They went to court without documents. PH High Court just threw one out, saying a trusteeship cannot do business since the matter is about equity holding. The court said Elano entered into legitimate agreement. Governor also appealed to all parties to sheath their swords.’
He said enemies of Elano told the youths that Elano was sitting on huge billions of compensation paid to the host- communities by Indorama. This was not the truth at all. It was no compensation, because compensation was paid to the landowner decades back. This one is dividend from equity bought for the community by Elano. Fire and brimstone followed but the court ruled that Aleto is the rightful owner of the land and N6.4Bn was theirs.”
By the outcome of the crisis and resolutions, Elano is still in business because no blame was found on it. “There are still some few court cases: Eleme court struck out some; PH High Court case struck out. The only case still on is a libel case instituted by Elano against some persons”.