Nigerian billionaire and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has finally settled with the families of several youth who were killed or injured by rampaging troops guarding his multi-billion dollar cement factory in Gboko, Benue State, North-central Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that apart from settling those who were directly affected in the March 18 shootings, Mr. Dangote also upped his corporate social responsibility by approving that quarry machines be provided to youth in the communities to aid their quarry business.
The traditional ruler of Gboko, Gabriel Shosum, confirmed these during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday.
He said cheques were handed over to the beneficiaries at the multi-purpose conference hall of the cement company on August 22.
According to the monarch, each family that lost a youth got N5 million cheque while those injured received N2 million each.
“I witnessed the handing over of the cheques with some of my traditional rulers. The plant manager and the community relations director led the delegation of Dangote Cement. The monies were given ranging from N2mllion to N5million,” Mr. Shosum said.
“Those who were injured were given N2 million and each of the bereaved families got N5 million. The cheques were given on August 22 at the conference hall of the factory. I led the delegation of Gboko community to the meeting.
“The plant manager and the director in charge of community relations led the delegation of the Dangote Group,” he added.
He said peace was gradually returning to the community, adding that the community was still holding meetings with representatives of Dangote Group to resolving other contentious issues.
“We are still having meetings with communities around the factory area. I have just been informed that the company has directed that quarry machines be given to some youth in the community who are having difficulty in their stone breaking businesses,” he said.
“We are going to have another meeting with them (representatives of Dangote Group) in order to select a day the machines will be given out to the beneficiaries.
“We had requested Mr. Dangote to build schools and give loans to our youth to do business but we were told that when he returns from a trip abroad, he will handle those issues.”
PREMIUM TIMES had on June 30, after months of investigations, exposed the massacre of seven youth by soldiers at Mr. Dangote’s factory after demonstrators gathered to protest an earlier shooting, by a soldier, of a 19 year-old man.
Terhile Jirbo was the teenager whose shooting sparked the crisis. He was attacked for relieving himself near the cement factory and refusing to pack the waste with his mouth when a soldier ordered him to do so.
Mr. Jirbo survived the attack but the bullet tore his mouth apart and left him permanently disfigured.
Villagers, who responded after the shooting by staging what several witnesses said was a peaceful demonstration, met a bloody pushback by the troops.
Soldiers opened fire killing seven of the protesters including a woman, who was shot in the head at close range.
The 19-year-old woman, Doose Ornguze, a resident of Tsekucha, near Mbayion, survived the first shot at her, and was trying to crawl to safety before a soldier walked up close and fired into her head.
Ms. Ornguze was the parent figure for her two siblings, and managed to keep herself and two siblings in school, despite losing both parents years back.
Months of investigations by PREMIUM TIMES showed years of tension between Gboko community and Dangote Company, and exposed how neither the government nor the company reached out to the community or punished the trigger-happy soldiers.
Military and police authorities told this newspaper that investigations were ongoing several months after the attack.
The report by PREMIUM TIMES sparked outrage from local and foreign human rights groups who called for extensive and thorough investigations into the killings, and for punishment for the soldiers responsible for the attack.
The United States-based Human Rights Watch had called on the Nigerian government to “urgently investigate and bring to justice, those responsible for the alleged shooting by security forces Terhile Jirbo and the subsequent killing of peaceful protesters.”
The President, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, had said the attacks again showed the military’s lack of regard to human lives and must be immediately investigated.
“When these kinds of things happen and people see other ways of getting back at society, they readily pick on it. That is why it is easy for groups like Boko Haram to continue to have recruits all over the place because the structural violence and terrorism of the state,” Mr. Nsirimovu said.
“What happened in Gboko is an example of what turns ordinary people into taking extreme reaction against authority. Government must bring the killers of the youths to justice.”
Romy Mom, who heads the Abuja-based Lawyers Alert, a non-governmental organisation, had said the killings merely conformed to a history of violence by the Dangote group against the Mbayion community of Benue State.
Mr. Mom said Lawyers Alert was in the process of compiling such cases of violations when it received reports of the latest attacks. “For several years Mbayion community have cried and did everything to bring Dangote to the negotiation table but to no avail. It is a shame that it has taken the blood of the Gboko martyrs to bring him to the negotiation table,” Mr. Mom said.
Barely 24 hours after the report was published, Mr. Dangote arrived in Benue State where he met with state officials, including Governor Gabriel Suswam, leaders of Gboko and Mbayion community where the killings occurred.
Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Dangote named a high-powered committee to negotiate and reconcile with the aggrieved community.
The committee was headed by Joseph Makoju, the immediate past Chief Operating Officer of Dangote Group and former Managing Director, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
While Mr. Dangote has reached what appears a settlement with the community, there are no indications the military has punished soldiers involved in the shooting.
Terhile Jirbo, the youth who was shot in the mouth for answering the call of nature, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that all those directly affected by the shootings had been settled.
He expressed appreciation to PREMIUM TIMES for its in-depth report that brought the plight of the affected families to the world, thereby prodding Mr. Dangote to reach out to the community.
He said, “I was invited to the company (Dangote Cement plant) and was given a cheque in the presence of some of the company’s top officers and members of our community.”
Mr. Jirbo would not tell this newspaper how much he received as compensation but was happy that the world got to hear what the soldiers did to unarmed community people.
Asked how he intended to use the funds to improve his life, he explained that since he is yet to access the money which he said was paid into a dedicated account.
“When I get the money, I will know what to do with it. For now, I haven’t accessed the money,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Cletus Akwaya, said although the government was not part of the negotiation, he was aware that some form of consensus had been reached.
“The government was not directly involved because it had nothing to do with us. It was the community that had issues with the management of the company,” Mr. Akwaya said.
“Being an important personality in the country, courtesy demands that Mr. Dangote should be given state protocol reception by state government.
“But as per the discussion towards resolving the misunderstanding was strictly between the management of the company and the community. It was not a one day discussion because the issues were many.
“Am sure they reached consensus in some of them. The discussion is ongoing because the community is talking about development projects, empowering the youth, distribution license and the opening of a sale deport.
“Some of the issues are not what could be implemented on immediately. Even when the company agrees to do them, it will still take time before such demands are made.”
The spokesperson of Dangote Group, Tony Chiejina, also said he is aware the community has been settled but cannot say what was given to the affected youth.
He said, “I am aware that the community has been settled but I cannot tell you what was given because I was not involved in the negotiation.”