The animosity between Guinness Nigeria Plc and its host community in Edo State took a frightening dimension, Thursday, as officials of Ikpoba-Okha local council stormed the company’s plant at Oregbeni Industrial Estate, Ikpoba hill, Benin City.
The officials, led by the council boss, Itohan Osahon-Ogbeide, barricaded the entrance to the company premises, protesting the management’s refusal to allow them collect haulage fees from trucks conveying their products.
“It’s the issue of motor parks for the collection of levies from those trucks that operate in this community,” said Mrs. Osahon-Ogbeide.
“For five years they have been obstructing us, intimidating us, humiliating us, refusing to see us. Sometimes they will even give us date, and two days to the day they will write us that the plant manager has travelled.
“Now that the revenue from the federal government is not forthcoming, we want to look inwards and we decided that it is time for us to come and tell them that we are not fools or babies.”
The blockade at the brewery lasted several hours before the management met the council officials in a closed door meeting.
After the meeting, Mrs. Osahon-Ogbeide said the issue would be resolved amicably.
“Guinness seem to be responding to our request,” she told the crowd outside the brewery.
“Between now and next week Wednesday we are going to finalise, thereafter let the people of Ikpoba-Okha in particular and Edo State in general to know the response from Guinness.”
Guinness Nigeria Plc commissioned the N52 billion Benin plant in November 2013, in a bid to expand the company’s capacity and increase availability across the country.
In a terse statement issued by the company on Friday, the management accused the Ikpoba-Okha council boss of blackmail.
”Operations at our Benin City, Edo State Brewery, was disrupted on Thursday, 23 July 2015, by officials of Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area (LGA) of Edo State, who mounted a blockade at the entrance to the brewery. The blockade stalled exit and entry into the premises for a few hours,” Guinness Nigeria Plc said in the statement.
“The contingent was led by Mrs. Itohan Ogbeide, Chairman, Ikpoba-Okha LGA, who addressed members of the media houses present and claimed that Guinness Nigeria have been obstructing the local government from collection of fees from third party logistics companies engaged in the provision of haulage services.
“Mr. Kingsley Imade, the Plant Manager at the Brewery later held a meeting with Mrs. Ogbeide, following which the blockade was lifted and operations at the Brewery resumed. Before departing the brewery, Mrs. Ogbeide however issued an ultimatum to Guinness Nigeria to comply with her directive on or before Wednesday, 29 July 2015, or face further disruptions to its business operations.”
Sesan Sobowale, Corporate Relations Director, Guinness Nigeria, said the blockade violated a subsisting court order.
“We are taken aback by this unlawful disruption of our activities ostensibly to blackmail the company to assume the role of an agent for revenue collection from the logistics services providers,” Mr. Sobowale.
“The blockade is also in violation of a subsisting court order restraining the local government from mounting blockades at our premises and demanding levies allegedly payable by these companies from Guinness Nigeria.
“Guinness Nigeria Plc is a responsible, law abiding corporate citizen and has operated its business peacefully for several decades in Benin City. While we continue to explore options for peaceful and legal resolution of this issue, we are also consulting our legal advisers to protect our business against further unlawful invasion of our business premises,” Mr. Sobowale said.
Mr. Sobowale said the invasion of Guinness Nigeria’s business premises by the council officials had become a recurrent incident.
“We have had to call the attention of the Executive Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to this practice by Ikpoba Okha local government officials,” he said.
“The Comrade Governor was emphatic about the local government having no business blocking our business premises in a bid to collect third party levies. His Excellency acknowledged Guinness Nigeria as the second largest employer of labour in Edo State, after the state government, and a major private sector contributor to internally generated revenue.
“As a law abiding corporate citizen, Guinness Nigeria Plc hereby appeals to the leadership of the local government to act in compliance with applicable laws. We understand our responsibilities, and always act lawfully and with integrity in every aspect of our business.
“This same principle has guided all our engagements with the Ikpoba Okha LGA and we will advise the local government to engage directly with haulage service providers at their premises on any matters concerning them in compliance with all applicable laws.”