ROSTRUM: Has Dangote Bought Akwa Ibom?

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This piece was previously published in this column as ‘Dangote’s Corridor of death’ on July 27, 2016. It has become necessary to republish it since the conditions it addressed has not improved. Let this serve as a call on the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Environment, and other relevant agencies to visit the Itam Industrial Layout, and take necessary action.

The exhibition of corporate Social irresponsibility by the operators of Dangote cement depot and trucks within the Itam Industrial layout in Akwa Ibom State is becoming irksome; and I feel duty-bound, as an opinion writer and citizen, to mention this ugly development in this column.

Chances are that, depending on your sensibility to certain social issues, you must have  noticed the emerging trend that I want to bring to your notice; however, if you’ve not, then trust me to guide you through the sights and feelings of shame and potential harm brought to the people by Dangote and his homeless cement trucks.

You would have expected that any responsible company operating in a community should contribute to the positive development of such a place. This is what I want to term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). But what is going on between Dangote Cement Company and the host community in the Itam Industrial layout, Akwa Ibom State, is nothing but a shameless exhibition of Corporate Social Irresponsibility (CSI)

Let’s name these things.

The first – and perhaps the most obvious – is the presence of long queues of trucks loaded with cement, lining the streets close to the Dangote Cement depot in Itam Industrial layout. These parked trucks form the hub around which nuisance is brewed and served. In most cases, these trucks are parked on both sides of the road, causing the narrow street to become ever narrower. This forms a corridor of death, with motorists struggling to negotiate precariously through the death trap.

But the embarrassing realization is that even as these trucks block the road – contravening traffic rules (in the case of double parking) – government agents like the Federal Road Safety Corps are busy apprehending other motorists whom they claim are defaulters of road traffic rules. While the FRSC sets up its mobile court barely 500 meters (as the Crow flies) from the streets blocked by Dangote cement trucks, the task force on illegal parks are busy chasing hapless drivers, ramming into their  vehicles and causing accidents with loss of lives. None of these agents seem to care about the harm caused by Dangote trucks for creating a corridor of death.

As these trucks create parking lots, they bring about further destruction. Their weight pulled over the shoulder-less roads end up breaking up some parts of the concrete gutters and drains bordering some sections of the roads. For other areas where no gutters exist, the soft earth – after several attacks by tires of the heavy trucks – open up, leaving gaping holes which are fast becoming breeding ponds for mosquitoes, green algae, and God-knows-what.

The likelihood of these ponds leading to gullies is very high, especially now that the state is experiencing downpours. If these sites become erosion black spots, then flood situation in the state is about getting worse.

Apart from making these roads prone to erosion and flooding, the trucks and the corridor of death is creating a hub with a culture which, if not checked, could deface the cultural, moral and social profile of the state and her inhabitants. Interwoven among the trucks are the roots of an emerging culture of make-shift habitation with all its attendant visuals and consequences: nubile girls hawking with knowing smiles; on-the-go lavatory; camp-fire cooking; and many more.

We should be careful with this growing culture. Those smiling salesgirls and their parents should remember the case of Ese Ururu; sanitary inspectors and public health workers may need to do an environmental audit of this area, which is prone to fecal contamination.

All this started because Dangote cement trucks have been made homeless by their owners. These truck drivers feel the most appropriate thing to do is to convert every road around the company’s depot into a parking lot. But this should not be the case.

If this kind of act emanated from a company of just any profile, may be, one would have assumed that the operators of such a company are ignorant of their responsibilities to the community where they operate. But for a company owned and operated by a frontline and foremost industrialist, investor and entrepreneur, Alhaji Dangote, any act portraying corporate social irresponsibility can, at best, be seen as an act of deliberate negligence.

This is what I mean:

Dangote Cement Company should know that the presence of their depot in Itam industrial area should add value to the place, not just in helping the area become an economic epicenter, but also in helping in the maintenance of the facilities that government had put in place. They should also know that the roads that they obstruct or squeeze is not an extension of their depot, and that others have the right to use these roads. They should imagine what could happen if all the companies in the industrial layout decide to line the streets within the layout with their vehicles.

Dangote can avoid creating this nuisance by sending the quantity of cement that the depot can accommodate and then use a simple queue model to send standby supply with the number of trucks that can be comfortably parked within the depot facility.

Akwa Ibom State Government should not go to sleep. If Dangote’s stock to the state is expanding, then the relevant ministries should collaborate to clear the streets within the industrial complex by providing a separate parking lot for Dangote trucks. If the state government cannot do this now, then, if by some stroke of luck, the industrialization dream of our Governor finally comes alive, there will be more corridors of death than the number of industries in the state.

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