By George Okoh
It has emerged that there is considerable unease in Benue State over the sale of Dangote Cement Plc shares held in trust for indigenes of the state by the Benue Investment and Property Company Limited.
The sale of the company’s shares, which is taking place on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), has erased about 30 million shares valued at over N7 billion of the original 90 million shares, which Benue State held in Dangote Cement following the 2010 merger of the defunct Benue Cement Company Plc with other cement subsidiaries owned by the business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
Sources however revealed that the state government’s plan is to sell all the shares before the elections, setting a target of N20 billion from the exercise.
If carried through, Benue State would have divested of its entire investment in the cement manufacturing giant.
Investigations revealed that many Benue indigenes, including retired workers of Benue Cement Company Plc, have been taken aback by the government’s decision, which they say is to deprive the people of their prized investment in Dangote Cement.
Some top leaders of the Action for Progressive Change (APC) in the state have also queried the motive behind the sale and called on the state government to urgently clear the air over the development to avoid any untoward reaction from the people.
It was gathered that a considerable number of persons questioned the rationale by the state government to deprive its people of what they termed a “valuable investment”, at a time Dangote Cement, which accounts for 20 per cent of market capitalisation, is doing well on the Nigerian bourse.
They are concerned that if no action is taken to prevent the sale of the shares, the state would be the loser since the proceeds so far realised have not been invested in any profitable venture, nor disclosed to the state House of Assembly for appropriation as required by law.
They cited the case of what transpired in Delta State where the state’s shares in Airtel were surreptitiously disposed of and the proceeds invested as private funds in the defunct Oceanic Bank.
“We suspect the state government is building a war chest for the 2015 elections by the surreptitious manner the shares are being sold. Otherwise, what stops it from informing the citizens of the state about it?
“Did the government obtain the consent of the state House of Assembly before selling the shares? Where is the money realised so far from the transaction kept? These and other pertinent questions will be asked by us,” a stakeholder from the state said over the weekend.
The price of Dangote Cement opened trading at N224 per share on Monday last week but closed the week on Friday, September 26 at N220 per share.