By Evelyn Udobia
On Thursday, July 14, 2022, the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources in collaboration with the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Environment, and State Waste Management Agency, visited Golden Tripod International Limited, an indigenous company which uses aluminum to produce brake pads for tricycles and motorcycles, and subsequently ordered that activities of the company be brought to a halt over some environmental concerns. More than two weeks after the order, the company, with over 300 workers, has remained closed.
According to the relevant government agencies, the company had violated basic environmental laws which are capable of posing threats to both human lives and properties. First, it must be noted that the efforts of the state government through the agencies to ensure a safe and healthy environment for the people is highly commendable. As much as profit-making is the ultimate goal of every business venture, it is the responsibility of the ventures to ensure that such profits are not made at the risk of people’s lives and safety or the safety of the environment. So, the actions of the government is totally understandable.
However, taking cognizance of the current realities in Nigeria vis-à-vis the unemployment rate, insecurity, youth restiveness and other rising vices, it is pertinent for the state government to be considerate in her decision. This suggestion stems from the fact that when considered holistically, a total shutdown of the company will have a far more devastating effect on the state than all the violations that the company is accused of. For instance, a random check on the employee list of the company reveals that the over 300 young people working in the company are drawn across all the 31 local governments of the state.
The notion that Golden Tripod International Limited is a Chinese company is wrong. The company is indigenous owing to the high stake held by an Akwa Ibom son, Prince Ibanga Ekpe. Conducting journalists around the company on Monday, Prince Ekpe disclosed that he hired the Chinese experts because the nature of the company’s production requires the expertise that the Chinese have due to their vast knowledge and experience. He further revealed that all the 31 local government areas of the state are well represented among the company’s workers. Prince Ekpe admitted that the company erred in its operations by violating some environmental regulations, but assured that they were ready to make amends.
“We have already written to the Ministry of Environment apologising for the areas we did not do well, like in the area of environmental pollution. We promise that we are going to improve on the environmental standards. Another issue was about staff health and safety. We have also promised to improve on that. We will ensure that all our staff are always properly kitted. We have also promised to improve on our waste management.
“We are discussing with the Akwa Ibom State Environmental Pollution and Waste Management Agency to see the best way we can handle the issue of waste management. We are talking about the air pollution, the solid waste and of course, the liquid waste. For the air, we will try as much as we can to reduce the effect. For the solid waste, we have not done so bad but we will improve. Then for the liquid waste, we will need to sit on roundtable and discuss the way forward because the government frowned at us evacuating the liquid waste into the drainage. But the problem is if we must evacuate it using sewage truck, we will be spending between three to four million naira every month,” he said.
Prince Ekpe further opened up on the rationale for the location of the company. Reacting to the claim that the company should not be located in a residential area, Mr Ekpe said that the area where the company is located enjoys between 18 to 19 hours of power supply everyday which reduces the cost of operations on the company. In addition, the company is also strategically located in a safe environment so apart from the safety of their equipment, the area gives the Chinese expertriats working in the company the confidence to go about their business. The location also gives the company easy access in and out of state because of the frequent transportation of raw materials as well as the finished products.
Reacting shortly after conducting an on-the-spot assessment of the factory, the member representing Uyo State Constituency in Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon Anietie Eka noted that having seen everything on ground, he would compare with the report from the relevant government agencies and ensure that the matter is resolved in the best way possible. Hon Eka reaffirmed that, in its final decision, the government will consider the interest of the over 300 youths working in the company to ensure that they are not thrown to the streets. “In a country where unemployment rate is very high and everything is considered poor, we cannot afford to lose about 1,000 jobs and especially going into and election year,” he said.
In a chat with journalists, some of the workers debunked the allegations that they were treated as slaves in the company. They confirmed that the management of the company prioritizes their safety and welfare and that their salaries are always paid on time. Anitie Douglas, an indigene of Oruk Anam Local Government, pleaded with the state government to reconsider its decision and reopen the company so they can resume work. “I started working in this company since 2017, and by the grace of God, I was able to get married and settle down. For me to work in the company for over five years without looking elsewhere, it means the company is doing well. When I came newly, the workers were given meal in the afternoon, but before we new knew it, they upgraded it to three square meal everyday. We started small but as the company is growing, the workers are equally growing,” he said.