Members of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria MAN are currently divided in their views over the decision of the Federal Government to grant a special concession to the Dangote Group and Bua Cement to export their cement products to neighbouring African countries despite shutting the border since August last year.

Bloomberg had reported Monday that President Muhammadu Buhari‘s administration gave its authorisation for Africa’s biggest producer to export cement to Niger and Togo in the third quarter for the first time in 10 months, a report the Dangote Group had denied, describing it as misleading and mischiveous.

Though MAN, the umbrella association for all manufacturers in the country has yet to react officially to the report, many members have expressed misgivings over the policy, which they believe does not make for fairness. This is given that the special concession denied many other members opportunity to export their products, many of whose export consignments have rot away at the various borders in the country due to the closure.

According to a source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the association as a body has fought the issue of the border closure as one body, having held several meetings with the officials of Nigeria Customs Service and the Federal Ministry of Finance at one point or the other.

The source noted that it was obvious that while the association was fighting as a body to convince the government to allow members export even their consignments trapped at the borders, many were going behind to ask for special considerations, which have now been granted.

“This development will for a long time haunt the association, especially given that the current President of MAN, Mansur Ahmed is an Executive Director in the Dangote Group because all of us criticised the border closure and collectively asked the government to open it up at least for the loaded consignments already trapped at the various border posts”, he said.

Another member of the association, who spoke in a separate interview, noted that most of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises SMEs, which are also the true drivers of the economy are really struggling in the country and should therefore deserve waivers more than any other to enable them remain afloat.

He argued that the role of the government in any economy is to provide the right operating environment and a level playing field for all to compete and not to single out one or two for special waivers or concessions to the detriment of others.

Bloomberg had quoted Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Cement, Michel Puchercos as saying on an investor call in Lagos, that the special concession was made possible “through authorisation given by this administration.”

But in his reaction to the criticisms that have trailed this revelation, the Dangote Group Chief, Branding and Communications Officer, Tony Chiejina, said the report is misleading and mischievous because it focused only on Dangote Cement as the sole beneficiary of the partial special dispensation, saying other companies also benefitted from the waiver.

“Dangote Cement is a publicly quoted company and complies strictly with the Securities and Exchange Commission SEC and Nigerian Stock Exchange NSE full disclosure clauses and regularly update transparently our transactions to our shareholders and it is disheartening that such honest disclosure is being interpreted negatively,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The statement said Dangote Cement and other companies in July 2020, got partial special dispensation to export their products with certain sequence of crossing at Ilela land border in Sokoto State and Ohumbe land border in Ogun State.

“Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Cement, Michel Puchercos, in his presentation on investor call held this week explained that the company is continuously focused on exporting cement to West and Central Africa by sea through its export terminals,” the statement said.

“He added that six vessels of clinker were exported in the third quarter of 2020 via the Apapa export terminal, while plans are on track to commission the Port Harcourt export terminal before the end of this year.

“For the quarter, Dangote Cement exported only 69 kilotonnes of cement via the land borders, compared to previous volumes of 180 kilotonnes before the border closures, which indicates just 38 per cent of the export volumes.”

Apart from the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry LCCI, other notable Nigerians including the founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Atedo Peterside, have criticised the new development.

In a tweet, Tuesday, Peterside said: “Allowing legitimate exporters and importers to move their goods across the border should be a no-brainer.”

 “Why refuse everybody else and allow only one company (Dangote)? This is why some of us argue that the Nigerian economy is rigged in favour of a handful of well-connected persons.”