Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has been tasked to bring the Okomu Oil Palm Company to the book over the allegation of land grabbing, environmental violation and livelihood destruction by the forest-bearing communities of Okpamakhin, located across Uhunmwode, Ovia North East and Owan West local government areas (LGAs) of the state.
The call was made at Sabongida-Ora, the headquarters of Owan West LGA, by the Women Wing of the Coalition Against Landgrabbing and Deforestation (CALD) during a recent street protest, which for hours hindered vehicular movement in the town.
In a letter dated December 10, 2018 to Governor Obaseki and jointly signed by Mrs. Joan Obazee and Mrs. Bose Eruaga, Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator of the group respectively, with three others, the civil society group said to be propelled by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) stated: “We are also, once more, registering our displeasure about the shoddy and lukewarm ways your government has been handling the affront by Okomu PLC in its slipshod operation in Edo communities, particularly the disrespect for the revocation order by the Edo State Government on most of our forest land and the flouting of a mandatory directive from the Federal Ministry of Environment to the company to carry out an all-inclusive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study before the land could be given to it.
“And where the said revocation order of about 8,000 hectares of the land render Okomu PLC’s grabbing illegal, the EIA directives by the Federal Ministry of Environment also invalidate the already revoked land and others outside of it, which the company has grabbed and more that it is bent of acquiring illegally.”
The women protesters, who were mostly cladded in black attires, also alleged that the Okomu multinational company, while wresting their land, brought the bulldozers to clear the over 14,000 hectares of the high forest, crops belonging to poor farmers, their environment, sources of water and worship and their entire livelihood. The letter also accused the company of bringing men in soldier and police uniforms to enforce the bulldozing, in a threat to maim or kill them, should they oppose the forceful takeover of their landed inheritance.
Whilst reminding Governor Obaseki that it was the Executive Council of the immediate past government under ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole inheritance, in which Mr. Obaseki served as Economic Adviser, and an integral part of it, the protesters said that they are at a loss that the Governor went on to officially commission the same project premised on a land that has been declared illegal by a subsisting revocation order. They also frowned at the Governor’s hesitation to respond to series of protest and petition letters brought to him on the issue by the 35 communities across the three local governments, who are dependent on the rainforest land.
The group further alleged that the 8,000 hectares alleged land was published in the Edo State Government of Nigeria Official Gazette of November 5, 2015 (page 48-50). Reasons for revocation were backed with an empowering State Forestry Law, that the land meant for regeneration was commercialised (sold) to second and third parties and not in the public’s interests. The illegal transaction, it also alleged, was between the Iyayi Group of Companies, who had gainfully logged the land for 50 years and it was thereafter given to Iyayi freely for regeneration. Iyayi was the middleman that sold to A & Hatman Ltd and to Okomu PLC, with billions of Naira exchanging hands.
“On May 14, 2016 after the revocation and refusal of Okomu PLC to vacate the forestland, ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole again made a confirmation press statement that the land stood revoked and Okomu PLC should vacate the it. Governor Oshiomhole also issued a follow-up letter dated April 18, 2016 (Ref: GH/COS.58/156) to the Okomu PLC, warning the firm to vacate the land” It further alleged.
Okomu Oil Company was also alleged to have abandoned the directives of the Environment Minister’s, via a letter dated September 22, 2015, (Ref: No. FMEnv/EA/ 123:271? Vol.1/28) stating that the “Interim EIA Approval” for three months validity for preliminary development activities on the project only; and that the EIA should be carried out to its logical conclusion, and with continuous consultation with relevant stakeholders.
“Whereas the company had started bulldozing our forest land in January 2014 barely three years after destroying the land upon which the EIA was to be based. Incredibly, the same company had belated in December 2016 emerged with a concocted EIA draft report, which was conducted behind our communities, the primary stakeholder,” said, the Women Wing of the group.
“But we have been pushed to a despairing living by an overbearing multinational company, whose obnoxious operational policies has seemingly arrogated to itself a sovereignty within a nationhood that is supposedly independent. And we are determined to regain our possession, only along the principles of constructive engagement and non-violence”.
Nevertheless, the group made what is called its renewed call on the Edo State Government to “summarily quit the blundering Okomu PLC from our land and get it to book for violating the Nigerian laws”.
By Tony Erha