Some civil society groups, led by the Environmental Rights Actions/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), has called on the Minister for Environment, Dr. Mohammed Mahmoud, to set up a probe into the allegation of approval of certificate for Environmental Assessment (EIA) to Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc on the disputed Owan forest land of Edo State, where it has established oil palm plantation.
The groups also called on the Federal Ministry of Environment and the National Park Service (NPS) to set up a panel of inquiry to probe the recent killing of an elephant calf in the plantation of Okumu Oil Palm Company.
The statement was made recently in Abuja at a press conference addressed by Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, executive director of ERA/FOEN, in collaboration with the coalition groups like the Protection for Okomu National Park & the Environment (PONPE) and the Coalition Against Landgrabbing & Deforestation (CALD).
“The Environment Ministers should also probe the alleged approval of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certification to Okomu PLC, despite the flouting of the earlier directives in exercise by previous Environment Minister,” said Comrade Tony Erha, a Convener of PONPE, who read Ojo’s statement on behalf of ERA/FoEN.
The organisation accused Okomu Oil Palm of refusing to comply by the mandatory EIA laws and flouted the directives from the Environment Minister to carry out the study in Owan forest reserve.
“The directives were through a letter addressed to Dr. Heifer and Okomu PLC by the Environment Minister, dated September 22, 2015 (Ref: No. FMEnc/EA/123:271/Vol.1/28),” added Ojo.
The groups asserted that the panel was necessary to additionally unravel those behind the recent killing of the young rare elephant from the scanty herds in Okomu National Park (ONP) and “bring the culprits to book to serve as deterrence”.
Ojo said the activities of Okomu Palm Oil Company has put pressure on the buffer zone and threatening the extinction of “rare endemic species such as the white throated monkeys, dwarf crocodiles, buffalos, duikers, and other biodiversity,” in ONP.
He added that the findings by ERA/FoEN field monitors suggest that the endangered elephant calf was killed by workers of the oil company.
The statement also canvassed for the panel to look into the grabbing of ONP’s main and buffer lands by the company, stretching over 13,750 hetres of land “which Edo State Government had revoked in Owan and Okomu forest reserves and re-convert it into the park’s buffers”.
“The multinational company, with its vast plantations surrounding ONP had been confirmed as having forcibly taken over about 16,000 hectares from the ONP area and buffers of the park. These incursions without a participatory Environmental and Social Impacts Assessment mean that the expansion was conducted without due process. As a result, part if the wildlife habitat destroyed is restricting the movements of ONP’s faunas and opening it to more threats.”
It was alleged that community members in the area said their farmlands were illegally acquired and no compensation paid for destroyed crops.
By Tony Erha