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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Tony Erha: Rooting environmental consciousness in Edo media executives

It is a salient and current issue that truly deserves discussion, even on one of the very WhatsApp Media Forums or Platforms that this writer belongs and as a contributory member. Indeed, debating “every” common problem, as it affects the common people, ideally underlines the establishment of such discourse platforms, which ordinarily profess to the pro bono publico deeds.

Tony Erha
Tony Erha

And because the discussions on the very platform are restricted to members, away from the public, it wouldn’t augur well to disclose the name of the platform consisting journalists, media men and the intelligentsias. I am by this not a member of clandestine groups, whose deliberations, though said to be premised on the Ombudsman, are restricted to its members. Instead of making it public, the commonly held position of the platforms’ administrators of most social media groups is that their membership are not opened to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

A critical issue of the protracted deforestation and land grabbing of Edo State forest reserves crept into a peripheral debate, which soon attained combative tone, besieged the said platform. Tempers flew to unimaginable proportions, where few of the discussants queried the relevance of such topic, because a notable multinational company in the state was mentioned.

But, this writer, a campaigner of the very conservational problem under discourse, raises the public’s attention to the over-ceding of ancestral forests of local communities of the poor of the poor, wouldn’t be bugged that a few are against a generic problem that affects the state, so badly. It goes to buttress what journalists call “self-censorship”, a self-made check by journalists and media practitioners, as induced by pecuniary and pettiness in a wrong defence of his “clique zone”.

And according to Maria Shakpelova, formerly of the Freedom House, a global watchdog organisation that oversees freedom of expression and the welfare of journalists around the world: “The most undoing of journalists and their work, is self-censorship, where he had to prune himself of the journalistic ideals to objectivity and balancing of what constitutes a news item. This is the self-muzzling of information freedom than those caused by the external anti-press agents.”

Why would the issue of RUGA settlement form intense discussion and another land dispossession, impoverishment and oppression of the poor locals by almighty multinational companies and their local collaborators will not be? Why would a person be the focus because he is “a troublesome journalist”, linking to his village of origin? Is journalism a practice where dogs eat dogs?

But then, does that foreclose the over 35 other communities across Ovia North East, Uhunmwode and Owan West LGAs, including over 20 other villages of Okomu forest reserve, in Ovia South West LGA, who are victims of the land grabs? The prevailing destruction to Okomu National Park, a globally acclaimed conservation enclave and ecotourism destination, is also fingered by all the aforementioned grabs by the Okomu Oil Palm Company PLC (OkomuOil).

Yet, the Oshiomhole-led government was judicious by revoking the lands grabbed by OkomuOil, which Governor Obaseki later went to endorse for re-grab to the same company. Whereas Obaseki, as the Chairman of the state’s Economic Committee, was a vital part of the state’s Executive Council that revoked and gave the land back to the communities.

Presently, over 200,000 additional hectares of the forest reserves of higher biodiversity have been (with more) freely ceded out for single crop plantations to multinationals, especially with the N69 billion and more huge funding from the CBN. Edo local growers of oil palm are side-lined by the multinationals and the state government, from the funding. But local growers are supposedly the bedrock of the oil palm business chain; even in Malaysia, the world leading producer of oil palm.

Now, every Edo forest lands, usually tilled by the local people, is being turned into oil palm. What the government now tells the public is that it is by so creating for Edo indigenes 600,000 jobs in the proposed oil palm plantations. But Edo people don’t work as labourers that form about 95 percent of the work force.

They readily consider such menial jobs as “slavery” and prefer to farm on their lands. Often, it is strangers who move into the villages that become the labourers. This had led to the abandonment of plantation bearing villages in Edo, where indigenes now lack farmlands. Examples of such villages are Igieduma, Ikpoba, Okhuo, Uhiere, Oke-Irhue, Irhiwe, Odighi, Uhiere, Ekpan, Umokpe, Orhua, Ozalla, Uzebba, Sabongidda-Ora, Uhonmora, Avbiosi, Oke-Ora, Odiguetue, Agbanikaka, Owan, Nikrogha, Udo, Ikpoba, Obaretin, Sakpoba, Makilolo, Okomu, Iguowan, Ikoka, Ofunama, Oweike, etc.

Now, which lands will the army of jobless youth go to, whereas government tells them daily to go to farm? If Edo forest is finally plundered in this reckless manner by the Obaseki government, where are the forests to feed the over 2,500 idle sawmills and the once thriving woodwork and striking furniture making business, over which Edo is the best in the country?

Ondo State, Edo’s neighbour, prefers to protect its own forests and carries on with regeneration. But the Edo loggers now go behind to do illegal logging in Ondo, whose forests were not as rich as Edo’s, simply because Edo has mismanaged its own? Have you heard Ondo State giving out its diverse forest reserved lands to multinationals for single crop plantations?

On the said platforms are some journalists, who are sympathisers of the multinational firms, for destroying such a robust land heritage. Just like the slaves who cherish the fetters on themselves! But, a higher aggregate of journalists, media men and the intelligentsias, who form the platform could make the difference by sensitising, even leading the people to stop their heritage from annihilation.

This article serves as prelude of an open letter to governor Obaseki about the tinges of the global resentments on his poor handling of the appalling situations.

Luckily, the grand moves to stopping the lethal threats on Edo and plundering its existence by the slipshod operations of multinational companies on its lands has attracted formidable national and global movement, involving the mass of Edo people at home and in the Diaspora, including concerned global individuals and institutions. Aluta continua!

Tony Erha, a journalist and environmental crusader, is a forest certifier with the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO)

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