Edo communities protest Okomu oil palm company over alleged marginalisation, oppression

From Tony Osauzo, Benin

Host communities of Okomu Oil Palm Company PLC in Edo State, yesterday, staged a protest over alleged blockade, digging of trench on the road leading to their communities by the company.

It was learnt that the action commenced on Tuesday and continued yesterday with women and youths of the communities, particularly AT/P and Marioba communities, coming out as early as 6am to protest what they tagged as “treating us as slaves in our father’s land.”

Odionwere of Marioba community, Gabriel Eigbe Okwolegbe accused the company of treating the host communities like slaves without them benefitting much from the company.

He said though the palm trees of the company are at the door steps of the communities, there was nothing to show for being host communities, accusing the company of digging a big trench on the road leading to their homes.

“I don’t know why this company keep treating us like slaves. You can see that the palm trees are at our door steps, yet there is nothing we are benefitting from the company. The only road we manage to get to our houses, the management has dug a big trench to cover so that we will no longer have access to our houses,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Rex Akpokiniobo from one of the communities, said: “We have been enduring the arm-twisting devices of the managing director of the company for too long, but this one was too much. How can you dig your trenches to block our road? How do we get to our houses or come out from our houses,” he queried.

Similarly, a youth leader from one of the communities, Lucky Okeodion, while berating the action of the company, said the “managing director action is barbaric and we shall continue the protest until he cover the big gutter with which he has destroyed our road.”

Commenting on the incident, a human rights activist and environmentalist, Ajele Sunday, blamed the Edo State Government for the maltreatment the communities have been subjected to.

“Edo State shares in the responsibility because it signed a contract that cannot be implemented without violating the rights of the community people. How can a state government bring investors without cautions, without checks? You allow the investors to operate and act with impunity.

”Just recently on May 2, 2020, Ijaw-gbini community was burnt down by security operatives of the company. The governor pretended to set up a committee headed by Lucky Wasa but it died a natural death. But the day gunmen attacked the company, the governor went there himself. So, who is giving so much power to these investors?” he queried.

Reacting to the protest, spokesman of the company, Fidelis Olise, denied allegations.

“There is nothing of such. These are just blackmail against our company. You can come over and I will take you to the said place if you see such a trench as claimed. Though as a company, we have right to dig any trench within our company, but I want to tell you categorically that such does not exist,” he said.

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