Members of Okomu Oil host communities during the protest

By Jethro Ibileke/Benin

Host communities of Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc, in Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State, have accused the state government of enslaving them by selling their farmlands to the company.

This is even as they accused the company of polluting the stream which is their only source of drinking water with agro chemical.

The protesters also accused Edo State government of selling the whole land wherein they farm to the company, thereby enslaving them, just as they lamented that they have no where to farm anymore in their land.

Members of the host communities which comprise of Gbelebu, Safargbo, Okomu, Oweike, Maikolo, stated this on Saturday, during a peaceful protest against what they tagged marginalisation and ill-treatment by the oil palm company.

Some of their placards bore inscriptions such as: Govt tell Okomu Oil Company to open our road; Okomu Oil Company give us our fishing traps that are with you; Stop polluting our stream with your agro chemical, it is our only source of drinking water; We are not terrorists, stop harassing us with military.

They further accused the company of blocking the only road that links them to Udo and with fierce-looking military men.

Speaking to the press shortly after the protest, the Fiyewei (spokesperson) of Okomu clan, Chief Ajele Sunday, said it’s quite unfortunate that government of Edo state has joined in the enslavement of the people with the continuous sales of the land wherein the natives farm to a foreign company.

According to him, “The state government sells the land to multinationals where this forest people farm and even trade. If you sell the land to multinationals, where do you want these people to survive?

“Ordinarily, we expected the state government to come to the aide of these host communities and question this multinationals why the I’ll-treatment. But, unfortunately, the state government has joined them in the enslavement.

“Law protects only the rich while the poor who are the forest people that feed the nation are suffering. Everything we buy in the market comes from the forest,” he said.

Also speaking, Mrs. Biobokogha Pena-ere from Okomu, said the company has put the communities into bondage through their maltreatment and harassment, lamenting that they can no longer fish or farm.

“Okumu Oil Palm is oppressing us, intimidating us, we don’t have good road, we don’t have good water. We cannot kill the fish we used to kill before because they have used their chemical to spoil our river, so no fish.

“The petty businesses we do to survive, they have blocked the road to access urban cities, so we can no long do our businesses,” Pena-ere lamented.

Other speakers at the press briefing, including Merssers French Yabike, Ejueyi Segun and Lawoni Dumofaye, decried the deprivation of employment opportunities and scholarships to the indigenes.

“We are tired of the activities of Okomu Oil Palm Company. The company has been evacuating our communities. Some times ago, they came with soldiers to evacuate Lemon camp. After that they proceeded to Agbede comminity and evacuated them, and later extended to Oweike, they evacuated it too.

“The company has locked up the existing road before the company was founded. Since 2019, the road has been under lock and today it been locked. They used COVID-19 as an excuse to finally lock up the road with lock down excuse. The alternative road is bad.

“The road the company is claiming is not its road, that road was constructed by British West Africa Timber Contractors of those days before Okomu Oil Palm was set up there.”

“Just of last week, our local farmers mills were being burnt down by Okomu Oil Palm Company,” they alleged.

Phone calls and WhatsApp messages sent to the Public Relations Officer the company, Mr. Fidelis Olise, were not replied to even after reading them.

Also, efforts to get a reaction from the government failed, as there was no one to comment on the allegations.