Saturday, May 21, 2022

Outrage as palm oil company digs trench to bar host community from stealing fruit

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The feud between the management of Okomu Oil Palm Company Ltd. and one of its host communities, Maroghioba, will not escalate into full-blown crisis.

The assurance was given on Friday by the Iyase of Udo, near Benin, Chief Patrick Igbinidu.

The digging of a trench by the oil company in Maroghioba community, aka AT&P, led to the protest.

The protest was spurred by the alleged shooting of an elderly woman, Iyabor Butu, in the leg by security personnel of the oil company.

The company claimed that it dug the trench in a portion of land belonging to it to stop the relentless theft of its oil fruits.

Members of the community, however, said the action was an infringement of their right of passage and an oppressive tendency by the company.

A correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria who visited the community on Thursday, reported that the Divisional Police Officer in Iguobazuwa, CSP Bamidele Ade, held a peace meeting with members of the community and the company.

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The Acting Odionwere (Village Head) of the community, Chief Gabriel Ikhuolegbe, told NAN that people of his community and the company had enjoyed cordial relationships before Tuesday’s fracas.

“I worked and retired as a senior security officer of the company. Majority of our people are workers in Okomu Oil. As a matter of fact, we have been working together peacefully.

“It is true that the company has provided many facilities like borehole, school buildings, classroom chairs, perimeter fence and a town hall for the community, but our immediate needs now are road and electricity.

“This is why we are angry with the company that its managing director ordered the workers to dig deep hole which has blocked the only access road to our houses.

“Management of the company has refused to harken to our cries, hence our protest so that government and the public will be aware of the injustice the company has done to our community,’’ he said.

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He added that though the community was still aggrieved, “we are ready for dialogue to settle this disagreement.’’

Speaking in the same vein, Rex Akpokiniobo, a member of the community said: “we have been enduring the arm-twisting devices of the company’s managing director for too long, but this one is 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.

Responding, Fidelis Olise, Okomu Oil’s Communications Officer, told NAN that the protest by the community was uncalled for as “the land in question belongs to the company.

“The fact that the company allowed them access these past years doesn’t translate that they should tell us how to look after our property.

“The volume of theft of the company’s oil fruits runs into 50 tons monthly.

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“That is massive and because we can no longer tolerate the theft, we resolved to dig the trenches to create an obstacle against easy movement.

“That’s all we did and nothing else and that’s why I have said that their protests are unwarranted,’’ he said.

CSP Ade, who was accompanied to Thursday’s meeting by the Community Relations Committee from the Iyase’s palace, appealed for calm insisting that the best way to resolve the misunderstanding was through dialogue.

Ade assured the community leaders that having assessed the situation and seeing the extent of blockade of the road, he would meet with the company and the Iyase (the traditional ruler) for an amicable resolution.

The Iyase, who expressed displeasure at the crisis, told NAN that the ugly situation could have been averted had both parties listened to the voice of reason.

NAN

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