Recently, on 18th and 19th October, 2019 the Edo Broadcasting Television and Radio (EBSTV/Radio), severally reported a news item, castigating this writer and the contents of his first article, entitled as the aforementioned, that he lied against Mr Godwin Obaseki, the Edo State governor and Okomu Oil Palm Company PLC, with its South African boss, Dr Graham Hefer.
That article accused Governor Obaseki of taking side with Okomu PLC and Dr Hefer, in their impunity of seizing ancestral lands belonging to about 35 poor local communities of Edo State, consequently on which crops, farmlands, the environment and livelihood of the hapless communities were destroyed and replaced with a mono crop oil palm, belonging to Okomu PLC. It also accused the multinational company from Belgium, Europe of disregarding Edo State government’s revocation order on the land, as well as the earlier directives from the Environment Minister, for Dr Heifer and his company to carry out a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study before it may take over the land.
Further accusations were that Dr Heifer, in the manner of the obnoxious but illicit Apartheid policy of South Africa, grabbed the land, with highhandedness against the pitiable communities of Owan and Okomu forest reserves, by a platoon of men in soldier uniforms and mobile policemen braggadocio, to seize the land and impose 6.00 pm to 6.00 am curfew a duress use of bodily pass for the Okomu locals.
Governor Obaseki, amongst other things, was accused of helping Okomu PLC and the South African grabbed the land, even though he was an important officer and part of the former Executive Council of the state, which revoked and gazetted the land.
Certainly, Edo public deserves to know that the broadcast was again orchestrated to silence the weighty evidences laid against Obaseki and the two, as the orchestrated broadcast was further oppress the poorest of the Edo people, using EBSTV/Radio, a government-owned media house that is run by hapless Edo taxpayers, to which the poor citizens of the local forest communities belong.
The report was carried by the Daily Independent Newspaper of 23rd October, 2019. This writer, Tony Erha, was correctly described as “one of the sons of the forest communities”. Therein, one Alfred Felix Osifo, lied that Okomu PLC had transformed his village with social amenities. Another Peter Osamuyi, who claimed to be an indigene of Orhua (the village I am from) claimed in the EBSTV/Radio broadcast that my accusations were all “fake”. It had always been said by Cyril Okunwe and Emmanuel Idahosa, from Umokpe and Oke-Irhue, respectively
For the asking; Why will Governor Obaseki stab the poor communities of Owan and Okomu forests with a knife handed him by Okomu PLC and Dr Hefer, and also try to stop them from bleeding blood and crying aloud for help?
Why will a governor assemble few men and portrayed them as real representatives of about 35 negatively impacted communities, whereas he had ignored thousands genuine folks of the same communities, who took street protests to him, who he refused to address in his office on 26th June, 2017 and in July 2018 etc. on the same issues? Similarly on 10th December, 2018 there was a heavy street protest by thousands of women farmers in Sabongida-Ora, at the heart of the forest zone, which was lavishly reported in the local and foreign press.
Much earlier, on 5th March, 2014 and May 20, 2015 etc. series of protests were taken to the Edo State Government House, Benin, in which Governor Obaseki, then as the State’s Economic Adviser, was amongst the retinue officers of the ex-Governor Oshiomhole, who addressed the thousands of protesters from the Owan forest communities, following which the lands were revoked and gazetted for the communities.
What stops Governor Obaseki, Okomu PLC and Hefer not carry out such protests of multitudes, involving the local folks, if only to convince the public that the villagers were or are happy with their land being seized and they being committed to perpetual slavery by a multinational company, its foreign boss and a governor that claims to represent them?
In Orhua community, how could a Peter Osamuyi, a layabout and unenlightened person speak for or represent Orhua, one of the very few and first of Edo communities to have a school and western education since 1902? It is obvious that Dr Julius Ahanor and an urbane Saturday Omoike, Chairman and Secretary of Orhua community and others, detest this misadventure of a few greedy ones in the midst.
To put the records straight, Peter Osamuyi was one of those who pleaded to join the early volunteers in the various protests that were held from 2004 until June 26, 2017 when he switched camp to his antagonists. On May 2016 the Edo the State Police headquarters arrested him through the complaints of one Johnbull Love (Aka JB), a contractor from Oke-Irhue village and one of those fronting for Okomu PLC at Oke-Irhue, over the allegation of destruction to a bulldozer, which Okomu PLC used to destroy the disputed forest land. The matter was heard at the Ehor Customary Court, and later settled between him and Dr Hefer, who was apparently behind the case. Because this writer believed that it was a case of victimisation, due to Osamuyi’s opposition to the grabbed land, he stood by him and the others.
Osamuyi, with another Cyril Okunwe (from Umokpe village), who was also a volunteer, had severally urged this writer to go take “my own bribe” from the company as they had done. Their argument was that the cause of the communities was not worth dying for! They had also severally complained of my uncompromising attitude to some of my relations, as I warned them never again to call me to take bribe. For their betrayer’s roles in turning around to join Okomu PLC, they were awarded contracts for boreholes and construction works.
Also, Alfred Felix Osifo cannot claim to represent Ekpan village, when he and his family are not from there. To buttress this fact, non-indigenes of the village are not allowed to decide for the village as with the Benin traditional of “Aiye orhiovbe mu igie“ (Strangers do not stand for the indigenes) His father is a truthful and hard working person who will attest to this that a stranger never becomes Odionwere (ruling by the oldest male) of Ekpan, neither are they initiated into any of its age groups. Alfred Felix Osifo was one of the strangers trained to the university level with resources from the forest land. Is it not bad that after his training as a lawyer, he now collaborates to sell out the same land and village that benefitted him? Will he not run to where he came from if the village is finally ruined?
Emmanuel Idahosa also once volunteered against Okomu PLC, only for him to turn around to them. In a meeting of his Oke-Irhue village, Idahosa earlier advised and went to carry out Public Disclaimer against four men from his village, who he later collaborated with. He disclaimed them in the Nigerian Observer of Sunday, May 4, 2014. Idahosa was later accused of sabotaging the community by taking substantial amount of monies from the Unique Club of Oke-Irhue Lagos, in a petition dated 14th July, 2014, which the Club wrote to the General Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association, Abuja and copied to the Secretary of its Edo State Chapter, citing professional misconduct against him. In a twist, he was alleged to have been detained for weeks at the Edo Police Command headquarters, over issues about monies involving the multinational company and his community.
Clearly, Ekpan, Oke-Irhue, Uhiere, Odiguetue and few other villages of the Uhunmwode and Ovia North East LGAs of the Owan forest zone, had backdoor monetary sponsorship to establish Community Development Associations (CDAs), with which they unduly signed Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs), with Okomu PLC. Incredibly, Governor Obaseki wants the public to take him serious by joining hands with land-grabbing Okomu PLC, Dr Hefer and those behind the same CDAs, who his government has since prohibited for what he once regarded them to be – some dishonest people who are land grabbers, extortionists and those against development the development of the state!
Tony Erha is a journalist and environmental activist.