It is incontrovertible for purpose of simplicity to assert that there are various foundational platforms that cater for the well-being of society and one of which in a taxonomic ranking in the inter –play to ensure a successful society is government. While government may be the major player in a society it necessarily needs to collaborate with the rest of the platforms in the taxonomy to achieve cohesion, collaboration and unity. Interestingly, government itself is an octopus in multifarious dimensions to engender economic growth and thereby create wealth for the people, rather than restrict it.
Business and industries, health and education and so forth thrive under this clime. However, soon after World War II NON GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS began to play visible roles in international development to the extent that they were given free rein in many regions of the world and this is where the likes of such influential bodies such as the Lions Club International and the Rotary Club have played preeminent and quintessential role in the health sector providing palliatives to bring succour to those afflicted by polio and river blindness. It is estimated that there are over 10 million NGOs in the world today, with around two million in India alone. Russia is estimated to have about 277,000 NGOs and China with 440,000 registered NGOs.
Thus, where positive growth and change in economic index is expected to bring about sound development, NGOs have always keyed in intogovernment programmes to ensure that the desired goal of government which is geared towards happiness of the greatest number is achieved.
Ipso facto, it becomes worrisome when NGOs in the country take on the Frankenstein posture to intimidate investors and cow them, ostensibly a device to extort or exploit them, because a decline will mean portraying them to the larger society as interlopers who came into the country uninvited.
That is why the trenchant path of NGO activism in the country calls for worry. Why is this a problem? The plausible answer is that some of them are now pawns on the chess board of some quick cleavers who are savvy and crafty as well, with ingenious characters who use them to achieve a target objective for themselves alone. Besides, many such
persons are attention seekers who do well by the trade they ply, most times covertly.
Nigeria, just like in many other countries are inundated with many NGOs for various purposes ranging from environment, education, health,HIV/AIDS, Charity and many more. A recent statistics put the number of
NGOs in Nigeria at over 46,000 and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) continues to register more by the day. Necessarily, NGOs worldwide perform a wide range of activities and services geared towards the wellbeing of the people and are conscientiously committed towards their proper cause which they do in the best way possible and
to do otherwise would be unconscionable, not being therefore in tandem with the overall goal of government. This rule of thumb is enshrined in the various world constitutions or grundnorm and in Nigeria is spelt out under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
The disturbing trend that has come to light in this country is that some persons who claim to be so called emancipator of a free environment masquerade under the NGOs in questionable and dubious circumstances posing as fronts for genuine causes, indeed for personal gains and enrichment, claiming to be human rights advocates.
Recently, one such incident occurred in Benin City, Edo State of Nigeria under the toga of land grabbing impunity which intent and purpose is a smear campaign against responsible companies operating within Nigerian Law. It is an alarming and dangerous situation that must be periscoped, and calls for an eagle eye carefully scrutinized
to decipher their true intentions, especially, so that the entirety of the Nigerian public will not be misled or deceived.
The proposed plan by the National Assembly to regulate the activities of NGOs was a welcome development, perhaps, because of their antecedents and contradictions that have attended their activities in the country. While all is not lost on the proposed bill because of so many hues and cries, emerging events indicate that many are contradictions in themselves for the simple reason that they are anti-development, anti- community and anti-economic growth which will
take us back to the woods. Interestingly, of utmost concern in this respect is the activities of a foremost environmental NGO, Environmental Rights Action (ERA)Friends of the Earth which is now a pawn on the chess board in the hands of some disgruntled and dissatisfied elements who do not recognize the indices of development or deliberately obliterate it from their minds for selfish goals and reasons.
One is wont to believe that in the frequency of an action belies some real motives, as they say, there is no cause without its corresponding effect, positively or negatively fashioned. When the ERA recently, under one Dr. Godwin Uyi staged a protest at the Ring Road in Benin City together with some group under the aegis of ‘’Civil Society Coalition’’ to drum support for a phoney cause, peace loving people of Edo State thought they had genuine intentions.
Meanwhile, the real purpose and object of the protest was to institute a smear campaign and hate against Okomu Oil PLC over unfounded allegations of land grabbing and impunity and to expel the company and its over 10,000 workforce from Edo State. ERA and its coalition alleged that Okomu had carried out sustained destruction of some forest areas. It mobilised some group of people who were labelled as farmers, Conservators, Environmentalists and community dwellers.
The group alleged a refusal of Okomu Oil Plc to vacate a 13,750 hectares of land spread across three local government areas of Edo State. The hectares of land is said to cut through Ovia North East and particularly around the Owan town axis also in Ovia North East and Uhunmwonde Local government areas of Edo State. It was claimed by Dr. Uyi during the protest that the land grabbing for oil palm and rubber plantations in the state was an affront on rural communities According to him, over 60,000 rural farmers had been displaced from their farmlands in the affected communities while others were currently facing eviction.
Paradoxically, the authenticity and veracity of his claims leaves much to be desired in a state where law and order operates in due process in land acquisition. What is of interest is the fact that Dr. Uyi and his coalition were acting out a script for their own selfish design.
Were it to be true that over 60,000 farmers were displaced in Edo State, the news of such would have been awash in the social media and in news tabloids nationwide. At what point did this displacement take place? It should be pointed out that OKomu has as its neighbour a Forest Reserve under the control of the Federal Ministry of
Environment. Displacement as it is, is always an event that will attract government attention just like in the case of displaced persons camps spread across the country and even in Edo State arising from the Boko Haram insurgency.
Perhaps, as earlier stated, ERA and its coalition are being misled by some persons for their own selfish gains. It is high time that ERA is called to order. For instance, is Weppa Farms that own over 800 hectares in Edo North in competition with Okomo Oil Plc? This is yet another crux in the crucible in the hate agenda championed by ERA
that Okomu Oil Plc has no EIA certification which is untrue. Nigerian law stipulates that land for agricultural purposes must undergo EIA when it is more than 500 hectares. What then is the rational for the smear campaign against Okomu Oil Plc. This is a fundamental issue that must be resolved by ERA that it is in truth engaged in double
standard, in a country where the law allows competition in products and services for economic growth.
In clearer perspective one can say that ERA had allowed itself to be used by some faceless persons who are out of tune with government policy to make agriculture a mainstay of the economy. Okomu Oil Palm Plc currently employs over 10,000 workers in its rubber and palm plantations and has put to good use the land previously lying fallow without generating any economic activities over the years before its transfer to Okomu Palm Oil Plc. The activities of Okomu Oil Plc is in the public domain and its websites can be visited and facts verified to ascertain its operations for a Company that is quoted in the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
The title to the land was originally held by Chief Effionayi Iyayi and later Chief Tony Anenih who acquired the 13,570 hectares for agricultural purposes and was perhaps underutilised for many years and was backed up with a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O). In search of land for expansion, Okomu Oil Plc showed interest in its acquisition
and had the land duly transferred to it as could be seen from chain of titles showing who were the original purchasers, as these evidence of titles are in the public domain in the Land Registry. Where then did the issue of land grabbing come in? Further still, why were there no protests by ERA and its coalition when its acquisition were held by Chief Tony Anenih and Chief Effionayi Iyayi? Clearly, again, this was a deliberate hate campaign to shut down Okomu and throw out its over 10,000 work force by competitors who desire same land for their palm plantations. On the displaced 60,000 farmers , where were they at the time Chief Anenih and Chief Iyayi held the land. It is a simple matter for ERA and its coalition to provide facts and figures of names of persons who owned the land at the time of its acquisition.
It is also pertinent for interested members of the public to establish the claims of ERA and its coalition by prudent investigation to verify the genuineness of the claims being peddled around. Only recently, the Edo State governor, Mr.Godwin Obaseki set up a Committee on agriculture comprising major players such as Okomu and PRESCO Plc in
Edo State to lead the way forward in making agriculture a major revenue earner for Edo State. That is not all, in fervent pursue of that drive, the governor recently undertook a visit to Indonesia and Malaysia as part of efforts to shore up the agricultural potential and capacity of Edo State . It is with all certainty one asserts that
Okomu is a major palm Oil giant in the State and in the country and if Nigeria is to join the league of nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, then it is incontrovertible that Okomu will supply its quota to the national effort
One does not have dig deep to unravel the veracity contained in the allegations of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth against okomu Oil Palm Company Plc,,for example, how possible is it for 60,000 people to live on less than 14,000 hectares of farmland? What income did they generate to sustain themselves?
These are questions which answers are not far-fetched and it is the reason why one is palpably concerned that some mischief makers have decided to nestle in idle and unprofitable attack against an institution providing a means of livelihood for many who could have been jobless and homeless.
Much more importantly, for want of a better thing to do, ERA should expand its horizon, refocus and to re-strategize to focus on its areas of concerns with toxic wastes and other issues bedevilling the environment. There are key stakeholders in Okomu Oil Palm Plc, particularly those who have bought stakes in the company by way of
shares and should be reassured that all is well and that the company is still a going concern. It should be worthy of mention that other key stakeholders in the Okomu Oil Palm Plc are the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) which own some percentage of the company’s shares and the Edo State government which is represented on the board of the
company by Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, there is no iota of doubt that all efforts to make the cookie crumble has not succeeded as ERA and its coalition have behaved like a lame duck and have been in pursuit of a mirage and walking on intangible shadows that is only seen and cannot be held in flesh and blood, creating fictional imageries and
scenarios where none exists Where facts are contrived and turned on its head, they support only the figment of imagination of the supplier, that is of those who allege them to be a reality, whereas, it is a dissonance of logic and a contradiction of the true state of affairs. This is the level to which Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth has degenerated to claiming to be friends of the Earth but in reality they are enemies of the people.
In the international arena Oil Palm cultivation has been vilified to the extent that now any fellow in Africa going against oil palm cultivation will easily get funding for that purpose hence the true nature of the campaign by these NGOs, as that keeps them in funding but they are working for other countries not their own.
It is pertinent to conclude by saying that my interest and curiosity in this issue was arose by the allegation that Okomu Oil does not have an Environmental Impact Assessment permit which I consider strange because I personally heard the public announcement on Radio and I wondered then, how many companies still follow due process in their business operations? Least did I know that it will become a public issue.
Osaretin Idowu is a Public Analyst