Okomu Oil PLC for more than 30 years has been intimately involved in Nigeria’s economy, health and overall development. The company brings reliable people and small businesses who’ve never known it before, creating thousands of jobs and educating and training thousands in the process. The company has spent millions working with NGOs and community development organizations to strengthen education and health care, provide vocational training and establish protected nature reserves. Okomu Oil PLC generates millions of dollars in export earnings. Okomu Oil PLC contributes to the Nigerian economy by generating revenues for government as well as paying taxes and royalties. In addition to this, Okomu Oil PLC in Nigeria pay a statutory contribution to a regional developmental agency.
In addition to this, Okomu Oil PLC in Nigeria employs about 2,000 direct employees and contractors (90% Nigerian). Many of the projects of the company help create tens of thousands more jobs. Many of these programs are in partnership with government and other development agencies.
Okomu Oil PLC is now involving more and more development partners to help in addressing community needs. Specific community development programs include micro credit scheme and health scheme. Okomu Oil PLC has built many clinics in Edo State. Okomu Oil PLC is a major supporter of education of young children, with over 2,000 children on Okomu Oil PLC scholarship at any point in time.”
Okomu Oil PLC is encouraging the communities to own and drive development themselves while it provides financial assistance to them and technical assistance through development NGOs. Okomu Oil PLC has established operating procedures and guidelines to help make the process accountable and transparent. Okomu Oil PLC is still carry out major infrastructure in partnership with government, and other local and international partners,” social development specialist.
Okomu was legally constituted a Forest Reserve in 1912 by Government order 397. In 1950, it was re- constituted a Native Administration Forest under the Benin District Council. Before 1950, Okomu was a relatively undisturbed forest. There was little farming and the ecosystem represented one of the richest in West Africa in terms of biodiversity. At this point, the reserve was divided into two areas BC 9 and BC 10 for management purposes.
In 1970, the reserve came under the management of the State Government, to be managed on behalf of the local community. Despite the fact that the land was constituted community land, the State Government granted a 99 year lease of 1 500 ha from area BC 9 to a palm oil company and another 2 000 ha from area BC 10 to a rubber company for development of oil palm and rubber tree plantations. Although both of these areas were termed as a “de-reservation” there was no evidence that the lease was ever legally gazetted. It is therefore not known how much this has affected the statutory rights of the occupancy.
In 1982, Oates and Anadu carried out a survey of the conservation status of forest reserves in Ondo, Ogun, and Bendel States (part of Bendel State in 1982 is now part of Edo State). Because of the high rate of exploitations within the Reserve and human settlements on its periphery they recommended inter alia that a Wildlife Sanctuary be set up in the core of Okomu Forest Reserve to protect the unique flora and fauna of the tropical forest ecosystem. In particular it was thought that the creation of the Sanctuary was the last hope for the protection of endemic and endangered species of wildlife including the endemic white-throated guenon monkey, (Cercopithecus erythrogaster), of which there is an estimated population of about 3 000. The creation of the Sanctuary was gazetted in June 1988.
The quest for national development, especially in developing countries like Nigeria, has erroneously been seen as the sole responsibility of government at all levels. However, this responsibility is now changing and is gradually being shared between both government and corporate citizens under the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Essentially, the concept of CSR, though a privilege, and not a right, accentuates the notion that corporate citizens should, within their financial capabilities, be able to offer support to those communities which lie within their area of operation. In this respect then, companies give different measures of support to their neighbouring communities. However, never in the history of this Country has one witnessed an agrarian company, irrespective of her size, taking CSR to the level that The Okomu Oil Palm Company plc has done in Edo State! The company has been heavily involved in CSR programmes since 2010 and currently offers CSR support to more than 27 communities that cut across three local Government areas to the value of about N200 million per annum in 2017 alone – no mean feat when one takes into account the harsh business and operating environment that companies such as Okomu have had to survive under, when compared to similar companies outside of Nigeria.
Nine communities namely, Odighi, Odiguetue, Uhiere, Owan, Agbanikaka, Oke-Irhue, Ekpan, Irhue and Umopke. These communities border the company’s new plantation known as Extension 2 which straddles both the Ovia North East and Ohunmwonde local government areas of Edo State. The other communities which had CSR projects to, either be commissioned or inspected were located at Okomu’s main plantation in the Ovia South West local government area and included the likes of Udo, Madagbayo, Gbelebu, Safarogbo, Asamara, Ofunama, Inikorogha, Jamagie, Ajakurama and Okomu Town. The company not only assisted communities within their footprint, but also extended its CSR programme to Government institutions such as the Nigerian Police force and Ministries of education and/or health within the State and currently has ongoing projects in this regard in all three of the above mentioned LGAs.
At Odighi community, the company, led by her Managing Director Dr Graham Hefer, commissioned three projects requested by the community and duly completed by the company in 2016, namely a renovated palace for the Enogie of Odighi, market stalls and a house for the Odionwere. In Odiguetue community the company commissioned an exquisite town hall. In Uhiere, the MD inspected the ongoing renovation and upgrading of the community clinic, while at Oke-Irhue, the water borehole and secondary school projects were inspected. In Ekpan and Irhue communities, the water borehole projects were also inspected.
At these visits, Dr. Hefer used the opportunity to announce new projects that would commence this year, at the behest of the each of the communities concerned; for example, Ekpan community had requested, and would receive, a town hall, market stalls and a cassava grinding machine for the women in 2017. The company, the MD stated, also took its obligations of uplifting those marginalized groups within the communities, more especially the youth and the women, seriously and announced an extension of their one year skills acquisition training programmes and ongoing bursaries for those in tertiary institutions within the respective communities concerned. The company also graded roads, both to, and within, these communities, despite their limited logistics.
The Okomu Oil Palm Company was established in 1976 as a Federal Government pilot project aimed at rehabilitating oil palm production in Nigeria. At inception, the pilot project covered a surveyed area of 15,580 hectares out of which 12,500 hectares could be planted with oil palm. It was incorporated on December 3, 1979 as a limited liability company. By December 31, 1989, 5,055 hectares of the estate had been planted. The company also began infrastructural developments on the estate at that period. The facilities included office blocks, workshops/stores, staff quarters, a petrol station, a powerhouse and a primary school for children of the company’s staff members
Okomu Oil Palm, which operates in the palm oil as well as rubber production business, was established in 1976 as a Federal Government of Nigeria pilot project covering an area of 15,580 hectares out of which 12,500 hectares could be planted with oil palm. In 1979 the company was incorporated as a private company with limited liability and in 1990, within a Structural Adjustment Programme, it was converted to a Public Limited Company (PLC). It is a member of the Belgian Socfin, a global player group in the cultivation of oil palm as well as rubber, coffee and tropical flowers. Socfin owns 62.69% of Okomu Oil Palm’s shares.
It has since grown to become one of Nigeria’s leading oil palm companies with an oil palm area of 9.713 ha (2012) in the State of Edo, with plans to add 402 ha in 2013 and other 400 ha in 2014. The company’s 2012 annual report announced the intention to expand its oil palm and rubber plantations and also revealed plans to build the biggest oil mill in Africa expanding its oil mill capacity from 30 tons per hour to 60 tons per hour.
Among investors, the Okomu Oil Palm Company is presented as a success story, with the highest dividend in its history paid to shareholders in 2013. But in this kind of extractive agribusiness, the “success” for investors carries a high price for local communities. Okomu Oil Palm Plc last year expended over N240 million on host communities to execute development projects, award bursaries and youth skills development programmes.
Inwalomhe Donald writes from Benin City firstname.lastname@example.org