BENIN CITY- The Managing Director, Okomu Oil Palm Company, PLC, Dr.Graham Hefer has disclosed that the company has set aside N60m –N80m to cover Health, Safety, and Environment including Impact assessment and the processes leading to the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification.
He made the disclosure during its Health, Safety and Environment day held in the company ‘s precincts.
The well attended event had in attendance 19 host communities from extensions one and two as well as chiefs, Odionwere of Okomu , the Iyase of Udo, HRH Patrick Igbinidu and Enogie of Umokpe including students of the ARMY School of Supply and Transport and its Commandant, Brigadier-General B.N. Salami.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the ceremony, Dr. Hefer expressed surprise over selective attacks directed at the company over the RSPO certification, saying it would be the first palm oil company in Nigeria to be so certified by October this year as it has complied with all international protocols laid down for the oil palm industry.
He said that the company is not the only oil palm producing company in Edo State to the extent that it has consistently come under attacks by Environmental Rights Action(ERA)/ Friends of The Earth (FOEN) which during a recent workshop said that the Company should practice all the tenets of the RSPO to keep the environment clean and healthy.
“ RSPO is basically an agricultural system for oil palm which is similar to International Organisation for Standardisation ( ISO). It has certain demands which has been put down for the company to follow and make sure that the company adequately abide by those rules.
“There are eight rules such as transparency, abiding by the law and to make sure that the environment remains clean and sound, among others. Those are the parameters under which this RSPO works. Based on that what will happen is that the international RSPO association will send out independent auditors like ISO does now and they will audit us and they will look and see if all of these parameters have been done according to their terms and conditions. If we have met them, then we will be certified just as we have been certified ISO 9001, 14001, 18001’’, Dr. Hefer, explained.
He added that there have been independent auditing of the company by internationally recognized Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and that the system of auditing is a similar process with that of ISO while the NGOs involved in the auditing included the FOREST TRUST and PRO FOREST, with both NGOs expressing satisfaction with their operations, saying that what is left is to invite auditors from the RSPO after which the company is sure from what is on ground to get its RSPO certification.
“ We are hoping that this will take place around October this year, if they come and find that we are compliant, we will then be moving to the stage where will get certified and we will then be able to display the logo on our letter heads, and banner etc.
“ In terms of what you see in the press that is the figment of one’s imagination. Nobody can show me anywhere where there is RSPO logo on any of our banners and this is what is an issue for me. If you look at the NGO that is behaving as the custodian of RSPO, they refused to be part of the RSPO national reinterpretation, they were sent an invitation to state their side, and they were calling it land grabbing. Against this background, they cannot come and tell me that what I am doing with RSPO is wrong. They were never involved in the process, because they declined to be involved ,’’ Dr. Hefer declared.
According to him, the NGO is confusing ISO with RSPO and hence they should refrain from saying something that is not truthful since they declined invitation to make contributions when asked to do so, adding that rather than pay lip service to RSPO rules, ERA/FOEN are free to visit the company and have discussions with the management on what they feel the company is doing right as well as what it is doing wrong.
“They should not stand on top of the hill and shout down at me and then run for cover, that is cowardice as far as am concerned. I don’t have a problem with ERA coming to my company and tell me that what I am doing is wrong. They are making allegations and are not standing by it.
“ They are complaining of Okomu only, there are many palm oil companies out of which we are just one of a number, such as PRESCO and SIAT. One of the things about RSPO is that they are very sensitive about land grabbing. We have showed all our documentation and are genuinely correct
“ It is one of the most intensive on human rights and child labour. We also have the Free Prior and Informed Consent Agreement (FPIC) which is part and parcel of RSPO and they are the ones who are dictating, if one person disagrees, then everybody disagree. There are so many mechanisms that are there, to make sure that RSPO is robust,’’ Dr. Hefer said on the RSPO processes.
Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, the Director, ERA/FOEN said recently during a worksop/media conference that it has been discovered that instead of RSPO certification being a standard for maintaining environmental health practices, it provided a false solution which failed to address deforestation, environmental and social impacts associated with large scale oil palm