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Presco: Land disputes rock Edo, Delta states

Presco not operating on Delta land — Philip Shaibu, Edo Dep Gov
If Presco thinks it’s lawless, it’s a waste of time — Peter Mrakpor, AG, Delta
We acquired land lawfully from Edo State — Presco
By Emma Amaize, Simon Ebegbulem & Perez Brisibe
BENIN—EDO and Delta states, carved out of the defunct Bendel State in 1991, are currently enmeshed in boundary rows, that have pitted several Delta communities against Presco Plc, a public limited liability company, which obtained its Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, from Edo State Government.
Both states lay claim to the lands in disagreement, contiguous to Ossiomo River, Ogan to the south of Eku and Ethiope River, Mosogar, Jesse, Abraka Umutu areas, which the National Boundary Commission, NBC, has been unable to resolve for years.

Presco Plc. Inset are Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State (right) and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
Ovre-Eku, Ovre-Igun and Ovre-Abraka communities in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State categorically accused Presco Plc of encroaching on their lands and deploying law enforcement agents to intimidate the villagers, giving example of a case in which policemen from Edo State trampled a toddler to death in their bid to arrest his father and eight other villagers, who are now languishing in Oko Prisons, Edo State, since 2015.

Presco was incorporated on September 24, 1991, under Nigerian law. Its corporate head office is at the company’s Obaretin Estate near Benin. It holds the Obaretin Estate (a concession of 6,462 hectares) the Ologbo Estate (a concession of 12,560 hectares), both located in Edo State, and the Cowan Estate, a concession of 2,800 hectares in Delta State. A new concession, called Sakponba Estate of 17,000 hectares, is also in Edo State.

The company is a subsidiary of Siat S.A., a Belgian agro-industrial company specialised in industrial and smallholder plantations of tree crops, mainly oil palm and rubber, and allied processing industries such as palm oil mills, palm oil refining/fractionation, soap making and crumb rubber factories.

I don’t see any row—Dep Gov

However, Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr. Philip Shaibu, who rebutted Delta’s claim to the land occupied by Presco, told Niger Delta Voice, NDV: “The issue of Presco and its activities in Edo State, particularly around Obaretin, Obagie and environs are issues that are just being sponsored by overzealous people. It has long been concluded and the areas in contention are areas that belong to Edo State and that was why Edo State government issued them the C of O. The issues are not in contention because the C of O was given to them (Presco) by the Edo State Government and there are ways of land boundary agitation.

“So if anybody is challenging the area, it is strange because for us, Presco is operating in Edo State and there has never been any issue with anybody. I am aware that there are two areas we still have boundary issues with Delta State, but those areas have nothing to do with the areas being occupied by Presco. Presco is not occupying any part of Delta State; they are in Edo State. So there is no dispute over the land where Presco is operating today from my own record. Their activities are in Edo State land and not in Delta State.

“As far we are concerned, we have been relating with Presco as a company that is operating in our state and I believe if they have any issue, they will inform us and we will take action. But as I speak to you, we have no issue over where they are settled. In fact, we are currently into a deal with them to help us revamp our College of Agriculture in Iguorakhi, the governor (Godwin Obaseki) is bringing them on board in his restructuring exercise. Those are the things we are handling with Presco now and not the issue of land.”

Both states’ve problems—Delta Attorney-General

But contrary to what Edo State’s Deputy Governor said, the Attorney General of Delta State, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, who is the chairman of state’s Technical Committee on Boundary, told NDV: “The two states have issues, which is why the National Boundary Commission, NBC, is involved. We had a meeting where the Surveyor General of the Federation was present and we agreed that we should demarcate the boundary to the Abraka area; work should not be done in that area and that they should maintain the status quo.

“The National Boundary Commission actually said we were going to do two things: one of such is that for certain areas, we would submit our documents and they do not need to go to the field in those areas, as they would resolve all the disputes in Abuja. For the Ethiope River area down to the Eku area, they said we were going to do demarcation. But in the letter they sent to us, they said we should start from up North, and we said no, that we should deal with the areas we have problems first, which is the River Ethiope area.

“Then, they wrote again that they were ready to start, from where? The same Delta North and we wrote back saying no, if you are serious with this, let us start from where we have problems. Yes, there are issues and we do not want to believe that there is no politics; we just want to believe that they have a lot to attend to and we are pushing them to come and attend to us, and that at the right time they would come. We kept on making presentations to them, saying please come and attend to us because it’s quite a problem.”

Evading breakdownof law and order

He added: ”Now, when it comes to issues with Presco, we have had engagements with solicitors to Presco, but as we deal with the boundary issues, we want to avoid a situation where it leads to a breakdown of law and order. As the Chairman, Technical Committee on Boundary, I can assure you that government is doing its best and trying as much as possible to have the issues resolved, but I believe it is a gradual process and we have told Presco that if they think they are lawless, it is a waste of time.

”For me, I do not see them as being above the law, but just businessmen trying to make profit. But we have told them that they cannot make profit at the detriment of our people and not at the cost of human life. So I can assure you that before the end of the year, the National Boundary Commission would come and start the demarcation as His Excellency (Governor Ifeanyi Okowa) has already released funds for sensitisation and we are just waiting for them to come.”

Presco annexed 14,400 hectares—Ivwurie

The lawmaker representing Ethiope East constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Mr. Evance Ivwurie, who spoke to NDV, said the illegal invasion of communities in the state, divide-and-rule tactics and use of security agents by Presco to harass villagers were generating tension in the area. His words: “The situation has become worse and bad for Ethiope East, particularly Ovre-Eku, Ovre-Igun and Ovre-Abraka, as the land running into about 14,400 hectares have been forceful annexed by Presco Plc.

“Presco has moved in there with all their earth-moving equipment and has acquired all the land in that area forcefully. The first thing they did was to bring a military unit from the 4th Brigade in Benin into the bush. So they have a base there where about 75 soldiers are living and these soldiers mount roadblocks everywhere, intimidating Eku people, who normally cross over to their farms there. They harass, beat and flog them mercilessly.

“They also have a team of mobile policemen providing security for their equipment; they have dug trenches from Igun through Eku to Abraka, covering the said land in question and they have started to plant their oil palm seedlings. I want to tell you that this land is our ancestral land.

Divide-and-rule tactics

“I am aware that Presco is claiming that some persons from Eku had signed for them. That is not correct. But what Presco did was to induce them economically by compromising anyone in a family that is enlightened with an amount, say N1 million. At this time when people are looking for even N500 to eat, Eku is divided into two over this matter. So the people are fighting on a daily basis with families cursed for compromising Eku with Presco, which perpetually maintain an army of people they have compromised in every community.”

…the C of O saga

The lawmaker insisted: “Presco has no right to do what they are doing because some time ago, at the Abraka axis, following the tripartite Cassava Farm project between the Federal Government, Delta State government and the host community of Abraka, the people applied for a C of O for the land from the state government. The state government declined, saying the land is under dispute with the NBC adjudicating. But surprisingly, the Edo State government went ahead to issue a C of O for the land to Presco.

“Even the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Festus Agas, wrote a letter to Presco telling them that they cannot continue with this illegality, especially when both state governments had said they should not do any business in the land until the dispute is resolved. But they have refused and continued to arbitrarily arrest Eku people that go there to farm, take them to Edo State, charge them to court under bogus charges of cultism or murder that are not bailable.

Toddler killed, 9 villagers remanded since 2015

He screamed: “As I speak to you, there are about nine Eku sons and a daughter that have been languishing in Oko Prison in Edo State. Presco came to Eku, arrested them in the middle of the night and, in the process, one of the mobile policemen even stumped on a little boy, who died, and they arrested the father, took him and eight others to Edo State, charged them under cultism and remanded them there for over one year. All in an effort to forcefully grab this land.

“So, Presco is involved in grabbing land belonging to Delta State. I have made conscious efforts to interface with Presco, having obtained their address in Benin over seven months ago. I went to visit them, but I waited there for over two hours as the security did not allow me access to see anybody there. Immediately I mentioned my name, they said nobody is willing to talk to me, that they are familiar with my name, claiming that I am a very stubborn lawmaker and they have been directed not to talk to me.”

Presco denies allegations

Contacted on the allegation that the company trespassed and illegally acquired about 14,400 hectares of land belonging to the communities, Relations Supervisor, Presco, Charles Onwuasoanya, said: “As a responsible corporate organisation, Presco Plc will neither encroach into nor illegally acquire any piece of land for its business. The 14,400 hectares of land located in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State was duly acquired from the late Oba of Benin, HRH Oba Erediauwa in 2011, with C of O subsequently issued by the Edo State Government in 2013.”

‘We paid compensation’

Did the company compromise some indigenes in a divide-and-rule tactics to acquire the land? NDV further inquired. He asserted: “Presco Plc does not engage in the practice of any form of divide-and-rule. Abiding by acceptable global practices, Presco pursues sustainable oil palm development in the mutual interest of concerned stakeholders, which include surrounding communities.

“After acquisition of the land, and in collaboration with the Edo State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, all crop owners within the area were identified, their crops enumerated and accessed, and payments made accordingly. The allegation is, therefore, totally unfounded, untrue and unfair to Presco.”

‘Why we dug trenches’

Why did the company dig trenches from Igun through Eku to Abraka? NDV further probed. Onwuasoanya re-joined: “The reason for digging trenches is to prevent the invasion of cattle that destroy our plantings. This is a standard practice across all our project sites and not unique to this said parcel of land. Everybody in Nigeria is fully aware of the menace of cattle over farmlands. The destruction that is caused comes with very huge cost to businesses, hence the use of trenches to manage this risk.”

Commenting on the charge of the company harassing the communities with soldiers and police, he said: “The allegation is totally untrue. The truth is that when Presco commenced preliminary work at the newly acquired area, towards the end of 2015, people from Eku community invaded the area, destroying property worth millions and inflicting various degrees of injuries and machete cuts on our unarmed workers.

“These series of attacks were, as would be expected of a responsible corporate citizen, reported to the AIG of Zone 5, the Commissioner of Police, Edo State and Commissioner of Police, Delta State. Whatever action the Police took against these criminal activities was not directed by Presco. All that we did was to report to the appropriate law enforcement agency that took whatever further actions they considered necessary.”

Continues next week:

(Affected communities write Delta government over Presco’s alleged incursion into their domain. Government warns Presco, company replies, denies dabbling into Edo, Delta politics, as lawmaker, Hon Ivwurie fumes against National Boundary Commission.

Keep a date with us next week)

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