By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA: Environmental experts have raised fears over the continued threats to community land rights and biodiversity posed by the Okomu Oil Palm Plantation against the Okomu National Park, saying the Plantation must be made to obey the laws of Edo state regarding land grabbing.
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The experts who spoke yesterday at a news conference in Abuja were drawn from the Environmental Rights Actions/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) led Edo State Coalition for the Protection of Forests, the organization for the Protection of Okomu National Park and the Environment (PONPE), and the Coalition Against Landgrabbing and Deforestation (CALD).
Reading the text of the address, the Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo said buffer lands in the area have been converted to plantations, with all its attendant consequences for wildlife and conservation.
“We wish to condemn the continued high rate of deforestation in areas contiguous to the Okomu National Park (ONP) for the expansion of Okomu Oil Palm plantation. Because the buffer zone is under severe pressure from oil palm plantation expansion, rare endemic species such as the white throated monkeys, dwarf crocodiles, buffalos, duikers, and other biodiversity continued to stray into the farmlands and plantations. A case in point is the recent grey African elephant calf that strayed into Okomu plantation in Okomu area of the national park, Edo state.
“ERA/FoEN-led Environmental Field Monitors with independent field monitors conducted field monitoring to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of an endangered Elephant Calf and the allegations against some workers of the Okomu Oil Palm Company PLC, as its killers. This was also related to the serial accusations of land grabbing and conversion of ONP’s main and buffer lands by Okomu PLC to expand its existing plantations in the Okomu Forest Reserve and the Owan forest zone in Edo state. Various respondents were from within the impacted local communities of Okomu and Owan forest zones, ONP, Okomu PLC staff, Federal and State government institutions, conservationists and the public”, he said.
According to him, the findings of the environmental monitoring visits confirmed the position of ERA/FoEN and its public-oriented coalitions that had been campaigning on the issues of landgrabbing in the area.
“At the heart of the matter is the refusal of Okomu Oil Palm Plantation Plc to obey the revocation order by the previous Edo State Government to vacate 13,750 hectares of land by Edo State government Gazette. . The company was sanctioned for having seized and converted this (added to other vast land within that it illegally acquired) to establish oil palm plantation. The revocation order was contained in ‘The Edo State Government of Nigeria Gazette, No.16 Vol.19 (page 48 – 50), published on 05th November, 2015…’ as reinforced by the Forestry Law of 2002 (as amended). As a result, the buffer zone and part of the ONP has been converted into oil palm plantations that is posing serious threats to the impacted communities, farmlands, flora and fauna in the area”, the experts stated.