Palm Oil Company, host community tango over digging of trench to stop fruit theft
The dispute between the management of Okomu Oil Palm Company Ltd. and one of its host communities, Maroghioba, will not escalate into a full blown crisis.
Security was provided on Friday by the Iyase of Udo, near Benin, chief Patrick Igbinidu.
The Nigerian News Agency reports that the digging of a trench by the oil company in the community of Maroghioba (also known as AT&P) led to the protest.
The protest was spurred by the alleged shooting in the leg of an elderly woman, Ms. Iyabor Butu, by oil company security personnel.
The company stated that it dug the trench on a piece of land that belongs to it to stop the relentless theft of its oil fruits.
Community members, however, said the action was a violation of their right of way and an oppressive bias on the part of the company.
A Nigerian News Agency correspondent, who visited the community on Thursday, reported that the Divisional Police Officer in Iguobazuwa, CSP Bamidele Ade, held a peace meeting with members of the community and the company.
The interim Odionwere (village chief) of the community, Chief Gabriel Ikhuolegbe, told NAN that people in his community and the company had enjoyed cordial relations before Tuesday’s altercation.
“I worked and retired as a senior security officer for the company. Most of our people are Okomu Oil workers. In fact, we have been working together peacefully.
“It is true that the company has provided many facilities such as wells, school buildings, classroom chairs, perimeter fencing and a town hall for the community, but our immediate needs now are roads and electricity.
“That is why we are angry with the company because its CEO ordered the workers to dig a deep hole that has blocked the only access to our houses.
“The management of the company has refused to listen to our cries, hence our protest so that the government and the public realize the injustice that the company has done to our community,” he said.
He added that although the community was still aggrieved, “we are ready for dialogue to resolve this disagreement.”
Speaking along the same lines, community member Mr. Rex Akpokiniobo said: “We’ve been putting up with company CEO arm torsion devices for too long, but this one is too much.
“How can you dig your trenches to block our way? How do we get to our houses or leave our houses? she asked her.
In response, Mr. Fidelis Olise, communications officer for Okomu Oil, told NAN that the community’s protest was not necessary as “the land in question belongs to the company.
“The fact that the company has allowed them access in recent years does not mean that they should tell us how to take care of our property.
“The company’s volume of oleaginous fruit theft amounts to 50 tons per month.
“That is massive and since we can no longer tolerate theft, we decided to dig the trenches to create an obstacle against easy movement.
“That is all we did and nothing more and that is why I have said that your protests are unjustified,” he said.
CSP Ade, who was accompanied to Thursday’s meeting by the Iyase Palace Community Relations Committee, called for calm, insisting that the best way to resolve the misunderstanding is through dialogue.
Ade assured the community leaders that after assessing the situation and seeing the extent of the roadblock, he would meet with the company and the Iyase (the traditional ruler) for an amicable solution.
Iyase, who expressed his discontent over the crisis, told NAN that the unpleasant situation could have been avoided if both sides had listened to the voice of reason.