Cross River Assembly reads riot act to multinationals
Wilmar PZ denies land grab, exploitation allegations
Cross River State House of Assembly has ordered Wilmar PZ and other multinational companies operating in the state to obey the laws of the state or face the music.
The order became necessary following complaints from civil society groups, including Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Community Forest Watch (CFW), host communities of Wilmar PZ plantation in Biase and Akamkpa councils protesting against exploitation, land grabbing among others by Wilmar and other firms.
Backed by ERA and CFW, the communities particularly accused Wilmar of not respecting any existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it entered into with the communities.
They were represented by Mr. William Ojobe of Ibogo community in Biase and Mary Ekwe of Mfamosin community in Akamkpa in a meeting yesterday by the House of Assembly Joint Committee on Lands, Housing/New Cities Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources with host communities of Mbarakom, Mfamosin, Ibogo, Ayukaba, Ibiaye and others on one side, and Wilmar, Real Oil, Pamol, Enghurt, JV Farms and others on the other.
Arguing that there was a committee set up by the state government and Wilmer to sit with them in drafting the MOU to delineate responsibilities among stakeholders, the host communities said “existing MOUs show that they were not inclusive and community participation was sidelined.”
According to several testimonies, some community leaders were invited to the MOU drafting exercise, but were not allowed to be part of the process, thereby disenfranchising them.
“The said MOUs are held in secrecy and yet to be made available to the communities and or public. In fact, the signatories to the purported MoUs are yet to be known to the communities. Based on the aforementioned, transparency and accountability requirements informing the MoUs have been violated,” the communities alleged.
The communities called for the revocation of previous MoUs and setting up of new MoU drafting committee.“Such MoU committee should comprise membership drawn from community chiefs, women, youth leaders, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders; and a timeframe for the drafting of the new MoU should be stipulated. There should be a review of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) implementation in relation to community development,” they added.
But Wilmar, which owns over 25,000 hectares of palm estate in the state through a privatisation exercise, has denied any land grabbing or exploitation of the people.Its Controller of Sustainability for Africa, Isaac Mensah, said “it is completely untrue that we encroached on any land. We do not have waste and our gutter does not empty into any land.” He told the committee, “In our CSR, we have our community development initiatives which we have done much in education, water and out-growers’ programme. The company has had a good working relationship with its staff.”
However, the chairman of the Assembly Joint Committee, Mr. Godwin Akwaji, said, “We are strictly for due process and we will stop at nothing to ensure that the proper thing is done.“We will not accept a situation where innocent Cross Riverians are maltreated by you. Nothing will stop this house from going all the way if Wilmar wants to become an army of occupation.”