Bassey Inyang in Calabar
The Environmental Right Action/ Community Forest Watch and some communities have dragged one of the foremost oil palm industries in Nigeria, Wilmar PZ, before the Cross River State House of Assembly, demanding that the company should sign a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with its host communities.
Wilmar PZ, a multinational company is generally perceived to be the largest investors in oil palm plantations in the state, where it is currently cultivating thousands of hectares of the cash crop in Akampka, Biase, and Odukpani Local Government Areas of the state.
The petition from the Environmental Right Action/ Community Forest Watch sent to the lawmakers through their representatives, William Ojobe, and Mary Ekwe, requested that, “the previous MoU entered into by the State Government with Wilmar PZ should be revoked, and a new MoU Drafting Committee be set up to reflect community demands.”
The petitioners also requested, “That such MoU Committee should comprise of membership drawn from community Chiefs, Women, youth leaders, CSOs and other stakeholders; and time frame for the drafting of the new MoU should be stipulated.”
At the hearing of the petition which came up before the State House of Assembly joint Committee on Lands, Housing, New City Development, and Agriculture, recently, members of the committee were in unison that the petition against the company bothered on alleged inhuman treatment, staff welfare, and environmental degradation.
The joint committee sitting was also attended by representatives of the company’s host communities, groups, individuals and some staff of the company who alleged maltreatment by their employer.
Representatives of the various host communities such as Mbarakom, Ibogbo, Ebieyie, Ayukaba and others, complained that the company had out rightly refused to enter into an MOU with the host communities nor share with them the one they (Wilmar PZ) entered into with the state government.
An acclaimed staff of the company, Philip Okon, said he had an accident sometime ago during working hours, but was neglected by the company.
Also, Etim Michael, who claimed to be a worker with the company related similar experience, saying since April 12th, 2014, he had an accident, and had been abandoned, and neglected by Wilmar PZ.
Patience Edet Etim, a female, who said she was speaking on behalf of over 20 women, said they were denied maternity leave by the company during the process of childbirth.
After listening to the petitions, chairman of the joint committee said the issues raised were serious, adding that, “the committee will have to embark on a site visit to the company.”
“We may have to invite the House Committee on Judiciary and Public Petition to review complaints of inhuman treatment and conditions.
“We will ensure that all companies operating in the state adhere to the provisions of the law.”
In his response, the team leader of Wilmar PZ delegation, Mr. Issac Mensah, who is the Controller, Sustainability for Africa, Wilmar PZ, denied the allegations against the company and regretted that they were not furnished with the petition against them before the sitting to enable them to respond, issue by issue.
Mensah welcomed the proposed site-visit by the joint committee to the company plantations for verification of claims, and counter claims.
Mensah used the opportunity to list the achievements of Wilmar PZ in Cross River State, their operations and activities.