Edo Communities Take Obaseki to ECOWAS Court over Forceful Takeover of Forest Reserves

Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City

No fewer than 45 agrarian communities with large forest reserves spanning four local government areas of Ovia North-East, Uhunmwonde, Owan West and Owan East have filed a lawsuit against the Edo government before the Community Court of Justice of Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), Abuja, over Governor Godwin Obaseki administration’s plan to take over their forest reserves.

The suit (reference no. ECW/CCJ/APP/22/22) was filed on May 11 by the Incorporated Trustees of the Okpamakhin Community Initiative (first plaintiff), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) comprising farmers and other land users drawn from the cluster communities (clans) of Orhue, Ozalla, Ora, Iuleha, Sobe and others. The second plaintiffs are eight farmers and land users of the forest zone.

The suit was instituted about a year ago when Obaseki, in conjunction with the Central Bank (CBN), inaugurated a N69 billion fund to establish oil palm plantations in Edo. Obaseki announced that he earmarked tens of thousands of forest reserves for the

The statutory defendant in the suit is the Federal Government, which stands in for state governments on such matters as with the ECOWAS Court.

In the suit, the first and second plaintiffs prayed the ECOWAS court to, among other things, protect their inalienable rights and get a judgment against Obaseki’s administration, which had ceded their communities’ vast ancestral forest reserves to private investors without their consent.

They also want the court to stop the Edo government’s forceful takeover of their ancestral land, with undue harassment of the communities and the locals by heavily armed policemen.

According to them, the land within the two forest reserves of Owan BC 10 Forest Reserve and Iuleha/Ora/Ozalla, forming a larger part of the Owan Forest Zone, are the communities’ mainstay acquired by the British colonial government, which was duly accountable to local communities, owners of the land, unlike the Edo government that is acting with flagrant disregard.

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