The forest-bearing and farming communities of the Owan forest zone of Edo State, have called on the Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, to cancel his earlier decision of ceding the ancestral forest reserved land, belonging to their entire communities, to multinational and other indigenous companies, for the establishment of oil palm companies and other agro-allied businesses.
The call was made in a general meeting of the various communities, held few days ago at the Egaeurelu Royal Palace, the traditional seat of the Ora clan in Sabongida-Ora, the administrative headquarters of Owan West Local Government Area of the state.
A press statement issued after the said meeting, was made available to newsmen and signed by Mike Alegbe, Chief R. I. Aizenabor and Patrick Erhunsee, for the clans of Ora, Ozalla, Irhue, Iuleha and Sobe and others individual communities of the zone, that are altogether called Okpamakhin.
The large meeting, which was attended by the various traditional heads, elders and people of the enlarged community, wondered as to how the governor would cede out their remaining land to outsiders without informing them and seeking their consent, giving that past governors of the state had stuck to the constitutional responsibility of not ceding it out and so thus related cordially with the communities, as state governors are only trusts, who accounted for the land to the local communities, the aboriginal owners.
The statement also frowned as to why Governor Obaseki could allow Okomu Oil Palm Company PLC forcibly take over 14,000 hectares of the land, whereas he was a former Economic Advisor and a vital part of the Executive Council of the immediate past government of the state, that revoked the land from the same Okomu company, who illegally bought the vast land areas, hence it was returned to their communities.
The statement added that it was a sacrilege and injustice for the state government to now give out the remaining land to other grabbers, without any consideration that it was the only land left, which the fast increasing population of the communities and other land users now depend upon.
Calling on the governor that the ceding out of the land also meant the selling of the communities into perpetual slavery, the moves, the statement asserted that if not stopped, was an unhealthy precedent that could also easily escalate crime, poverty and crisis amongst the people.
The statement also disregarded a certain Fayus Company Limited, who it said was one of the beneficiaries, who claimed to have recently carried out a post-workshop on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on 5,084 hectares of land given to it within Ozalla and Ora forest reserve, insisting that the company and any other cannot be given any other land in the area, starting from the point where Okomu PLC stopped.
It could be said that the Owan Forest Zone, comprising the entire forest reserves of Owan and Iueleha-Ora-Ozalla and some fringes of Ehor forest reserve, respectively had been in ranging disputes over forced allocation of land in the zone. The forest zone, which is jointly used by over 40 local communities of the Okpamakhin community, spread across the three local government areas (LGAs) of Ovia North East, Uhunmwode and Owan West, spilling over to Owan East LGA.