By; VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
Environmental Right Action/ Community Forest Watch group, a civil society organization operating in Cross River State has petitioned Wilmar PZ, a multi-national company to give explanations to their operations and activities within the agricultural estates managed by them in the State.
As a result of the petition, the company, was summoned to appear before the State House of Assembly Joint committee on Lands, Housing, New City Development, and Agriculture.
Representatives of the group, William Ojobe and Mary Ekwe in their position paper to the state legislature requested that “the previous MoU entered into by the State Government with Wilmar PZ be revoked and a new MoU drafting committee be set up to reflect community demands”.
Also, the group is seeking “that such MoU committee should comprise of membership drawn from communities, Chiefs, Women, youth leaders, CSOs and other stakeholders; and time frame for the drafting of the new MoU should be stipulated”.
Speaking during the sitting, the Chairman of the State Assembly Joint Committee, Hon. Godwin Akwaji and his deputy, Hon. Charles Okon, who is the House committee chairman of Agriculture, as well as other members of the Joint Committee noted that the petitions against the company are bordered on inhuman treatment, staff welfare, and environmental degradation.
The joint committee sitting which was also attended by representatives of groups, Individuals and some staff who claimed victim of the company’s maltreatment, had witnesses and testimonies against the company.
Philip Okon, a staff of the company claimed he had an accident during working hours but was neglected by the company. Etim Michael also gave the same experience noting that since April 12th, 2014 he had an accident, he has been abandoned and neglected.
Patience Edet Etim, a female, spoke on behalf of over 20 women she claimed to have represented who are denied maternity leave by the company policy.
Representatives of the various host communities such as Mbarakom, Ibogbo, Ebieyie, Ayukaba among others, all complained that the company has outrightly 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.
Chairman of the House Joint Committee noted that the issues raised are serious and 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”, the joint committee chairman said.
Adding, “We will ensure that all companies operating in the state adhere to the provisions of the law”.
Responding, the team leader of Wilmar PZ delegation to the House Committee sitting, Mr. Issac Mensah; the Controller Sustainability for Africa, Wilmar PZ, denied all 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.
He welcomed the proposed site-visit by the joint committee to the company plantations for verification, adding that the company had a formal agreement with the state government through the state Privatization Council. He tendered a copy of the document to the Assembly committee.
Mensah used the opportunity to rail out the achievements of Wilmar PZ in Cross River State, their operations and activities.
According to him, Wilmar PZ now manages five estates in Cross River State, including the Oil palm estate in Kwa Falls, formerly owned by Obasanjo Farms.
He disclosed that since 2012 when the company started operations in Cross River State with planting and infrastructure development, it was only last year July, 2018 that their first Oil Mill factory in the state started production and as part of expanding wealth creation opportunities to the catchment area, “we are encouraging out-grower business for individuals to engage in growing oil palm. We have 150 hectares covered in our pilot scheme for that initiative”.
He maintained that “Our Corporate Social Responsibility CSR covers 4 pillars, namely; Education, Health, Water and Sanitation. So far we have invested 1.5million dollars in School buildings, heath and roads across the host communities in Akamkpa, Biase and Akpabuyo local government areas”, he added.