Untilled land in a Niger Delta community
Land grabbing in Niger Delta: Govts, community leaders indicted
by Banji Aluko-Benin City
The issue of indiscriminate allocation of community land to companies in the Niger Delta region has been brought to the front burner by stakeholders on environmental and human rights issues in the area with a resolve to tackle headlong the growing challenge of land grabbing by multinational companies operating in the states.
The stakeholders, who were drawn from states in the oil rich Niger Delta region and Ekiti State, at a one-day national conference put in place in Benin City, Edo State, by the Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in collaboration with Global Forest Watch/World Resources Institute, lamented that communities leaders and state governments were opening up avenues for companies to grab community land.
They stated that state governments and community leaders erroneously entered into deceitful Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with companies operating in their areas, and in the process, signed off the future of their people.
They noted that the rising cases of land grabbing, deforestation and environmental degradation, were core issues the late Saro-Wiwa fought and stood for, urging the people to rise against the oppressive tendencies by politicians, communities and governments.
In her remarks, the project officer, Forest and Biodiversity, ERA/FoEN, Mrs Rita Uwaka, said the conference was informed by the observation that communities were being lured to releasing their lands for industrialisation, only to realise that there was more to it than meet the eye.
Uwaka noted that it was now becoming attractive for governments to issue land licences to companies from different parts of the world, adding that “for them (the communities), it is a sign of development because they think that when the companies come to their domains, they are coming to bring development to enhance the standard of living and employment for their youths and other social-infrastructural amenities, but the reserve is the case.”
The Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, in his speech, raised the alarm over growing rate of deforestation in Nigeria, describing acts of deforestation as a major environmental problem that was contributing to climate change globally with about four per cent contribution.
Uyi Ojo said the emergence of land grabbing was not driven by multinational corporations alone, but by multinational companies aided by their national governments from developed countries with the aim of using external land and water resources to produce crops and food which were exported to the international market rather than for local consumption.
While making case for the increase in the activities of small-scale farmers and the need to stop their displacement in favour of agribusiness, he harped on the need to provide loans, insurance benefits and technological support to local farmers, stressing that “it will undoubtedly create the food revolution that is required to ensure food surplus.”
He added that the aim of the workshop was to ensure that community forests continue to be managed by community-based forests’ management system that ensured conservation and sustainable development.
He said: “It is important to note that community-based advocacy that is complemented by international effort can bring multinational corporations to account for their corporate impunity and excesses. The challenge to us is to be a voice for the impacted community in mobilising for actions, resisting expansion of land grabbing and theft.”
The high point of the conference was a presentation on land grabbing cases in the country, experiences and strategies for community mobilisation against deforestation and corporate land grabs by a resource person, Dr Sese Ekaye of the Department of Animal Science and Environmental Biology of the University of Benin.