The management of Okomu Oil Palm Company has appealed to its host communities to protect it from incessant attacks and stealing of its produce by thieves.
The company, headquartered in Okomu in Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State, is bounded by 29 host communities that span across three local government areas of the state.
The local government areas are Ovia North East, Ikpoba-Okha and Ovia South West.
The company’s Managing Director, Graham Hefer, made the appeal on Friday in Okomu.
He said the company might not be able to continue to provide its corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to host communities if the attacks and thefts continue.
Mr Hefer was addressing representatives of two of its host communities, Udo and Imaroghioba, popularly known as AT&P, during a peace meeting over a recent protest by AT&P community against the company.
Members of AT&P protested on May 5 against the company for digging a trench on its property, which they claimed hindered them from accessing some of their houses.
But Mr Hefer, at the meeting, said the company merely dug trenches on a portion of land belonging to the company to prevent movement of those who came to steal its palm fruits, using AT&P as an escape route.
He noted that over 55 persons had been arrested and convicted for oil palm fruits theft, alleging that those perpetrating the act were all from AT&P community.
“This is the reason we decided to dig the trench to prevent them from stealing the oil palm fruits and because we know that these thieves use the community as a gateway.
“We have constantly been carrying out CSR to your communities but we need you people to protect us and our investments so that we will continue to provide those basic amenities that you need.
“If you cannot give us protection, it will be difficult for us to continue to do anything for you,” Mr Hefer said.
The acting Odionwere (village head) AT&P community, Gabriel Okhuolegbe, said his community had in the past, benefitted from the company’s CSR such as the provision of road, market, schools, boreholes, town hall, fencing of amenities and scholarships, among others.
Mr Okhuolegbe, however, said the protest was caused by the trench dug by the company, without consultation with the community.
He said the people were afraid that the company was trying to shut them out from continued patronage.
The acting Odionwere, in a previous interview with NAN, confirmed that the community assisted in the arrest of nine members allegedly involved in the theft of the company’s products, and expressed their willingness to cooperate with the company.
He said majority of members of the community earned a living working for the company, adding that he also worked and retired as a senior officer in the security department.
According to him, “we are here today to resolve the issue and we have agreed to everything we have discussed”.
Also speaking, the Chairman of Udo Community Relations Committee, Friday Aragua, commended the management of the company for its generosity, especially in the area of provision of basic amenities to host communities and award of scholarships to students.
“The company has been assisting and providing us with basic amenities and scholarships. Two of my children are beneficiaries of its scholarship scheme.
“Udo community superintendent over the affairs of Imaroghioba community; and we advised them to always come to us with their grievances to be discussed with management of the company, instead of resulting to protest,” he said.
NAN reported that part of the agreements reached by the parties includes the construction of an alternative road to Imaroghioba community by Okomu Oil Company.
The company also agreed to collaborate with host communities to constitute neighbourhood watch committee to tackle insecurity and prevention of further theft of its oil palm fruits.
Present at the peace meeting were the representatives of the police and the Nigerian Army.
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