Anxiety As Owan Forest Communities Drag Edo State Government To ECOWAS Court.

Anxiety As Owan Forest Communities Drag Edo State Government To ECOWAS Court.

There is intense uneasiness and tongue-wagging around Edo State, as the State Government has been dragged to the Community Court of Justice Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), Abuja, by over 45 forested and agrarian communities of the Owan Forest Zone of the state, spreading across its four local government areas of Ovia North East, Uhunmwode, Owan West and Owan East.

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The suit, reference no ECW/CCJ/APP/22/22, was filed on 11 May, 2022, by its First Plaintiff, the Incorporated Trustees of the Okpamakhin Community Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), comprising farmers and other land users, drawn from the cluster communities (clans) of Irhue, Ozalla, Ora, Iuleha, Sobe and others. The Second Plaintiffs are eight men and women, who are farmers and other land users of the forest zone.

The suit was filed by the communities’ lawyer on the matter, President Aigbokhan ESQ, with his legal team. Aigbokhan ESQ; a Benin City based Freedom of Information (FOI) protagonist and human rights lawyer, had recently won a major suit at the same ECOWAS Court, against Edo State Government, with thousands of US Dollars damages to the petitioners.

By the ECOWAS Court’s suit, the ranging disputes on the forest zone, between the state government and the communities, also called Okpamakhin, seems to have come to a climax. Over a year ago, the state governor, Mr. Obaseki, in conjunction with Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, inaugurated a N69 billion fund for establishment of oil palm plantations in the state, bringing forward some foreign and local private companies and local growers of oil palm as beneficiaries. Governor Obaseki told newsmen that he had earmarked tens of thousands of the state’s forest reserve estate for the project, which continued to be under disputes.

The statutory Defendant in the suit is the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN), who stands in for state governments on such matters as with the ECOWAS Court, pursuant to the FRN’s being a founding member state of ECOWAS, subject to the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court and loyalty of FRN to the various charters and protocols of the United Nations, African and ECOWAS, as well as Nigeria’s local laws and regulations.

In the suit, the First and Second plaintiffs prayed the regional Court to amongst other things, protect their inalienable rights and get judgment against the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s led government, who had ceded their communities’ vast ancestral forest reserves to private investors, to establish oil palm plantations and other agricultural activities, without their due information, consultation and consent.

Some of the Plaintiffs’ claims, which they also want the Court to stop, are the forceful takeover of their ancestral land by the State Government, with undue harassment of the communities and the locals by heavily armed policemen, stating that the land within the two forest reserves of Owan BC 10 Forest Reserve and Iuleha/Ora/Ozalla, that form a larger part of the Owan Forest Zone, is the communities mainstay, that were acquired by the British Colonial Government, who was duly accountable to their local communities, owners of the land, whereas the present state government, who the land was simply handed to should not act to the contrary