A group dedicated to the protection of the rights of communities in West Africa, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Africa has called on the ECOWAS Parliament to expedite action against some multinational agro-commodity coorporations that exploit local plantation farmers, violating their rights and forcefully taking their lands.
FoE Africa, an Environmental Justice Organisation, made this call when it made a presentation at the Parliament at the ongoing First Ordinary Session of the regional Legislature in Abuja on Saturday.
Coordinator, Forest and Biodiversity Programme of the organisation, Rita Uwaka, who led FoE’s delegation to the Parliament, alleged that multinational companies, especially that of oil palm came on the pretext of developing the communities but ended up forcefully taking their lands and exploiting them.
She said that the people were subdued by the companies, adding that the situation is worsened by the connivance of the local authorities who are allegedly taking bribes to expand the interest of the agrocommodity companies against their own people.
“There are more cases of labour exploitation and workers’ rights violation as a result of the operation of these agro-commodity companies.
“We are seeing workers, including pregnant women being ferried, transported in open trucks with accidents and death.
“It is sad to note that among our delegates here, we have one of the communities representatives ,who was knocked down by one of the tractors of these companies. Today, he cannot walk on his own.
“There are lots of violations in communities that are hosting these companies in different places and communities in Africa.
“Our struggle over the corporate takeover of our forest and lands is not a fight against development but a struggle to prevent further human rights violations, environmental damage, biodiversity and livelihood loss.”
Uwaka explained that the aim of the group is to promote the development of millions of indigenous people and local communities with a focus on women and youth who depend on forest and farmlands for their day-to-day wellbeing.
She said “We call on the ECOWAS Parliament to support economic partnership agreements that respect the rights of local communities and indigenous people in Africa and protect and restore our environment.
“Provide access to justice for dependers and affected local communities, and stop trade deals like power companies to influence legislation through special rights and provisions at the detriment of public interest.”
Uwaka told a news conference after the presentation that the FoE will visit Brussels, Belgium to call on the European Union Parliament to caution European companies in Africa who were engaged in such inhuman acts. She said the FoE Africa delegation would also visit Singapore, Asia to lay complaints to authorities for them to also take action against the Asian companies violating human rights in West Africa.
One of the victims, Philip Orok from Mbarakom Community, Cross Rivers told journalists that he was treated with so much disdain when he sustained injuries on the plantation by the company he worked for.
“In June 2019, I went to work as a headman. After sharing work for my workers to supervise the work, I had an accident.
“The management brought their ambulance and dumped me at the hospital. Until now they have not asked of me, to know if I am alive. My leg got bad.
“After 10 months, I came back and went to them and when I confronted them, they used the security agencies to chase me, including my colleagues who spoke out for me.
“They load workers in the truck as if they load firewood, pregnant women. I was finally sacked without anything,” Orok said.
During plenary, Hon. Shiaka Sama, Member of the ECOWAS Parliament from Sierra Leone, lamented the ugly incidents of exploitation of indigenous people, describing it as neo- colonialism.
Sama claimed that he was once a victim of harassments by these companies, warning that if drastic measures are not taken, more people will become landless in their own communities.
“They have mounted illegal checkpoints on the lands of the people, preventing them from moving freely in their own communities.
“And these multinationals are very rich in a place like Africa where they have mass production, the people’s lives are in danger.
“They give bribes to local authorities; they instruct the police to arrest protesters; promises are not kept; the people realise that they have been robbed.
“I want to remind this house that most MPs here come from farming families so if we have multinational companies coming in and have taken our farmlands, we should act now.
“It is a shame to all of us who have known this as injustice and failed to take action because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice.
“Friends of the Earth have done so well at a time when no one stood up so that the world will know that there is injustice going on. I thank you for giving voice to the voiceless.
“This is a new form of colonialism and if we do not take our time, we are going to give up this continent,” Sama said.