Ewekoro community in Ogun State, South West Nigeria, is an ancient settlement on the hub of West Africa's rainforest. The home of Elephant Cement is presently floating at the mercy of greed and labyrinth of industrial decimation, occasioned by Lafarge Africa Plc.
Apart from the obvious and intentional environmental hostility visited on the once ambience and boisterous agrarian dwelling, Ewekoro community is now blightedly bumpy to the point of suffocation; more than ever before, at the tipping point of extinction.
The mournful air of foreboding, dread and deaths arising from environmental pollution permeate, sullied and ignites atmosphere of fear and tension that enveloped the smouldering cloud of cement particles oozing seamlessly from the Lafarge's chimneys that dotted the sleepy village of Ewekoro.
Early this year, members of the Ewekoro community dragged the multinational cement company before the Federal High Court in Abeokuta, accusing the company of polluting and destroying their environment through the mining of limestone. It was the first time the community would muster the courage to step up to the plague against their oppressors who have been masquerading as investors.
Through their lawyer, Mr. Idris Faro who filled a class suit against Lafarge Africa Plc have been demanding N1trn in damages to compensate for the alleged “pollution and destruction of the plaintiffs’ town, farmlands, rivers, air and general environment, arising from limestone mining and cement manufacture for a continous period of 60 years,” by Lafarge.
In their demands, the community want the N1trn damages to be paid with an annual interest of 15 per cent until the final liquidation of the sum. They also want the court to order Lafarge to refund them the money they spent in filing the lawsuit.
Pursuant to the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that Lafarge sited its largest plant in Nigeria in their community at Km 64 Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, alleging that the company’s activities in the last 60 years had taken a toll on their well-being and means of livelihood.
The plaintiffs said, “A huge expanse of our farmland, measuring 426.599 hectares, which were not even part of the original acquisition, have been entered into by the 1st defendant (Lafarge) and it mines limestone there on a daily basis.
The two octogenarians, Balogun and Bale of Ewekoro community collaborate an earlier reports respectively that the defunct Western Region Government of Nigeria acquired part of their land and gave it to West African Portland Cement Company for limestone mining to manufacture cement.
They both confirmed to this reporter that WAPCO which was later acquired by Lafarge, had carried on with the business, “using powerful explosives like dynamite in the mining and blasting of limestone in Ewekoro town, which, apart from causing disturbing noise, has damaged a lot of houses in Ewekoro town.”
The Bale of Ewekoro who doubled as the Community Development Association Chairman, Alhaji Musulumi Balogun, tearfully pointed to a freshly dug grave of one of his late neighbour who was electrocuted as a result of Lafarge complicit and contemptuous denigration of the host community which they have been exploiting unto the bargain over the years.
"Looking at the monster", pointing to one of the several chimneys adjacent to his garden where he tenders cassava plantation, "as the source of nightmare for the entire community". "We regret our existence daily for living side by side with these giant machines.
"Emission and dust from the chimneys have caused us untold hardship and untimely deaths but the management of Lafarge has refused to heed our relentless plea to relocate us to another place with the approval of Ogun State Government".
"You can understand our feeling if the entire community elects to be relocated from our ancestral homes so that we can avoid the rampaging and inhuman activities of Lafarge limestone mining activities", said the octogenarian who is 82 years old.
Another blind octogenarian who worked with the company for over 50 years before it was bought over by Lafarge, Chief Wahab Adegunle bemoans the mindless activities that led to his blindness. He claims that he was totally abandoned by the company after exploiting his youthful age for nearly four decades.
"I'm blind as you can see without any support or payment of my benefits from Lafarge, even when I'm eminently qualified for the entitlements.
"One wonders what the contractual Corporate Social Responsibility of Lafarge is if they do not build schools, clinics or provide portable water for the host community they have so much benefited from and destroyed?
"I am told that the road directly in front of Lafarge company adjacent to my house here is not motorable.
"How best can a company demonstrate that it hates itself and the community where it operates?", the 88 years old chief intoned.
A multilingual 55 years resident, Mallam Ibrahim Ali, a citizen of Zamfara State who has lived in Ewekoro for 31 years was less charitable with Lafarge and successive governments in Ogun State: "I have been here for 31 years. I don't blame Lafarge for enslaving Nigerians in their own country, I blame Nigerian Government at all levels who abandoned its own people to be enslaved. After all, Lafarge merely emulates the shameless governments that have visited terror on the people", Mallam Ali said.
86 years old Mrs. Kikelomo Adeliyi came heavily on the management of Lafarge for trading on the sweat and blood of Nigerians without adequate remuneration much less giving back to Ewekoro community. "We want compensation and relocation from Ewekoro since Lafarge has bastadised our homeland » she said.
When contacted, the Community Relations Officer of Lafarge, Mr. Yomi Owolabi was réticent with efforts made by the management of Lafarge to address the Ewekoro's concerns. "Who gave you my number, he roared? I'm not in a position to speak to the questions you raised. Don't call me again, he thundered".
Evidently, it's a known fact that successive governments in Nigeria and Ogun State have purposely remained silent on the alleged atrocities, and this undesirable violation has been allowed to happen. Corruption has been identified as one of the major motivations by a few members of Ewekoro community.
African Network For Environment and Economic Justice viewed the rustic state of Ewekoro community as an eternal shame of the compromising governmental agencies that have failed to regulate, stimulate people-friendly economic growth or enhance per capita affluence to galvanize economic prosperity for all. Strictly speaking, what has happened in Ewekoro community by the destruction of natural habitats by unmistakable extension, devalued the human spirit and strive for durable habitat.
The extent of degradation in Ewekoro as a result of the deterioration of their environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; extinction of wildlife; and the pollution of the entire community has astronomically increased the number of deaths.
Lafarge's uncanny quest for inordinate profit and primitive business exploitative policy is one of the worst examples of environmental rupturing the world has recorded in recent times. The very worst of such destruction is the example of the savage pillaging of Niger Delta ecosystem by oil multinationals which makes up 60 per cent of all rainforests in Sub-Sahara Africa.
As it is now, it's left for the people to secure their environment or perish with the way Lafarge cement company is denigrating Ewekoro's means of livelihood in a bid to keep polluting the oxygen that has become detrimental to their health. It's obligatory on the Nigerian state to step in before Lafarge wipes away the ecology of the plants completely which has rendered the soil and the people's means of existence, useless.
As the government has not protected the people, they have decided to protect themselves for the sake of the future generation.
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