Edo community cries out: HELP! CHINESE FIRM IS KILLING US SLOWLY

    It is the desire of every community to have an industry established in its domain because of the likely boost in its economic activities and availability of jobs. The case is not different with the inhabitants of Ogua community in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area, Edo State.
    The people naturally leapt for joy when a Chinese firm acquired 140 hectares of land about seven years ago to set up a steel company known as Yongxing. Yongxing Steel Company produces iron rods and other metals, making the youths in the community to dream of El Dorado when it commenced operation.
    The people dreamt of good schools and scholarships for their children, apart from good roads network and regular power supply. Alas, that was not to be.
    Ogua is located on the Bénin Bye-pass while Yougxing is at the entrance of the community. But the first sight that greets a visitor to the community is the heap of waste from the firm. There is also the thick smoke that generated by the firm, which makes the roofs of houses in the community to turn black.
    Although the Chinese firm enjoys 24-hour power supply from a dedicated line from the BEDC power distribution company, the remaining parts of the community are mostly in darkness.
    Some elders of Ogua community who spoke to our reporter said some landlords were already making plans to sue the firm for environmental degradation and air pollution.
    The elders said that Yongxing Steel has performed far below the standard of corporate social responsibility expected of them in terms of employment, scholarships and other forms of largesse.
    They showed our reporter a market built by the firm but was overgrown with weed. They also alleged that it is only during festive periods that the firm usually gives them 12 bags of rice to share.
    The elders added: “We are not allowed to work with them as contractors and they would not give us any license to sell raw materials to them or serve as middlemen in the sale of their finished products.
    “The bad smoke from the company is affecting us. We can no longer use rain water because it is now black like charcoal. They are killing us slowly.”
    Around the firm is a colony of scrap collectors who are not indigenes of the community. They built shanties where they sleep and sell metal scraps.
    The Enogie (Duke) of the community, Ogiesoba Aghahowen, said the firm had failed to deliver on all the promises made to the community when the land was allocated to them through the Oba of Bénin.
    He said the only three lock-up shops built was abandoned and taken over by weed because of the non-completion of the toilets.
    He said: “When they came, they promised to provide us roads and schools in the community. On our part, we provided electricity through communal effort from Sapele Road to this place. It cost us N25 million. At a point, the company depended on our light. But once they fixed their own light, they left because now they enjoy 24 hours electricity.
    “We approached them and pleaded with them to extend the supply to us, that we were ready to pay, but they refused. You can also see the dilapidated condition of our roads. Any time they want to fix the road, they bring old excavators, and before six months, the road will fail again. lords are even threatening to go to court. Any time it rains for about 2-3 hours, the water turns black like charcoal, owing to the waste they emit into the atmosphere. It is giving us a serious cause for concern.
    “An environmentalist who visited the community said it is dangerous and a slow killer. So we are worried. Our people know about the danger and are threatening to go to court over the matter
    “We have approached them on several occasions but nothing has come out of it. In the last five years, they have not addressed the issues, and our people are complaining. We have written to them on several occasions but nothing has been done.”
    “Recently, we wrote, including the MOU we entered into with them, and sent through the local government to the governor. As we speak, they have reneged on all the agreements we entered into.  My people are threatening to shut down the company. They are making a lot of money from this community but we are suffering.
    “The lock-up store was built five years ago, and as you can see, the toilets were blown away by wind. We have appealed to them to come and fix it but they also declined. It has been like this in the last three years.
    “I also heard from a reliable source that anything they want to do for us, they delay it to discourage us from making any demand. The non-completion of the toilet has stalled the take-off of the market.”
    “The other day, they promised to build a comprehensive school which everybody could attend. But the land owners may not have access to the school. They want to do it their own way. We asked to enter an agreement that the school is a communal one.
    “They want to build a high standard school which ordinary people cannot afford, and that is what we are fighting against in the interest of our people.
    “We want the government to, as a matter of urgency, prevail on them, because we don’t want to take the law into our hands. We want good roads, schools and constant electricity. Even the community liaison officer that was employed has not been paid a dime since 2015. We have not benefitted anything from them.”
    However, there are shanties erected around the firm and they are occupied by more than 800 scrap collectors. The scrap collectors are not indigenes of Ogua. One of them, Musa Mohammadu, said he makes as much as N20,000 monthly from gathering aluminum and other metals around the firm.
    In a chat with newsmen, the spokesman for Yongxing Steel, Mr. Isaac Olufemi, debunked the allegations, saying that the firm hoped to do better.
    Olufemi said the market was built two years ago and was 90 per cent completed. He maintained that it was the responsibility of the community to clear the bush around the market.
    On power supply, he said that power supply to the firm was not even enough, not to talk of having extra power to share.
    He said: “Power is expensive. We pay for power at a very high price. We want to build a mini power station for the benefit of the community. The power we are getting is small. We are not satisfied ourselves, so we cannot give power. We shut down some machines for others to work.
    “One of our waste products, we used it to repair the road. We give the community necessary things during festive period.
    “The people in the community do not come to ask for jobs. The job is tedious. If you give the Chinese the chance, they will work for 24 hours. But it is only meant for strong people. Those who agreed to work are from the North, Delta and other states, while members of the community find it difficult to work. Those that worked there only saved some money and traveled abroad.
    “It is a lie that we sack indigenes of the community. We are six years old in operation. We want to build a secondary school with support from the Chinese government. The governor is aware of that. Apart from the groundbreaking of the school, they will talk about other forms of business.
    “We have pollution control system. We filter the emission. The community people do not fall sick. We still use the underground water. We have done environmental audit on it. Their plants have not stopped growing.
    “Our presence help to provide security. We allow the community collect rent from stores around the company. The scraps from the metal we buy help over 2000 Hausa people earn a living there. We don’t collect anything from them. But they contribute money to the community.”
    On complaints by some workers on the firm’s refusal to let them join unions, Olufemi said it was the workers’ decision.
    “When the workers realised that three per cent of their salary will be going to the union’s purse, they decided not to join. They are still talking to them. We are not forcing them not to join. We made the workers available to listen to union officials. Joining is a personal decision of the workers.”

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