“Money now can be nothing tomorrow, whereas, if the people continue to till their land, farm it and protect the surrounding forests, families and future generations will have their source of livelihoods and survival” – Henry Agho
Henry Agho hails from the Aifesoba community in Edo state, South south Nigeria. Henry is popularly called Henry the Navigator by friends. He has been very active in community struggles of mobilizing men and women to resist the activities of Michelin in the area. He was actively engaged in the participation and mobilization of community people in a major protest march on Nigeria’s Independence anniversary (October 1st, 2009) along major streets in Benin city (the capital of Edo state) to condemn the practices of Michelin in the region. He participated in the signing and official presentation of the Global Petition against Michelin to the Edo state Government of Nigeria calling for a probe and revocation of Michelin’s acquisition of Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve.
Aifesoba is one of the 7 highly impacted, out of the 9 communities, in the highly vulnerable Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve where Michelin,a French multinational rubber company, converted over 3,500 hectares of the forested landmass, individual and communal farmlands to rubber plantation under a 25-year lease agreement. This has caused serious environmental setback, livelihood truncation, socio-cultural alterations, poverty and diseases in the 80% forest-dependent poor of the region.
Michelin is a major player in world tire production and operates actively in Africa, where they clear cut natural forest areas and set up rubber plantations. Michelin has had a record of human rights violations when they purchased the 3,500 hectares of Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve. The purchasing of this area from the Nigerian government included farmlands which were converted to rubber plantations without the consent of community people.
The Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve is one of the forest and biodiversity-rich areas of Nigeria. More than 20,000 agrarian people live and are dependent on the forest for their farming, their food, medicines and is also a place for their local traditional practices and worship. When Michelin purchased the land from the Nigerian government, the Iguobazuwa communities lost everything. Michelin bulldozed the 3,500 hectares of forests and farmlands and in its place came a vast rubber plantation which were used to produce Michelin’s car tyres. Michelin’s act was for profit at the expense of the people who had rights over their lands. The national government was acting in cahoots with the profit oriented mentality of Michelin and sold out its people.
The Iguobazuwa community fought back and have protested against the Michelin rubber plantation with the aim to reclaim their land, reforest the area and rebuild their lives.
Several attempts have been made by different members of the communities to make their voices heard but nothing has changed. Women and men alike demanded for a face-to-face meeting with the Michelin people and from local government representatives and gave them a list of their demands. Protests were done at the offices of the Edo State Commissioner for Environment and at the offices of the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry (Comissioner Sara Adetugbogboh was then the Edo State Commissioner for Environment when the deal was made with Michelin).
The affected communities have demanded from Michelin return the lands to the people and pay compensation to the affected community members. Michelin used a “divide and rule” tactic and called some members of the Aifesoba and Iguobazuwa communities out of the nine communities directly impacted, and paid them compensation. One group from Iguobazuwa was substantially paid while the other community from Aifesoba was paid what was described as “peanuts”. The compensation was not enough and did not do justice to commensurate for the loss of the communities.
This caused division amongst the communities and the elders tried to unify the people once again and remind them of what they have lost together and what they need to fight for. That the enemies were not from their communities and that they are victims of a global power. Communities started to hold peaceful protests calling for the return of their land.
Henry stressed that it was not money they were after – they want their land back. Henry closed by saying that “Money now can be nothing tomorrow, whereas, if the people continue to till their land, farm it and protect the surrounding forests, families and future generations will have their source of livelihoods and survival”. He highlighted areas on what can we do, what actions can we take in order to support indigenous peoples/community struggles?
- Solidarity to the plight of the Iguobazuwa community;
- pressure the French government to sanction Michelin;
- build a campaign on Michelin
Thanks to Rita Osarogiagbon from the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) – FoE Nigeria for escorting and assisting Henry for his community sharing.