Crisis looms in the Edo State community of Ogua, Ikpoba Okha local government area between the inhabitants and the management of a Chinese firm, Yongxing Steel Company, over alleged neglect and pollution. PATRICK OCHOGA reports
From a distance, a thick dark smoke can be sighted billowing over the airspace of Yongxing Steel Company. It has become a regular sight for not only passers-by just as the over 200,000 inhabitants of Ogua Community in Ikpoba Okha local government area of Edo are alleging that it is posing serious health concern for them.
Ogua community is less than 20 minutes’ drive from Benin, the Edo State Capital. Prior to the citing of the company in Ogua, the community was relatively unknown and almost forgotten despite its proximity to Benin City.
The town in every sense of it remains desolate and lacks all facilities are required in a typical community that is close to the metropolis.
According to resident of the community, the management of the firm has continued to treat them with disdain despite a memorandum of understanding it entered with the town about six years ago when it started operation.
Our correspondent on his visit to the community was confronted with the stark reality of long years of neglect of the people.
A drive off the expressway leading through the community gives a fist time visitors of what to expect in the community.
The road, which is almost unpassable is riddled with deep potholes and water logged whenever it rained, also had heavy trailers that supply’s metal scraps to the company parked on both sides of the tiny long stretch of roads.
Residents of the community had thought that with the coming of the firm some of their infrastructural challenges and woes might be a thing of the past but this has not come to being.
The Enogie of Ogua Community, His Royal Highness Ogiesoba Aghaghowen, who narrated their plight told LEADERSHIP that inhabitants of the community might be forced to shut down the company for alleged neglect and pollution.
He said the community had nothing to show for the existence of the company in the their midst even after several protest letters written to the organisation and state government to prevail on the Yongxing Steel Company to honour the MOU it signed with the community.He said even more p athetic is that no single indigene of the community was given employment to work in the company, even as many youths in community are jobless.
The traditional ruler also noted that the community faces serious health challenges owing to the poisonous emission coming out of the steel company adding that rained water turned black whenever rain fell.
According to him: “When they came they promised to provide us with roads, and schools in the community. On our part we provided electricity through communal effort from Sapele road to this place, it cost us N25million, at a point the company was depending on our light but after they fixed their own they left us because now they enjoy 24 hours electricity.
“We approached them and pleaded with them to extend the supply to us that we are ready to pay but they refused. You can also see the dilapidated condition of our roads, anytime they want to fix the road they bring old excavators and before 6 months the road will fail again.
“In December they used to bring few bags of rice to us but what we really want from them is good roads, electricity. Landlords are even threatening to go to courts. Anytime it rains for about 2-3 hours the water turns black like charcoal owing to waste they emit into the atmosphere, it is giving us serious concern.
“An environmentalist that 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 and 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.”
He continued, “Recently we wrote including the MOU we entered and sent through the local government to the governor, as we speak they have reneged on all the agreement we entered. My people are threatening to shut down the company, they are making a lot of money in this community and we are suffering.”