Did you ever imagine that the tyres of your car may have been produced at the expense of a local community’s livelihood in Nigeria?
Most of the world natural rubber production goes for the manufacturing of tyres for different types of vehicles, ranging from cars, to trucks, airplanes and so on. To have an idea of the huge amount of tyres consumed, let’s take a look at the statistics in 2007 where 1.3 billion tires were produced.
South East Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand) are the major producers of rubber in the world while Africa accounts for some 5% of global natural rubber production. Within Africa, the main producing countries are Nigeria (300,000 hectares), Liberia (100,000) and Cote d’Ivoire (70,000).
The multinational companies Michelin and Bridgestone are the major players in the world tire production. Both of them are active in Africa, where they have set up their rubber plantations. Bridgestone/Firestone Corporation has its conflictive plantations established in Liberia and the sad history is well known (see previous articles on Bridgestone in WRM Bulletins 134 and 102).
On its part, the France-based Michelin has only recently started to write its own history of human rights violations. It all started on May 29 2007, when over 3,500 hectares of Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve including individual and communal farmlands were allocated to Michelin to be converted into rubber plantations in an illegal deal without the consent of community people. The invaded Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve is located in Edo State at the southwestern part of Nigeria.
Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve has been described in time past as one of the forest and biodiversity-rich regions of Nigeria. Around Iguobazuwa, more than 20,000 agrarian people live. They depend on the forest for their daily livelihoods and furthermore they used to have their farmlands around the forests to cultivate the land.
Without having ever consulted the communities, the local government allocated 3,500 hectares of forest land to the French multinational company to set up its rubber plantations.
When Michelin arrived, it bulldozed the 3,500 hectares of forests and also the people’s farmlands. Local people found themselves from one day to another with both sources of livelihood –their forest and farmlands- completely destroyed. Iguobazuwa communities lost everything.
Their farmlands allowed them to cultivate food for daily consumption, but it was also a source of income as they used to sell some of their produce at the local market. The surrounding forests used to be their pharmacy, as well as the wood and water provider, and their place for worship.
The national environmental advocacy group, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) that has been closely following the case, reports that “On the eve of former Edo State’s Governor Lucky Igbinendion’s exit from office (29th May, 2007), large expanses of Iguobazuwa forest reserve measuring over three thousand five hundred hectares were allotted to Michelin Nigeria Plc (owners of Osse river rubber estate company), without due process. The approval, believed to have been gotten through the back door, was done without due process or the consent of the community people. This action, publicized by Michelin and the Government as a sign of development, has brought a serious setback to the agrarian communities, as Michelin’s rubber plantation has destroyed their forest, forest resources, age-old individual and communal farmlands, leaving the affected community people uncompensated.”
Speaking with ERA’s Forest & Biodiversity officer/Media relations, Rita Osarogiagbon, the Chairman of Iguobazuwa Community Development Association, Mr. Gabriel Igbinigie revealed that the community people had once led a protest delegation to the former Edo State Commissioner for Environment Mrs. Sara Adetugbogboh (now Commissioner for Commerce and Industry), over an alleged illegal concession of forest lands to Michelin Nigeria. He said ‘She reiterated that the present arrangement with Michelin was done by the past and not the current Government, adding that Michelin should go and resolve the differences by paying compensation to affected community members’”.
There have been many attempts by different members of the communities to make their voices heard but nothing has changed. Women, tired of being passive, have decided to raise their voices and make their demands heard both by the authorities and the company. During the first days of November they gathered in a two day workshop to share their experiences. As a result, they have come up with a series of demands and are determined to get their lands back.
As a fallout from the 2-day workshop held on the 4th -5th November 2008, Michelin called some members of two communities (Aifesoba and Iguobazuwa) out of the nine communities directly impacted, and payed them compensation. One group from Iguobazuwa was paid fully while the other community from Aifesoba was payed what the community people described as peanuts, as according to them, it was a far cry from the extent of destruction and was not commensurate with the amount valued for the crops destroyed.
This divide and rule tactics by Michelin, has caused serious disaffection among communities and its members. Hence, a peaceful protest march by men, women and children of the aggrieved communities was held recently in Benin city to drive home their grievances. They solicited for ERA/FoEN and the World Rainforest Movement’s continuous support in ensuring justice.
A woman from one of the adjacent communities in Iguobazuwa described the situation in very clear terms when she said “I don’t want money. I want my land back…if they give me one million Naira today, I will still go broke, but if I have my land I can always farm to take care of my family and possibly pass the land on to my children.”
They are facing serious threats linked both to food shortages -which has resulted in the food price hike in the local markets and has led to serious hunger and malnutrition- and also health risks due to an outbreak of epidemics as a result of the extinction of local medicinal plants resulting from Michelin’s conversion of their forests to rubber plantations.
They stated that they won’t stop until their land is given back, every tree felled replanted and full compensation for the crops destroyed is given. They know it is not an easy path and for accomplishing it they know that they need international support.
Those of you who wish to support these women can do so by signing on to the letter at
that will be sent to the Nigerian Government as well as to Michelin’s offices.
Article based on: Information from Environmental Rights Action, ERA Field report 172, at: http://www.eraction.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105:field-report-172-michelin-converts-prime-forest-to-plantation&catid=5; Michelen web site:www.michelin.com;
Information gathered during the workshop conducted in Nigeria on 4 and 5 of November within the joint WRM – FOE Project on the role of the EU in disempowering women in the South.