The quest for national development, especially in developing countries like Nigeria, has erroneously been seen as the sole responsibility of government at all levels. However, this responsibility is now changing and is gradually being shared between both government and corporate citizens under the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Essentially, the concept of CSR, though a privilege, and not a right, accentuates the notion that corporate citizens should, within their financial capabilities, be able to offer support to those communities which lie within their area of operation. In this respect then, companies give different measures of support to their neighbouring communities.
However, never in the history of this Country has one witnessed an agrarian company, irrespective of her size, taking CSR to the level that The Okomu Oil Palm Company plc has done in Edo State! The company has been heavily involved in CSR programmes since 2010 and currently offers CSR support to 27 communities that cut across three local Government areas to the value of about N200 million per annum in 2017 alone – no mean feat when one takes into account the harsh business and operating environment that companies such as Okomu have had to survive under, when compared to similar companies outside of Nigeria.
This was the viewpoint of a select group of journalists who recently undertook a press tour of some of Okomu’s neighboring communities to ascertain for themselves if the stories making the rounds that Okomu was indeed more than just a palm oil producing company, were in fact true, or not.
The first phase of the press tour covered nine communities namely, Odighi, Odiguetue, Uhiere, Owan, Agbanikaka, Oke-Irhue, Ekpan, Irhue and Umopke. These communities border the company’s new plantation known as Extension 2 which straddles both the Ovia North East and Ohunmwonde local government areas of Edo State. The other communities which had CSR projects to, either be commissioned or inspected were located at Okomu’s main plantation in the Ovia South West local government area and included the likes of Udo, Madagbayo, Gbelebu, Safarogbo, Asamara, Ofunama, Inikorogha, Jamagie, Ajakurama and Okomu Town. The company not only assisted communities within their footprint, but also extended its CSR programme to Government institutions such as the Nigerian Police force and Ministries of education and/or health within the State and currently has ongoing projects in this regard in all three of the above mentioned LGAs.
At Odighi community, the company, led by her Managing Director Dr Graham Hefer, commissioned three projects requested by the community and duly completed by the company in 2016, namely a renovated palace for the Enogie of Odighi, market stalls and a house for the Odionwere. In Odiguetue community the company commissioned an exquisite town hall. In Uhiere, the MD inspected the ongoing renovation and upgrading of the community clinic, while at Oke-Irhue, the water borehole and secondary school projects were inspected. In Ekpan and Irhue communities, the water borehole projects were also inspected.
At these visits, Dr. Hefer used the opportunity to announce new projects that would commence this year, at the behest of the each of the communities concerned; for example, Ekpan community had requested, and would receive, a town hall, market stalls and a cassava grinding machine for the women in 2017.
The company, the MD stated, also took its obligations of uplifting those marginalized groups within the communities, more especially the youth and the women, seriously and announced an extension of their one year skills acquisition training programmes and ongoing bursaries for those in tertiary institutions within the respective communities concerned. The company also graded roads, both to, and within, these communities, despite their limited logistics.