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Land-grabbing of communities' forest lands by Wilmar International in Cross River State, Nigeria


The Cross River state government in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria has handed over vast concessions of land (including forest land) to Wilmar International in its bid to revive the oil palm industry in the state and to restore its past glory. Wilmar International acquired four concessions in Cross River State: the northern and western triad of concessions of Calaro, Ibiae and Biase, in 2011, and a southern and eastern area namedObasanjo, in 2012 [1]. 

Environmental Rights Action (hereafter ERA), namely Friends of the Earth Nigeria, considers that at least 20.000 people are directed affected by Wilmar’s concessions in Cross River State, among which potentially 10.000 are at risk of displacement. The locals’ daily life and their farming activities are heavily impacted by Wilmar’s use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers as well as they see the biodiversity of their surroundings put under jeopardy [2]. 

Communities informed ERA that the Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates were acquired in 1959 by the then Eastern Nigeria government via the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. These lands were meant for palm oil plantation. On the 22nd of December 1963, a formal agreement was reached between the communities and the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. The four landlord communities who signed the formal agreement were the Betem, Akpet, Idoma and Igbofia-Ehom communities. However Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation did not cultivate the entire areas acquired from the four communities. 

At the creation of the Cross River State in 1967, the new state administration took over the estates. However, over the years the estates became moribund as a result of administrative lapses and neglect. It is important to point out that even when neglected, the locals were allowed to farm on the land on the condition that they pay a yearly rent to the state government. An independent research led by George Christoffel Schoneveld, considered that at least a third of the lands in the concessions of Calaro, Ibiae and Biase were being farmed by small-holders prior the arrival of Wilmar. These farmers considered to have the right to farm in perpetuity [3]. 

ERA reports that the results of Schoneveld’s study were ignored by Wilmar. The communities from Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates complained that they were not adequately consulted on the transfer of the land to Wilmar and that they only got to know about the transfer after the state government had concluded all negotiations with Wilmar. The latter defends that it led consultations with the state’s Privatization Council, with the state’s Privatization Council and it looked for the local chiefs’ approval. Still, that does not imply adequate communities’ consultation, all the less does that express communities’ consent, recalls ERA. What is more, anonymous testimonies collected by ERA have alleged that the Nigerian government and Wilmar have instrumentalised the local chiefs’ authority to pretend gaining the populations’ consents in spite of obvious local discontent [1]. 

The impacted villagers from the Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates wrote a petition to the state government via their lawyers dated April 5, 2012 where they specifically said that the government had by virtue of the breach of fundamental provisions of the 1963 lease agreement ceased to have any legal rights over the lands that form part of the estates. The communities alleged that the failure of government to pay rents and royalties as agreed over a 24-year period determined the lease contract and that the government therefore had no rights in law or any interest to transfer to Wilmar. 

The acquisition of Obasanjo’s concession is different and yet it is also a case of land-grab perpetuated with the complicity of the governmental authorities. In 1992, communities of Ekong Anaku, Mbobui, Mfamosing, Abiati and Anigheje(in the Southeast of the Cross River State) agreed to hand over their lands as a forests reserve. In exchange, the government promised to undertake programs for agroforestry and rural development and credit for small farms and businesses. Those promises were never fulfilled. 

Ten years later, in 2002, the Cross River State government handed these lands to the company Obasanjor Farms Ltd, owned by the president of Nigeria of that time: Olusegun Obasanjo [4]. It is in 2011, that the former president Obasanjo sold the concession to the giant palm oil producer Wilmar. The amount paid by Wilmar to Obasanjor Farms Ltd is unknown [5]. The communities were never consulted nor compensated, and today they claim the lands were illegally sold. The villagers impacted by the concessions of Calaro, Ibiae and Biase argue that if the government no longer required the lands acquired under the principle of overriding public interest, then the lands should be reverted back to the communities as provided for under the Land Use Act of 1978. 

The communities, with the assistance of civil society groups, further raised the issue of the failure of Wilmar to conduct a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report as required by S.12(1) & (2) of the EIA Law and to also abide by other laws like the National Park Act, the Forest Laws and regulations. Communities argue that it is wrong for Wilmar to commence massive forest clearing and the planting of nurseries without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment Report. ERA argues that the way that Wilmar has obtained these concessions represent major violation of the rights of consultation such as guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Principles and criteria of the Roundtable on sustainable Palm Oil (hereafter RSPO). Most of the local farmers seem to be resigned. Still in 2015, ERA reported that some villagers prepared or presented court cases to address their grievances. 

On February 11, 2014, Wilmar Nigeria Limited was billed to appear in court to answer charges of unlawful trespass by its host communities from Calaro, Ibiae and Biase estates. The company was being accused of unlawful acquisition of communal land and non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Mr. Odey Oyama, an environmental expert and Executive Director of Nigerian-based NGO Rainforest Reserve and Development Center (hereafter RRDC), filed a suit. RRDC, on behalf of the host communities, was seeking to know whether Wilmar Nigeria Limited complied with human and environmental rights as well as local and national laws of the land. RRDC is citing multiple infractions of Nigerian state and Federal laws governing land ownership and Land Use Act. They are also insisting that any deal between Wilmar and the host communities remains null and void until all outstanding issues are resolved. The court could not sit in February (because of strike and then vacation by the judiciary). The case was rescheduled to come up on September 23, 2014. The federal lawsuit was rescheduled once again for June 2015 [6]. 

According to the latest news by August 2018, the communities failed to obtain justice after a series of appeals [7]. With the support of ERA, there is some organization at the local level to monitor the impacts of Wilmar’s palm oil plantations. Such as reported by ERA: “Local communities have established a Community Forest Watchin which community members analyze the socioeconomic impacts of Wilmar’s plantations, conduct resource mapping and land and forest surveys in order to fend off trespassers, and develop proposals for reparations and environmental remediation” [1].  Yet ERA considers the people affected by Wilmar’s operations would have access to justice only through binding rules for corporations, established at the United Nations’ level. Wilmar’s exactions in Nigeria represents one of the many cases that motivated NGOs to lead a global campaign for a biding treaty for multinationals to respect human rights [8]. 

RRDC has filled several complains to the RSPO, to which Wilmar is a member. In what concerns the Obasanjo plantation, RRDC again considers the deal between Wilmar and the government was illegal because according to theLand Use Act No. 6 of 1978, the national government is not considered to be the owner of the land but can act as a trustee, on behalf of someone else. And here again the local populations were not consulted for the deal. RRDC filed a complaint to RSPO, considering that the deal should be considered null until all these issues were resolved and RRDC also suggested the creation of an open forum including all the impacted communities [9]. In December 2013, Wilmar declared to not lead new developments in its Obasanjo concession until consultations were carried on [4]. RRDC has also alerted the European Union on the effects of its biofuels’ policy on Southern countries like Nigeria. The recent and high European demand for biofuels also feeds multinationals like Wilmar greed for new land investments disregarding locals’ land and human rights [10]. RRDC calls upon the European Union’s responsibility to also review its biofuel policy, as it is considered by RRDC to be one of the reasons directly causing an increasing food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. By June 2013 the multinational Wilmar published a 'No peat, no deforestation, no exploitation' promise[11]. It gave itself and its providers two years to reach its goals. Yet once that deadline approaching, ERA and Friends of the Earth Europe denounced a marketing strategy to green its own image, while in Nigeria nothing changed for the local communities, still witnessing the destruction of their forests and farmlands [6]. 

























Basic Data

Name of conflict:Land-grabbing of communities' forest lands by Wilmar International in Cross River State, Nigeria
State or province:Cross River State
(municipality or city/town)Biase Local Government Area
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific commodities:Land
Palm oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The Cross River State government handed over to Wilmar International the Calaro, Biase and the Ibiae palm oil estates (representing a total of 19.173 ha.). Wilmar purchased these estates through the Cross River State Privatization Council, created in 2010 to incentivize foreign direct investments into the country. Later, in 2012, the former President Olusegun Obajanjo’s company, sold to Wilmar the concession named after him: the Obajanjo concession (10.791 ha.). Thus, Wilmar has already acquired at least 21.000 hectares in Cross River State. Environmental Rights Action (hereafter ERA), considers that at least 10% of the areas acquired are located within forest reserves. Save Wildlife Conservation Fund alarms in 2013 that Obasanjo concession puts in jeopardy the forests biodiversity and wildlife [1]. A mapping analysis led by ERA revealed at least 8% of the total land area acquired in Cross River state by Wilmar has been deforested between 2011 and 2013, representing an equivalent to 5,133 hectares. Wilmar enjoys a great support from the state and national governments. The Cross River State government declared that it would ensure that Wilmar has access to a minimum of 50,000 ha of land on which to cultivate palm plantation within a five year period after its arrival in 2011. In 2014, Wilmar even expressed its willingness to expand over 240,000 hectares. For now, Wilmar was prevented from such a major development of its plantations in Nigeria. Only during this first phase of expansion in Nigeria (Calaro Oil, Biase, Ibiae and Obajanjo concessions) it is considered that Wilmar has at least invested $165 million dollars. For its endeavors in the country, Wilmar international formed a joint venture partnership with PZ Cussons Nigeria PLC (subsidiary of the British company PZ Cussons). The joint venture aims to process the palm oil that would be produced from the estates in Cross River state. The venture already built a palm oil refinery in Lagos state.



Project area:30,000
Level of Investment:165,000,000,000.00
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:10,000 - 20,000
Start of the conflict:1992
Company names or state enterprises:Wilmar International from Singapore
Biase Plantation Limited from Nigeria
PZ Cussons from United Kingdom
PZ Cussons Nigeria PLC from Nigeria
Obasanjor Farms Ltd from Nigeria
Relevant government actors:Cross River State Forestry Commission, Cross River State Government, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Justice, Cross River State Privatization Council
International and Finance InstitutionsRound Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) from Malaysia
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Rainforest Resources and Development Centre (RRDC), Environmental Rights Action (ERA, Friends of the Earth Nigeria), World Rainforest Movement, Grain, Forest Watch, SAVE wildlife conservation fund

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Potential: Specific impacts on women


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:The total size of the lands acquired and their location need to be clearly identified. Many different figures were suggested by different persons interviewed.

It is also important for government to work with the communities to ensure the protection of the forests and the resources therein

Civil Society Organisations should support and actively participate in processes that would lead to the carrying out of a proper environmental audit of the entire plantation under consideration.

They should support groups resisting the clearing of forests and the acquisition of the same for use as palm oil plantations.

It is necessary to investigate the water pollution problems affecting nearly 10,000 community members in the Betem axis and see how this problem can be alleviated.

The Ekong Anaku communities want their lands back.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The communities complained that they were not adequately consulted on the transfer of the land to Wilmar and that they only got to know about the transfer after the state government had concluded all negotiations with Wilmar. They in fact wrote a petition to the state government via their lawyers dated April 5, 2012 where they specifically said that the government had by virtue of the breach of fundamental provisions of the 1963 lease agreement ceased to have any legal rights over the lands that form part of the estates. The communities alleged that the failure of government to pay rents and royalties as agreed over a 24 year period determined the lease contract and that government therefore had no rights in law or any interest to transfer to Wilmar.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

The United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples

Free, Prior and Informed consent, FAO

Environmental Impact Assessment Act

Land Use Act of 1978

Nigerian National Park Act and Forest Laws and regulations

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Nigeria: Wilmar, RRDC, and the Calaro/Ibiae Oil Palm Estates, September 2013

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil New Planting Procedures Summary Report of Assessments, Biase Plantations Limited, 2009

Exploitation and Empty Promises, Wilmar’s Nigerian land grab, Environmental Rights Action Nigeria, 2015

Issues pertaining to Obasanjor farms which is being turnover to Wilmar, letter from RRDC to RSPO, February 2013

RRDC Memorandum to the European Union, January 2017

Schoneveld, G.C., 2014. Land Use Policy, The politics of the forest frontier: Negotiating between conservation, development, and indigenous rights in Cross River State, Nigeria, volume 38, pp. 147 - 162

No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy, Wilmar, December 2013

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

C’River host community drags foreign investor to court

Articles on WIlmar International,

Communities in Nigeria Take Wilmar to Court for Land grabbing, Friends of the Earth

RRDC drags Wilmar International to Court

Nigeria Villagers Want their Land Back from Wilmar, GRAIN

Submission of complaint in respect of Wilmar Nigeria Limited, by RRDC to RSPO, December 2012

Nigerians object to land grabs by a foreign palm oil company, March 2013

Nigeria : article de GRAIN sur le village d’Ekong Anaku privé de 10.000 hectares de forêt, Grain, Décembre 2013

Cross River communities protest, allege land grabbing in Wilmar’s N45b project, August 2018

PZ WIlmar, Sustainable plantations - Investing in the future of local communities and the environment

Global presence, Wilmar 's Map

Wilmar International Limited, Profile on RSPO website

Stolen land: Nigerian villagers want their land back from Wilmar, December 2013

Jobs from PZ backward integration in palm oil coming, Mary 2015

PZ - Wilmar Joint Venture

RRDC’s REJOINDER: Wilmar International Announces Policy to Protect Forests and Communities, December 2013

PZ Cussons invests N60b in oil palm estates…

Sign CSO Unity Statement

Sign CSO Unity Statement

Stolen land: Nigerian villagers want their land back from Wilmar, Grain, December 2013

Nigeria – RSPO legal opinion ignores core of the complaint against Wilmar International subsidiary Biase Plantation Limited, May 2014

Stolen land: Nigerian villagers want their land back from Wilmar, Grain, December 2013

Deforestation, exploitation, hypocrisy: no end to Wilmar's palm oil land grabs, May 2015

Other documents

Wilmar Palm Oil Nursery

Wilmar oil palm nursery, Cross River State, Nigeria Source:

Villagers, “By taking our farms, Wilmar is declaring us dead.” - Elder Aning Oja, Ibogo Village Source. FoE Nigeria, 2015

"Recently cleared farmland and forest near Ibogo Village, May 2015" Source. FoE Nigeria

"Cleared land near Mbarakom Village, May 2015" Source. Friends of the Earth Nigeria

Meta information

Contributor:Maria Obaseki (Earth Rights International, Nigeria), Winnie Overbeek, Teresa Perez & Camila Rolando Mazzuca (EnvJustice Team)
Last update29/03/2019



Wilmar Palm Oil Nursery