A broken dam holding toxic substances produced by a Chinese company operating in Omotosho forest reserve in Okitipupa, Ondo State, has claimed the lives of three persons, the Ondo State Police Command has confirmed.
The company, Wewood, is engaged in cassava to ethanol production in the area.
Wewood is also involved in the production of plywood and tiles.
The victims were Akinmusire Monday (35), Samuel Louis (45) and Ododolewa Adebowale (19).
The trio went to the forest to extract timber for saw millers.
Sources reported that Mr Louis, a father of four children, was a contractor who traded in wood, while Mr Monday, a father of five children, was an operator of the saw machine used in the business.
Also, the 19-year-old Adebowale, was a student writing the ongoing West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), and was serving as a helper.
Members of their families raised the alarm at the Akinfosile community on Wednesday, when at dusk, the three persons failed to return home.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that members of the community were mobilised the following day to search the forest for them, only to discover their bodies washed down a flood channel in the forest reserve.
The traditional ruler of the community, the Olufara of Akinfosile, Olamide Ayodele, told journalists who visited the area that he had to call the Divisional Police Officer, the Vigilante Corps and the Amotekun Corps, to inform them about the development.
According to him, the combined efforts of the groups ensured the bodies were recovered.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Tee Leo-Ikoro, said the deaths occurred due to the overflow of a mini dam created by the company.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the toxic waste from the dam flowed down the slope and killed the unsuspecting lumberers in the forest.
“The incident is basically an accident and the company and the community are in discussion to resolve the issues,” said Mr Leo-Ikoro.
Meanwhile, Attorneys for the families of the deceased are seeking compensation and punitive measures against the company.
Messrs J. Adeyanju and Dayo Akindejoye, the lawyers, blamed the incident on “reckless” and “irresponsible” dumping of toxic, corrosive, harmful, explosive and hazardous substances by WeWood.
“Evidently, the Company flagrantly violated the provisions of the enabling laws with impunity which is detrimental to the host communities without adherence to Environmental Safety and International best practices,” the lawyers asserted.
“The Environmental Impact Assessment Act, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, and the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provision) Act spelt out guidelines for dumping of hazardous substances which were clearly violated.
“The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act specifically prohibits discharges of harmful quantities of any hazardous substance into the air or upon the land and the waters of Nigeria or at the adjoining shorelines.
“Rather than complying, WeWood chose to honour these laws in the breach. Ever since the WeWood came on board, its activities have been a threat to life, natural resources and properties.”
Efforts to reach WeeWood for their response was unfruitful.
A number was extracted from the company’s Facebook page and the man who picked the call would neither give his name nor speak on the incident.
The man, who spoke in Chinese accent, said he had travelled to Kwara State about a month ago and would not be able to speak on the incident.
He also would not help this reporter with a contact of the appropriate official who could speak on the matter. He promised to call back, but never did.