Cocoa farmers in various communities within the Oluwa Forest reserve in Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State are sounding the alarm as they face brutal attacks on their livelihoods. Allegedly orchestrated by a firm, the farmers report that soldiers, Amotekun Corps personnel, and hired thugs have been deployed to assault them and destroy their cocoa plantations.
During a press conference in Akure on Tuesday, farmer Mr. Rotimi Isinleye revealed that some farmers have tragically lost their lives as a direct result of the wanton destruction of their cocoa crops.
The Ondo State government, through the Senior Special Assistant (Agric & Agribusiness) to the governor, Akin Olotu, recently entrusted the management of the Oluwa Forest to SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited. This move was intended to align with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s project to grade and cultivate oil palm in the area.
In response to the destruction of their cocoa plantations, the farmers took legal action, represented by their attorney, Tope Temokun. They filed a lawsuit against the state government, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Agric, and SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited. The court granted an order of interim injunction on May 2, 2023, prohibiting the respondents, including SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, from further grading the cocoa plantations.
However, in a flagrant display of disobedience to the court order, SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited continued its destructive activities. The firm allegedly employed soldiers, Amotekun officials, and miscreants to intimidate and attack the farmers.
Mr. Isinleye expressed his dismay, saying, “To our surprise, despite the court order, SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, backed by the Ondo State government, blatantly defied the court order. They mobilized their workers, armed with heavy weapons, along with a combined team of over a hundred Amotekun officers, soldiers, local vigilantes, and gunmen. They claimed to have the directive of the governor’s son, the clandestine force behind these private companies that are acquiring land in Ondo State’s forest reserve. They threatened to shoot and kill anyone who dared to protest or impede their work. As a result, they have continued to bulldoze our cocoa farms on a daily basis within the Oluwa Forest reserve.”
In their plea for help, the farmers have sought the intervention of prominent figures in the South-West region, including the revered Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. They hope that influential individuals will step in to halt the ongoing destruction of their cocoa plantations and ensure that the court order is respected.
The chairman of the Forest Reserve Farmers Associates stated, “We have raised our voices to the world, and concerned Nigerians have intervened. Among them, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, CFR, has made representations and held discussions with the governor of Ondo State to address this issue and ensure that due process is followed. However, SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, supported by the government’s backing and state machinery, continues to destroy our farmlands, disregarding the court’s order.”
The farmers emphasize that they have been diligently paying their dues to the state government for the land, as they are charged N10,000 per hectare. This year alone, they have paid N3.5 million, with an outstanding balance of N1.5 million, as they have done for the past 25 years of cultivating their farms within the forest.
The plight of these cocoa farmers underscores the urgent need for justice, fair treatment, and respect for the law. The destruction of their plantations not only affects their livelihoods but also threatens the agricultural economy and the communities that depend on it