The Ondo State government has forcibly evicted over 10,000 farmers from the Oluwa Forest Reserve in the Odigbo Local Government Area of the state.
The affected farmers mostly cultivate cocoa, cashew, banana, yam, and cassava at the government reserve.
The company allegedly behind the eviction is a private company called Sao Agro-Allied Services Ltd.
SaharaReporters gathered that the farmers’ camps were on Tuesday invaded by hundreds of armed men with Amotekun Corps, soldiers and personnel of Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC).
According to some of the farmers, they had been farming on the land for over 20 years.
The farmers questioned the decision of the state government, saying they were not properly briefed.
The farmers also condemned the attempt by the state government to cede the land to private companies.
Meanwhile, the aggrieved farmers have written to the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, asking him to stop the security operatives from harassing them.
SaharaReporters also learnt that the aggrieved farmers will stage a peaceful protest at Ore Toll Gate on Wednesday to draw the attention of the government and the public to their plight.
In a letter signed by their lawyer, Tope Temokun, they alleged harassment and intimidation by a private company which claims “it derived authority from your government”.
“Today, the 18th of April 2023, hundreds of armed men of Amotekun Corps, armed soldiers of the Nigerian Army and men of Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) had invaded their camps and shot sporadically everywhere to scare the farmers away, for the graders to have their way and the grading of our clients’ cocoa crops, of over two decades, thousands of cocoa trees, have now commenced fully, as the farmers wail in agony without protection or solace.
“We write Your Excellency to move in urgently and call to order the officials of the government involved in this inhuman, unjust and callous destructive acts of people’s life investment and their agents of invasion comprising armed men of Amotekun Corps, armed soldiers of the Nigerian Army and men of Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) as the victims in this case are citizens under your protection who are being intimidated and harassed by a private company who claimed it derived authority from your government sir.
“We believe if the government will evict farmers from its forest reserve, having clothed them with the garment of government tenants who do not farm free of charge but on payment of rents, it will essentially be in furtherance of public interest and the government will do well to follow due process by giving adequate notice and sufficient allowance of time to harvest their crops not to visit innocent farmers vie et armis, in the protection of private interest.”
The petition also read, “We act as Solicitors to Cocoa farmers, farming in the Oluwa forest reserve and operating in various settlements grouped into camps of Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and their sub-camps, within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) Odigbo, Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State (hereinafter referred to as “our clients”), on whose behalf and firm instruction we write this petition.
“We have brought this petition on behalf of these farmers numbering over ten thousand (10,000) in number who engage mainly in cocoa farming in commercial quantity at their various camps in Oluwa Forest Reserve and who also trade in cocoa business.
“We were briefed by our clients and we verily believe as follows: Our Clients are Cocoa farmers, farming in the Oluwa forest reserve and operating in various settlements grouped into camps of Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and their sub-camps, within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) Odigbo, Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State and they currently occupy farmlands covering the camps of Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and their sub-camps, within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) Ore, Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State and they are in exclusive possession of the farmlands and have farmed therein for over two decades, mainly cultivating cocoa, with other permanent crops, on a commercial scale under successive Governments of Ondo State.
“The successive governments in Ondo State and its forestry regulations enforcers have always been aware of their agricultural presence in the forest reserve, but it was in 2018 that the 2nd Defendant formally granted the Claimants possessory rights to engage in legitimate farming in the forest reserve by ratifying their possessory farming rights on the lands occupied by them in the government forest reserve, with allocations of farmlands given to individual farmers, on rent to be paid from year to year, while they carry on with their permanent crops cultivation, thereby becoming government tenants/grantees on the land.
“Preparatory towards the 2018 ratification of the farming rights in the government forest reserve, Our Clients were directed to register as farmers in the government forest reserve and for this they paid the sum of four thousand naira registration fee each and paid the sum of N4000.00 each for issuance of ID Cards, which they all paid, though the ID Cards paid for were not issued to them all.
“In consequence of their registration with the government as farmers engaging in agricultural activities in the government forest reserve, the claimants, farmers, numbering about ten thousand (10,000) in the camps of Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and their sub-camps, within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) Ore, Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State were directed to pay an annual rent of ten thousand naira (₦10,000.00) per farmer which they were directed to pay either individually or camp by camp under their various camps, to the Ondo State Government.
“Our clients in their various camps of Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and their sub-camps, within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A), Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State are not encroachers and were duly registered with the government, as rent-paying farmers on government land, cultivating permanent crops to the knowledge of the government.”
The farmers said that “from 2018 till date, they have been long-term rent-paying tenants/allottees of the Ondo State government, under the direct control of the relevant government ministry and agencies and have been paying their rents, from year to year on the lands allocated to them for the cultivation of cash crops/permanent crops, mainly cocoa”.
The petition further read, “Sometime in February 2023, our Clients were invited to the palace of the Orunja of Odigbo, where they all had a meeting with the representatives of the private company called SAO AGRO-ALLIED SERVICES LTD which claimed the company wanted to create entry road to the land it acquired from the government, which was just a trick to let them in into their farms for the purpose of grading their crops, an arrangement to which they did not agree.
“On the 13th day of March, 2023, three bulldozers were driven into their camps by the private company, heavily guided by hundreds of armed soldiers and men of Amotekun Corps to forcefully start the clearing of Our Clients’ farms even with all the cash crops planted therein but after a peaceful protest lead by the female farmers from all the camps, who went unclad to defend their life investment, they had no option than to abandon the inhuman exercise.
“On Saturday, the 15th of April, 2023, officers of the private company, with government officials, came back again but this time with more bulldozers backed up higher number of armed officers of Amotekun, Soldiers of the Nigerian Army and Ooduaa Peoples’ Congress (OPC) to threaten and shoot the farmers who might wish to protest or stop them their work.”