The attorney to farmers growing crops in Oluwa Forest reserve in Ondo State, Tope Temokun, on Tuesday disagreed with the state Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju on her claim that the farmers in the forest were encroachers.
He noted that the commissioner made the statement “based on old records and improper briefing.”
Barrister Temokun buttressed his position making reference to the reaction of the Senior Special Assistant (Agric and Agribusiness) to the governor, Akin Olotu to the protest of the farmers on Thursday, last week.
He said Mrs. Ademola-Olateju’s claim was in variance with Olotu’s statement that the farmers were paying rent to the state government to use the farmers.
Olotu had told newsmen that the state government had stopped registering farmers in Oluwa Forest since 2022, but said any farmer who had receipt of payment of rent should come forward with it and would be accommodated.
The farmers attorney established that “since 2019, each farmer has been made to pay certain sum ranging from N3000 to N5000 per farmer for registration as farmers in the forest reserve and this is not just for the purpose of security in the forest but also for huge income generation to the government.
“If we consider the number of farmers who farm in that forest and who complied with this directive and the farmers have been asked to pay an annual rent of N10, 000 (ten thousand naira) per rope of land to the Ondo State Government through the Ondo State Board of Internal Revenue which rent they have paid till this 2023.
“The farmers are not encroachers as they were duly registered with the government, as rent-paying farmers on government land, cultivating permanent crops to the knowledge of the government.
“Some of the camps on the prompting of the government have even entered into a formal lease arrangement with the government, for which they have paid millions of naira from their hard-earned income.”
Olotu had disclosed that the farmers were being displaced to accommodate a private company that wanted to plant oil palm in line with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) request that the state should pick two crops in which it has comparative advantage.
He disclosed that the state picked oil palm and poultry.
The farmers last Thursday protested the destruction of their cocoa plantations by the private company under the protection of Amotekun Corps.
Barrister Temokun queried the decision of the state government in destroying the cocoa plantations of the farmer at Oluwa Forest to accommodate the oil palm when several state-owned oil palm plantations which had been run aground were lying fallow.
In his letter to the commissioner, the the attorney said: “What is even the wisdom in this, if we may ask, to dispossess ten thousand farmers who live and farm peacefully and contributing to the state economy in the forest and displace them for one private company that is coming to plant magical palm trees, when state-owned Okitipupa Oil Palm Company then, which served as employer to hundreds of the youth in the old Okitipupa division comprising the four local governments of Okitipupa, Irele, Ilaje and Ese-Odo, was run aground and abandoned and the plantations that serviced the company, like the Ore-Irele oil palm trees plantation, the Ikoya oil palm trees plantation, the one in Igbotako et cetra, all too abandoned, why not using the same Central Bank of Nigeria scheme to rejuvenate that government-owned company that was privatized and killed? The question the citizens must ask today is who owned SAO? Who owned the other private companies coming to this forest with bulldozers? Whose interest are they here to serve?”
He, however, concluded that “Honourable commissioner ma, we believe the government has the powers to evict its tenants, but 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 business interest.”
The state Information Commissioner had weekend defended the state government’s decision to ejecting the farmers from the forest as the farmers cocoa plantations were bulldozed by the company it was apportioned.