Farmers in different farm camps in Ore, Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State on Wednesday seized the Ore/Benin Expressway and peacefully protested the taking over and destruction of their farms by a private company.
The farmers alleged that Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu-led administration has sold their cocoa plantations to the company without any previous negotiation or notification.
Addressing newsmen during the protest, some of the farmers said the company to which their plantations were stormed their farms with earthmoving equipment, uprooting their cocoa trees most of which were filled with seedlings.
The farms, according to the protesters, were predominantly cash crops farms including cocoa kola nut and palm tree.
In his account, Adetoro Opeyemi, 29, an HND holder, said all farmers from seven camps affected do pay an annual levy to the state government.
He said the state government has displaced them as the company that bought their plantations from the government has begun to clear the farms.
According to Opeyemi said farmers who were displaced were over 10,000 in number.
About two of the farmers were said to have died as a result of the destruction of their plantations.
Explaining to newsmen, another protester, Odugbemi Omolewa disclosed that they have paid the annual due up till last year.
He said that some of them had not paid up, adding that they paid as much as N8m.
Akinwale Akinjide disclosed that some of them have collected money from cocoa merchants in anticipation of selling to them during harvest to recoup their money back. But with the destruction of their farms, he lamented that there was no way they could pay back.
Among the inscriptions on the placards displayed by the protesters include
“Our land is weeping because the land keepers are being displaced”, “Where do we farm if our land is taken away?,” “Respect the farmers because we give life,” “Farming is our job we are not criminals,” “We pay our rent, government leaves our farms,” “We don’t use the land free we pay.”
But the Senior Special Assistant (Agric and Agribusiness) to the governor, Akin Olotu said any farmer that has prove of payment up till last year would have his farm released to him.
He said the forest belongs to the state government and the ownership was not at anytime transferred to any farmer upon payment of levy.
Olotu said the forest was being cleared to give way for the planting of oil palm as requested central the Bank of Nigeria(CBN) which requested each state to chose two crops in which it has a comparative advantage for investors to come in.
He disclosed that the state chose oil palm and poultry because it already has thriving cocoa.sector, though with intention of providing better yielding seedlings to local farmers that would takeover 1000 hectares of land set aside for cocoa in the same local governments.
The Agric specialist disclosed that the choice of the forest was to also prevent kidnappers and other criminals from holing up in the forest.
Olotu said: “We told them that we are going to support them with new cocoa seedlings. Nobody is sending anybody to the unemployment market. If you’re affected, there’s provision to take care of you.
“Those that are not affected this year, the arrangement is that they should start now in this new area. We are going to give them seedlings when it’s planting season.
“We now want to do standard farming, what you are having from 5 hectares, you can now get it from 9one hectare with proper management.”
In a petition filed by the farmer through their attorney, Barrister Tope Temokun and addressed to Governor Akeredolu, the petition reads inter alia:
“We have brought this petition on behalf of farmers numbering 10,000 in the 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.
“Our Clients were registered as farmers in the government forest reserve and for this they paid the sum of N4,000 registration fee each and paid the sum of N4,000.00 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, they were directed to pay an annual rent of N10,000 per farmer which they were directed to pay either individually or camp by camp under their various camps, to the Ondo State Government.
“Surprisedly today, April 18, 2023, hundreds of armed men of Amotekun Corps, armed Soldiers of the Nigerian Army and men of Ooduaa Peoples’ Congress (OPC) had invaded theirs 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.
“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, Nigerian Army and men of Ooduaa Peoples’ Congress (OPC).
“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.