A Community’s Agony over Confiscation of Farmlands

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Igbawase Ukumba writes that inhabitants of Akoh village in Nasarawa State are in agony following the alleged confiscation of their farmlands for a sugar refinery

It all began in June, 2019 when the inhabitants of Akoh village in Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State had gone to work on their farms. The women had run to them that people were allegedly burning their houses behind. Consequently, when the farmers looked to the direction of their settlement, behold, a thick smoke emanated and they quickly abandoned work and rushed home to ascertain the situation.

Speaking to THISDAY, youth leader of the village, Mr. Abiggy Moses, narrated that when they reached home from their farms, they saw a group of youths burning their houses.

“It was then that we enquired to know what was their motive of setting our abode on fire as they responded that we had earlier said that we don’t belong to the domain of Tunga Chiefdom; therefore as from that day, we should leave the area.”

“When we sought to know what was the issue that warranted no dialogue but burning of our houses, they responded that we should leave our settlement. There and then, they started attacking us with sticks. In the process, they called military men who came and started shooting in the air. Thereafter, the military men ordered us to line up and marched to where they were by the road side.”

The village youth leader continued that after marching to the military men, he sought to know from the head of the military men if it was ideal to sack the inhabitants of the village from their abode on the excuse that they don’t belong to Tunga Chiefdom after they have lived in Akoh for over 200 years under Awe Chiefdom.

He continued: “I explained to the military that throughout our living in our community, our parents never told us that we belong to Tunga Chiefdom. If it was a new creation, we thought that it is the government that has the power to inform us about the new development.”

“However, my statement did not go down well with the military men hence they bundled us up into their vehicle and took us to their superior officer in Tunga town who in turn interrogated us if we were compensated for the land. We replied that nobody compensated us. The military superior officer told us that it was reported that we were compensated but refused to vacate from the said land.”

“It was when the superior officer discovered that we were not compensated as being claimed in some quarters that he ordered us to get up from the ground that we were forced to sit on and consequently directed that food be served to us,” Moses narrated.

Corroborating the youth leader, the Akoh village head, Zaki Mshia’an Alyebo said when he was working on his farm on that fateful day, he suddenly saw a thick smoke engulfed their village and rushing there, he saw youths from a neighbouring community in their numbers beating his subjects. “It was at that point that military men arrived and joined the said youths in beating me and my subjects thereafter bundling us to their base in Tunga town”.

The village head said: “The reason advanced by the intruders was that we belong to Tunga Chiefdom. But I told them that we don’t belong to Tunga Chiefdom, rather to Kaffi Moi Chiefdom. I then accompanied the paramount ruler of Kaffi Moi to report the development to the authorities concerned in Awe.”

“However, on returning back to our abode, I discovered that all buildings, economic trees were pulled down to rubbles leaving an empty space for us, hence we had no shelter. At the moment, we are homeless as our buildings, beddings, household utensils and economic trees are all gone as a result of the invasion.

“Being farmers, we have nowhere to go. However if the invaders have an alternative settlement for us where we can farm to get food and generate revenue for our day to day economic demands, let them offer it to us as we have nowhere to go.”
Nevertheless, in a bid by the Akoh farmers to get redress from the invasion of their settlement, the farmers resorted to litigation by dragging the sugar factory to a Nasarawa State High Court over alleged forceful take-over of their farmlands for establishment of a sugar refinery.

Others also joined in the suit were the governor of Nasarawa State, the Sarkin Tunga and the Attorney General of Nasarawa State as second, third and fourth respondents respectively.

In an originating motion on notice, the applicants are praying the court for the following reliefs: “A declaration that the forceful take-over of land, houses and economic trees at Akoh village on September 10, 2018 and thereafter, for establishment of sugar refinery was not by the due process prescribed by the Land Use Act, 1978, nor upon prompt payment of compensation and therefore arbitrary, unconstitutional and fragrant abuse of the applicants fundamental right.

“A declaration that the purported revocation and acquisition of the applicants right of occupancy by the second respondent over their land situated at Akoh village for establishment of first respondent (Dangote Sugar Refinery) is not in the manner nor for the purposes prescribed by the Land Use Act, 1978.”

The applicants were also seeking a “declaration that the invasion of their farmlands in June, 2019 by the first respondent, with heavy trucks and a detachment of military officers, ploughing through the farms, surveying and planting beacons therein, and destroying the applicants’ food crops and economic trees without notice of acquisition nor prompt payment of compensation was illegal, unconstitutional and blatant infringement of the applicants’ fundamental right enshrined in section 44 (1) (a) of the 1999 constitution as amended”.

The applicants also “sought for a relief of an order of perpetual injunction restraining all the respondents either by themselves, agents, privies or howsoever from further violating the applicants’ fundamental right or freedom from compulsory acquisition of their private property, trucks and a detachment of military officers, ploughing through save by due process of the law and prompt payment of compensation”.

“An award of N100 million special damages against the first respondent, been the estimated value of the applicants’ houses destroyed by the respondent. An award of N1 billion general and aggravated or exemplary damages against all the respondents jointly or severally, for the destruction of the applicants’ immovable properties and for the untold hardship and inconvenience suffered by the applicants as a result of the purported acquisition, unlawful taken-over and wanton destruction of their properties by the respondents,” the originating motion on notice of the applicants read.

Speaking to journalists shortly after further hearing on the case was adjourned by Justice Suleiman Dikko, counsel to the applicants, OG Akaaka said the taking over of the applicant’s farmlands by the sugar refinery was felt as an infringement of the fundamental rights, in collaboration with the other parties.

He said: “We believe that due process was not followed and so we are challenging that under fundamental human right enforcement rule. The matter came up but issues were joined because the other parties have just filed in their processes and one has not even entered appearance. So until issues are joined before the matter will go into hearing,” Akaaka said.

However, counsel to the first respondent, MA Maikamari, declined commment when journalists approached him on the ground that he was not permitted by his principal to speak with journalists.

But the Nasarawa State commissioner for Justice, Abdulkarim Kana, when speaking on the matter separately said the sugar refinery factory did not forcefully acquire land in Awe Local Government Area and Azara Development Area of the state for its sugar project. He noted that it was the Nasarawa State government that acquire the land after mutual understanding with the communities.

He said: “We the people of Nasarawa State under the former administration of Umaru Tanko Al-Makura brought the sugar refinery to the state to invest. The state government provided the land for him and did not forcefully take the land from anybody.”

Kana maintained that the communities in Awe and Azara voluntarily donated the lands to the state government for the purpose of the project that would bring job opportunity to the teeming youths in the state.