Akeredolu Denies Alleged Sale of Farmland to Foreign Company
*Says govt will partner investors to integrate encroachers
Fidelis David in Akure
The Ondo State Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), yesterday denied the alleged sales of farmlands occupied by 10,000 cocoa farmers at Ofosu in Idanre Council Area of the state to a foreign company by the state government.
Akeredolu, however, stated that he would partner with investors to integrate encroachers in the scheme.
THISDAY reported that some cocoa farmers at Ofosu protested last week Monday the alleged sales of their farmland to a foreign company by the state government.
The protesters, who blocked the popular Lagos/Benin Expressway, carried placards with different inscriptions such as: ” Respect Our Right to Livelihood,” Don’t Give Our Land to Mindless Capitalists,” “We Want to Remain Farmers and not Armeed Robbers,” among others.
Akeredolu, while meeting with traditional rulers and stakeholders from the affected community at the Cocoa Conference Hall of the governor’s office Akure, said the land was given to the investors with the aim of boosting and repositioning the state’s economy.
The governor explained that instead of driving illegal occupants of the forest reserves out of the state, it would rather harness their activities into the investors’ scheme towards boosting productivity and achieve the state’s food security goals.
Akeredolu, who was represented by the Commander of the State Security Network Agency, codenamed “Amotekun,” Mr. Adetunji Adeleye, said: “We are taping from the initiative sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the federal government on cocoa revolution, cashew and palm product. These are the products that these investors are investing heavily into”.
The governor explained that the state owned all forest reserves, formulates and implements policy, and manages forestry activities, hence the occupants are encroachers but it would be considerate in its decision, bearing in mind the interest of the people.
He said: “Do you possess what is not your own? Forestry reserve is a reserve of government, so if government wants to use it, it can. What they are doing is community participation. As stakeholders, we carry them along in pursuing the objectives of the government. So, the issue of giving out what is not your own is does not arise at all. The investors are supposed to cultivate half of the forestry reserve.
“Some investors are coming in and we want the cooperation of the farmers and everybody inside the forestry reserve, we need their support because these investors are bringing-in new innovations. For the farmers to be able to achieve these we need their support, to assist the government and themselves and we are having today that the meeting is well attended by all stakeholders.”
He stressed that the position of the government is to guarantee peace in such agro-business in the state.
The Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Agriculture and Agric-Business, Mr. Akin Olotu, said that the government has put in place a forestry management committee to look at the forest as a whole and how to bring back the forest.
Olotu said: “Ecology and economy is good to go together. We will not destroy the ecology for economic purposes and we will not jeopardise our economy for ecology. So, the government has put in place strategy to strike a balance between the two.
“The government declassified 10,000 hectares for oil palm cultivation. This has been acclaimed nationwide as novel; something that other states should emulate because it is put in place to reposition our economy.”
Reacting, 94-year-old Owa of Idanre, Oba Aroloye said, there was no consultation with the community before giving the reserve to the investors.
The monarch, who was represented a Legal Practitioner, Mr. Olugbenga Oke Samuel, said: “We have never met with the investors. The first time the farmers will meet them, they brought tractor to destroy their farmlands. Some people have been colliding with the government. I mean all these civil servants from the forestry department threatening the people. Some times when they come, they come with military vehicles to intimidate the people.
“The interest of the people should be accommodated. Where are we throwing them? How do you want to accommodate them? That is what the farmers are saying. The community is saying we want to see the policy clearly -come and explain it to us. If we are going to buy into it, we buy into it.
“Again, the covenant as existing in respect of the land should be respected. Where are the enclaves that are supposed to be carve out for people to farm and now you just woke up, you say you are giving this hectares of land to one person, this to another person. What we are getting to know is that about 30,000 hectares of land are going to be alienated. That’s what we have been told.”
According to the monarch, the position of Idanre Kingdom is that the forest areas were handed over to the colonial government in 1932 by Idanre community.
“There is a clear agreement and in that agreement, there is what we call running covenant. When you are transferring land, running covenant is an overriding clause in any agreement. That land was submitted by Idanre people for the protection of the colonial powers when they took over the place and one of the running covenants is that there will be enclave regularly.
“That government will be carving out a place for people to farm but between now and after Independence government consistently refused to allow that covenant to run.”
According to him, “government has been deforesting the place itself. They didn’t plant most of the trees; they are natural resource that grew on their own. Most of the trees there grew up on its own even like wilderness, so they found it cheap and the rule says that when you cut a tree, you plant another one.”
It also said government was giving out timber lisence regularly but failed to monitor re-planting.
“Since those lands are empty and population keeps increasing. You naturally expect that people will want to go there to farm. The people that are in that place are not less than ten thousand people that are farming,” the Oba Aroloye added.