ENUGU, Nigeria (VOICE OF NAIJA) – Tope Temokun, a lawyer representing 10,000 Oluwa Forest Reserve cocoa farmers (OA3A) at the Odigbo council area of Ondo, has called on Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to direct government officials and Amotekun operatives to stop the forceful and illegal eviction of farmers.
Mr. Temokun made the call in a petition to Governor Akeredolu on Tuesday. He said the farmland had been occupied by the 10,000 farmers in settlements grouped into camps mainly in cocoa farming, in commercial quantities for over 20 years.
According to him, among the various settlements grouped into camps are Temidire, Adeleye, Itamerin, Ikawo, Ijoba, Ayeleso, Isero and sub-camps within Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) Odigbo, Odigbo local council of the State.
He explained that his clients were in exclusive possession of the farmlands and had farmed for over two decades, mainly cultivating cocoa, with other permanent crops, on a commercial scale under successive Ondo governments.
The lawyer said the 10,000 farmers were not encroachers but duly registered with the government as rent-paying farmers on government land, cultivating permanent crops to the knowledge of the government.
Mr. Temokun explained that the successive Ondo governments and its forestry regulations enforcers had always been aware of the farmers’ agricultural presence in the forest reserve.
“We have brought this petition on behalf of farmers numbering 10,000 who engage mainly in cocoa farming in commercial quantities 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 each for issuance of ID cards, though the cards paid for were not issued to them all,” stated the petition.
The petition added that 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, either individually or camp by camp, to the Ondo government.
“Surprisingly today, April 18, 2023, hundreds of armed men of Amotekun Corps, armed soldiers of the Nigerian Army and men of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) 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,” said the petition.
The lawyer added: “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.”
Mr. Temokun, who explained that the farmers were intimidated and harassed by a private company that claimed it derived authority from the government, said the farmers were wailing in agony without protection or solace.
“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,” stressed Mr. Temokun, urging Mr. Akeredolu to follow due process by giving adequate notice and sufficient allowance of time for the farmers to harvest their crops.