Ten Thousand cocoa farmers at Ofosu in Idanre Council Area of Ondo State have petitioned the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), over the alleged sale of their farmlands to a foreign company.
Niger Delta Connect reported that Akeredolu through his Special Adviser on Security and the Commander of the state Security Network Agency, Adetunji Adeleye, said the state would partner with investors to integrate the encroachers in the scheme, while stressing 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.
The farmers had two weeks ago protested 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 Armed Robbers”, among others.
In a petition addressed to the governor through their lawyer, Tope Temokun, and made available to Journalists in Akure on Monday, the farmers accused his Senior Special Adviser on Agric and Agribusiness, Akin Olotu of being the mastermind of cutting them of their source of livelihood.
The lawyer said the farmland had been occupied by the over 10,000 farmers mainly in cocoa farming in commercial quantity for 20 years under their various camps and farmers’ Association.
The lawyer said that the SSA had been collecting various levies from the farmers through the Ondo State Agricbusiness Empowerment Centre (OSAEC) which was chaired and headed by him on the assurance that they would retain their farmlands.
According to him, the farmers camped at Akinkuowo, Olugbolo, Prince, Teniola, Omikelekele, Yellow and Bolade along Omifunfun road in Ofosu Onisere OAS axis of Idanre Forest Reserve in Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State.
He said that farmers also had a co-operative society known as Ofosun (Idanre) Owode Cooperative Multi-purpose Society registered under section 7(1) of the Cooperative Societies Law Cap 35 Laws of Ondo State of Nigeria, 2006.
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He said that the 10,000 farmers each were asked to make payment of an annual rent of N10,000 between 2019 and 2021 to the state government through the state board of internal revenue, which they paid.
According to Temokun, in 2021 when OSAEC took over the management of allocation of land in the forest reserve to farmers, Olotu, through the Ondo State Agricbusiness Empowerment Centre (OSAEC) offered to lease the land measuring about 2,412 hectares of farmland to the farmers.
He said the farmers accepted the offer with joy while the assessment of the land was carried out by the government visitation team at the expenses of farmers.
The petition reads: “Our clients were asked to pay and they paid an aggregate sum of N700,000 as cost for surveying the land to ascertain the extent of where they occupied for their lease assessment purposes.
“Rumours started filtering in that the government had sold or leased about 30,000 hectares of the Idanre Forest Reserve to a private consortium.
“In order to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the rumours, our clients under the various camps approached the office of SSA for clarification.
On the day our clients visited the SSA, Olotu, allayed the fear of our clients and also gave assurances.
“Again, in order to further allay their fears, Olotu demanded that each of farmers should pay N3,000 each for the issuance of identity cards as the recognised tenants of the government but till now the I.D cards was not issued.
“Olotu again demanded that all the farmers to make payment of N6,000 each for recapturing which was duly paid for. Curiously we observed that the receipts issues showed the payment of N5,000 against the N6,000 asked to pay.
“In a rather shocking twist, our clients were invited by Olotu to a meeting where he revealed to them that Ofosu Onisere (OA5) forest reserve had been sold to SAO group headed by one Ayo Sotinrin”, the lawyer said.
Temokun, therefore, urged Akeredolu to cause a dispassionate investigation to be carried out on the various roles of Pastor Akin Olotu under OSAEC, whose false assurances and false representations, made the farmers invest their hard-earned resources to process retaining their farmlands on lease.
“But only for their hopes to be dashed in the most unjust and unfair manners like this and to swiftly take steps that will meet the requirement of justice for the over 10,000 people in Ofosu Onisere axis of the OA5 Idanre Forest Reserve”, the lawyer said.