Cocoa farmers in communities within the Oluwa Forest reserve in Odigbo Local Council, Ondo State have raised the alarm over alleged destruction of their cocoa plantation worth N500m by the government.
Briefing journalists in Akure, the representative of the farmers, Rotimi Isinleye, revealed that some farmers had lost their lives as a result of the destruction of their plantations.
It was learnt that the Oluwa Forest was handed over to SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited to grade and plant oil palm in accordance with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiative, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Agric and Agribusiness, Akin Olotu.
However, the farmers have filed a lawsuit against the state government, Attorney General, Ministry of Agriculture, and SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, through their lawyer, Tope Temokun. The suit was filed when the firm started using earth-moving machinery to clear the cocoa crops.
On May 2, 2023, the farmers were granted an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents, including the firm, their privies, servants, agents or anyone acting through them or for them from further grading of the applicants’ cocoa plantations.
But in flagrant disobedience to the court order, the firm had allegedly continued grading the cocoa plantations using soldiers, officials of Amotekun Corps and miscreants to intimidate and attack the farmers.
According to Isinleye, “Surprisingly, heavy armament of combined team of Amotekun officers and local vigilante were mobilised to the farms. The firm claimed they have the directive of the governor’s son, who’s the behind-the-scene veiled chief promoter of the private companies buying up the Ondo State forest reserve lands, to shoot and kill anyone who dares protest around the farms or dare to stop their work.”
The farmers disclosed that they have approached some notable personalities in the South West, including the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi to intervene in the matter to stop the firm from further destroying the plantations and respect the court order, but to no avail.
“The destruction of our farmlands has continued with the backing of government force and state apparatus in disobedience of an order of court.”
The farmers stated that they have been paying their dues of N10, 000 per hectare to the government coffers regularly, noting that they have paid N3.5m this year, leaving them with an outstanding of N1.5m be paid later in the year, as the practice for the past 25 years, since they have been cultivating farms in the forest.
Adewale Momoh | Punch