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Mangoes already flowering, fruiting at Obasanjo’s burnt farm – Benue gov’t

The Benue State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, on Wednesday disclosed that mangoes in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s farm in Howe village of Gwer…

The Benue State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, on Wednesday disclosed that mangoes in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s farm in Howe village of Gwer East Local Government Area of the state were already flowering and fruiting before it was burnt.

Suspected hoodlums few days ago set part of the farm ablaze. The farm is located on a large expanse of land in Howe, along the Alaide-Otukpo highway.

There were allegations that the hoodlums may have burnt over half of the farm before firefighters rescued the remaining part. 

It was alleged that the youths set the farm ablaze because compensation for the land was not paid to the host community.

But the director of agriculture in the ministry, Thomas Unongo, told newsmen that the total of 2,000 hectares in question belonged to the state government, stressing that Howe land in particular was among the over 150 land development sites in the state.

“They were developed in the 1980s by the administration of the late Governor Aper Aku in almost all the local government areas of the state.

“No initial compensation was paid to the locals, but government had an understanding with the benefiting communities that the land would be developed for the benefit of farmers, and whosoever wants to invest in agriculture. And the land would be made available to an investor with little stipends.

“So, over the years, even the Taraku Oil Mills was using the land to produce soybeans to feed their factory. Several investors have come to Benue to see how they could invest in agriculture. Obasanjo Farms was one of the investors that approached us, saying they wanted to operate in Howe and another land near Naka in Gwer West Local Government.

“The state government sat with the community and the representatives of Obasanjo Farms and it was agreed that the land would be leased to them for 25 years at a token.

“One of the things the state government felt that Obasanjo was bringing in, apart from engaging community members to work on the farm, was economic development

“In fact, as I am talking to you, the manager of the burnt farm is from Gwer, 95 per cent of the workforce is from that place. There are several women in the communities who cook for the farm workers. Businesses were going on in the area because of the location of the farm,” he said.

He added that during the signing of the agreement, the governor, commissioner for agriculture, chairman of the local government council, all the traditional rulers and community leaders were there.

Unongo further said, “The incident is surprising to us because something was given to each group. The former president was working there with the intention to hand over the plantation to the people at the end of his lease agreement.

“Although no compensation was paid, there was an understanding to support the community develop their place. 

“The entire land is almost 2,000 hectares. Every segment in the local government, including the youth, women and farmers were all taken care of.

“We have cases of communities taking the state government to court, but there was no issue of Howe community.

“They have been living in peace. In fact, I was at the farm sometime towards the end of last year and I saw that some of the mangoes had started flowering and fruiting.

“I also saw that they were doing mulching with dry leaves to conserve water round the plants. I must say that good works were done at the farm. The good thing about the farm is that they even give out some of the foreign species of mango seeds that are good for export to the community members. They even train the community members on how to bud and other techniques in the handling of the plant. So it is unfortunate that these hoodlums did what they did.”

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