Aggrieved farmers whose farmlands were destroyed in Ore community in Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State have cried out for help.
Daily Trust reports that the farmers deal in plantations such as cocoa, yam, cassava, plantain, bitter cola, and maize planting, were dislodged by a private farm in alleged collaboration with the state government.
The farmers said the destruction of their farmland had left some of them “incapacitated”, while some had lost their lives as a result of the action.
They accused the state government of selling the farmland to SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, a private firm.
The farmers stated that they were paying their dues on the land to the state government.
Rotimi Abayomi Isinleye, Chairman of the aggrieved farmers, said the SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, invaded their farmland with operatives of the Amotekun Corps and hired thugs to chase them away.
Mr Isinleye added that the private firm brought caterpillars to destroy the farmlands (cocoa and oil palm farms) under the supervision of the security agents and the thugs.
He revealed that despite a court order restraining the firm from further destroying the farmland, the destruction was still going on the plantations which sits on several hectares of land.
“Over 500 million Naira worth of farm produce had been destroyed by the firm and this has affected our members.
“Many are sick and we even lost one of us as a result of the shock because we have spent a lot on the farmland,” Mr Isinleye revealed.
The state government had claimed that the farmland which is a forest reserve was handed over to SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited.
Akin Olotu, Senior Special Assistant on Agric and Agribusiness to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who disclosed this, said the firm was handed over the farmland to grade and plant oil palm on the farm in line with the CBN project.
Olotu explained that the government had to take steps to eject the farmers from the farmland, saying “They have done incalculable damage to the cocoa business in Ondo state. In the global market.”
“Apart from that, it was as a result of security threat. When there was insecurity all over, it was part of South West’s decision to evict illegal farmers on government reserves.
“Who gave them the place in the first place? We need to recover our forest. We have photographs of the farmers setting big trees on fire, cultivating Indian Hemp.
“So, it is a serious matter. We can’t jeopardize the interest of everybody in the state, the country and those passing by because some few people are utilizing the forest illegally,” he said.
The development, however, forced the farmers through their lawyer, Barrister Tope Temokun, to drag the state government, Attorney General of the State, Ministry of Agriculture and SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited to court when the private firm began to clear and destroyed the plantations.
On May 2, 2023, the court granted an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents, including SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, their privies, servants, agents or anyone acting through them or for them from further grading of the applicants’ plantations.
But in disobedience to the court order, the private firm allegedly continued grading and destroying the plantations using soldiers, officials of Amotekun Corps and miscreants to intimidate and attack the farmers.
Positing further, Mr Isinleye said that despite the court order the private firm with the backing of the government and in flagrant disobedience continue to destroy the farmland.
He said, “They (SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited) with heavy security agencies of the combined team of Amotekun, soldiers and local vigilantes were mobilised to the farms and destroyed the plantations.
“They claimed they have the directive of the governor’s son, who is a behind-the-scene veiled chief promoter of these private companies buying up the state forest reserve lands, to shoot and kill anyone who dares to protest around the farms or to stop their work.”
He disclosed that they had contacted some revered personalities in the South-West, including the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, for intervention.
“We have cried out to the world and notable well-meaning Nigerians have intervened. Among others, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, CFR, has made representations and delegations to the governor of Ondo State to intervene in this matter to see that due process is followed.
“But the destruction of our farmlands has been continued by SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited with the backing of government force and state apparatus in disobedience of an order of a court.”