Mr. Tope Temokun, a lawyer representing 10,000 cocoa farmers of Oluwa Forest Reserve (OA3A) at Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State, has called on Gov. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to direct government’s officials and men of Amotekun to stop the forceful and illegal eviction of farmers in the areas.
Temokun made the call in a petition to Akeredolu, a copy which was made available to newsmen in Akure 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 quantity 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 Government Area 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 Governments of Ondo State.
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.
Temokun said that the successive governments in Ondo State 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 quantity 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 N4,000.00 each for issuance of ID Cards, though the cards paid for were not issued to them all.
“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 State Government.
“Surprisingly today, April 18, 2023, hundreds of armed men of Amotekun Corps, armed Soldiers of the Nigerian Army and men of Ooduaa Peoples Congress (OPC) invaded theirs 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.
“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.
Temokun, who explained that the farmers were intimidated and harassed by a private company who claimed it derived authority from 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.
He said in that case, the government will do well to follow due process by giving adequate notice and sufficient allowance of time to harvest their crops, not to visit innocent farmers vi et armis, in the protection of private interest,” he said.