From ‘Bade Somorin, Ile-Ife
On the face of it, the Osun State government and hundreds of cocoa farmers and their dependents in Ile-Ife, who say they face imminent starvation as the state government begins to enforce an April 4 quit notice, appear to be at daggers drawn. But the question borders on the issue of law and due process. The government is insisting on law, while the farmers are insisting on due process.
According to investigation, the farmers who are considered illegal squatters by the government had been farming their land for the past nineteen years courtesy of a free-lease arrangement by the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuade Olubuse 11.
At the turn of the year 2000, the Ooni was said to have worked out the arrangement to make people stay in the town and stop going for non-existent jobs in the cities. With time the plan worked. Many Ile-Ife indigenes enrolled in it and over the years two large farming communities sprung up in what is now called GRA, which is 40 kilometres long and the other popularly called ’30 square miles’, with villages like KS, Lagaba, Olomidudu and Lawoka taking in hundreds of farmers.
All of that is going to be history according to the government quit notice. The government says the said farmers are illegally occupying the land and have to go. They have the option of being ejected or regularise their farming.
A source who pleaded anonymity said a Commissioner, had already gone to some farms in the affected villages such as KS, Lagaba, Olomidudu to supervise the destruction of farms and buildings belonging to the farmers.
Before undertaking that action, however, the government is said to have informed the traditional rulers but investigation shows the current Ooni, his Imperial Majesty, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II may not have given any verbal or formal approval to the government.
“To call us squatters in our ancestral land is not right. That is why Oba Sijuade gave us the land and we have been farming here for the past nineteen years with well matured cocoa trees”, said the source, adding “before the expiration of the quit notice, the government informed some but we are certain Ooni never gave his support”.
The farmers are pointing accusing fingers at timber contractors popularly called Onigi, who they claim had been working behind the scenes to convince the government to revert the land to forest so they can continue their trade and pay government some tax.
“Incorrect and false”, said Commissioner for Information, Mr Ladi Baderinwa. Speaking to Thisage, he said the matter is a question of law and economy, particularly the agriculture policy of the government.
“First, let me clear the information that a Commissioner supervised the forceful ejection or destruction of farms. There was no such thing. These people illegally acquired the land and they have been given notice to quit. They are illegally occupying land that does not belong to them. How can a government that has made agriculture a cardinal policy be chasing farmers? We give land to those who want to farm them and this government has made millionaires out of farmers’’
Asked what would happen to the hundreds of evicted farmers, he said they would have to do the proper thing if they are real farmers. The proper thing, according to him, is to embrace the government’s agriculture policy.
“This government is investing in agriculture. For us agriculture is the main thing. The government has been campaigning for agricultural development. The governor took a loan from the Central Bank for cash crop and food crops production. In the process government is mopping up land to allocate to those who genuinely want to go back to the land”
The area is so vast, you wonder how the quit order is going to be effectively enforced and a large number of farmers ejected without inviting trouble. Fearing the worst, farmers in some of the villages, particularly in Lakowa, who still go to the farms, have resorted to praying for divine intervention.