Cocoa Farmers Protest in Ondo Over Government’s Sale of Farmland to Private Company

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Some cocoa farmers in various settlements of Oluwa forest reserve, in Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State on Wednesday protested the state government’s alleged sale of their farmland to a private company owned by public office holders.

The protesters who converged at Akure the state capital explained that for over 30 years, they’ve been farming in the various settlements grouped into camps comprising Ijoba, Sete II, Ipade, Ayeleso, Isero, Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin and other sub-camps and had been paying their dues to the state government agencies for farming on the government reserve.

Precisely, the farmers said they occupy eight camps of the community  on 2,000 acres of land, where they cultivated over two million cocoa trees, palm trees, yam, cocoyam, maize, tomato, cucumber among other crops.

Leader of the protesters, Abayomi Rotimi, said with the severe hunger ravaging residents of the state and Nigerians as a whole, the state government should rescind it’s decision and also consider their means of livelihood of the over 10,000 farmers.

He alleged that the company to which their plantations were sold had stormed their farms with earthmoving equipment to uproot their cocoa trees, kola nut, palm trees and other crops.

His words: “We are Cocoa farmers, tenants of the Ondo State Government, farming in the Oluwa forest reserve  who are have now sued as Claimants in Suit NO. HOR//2024 – Irewole Muse and Others VS Ondo State Government and Others, filed over sale of the farmlands rented out to us by the Ondo State government leading to threat of forceful eviction of our members by ACME Palms Limited from our cultivated cocoa farmlands on the ground that it has purchased the government forest reserve for the cultivation of oil palm trees.

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“This private company incorporated in July 2020 in Nigeria with RC NO. 1698827, armed with a Certificate Of Occupancy issued by the Ondo State government, dated 23rd of July 2021 and registered as No.59 at page 59 in Volume 767 of the Lands Registry of Ondo State, over about 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land the company purportedly bought from the Ondo State government has entered into the forest reserve to commence process of grading and forceful taking over of the forest reserve where about ten thousand farmers, who are Ondo State government tenants, have cultivated over two million cocoa trees prior to this alleged sale”.

Also speaking, lawyer of the farmers, Tope Temokun said the government can grant permission or license to people to log or farm in the forest reserve but believe government forest reserve land could not be sold outrightly to private investor.

“Our findings have unearthed shady deals, potential conflicts of interest and compromise of public interest, the interest of the people of Ondo State and integrity of the entire process of this sale of government forest land to these private investors.

“In 2021 when ACME Palms Limited bought about 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land and obtained a Certificate of Occupancy, Mr. Akin Olotu acted as Chairman of the Ondo State Agribusiness Empowerment Centre (OSAEC), the government agency that was responsible for management of the forest reserve lands of the Ondo State.

“Curiously, late Mrs. Akin Olotu Oluyemi, Mr. Akin Olotu’s wife, was a shareholder and director of the ACME Palms Limited, the same company that bought about 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land and obtained a Certificate of Occupancy over same while Mr. Akin Olotu acted as Chairman of the Ondo State Agribusiness Empowerment Centre (OSAEC), the government agency responsible for management of the forest reserve lands of the Ondo State Government.”

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Temokun noted that, another case of conflict of interest is the fact that ACME Mercury Limited (represented by Olasupo Olusi Dr) incorporated in Nigeria in 2014 with RC NO. 1216648 is one of the shareholders who owns the largest and controlling shares in ACME Palms Limited, which was incorporated in July 2020 and within a year of its incorporation, in July 2021, ACME Palms Limited has purportedly bought 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land obtained a certificate of occupancy over same. 

“Curiously again, ACME Mercury Limited is a private company jointly owned by one Dr. Olusi Olasupo and his son, Mr. Olugbenga Olusi, where they both own the shares of 960,000 and 40,000 shares, respectively and interestingly, Dr. Olusi Olasupo is the current MD/CEO of the Bank of Industry, Nigeria, a bank that is government-owned through which credit facility is usually secured for the projects as massive as the one the ACME Palms Limited is embarking upon.”

He stressed that the implication of the above discovery is that these public office holders veiled under registered companies are the ones forming business alliances and buying up government forest reserve land under their control for their private business while using the instrumentality of their various public offices to perfect this private interest arrangement and also relying on the offices held to get financial resources to pursue their private business interest.

Temokun said when his clients faced further threat from the company, a competent court was approached  seeking a Declaration that the company’s purported sale of the land and the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy dated 23rd of July 2021 and registered as No.59 at page 59 in Volume 767 of the Lands Registry of Ondo State, in violation of the Forestry Laws of Ondo State and other relevant laws, is illegal, null and void and of no effect.

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“A Consequential Order setting aside and nullifying the Certificate of Occupancy purportedly issued to the 6th defendant by the 1st defendant, dated 23rd of July 2021 and registered as No.59 at page 59 in Volume 767 of the Lands Registry of Ondo State.

“A Declaration that the claimants’ rights of possession over the farmlands granted and/or rented out to them by the 1st defendant still subsists, subject only to the lawful determination of the Claimants’ rights of possession and/or lawful exercise of the powers vested on the 1st defendant exercisable in accordance with the Forestry Laws of Ondo State and other relevant laws.

“An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the 6th Defendant and its privies or agents, from further exercising any ownership or possessory rights over the land and An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the 6th Defendant and its privies or agents, from forcefully evicting the claimants or grading the Claimants’ crops or uprooting the Claimants’ crops or doing anything adverse to the claimants’ right of possession over the land granted and/or rented out to the claimants by the 1st defendant.”

Fidelis David

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