Land grabbers, bandits, kidnappers and other unauthorised persons have taken over state governments’ farm settlements, forest reserves, dairy farms and other public agricultural ventures in the country, The PUNCH’s investigations have revealed.
It was gathered that following neglect by successive state governments, farming equipment and machines in the farm settlements had either been vandalised or stolen with the connivance of civil servants and politicians.
Findings showed that the problem was compounded by policy somersaults occasioned by lack of continuity in governance.
Benue abandons farms, villagers harvest crops, land grabbers take over
In Benue State, it was learnt that most farm settlements were poorly managed or converted to another use.
The PUNCH’s correspondent, who visited two settlements at Abinisi along Gboko Road and another at Apir, observed that the farms had been neglected.
At the Abinsi Farm Settlement, people have encroached on a large portion of the land, which was in the past used for cultivating soya beans.
A farmer in the farm settlement, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said, “Government used to plant soya beans here, but that was a long time ago. Even the last ones that were planted were abandoned and the villagers harvested them. Since then, people have taken over the place.”
At Apir, The PUNCH’s correspondent observed that villagers had encroached on the land, while buildings in the farm settlement had collapsed.
It was learnt that the situation was the same in all the farm settlements across the state.
But when contacted, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr Timothy Ijir, told The PUNCH that the state’s farm settlements were not moribund. He, however, added that some of the settlements had been encroached on.
The commissioner stated, “We have set up a committee to look into government’s farmlands that have been taken over or encroached on by land grabbers. There are issues of alleged land encroachment, which we are working hard to recover.
“We want to re-survey, demarcate, fence and secure the farmlands to prevent people from coming to do anything there.”
However, the Benue State Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr Aondongu Saaku, lamented that government at all levels had deviated from the practice of establishing farm settlements.
He stated, “The abandonment of this practice is seriously affecting the growth and development of the agricultural sector because the awareness and innovation are no longer there.”
Anambra farm settlement’s equipment vandalised, tractors looted
Also, in Enugu State, farmers lamented the state of a farm settlement in the Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area established by the late Premier of the defunct Eastern Region, Chief Michael Okpara, in 1962.
The 10,000-hectare farm is called the Ada Rice Farm Settlement.
It was learnt that after the civil war, a Japanese firm was engaged as a technical partner to develop and operate the settlement for 10 years after which it would be handed over to the old Anambra State.
But findings showed that the problem of the farm settlement started with its handover to the old Anambra State Government.
A resident of the area said, “It was the beginning of the demise of the settlement as equipment was vandalised and tractors and farm implements began to disappear till none was available for use.”
Ada Rice Farm Settlement, a big mess – Farmer
Similarly, a former Chairman of the Rice Farmers’ Association in the settlement, Christopher Oragbakolu, told The PUNCH that the Ada Rice farm settlement was “a big mess.”
He said when the farm was fully developed in 1976, the settlement was booming.
Oragbakolu stated, “Here was like a place you could use as an example for modern agriculture, but this time round, there is no development. What we had have been completely vandalised.”
Oragbakolu, a native of Iga, said people were optimistic when the administration of ex-governor Sullivan Chime brought Songhai farmers from Zimbabwe.
He said, “When the Songhai farmers arrived, they renovated many dilapidated structures, but they did not go beyond renovation.”
He said even graduate farmers, who were meant to make use of the settlement, had left.
Oragbakolu said, “As we speak, only two graduate farmers are still living in the settlement, the rest have gone. Iga community residents are the only people living in the settlement, while those making use of the land are farmers, who pay N2,000 per plot or N4,000 per hectare to the Ministry of Agriculture. Even after collecting the money from the farmers as ground rent, the ministry does not provide us with any facility.”
Expensive equipment in Ada farm sold as scraps, tractors looted – Community leader
Also, one of the leaders of the Iga community, Chief Maximus Okuta, described the abandonment of the settlement by successive governments as discouraging.
He said the farm settlement was grossly underutilised.
The community leader said if fully rehabilitated, the farm settlement could employ over 5,000 graduates.
He said farm equipment that the Japanese technical partners brought was sold by the government to their cronies.
Okuta said, “How could government, under whatever guise, sell multi-million naira equipment such as rice mill as well as underground petrol and gas tanks that were built up to global standards as scrap when they (government) could not add anything to their development? It is pitiable and it portrays the kind of leaders we have.”
The community leader explained that all the tractors that the Japanese firm brought to the farm were looted by government officials through dubious measures.
He stated, “No other company has come to manage the farm apart from the Songhai farmers, who arrived about eight years ago and went back. Since then, the state’s Ministry of Agriculture has been managing the farm.
“Their (Ministry of Agriculture) major work is to collect ground rent from farmers. We have about 5,000 farmers and each farmer pays N2,000 per plot or N4,000 per hectare annually.”
On Friday, when our correspondent called the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Matthew Idu, on his mobile phone, the call was not answered. Also, he had yet to respond to a text message sent to him as of the time of sending this report. He was not in his office when the correspondent visited the place on Friday.
Zamfara’s grazing reserve allocated to prominent persons without due process
The scenario was also the same in Zamfara State where it was learnt that over 10,000 square kilometres of land set aside for forest and grazing reserves as well as cattle ranches in the 14 local government areas of the state had not been properly utilised by the state government.
Investigations showed that more than half of the land, particularly the ranches, grazing areas and forest reserves, was allocated to prominent persons, organisations and companies by the previous administrations, while the remaining had been taken over by land grabbers.
The Director in charge of the Afforestation in the state Ministry of Agriculture, Alhaji Garba Danba, confirmed that some of the state’s forest reserves, ranches and grazing areas had been illegally taken over.
He, however, told The PUNCH that the only place that was not tampered with was the Kuyanbana Game Reserve in the Dansadau Local Government of the state.
According to him, the previous governments allocated land to farmers, companies and organisations without following due process.
Danba further explained that many people had encroached on the reserve areas due to the nonchalant attitude of the past state governors.
The area worst hit by the encroachment, according to the director, are the grazing areas, which have completely been taken over by land grabbers.
A farmer in one of the grazing areas, Mallam Umaru Maradun, said people took over the land many years ago.
He said he bought his farm from a Fulani man who migrated to another state due to insecurity.
Maradun added that some of the abandoned grazing reserves and farm settlements in the North had been taken over by bandits and kidnappers who used them as their hideouts.
The head of Kuraji village in the Gusau Local Government Area, Alhaji Adamu Muhammadu, said his subjects sought farmlands from the state government and were given some parts of the grazing land very close to the village.
He, however, said many people had encroached on the land, making it difficult for cattle to pass through the route without destroying crops.
This, he stated, was militating against peaceful coexistence between farmers and herders in the area.
Ondo agric ventures, farm settlements suffer neglect
Also, investigations revealed that most of the agricultural ventures in Ondo State had been abandoned by the government, paving the way for land grabbers to encroach on the land.
Findings showed that the state government was losing revenues from the farm settlements and agricultural ventures, which were established in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the Western Region Government under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
A senior member of staff of the state Ministry of Agriculture, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, attributed the encroachment to government neglect.
He said, “It is a fact that the government is losing a lot of money because it does not pay attention to the settlements. For instance, the Okitipupa Oil Palm Estate is the biggest of such ventures in West Africa, with over 12,000 hectares of oil palm plantation.
“When the government could not handle it alone, it adopted a public-private arrangement to develop the plantation and yet nothing has been coming. People encroach on the farm and harvest oil palm seeds and nothing is coming to the government.”
He also disclosed that the Ifon Farm Settlement at Ifon, the headquarters of Ose Local Government Area of the state, was no more in operation. According to him, the farm was meant for cultivating cash crops such as cocoa and kolanut.
At the Mariwo Farm Settlement in the Ifedore Local Government Area of the state, there is no activity.
It was also gathered that land grabbers were carrying out various illegal farming activities while the remaining part of the land was not well-utilised by the government.
However, one of the villagers, Mr Akinola Busuyi, said his father had an arrangement with the government in 1972 to be farming on a part of the farm settlement after a certain amount of money was paid to the government.
Busuyi said, “But encroachment has been the problem here. There was a day someone came and said the community (Mariwo) wanted to use a part of the land and I told him that it was the government that owned it.”
It was also learnt that the Oda Cocoa Farm settlement in Oda town in the Akure North Local Government Area of the state had been inactive.
After many years of neglect, it was gathered that the immediate past government made attempts to revive it, but since the government left, the settlement had gone back to its moribund state.
A former Chairman of the Ondo State Cocoa Revolution Agency, Dr Jibayo Oyebade, urged Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to turn around the fortunes of the farm settlement.
A resident of Auga Akoko, who identified himself simply as Adewole, said all the successive governments in the state had not remembered the Auga Cattle Ranch sited in the town by the defunct Western Region Government.
Similarly, the monarch of Auga Akoko, Oba Samuel Agunloye, urged the government to make the ranch functional for the socio-economic benefits of the town.
But the Ondo State Government said it had not abandoned the farm settlements, saying it was making efforts to develop the state through agriculture.
The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Gboyega Adefarati, said some of the farm settlements had been given to investors in a public-private partnership arrangement while some were being resuscitated.
Military sold Oyo farm settlement’s houses, says farmer
The PUNCH correspondent, who visited the 60-year-old Akufo Farm Settlement in the Ido Local Government Area of Oyo State noticed that it was a shadow of its former self.
The correspondent observed the decrepit farmland had obviously been abandoned for years.
However, Governor Seyi Makinde of the state recently got the nod of the House of Assembly to access a N7.6bn loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria to build farm estates in Akufo and another one in Ibarapa East.
A farmer in the settlement, 75-year-old David Ojoawo, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “I arrived at the Akufo Farm Settlement in 1966. We were employed by the Western Region as farmers. The farm houses built there were 107.”
The PUNCH’s correspondent observed that majority of the 107 houses had become dilapidated, but Ojoawo was quick to say that a military government sold the houses in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It was observed that the Ikun Dairy Farm at Ikun Ekiti in the Moba Local Government Area of Ekiti State had been abandoned by the government of the old Ondo State.
The dairy farm was established during the administration of the late former governor of the old Ondo State, Chief Adekunle Ajasin.
It was gathered that a former Ekiti State governor, Chief Segun Oni, made frantic efforts to revamp the dairy farm. He purchased N700m dairy machines and imported 700 cows from South Africa.
Investigations showed that lack of continuity and sabotage allegedly on the part of the civil servants thwarted the efforts.
But the current administration of Kayode Fayemi, it was learnt, had got investors to revive the dairy farm, which had been overgrown with weeds.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Muyiwa Olumilua, said the revival of the diary farm would attract a new investment of $5m to the state.
The Onikun of Ikun Ekiti, Oba Olusola Olatunde, expressed happiness that “the project, which has been abandoned for 39 years,” would be revived soon.
Farm settlement now criminals’ hideout
But residents of Orin Ekiti are worried about the neglect of the Orin Farm Settlement in the Ido/Osi Local Government Area of the state.
Residents told The PUNCH that criminals had turned the farm settlement to their hideouts.
The second in command to the town’s monarch, Chief Francis Falua, also lamented the neglect of the farm settlement by the successive governments.
Falua, who is also the acting head of the town, said, “There were plantations. There was also a piggery. They were handed over to the settlers for monitoring. But government’s failure to live up to its expectation led to the collapse of everything.”
The community leader, who confirmed that the settlement had become a hideout for criminals, appealed to the state governor to revamp it.
A former worker at the settlement, Mr Akinola Adebiyi, also said, “Farmers are now afraid to go to their farms because of the criminal elements in the abandoned expanse of land which used to be a viable farm settlement and revenue earner.”
But the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Folorunso Olabode, said the state was planning to renovate the farm settlement.
“We need to bring back its lost glory and make it a functional farm settlement,” he said.