By Kunle Adedoyin
The Igbesa and Ejila communities in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Areas of Ogun have called on President Mohammadu Buhari and Governor Ibikunle Amosun to save them from the Chinese operators of the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone Chinese encroaching on their lands.
The community leaders and land owners told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that over 485 hectares of farmland had so far been destroyed by the Chinese.
The leaders said that all efforts to caution the Chinese investors not to exceed the area marked for the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone had failed.
Mr. Solomon Ajose, the Chairman, Land Owners Committee of Igbesaland, told NAN that they had no issues with the Chinese investors until 2017 when they began to seek for more lands.
Ajose said that when the community leaders approached the Chinese on their actions, they threatened to deal with them, while referring to the 1977 acquisition.
“This issue started in 2017, when one of us, Kabiru Ajayi, together with Manager of Ogun-Guangdong, Daniel Sheu, came to say that government had acquired our lands and we told them that our lands were not acquired.
“They were making reference to 1977 Acquisition and we told them that the 1977 acquisition did not extend to Igbesa, it ended at OPIC in Agbara area.
“These people are still laying claim to that 1977 acquisition and Igbesa is not mentioned in the gazette. Truly, Ogun State Government came here through a former Deputy Governor, Badru, who negotiated with the community.
“What the community gave them was 250 hectares for the establishment of Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone and that record is currently in Bureau of Lands.”
“They went further to a community called Ejila comprising of 12 villages, in that area one of the sons called Commissioner Akinremi, negotiated with the community who gave them 400 hectares.
“Those were the parcels of land given to the Ogun State Government and that was what they now gave to Ogun-Guangdong for the establishment of their company.
“But in 2018, some persons from the community, in connivance with the management of the Ogun-Guangdong, came in with bulldozers and cleared all our cash crops, food crops and any other thing that brought us income.
“The communities of Ejila and Igbesa are majorly farmers, we live on farming, we train our children through school from proceeds of farming, and our parents were farmers.
“Our only hope of survival has been cut off, dashed; we are in a bad situation in Igbesa here. Money is not coming in and you are not ready to go into robbery and other crimes,’’ Ajose said.
He said that though the community was not against the government of Ogun acquiring lands for public ventures, it should be done the right way and that the communities should be shareholders in such business ventures.
He said the land was not meant for commercial purposes and that is the business agreement between Ogun and the China firm, then the community should gain from public establishment like hospitals and tertiary institutions.
“The 1,210 hectares the Chinese are encroaching into was not given to them. So far, no deliberations, consultations or compensation has been paid to the real land owners and we are not requesting for their compensation.
“Let them remain in the one given to them. Whereas the land given to Ogun-Guangdong is still lying fallow at Ejila, they are here to take what we use for farming.
“Leave our 485 hectares of land for farming to us. We appeal to President Buhari and Ogun government to caution these Chinese people because they are using policemen to harass us,’’ he said.
Mr. Adebayo Akinola, a Food Technologist, who had 21 acres of land and 10 acres of cassava plantation already destroyed by the Chinese, said that it was worth over N10m.
Akinola told NAN that the Chinese approached him with a token of less than N50,000, but he declined; only to be told that there were bulldozers on the land, destroying his cassava.
“We procured 21 acres sometime in 1990 in order to have an extension of a school where I am the administrator. In 2011, the family that sold the land to us started bringing up issues when the Chinese came and they wanted land.
“We went to court and the judgment was in our favour, that the land belonged to us. Then in 2016, the Chinese approached us that they wanted to buy the land for hotels and create roads from their factory to the main road, we declined that we did not want to sell.
“Only for us to hear in 2018 that they said they were the owners of the land. Currently, they have pulled down the fence. I had 10 acres of land where I planted cassava worth about N15m. Now the land has been cleared.
“We have court judgment on this land. I am still trying to get over the loss because we have put in so much and this is a threat to food sufficiency in the country. It is a threat to climate change too, how can you clear all the forest in this area?
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to retrieve our lands from these Chinese people.
“When we reported the case to the Igbesa Police Division, they said we should not fight because the case was beyond them.”
He said that his farm workers were now out of jobs and he was confused as to how to care for them.
Mrs. Gbonke Dalamu, a graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, explained that she was jobless before family members contributed money for her to set up a block company in the area.
“Some years ago, my family members contributed money for me because there was no job after I graduated to start a small business, so my husband and I came here to sell cement and mould blocks.
“In February 2018, the Chinese people came here and said that they wanted to see my husband. After the meeting, they told my husband that they had something to offer him to forfeit the land and my husband said ‘No.’
“So, they requested to have another discussion and my husband told them to come to his house in Lagos, My husband called the other land owners he could reach to be present at the meeting.
“There was one Mr. Kabiru that represented the Chinese and he was angry with my husband that he wanted to see only my husband, why did he call others and my husband said whatever you have to say you should say it in front of everyone.
“Kabiru left without saying anything. Only for my husband to get threat messages from one Mr. Daniel, who we believe is the head of the Guangdong firm here.
“In the text, he said, since you have refused to cooperate, it is in your eyes that we will demolish everything in your land. Only for us to get a call that the Chinese had started to fence the whole area and they destroyed all we had on the land,’’ Dalamu said.
Another land owner identified as Brother Seun, who had a poultry farm in the affected area, only came after being called to see bulldozers demolishing his fence and gate as Correspondents of NAN went round the area.
A retired Headmistress, Mrs. Kudirat Awoleye, told NAN correspondents that her coconut, kolanut, palm-trees and cocoa plantations which she inherited from her parents had been destroyed.
Awoleye said when she tried to stop them, she was whisked away by policemen and efforts were made by the community leaders to release her.
“For now, I do not have anything to leave for my children any more. I have nothing, I am retired, what can I do apart from farming?’’ she said.
When NAN visited the community which had a bad access road with repairs going on in some areas, it was calm, with no major economic activities noticed.
Also, it was observed that in the Ejila area, the Chinese investors had dug a motte (A mound forming the site of a castle or camp) to cut off residents from their lands and properties, but the owners of the land had filled a part of the motte to enable residents to access their villages.
When NAN visited the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone office, the Chinese investors refused its correspondents entry into their premises.
A Police officer guarding the premises, called one Mr Sebastian, who was said to be acting for Mr. Daniel Sheu, the company’s manager. who was said to be out of town.
Sebastine requested that NAN write a letter which would be considered before they would grant permission for interview on the matter.