The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), a coalition of over 150 anti-corruption organizations, in collaboration with the African Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (ANEEJ), has urged the government of Jigawa State to urgently address the displacement of farmers in 36 communities of their farmlands to a Chinese plantation.
In a petition issued by the anti-graft coalition and signed by its chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, the groups urged the Jigawa State governor to use his good office to handle the agitations of the victim communities with a human face without harping on the strict legal provisions on compulsory acquisition.
The petition, which was written in respect of the sale of 12,000 hectares of farmlands to Lee Group by the state government, was precipitated by a report of the Daily Trust Newspaper of February 9, 2017.
The newspaper had reported how 36 communities lost their farms to a Chinese plantation, Lee Group, based in Kano. The Newspaper further reported that the state government gave the said farmland to the company for N2.1 Billion.
The project started in 2014 when the Chinese company, Lee Group, on the invitation of former Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, surveyed and sought the farmlands in the affected communities for sugar cane plantation.
CSNAC wrote: "We are aware that the communities have mounted strident opposition to the project which they argue will inevitably displace them from their ancestral homes, also accusing the government of a betrayal of a pre-election promise made by your noble self while running for office not to go ahead with the project as initiated by your predecessor".
"We are reliably informed that your administration has however recanted on the said electoral promises by issuing the Chinese company with a Letter of Grant. We also understand that the issue has generated hostilities and tension which involved temporary suspension of some local chiefs in the affected communities, following which there has been an offer by the state’s ministry of land and survey to pay compensation to the affected farmers in the sum of within N18,000 to N60,000, which the farmers have rejected as being insignificant.
"We are familiar with the yearnings and disgruntlement of the community under the aegis of Sugar cane Farmers Cooperative Society in terms of their appeal to the state government to reconsider the size of the land grabbed for the purpose of the project on the grounds that it is too large and that it is improper to displace all the villages and distort their lives forever."
"Also, one of the complaints is that the compensation amount offered is too small in view of the fact that the project has no direct bearing on their lives since no staple food will be cultivated on the lands".
"They also complained that your administration’s plan to resettle them in areas already designated as forest and grazing reserves is a recipe for chaos due to the recent recurring deadly farmers and herders’ clash, the basis of which the said land offered as compensation was designated as forest and grazing reserves to resolve the conflict. They have thus suggested that the already designated land rather be given to the Chinese company."
On the basis of the above narrative, the civil society groups said they focused on the enthronement of human rights and justice in Nigeria, and they wish to "humbly request that you use your good office to handle the agitations of the victim communities with a human face without harping on the strict legal provisions on compulsory acquisition, as the said provision is envisaged by the constitution not as an arbitrary provision to be wielded with a sledge hammer effect on citizens of the state.
"Displacing the victims from their ancestral homes to which they have honest emotional and spiritual attachment will not promote the cause of peace and development in the state.
"The right to land, housing, livelihood and decent living of the citizens of the state are guaranteed under 1999 constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and cannot to be sacrificed at the altar of perceived foreign pecuniary gains as this may cause unnecessary unrest and insecurity amidst a situation of distrust and rebellion against the state government.
"We look forward to your urgent intervention into this situation and the reversal of this unconstitutional acts in the broader interest of food security, grassroots development and fundamental rights," CSNAC said.