Indigenes of Illushi community in Esan South-East Local Government Area of Edo State have disagreed with a rice farming company, Skaff International Agro Farms Limited, over the acquisition of a vast portion of land for agricultural purpose.
Following the development, the community leaders have asked the company to vacate their land for the interest of peace, alleging that it was illegally acquired.
But the company said it went through the normal channels in collaboration with the government and agencies to get approval for the land in question.
Francis Abamu, spokesperson for the community, said the management of Skaff International Agro Farms Limited connived with the Executive Chairman of the LGA and other persons in the community to acquire the land without their knowledge, adding that they no longer had land to carry out their farming activities.
He also alleged that 65 per cent of their land was leased to the company for 99 years, adding that the huge expanse of land in question is the only upland in the community.
He said, “This land in question, before the sale or the lease of it, the elders were not aware. They did it on their own illegally. The signing and sale was done in the bush.
“In ancient times, the agriculturalists who came to this land, they came here, called the elders before they commenced their work.
“There is nowhere in this country where you will go and take land without the community's elders knowledge, had no agreement, no survey, no lawyer and whatsoever and they now do it on their own even in the bush.
“Erosion has taken over the land we have. The only hope we have if the erosion continues, where we will relocate to is sold or leased to this Lebanese man and the pain is now very deep in us.”
An 80-year-old native of the town, who identified himself as Pa Richard, said there was a need for the state government to wade in to salvage the situation before it snowballs into a major crisis.
He said, “Government is the only hope we have. The Lebanese have taken it away from us and now the erosion is eating the land. We don't have where to go and are frustrated.”
Anthony Skaff, Chief Executive Officer of Skaff International Agro Farms Limited, denied acquiring the land illegally, saying he did everything he needed to do to get the land in the community.
Mr Skaff, a Lebanese, said, “When I intended to go into agriculture for rice farming and rubber plantation, first I wrote to the Agricultural Development Authority to seek their approval and advise who in return wrote me back and welcomed the idea.
“After my findings, I met with the community and over 200 youth and 14 elderly chiefs who gave their consent and approved with a lot of incentives such as borehole, hospital, schools, scholarship, among others. It was after then that I met with the government for approval.”
Peter Aguele, Chairman of Esan South-East LGA, said the allegation of him conniving with the management of Skaff International Agro Farms Limited to take over their land was baseless.
He said council chairmen do not have the right to cede land to anybody, adding that he did not also connive with the state government to do so.
He said, “It is untrue. If you see the documentation of the sale of the land, you will know that it was transacted over a year before I became chairman of the council and there is no way I would have been the one who gave coverage to somebody I did not know how he got his land. But the truth is that the community in question is not even Illushi, it is in Uro.”