Thirty six communities in Jigawa state have lost their farmlands covering 12,000 hectares to a Chinese company for sugarcane plantation.
The state government gave the farmlands to Messrs Lee Group- based in Kano for N2.1 billion.
The state government has confirmed most of the issues at stake to Daily Trust. However it failed to address some of the critical aspects raised, such as the project’s specific details, and whether it will include a processing plant and other value chain component or the sugar cane will be shipped to China to be processed into sugar and then sent back to Nigeria.
The Chinese firm has also declined comment more than four weeks after taking down questions from our reporter. Its spokesman, Dr. Umar Majia, who requested for the questions was not forthcoming since then.
The firm has already secured a ‘Letter of Grants’ from the government for the project billed to commence in 2022.
The communities are spread across three adjoining local government areas but majority of them are in Gagarawa axis.
The affected communities include fairly big settlements like Medu, Kanyu, Zaro, Danmadi, Kore Balatu, Garin Chiroma, garin Goto, Gagarawa Gari, Kagadama, Wadi Fulani, Garin Giwa Fulani, Saunawa Fulani and Goda. Others include Gayawar Malam, Mutumbi, Mejiwarwa, Furya and Malkaderi.
The communities have mounted strident opposition to the project which they argue will inevitably displace them from their ancestral home for good.
They also accused the government of betrayal of a pre-election promise made by present Governor Muhammadu Badaru Abubakar, when he was running for office not to go ahead with the project initiated by his predecessor, Sule Lamido.
The project started in 2014, when the Chinese company, Messrs Lee group, on the invitation of Lamindo’s administration, surveyed and sought the farmlands in the affected communities for sugar cane plantation.
Concerned residents were at first surprised that the firm settled for the land even though it is not swampy nor is there a river or dam, a common feature of sugar
But they later found out that the seismic survey the company conducted shows the farmlands have enough underground water to serve their purpose for a long period.
At the height of the campaigns for 2015 general elections, then candidate Muhammadu Badaru Abubakar along with others political office seekers visited the communities and were told they could only get the communities’ votes if they would halt the project, a pledge they all agreed to, residents say.
After the election and the subsequent triumph of the APC, the governor reviewed his position on the matter and issued the Chinese company a ‘Letter of Grants.’
The issue generated heated debate and escalation of tensions leading to the suspension of several local chiefs (Known as dakatai) in the affected communities.
They were later reinstated on the condition that they should drop their hostilities and support the project, some farmers said, preferring not to be named.
To reduce tension, the state government through Ministry of Land & Survey also offered to pay what the farmers called ‘insignificant compensation.’
In addition, the communities said the state government’s plan to resettle them in areas already designated as forest and grazing reserves is potentially explosive at a time of recurring deadly farmers and herders clash.
They argued that the government should instead give the Chinese the reserve areas.
Initially the communities under the aegis of Sugarcane Farmers Cooperative Society made effort to negotiate with both the company and the state government, but it did not work out as some of their demands were not met.
In a letter dated 24 October 2016 to the Secretary to the State Government signed by its chairman, Bulama Sunusi Abubakar and the secretary, Muntari Adamu, they appealed to the state government to reconsider the size of the land (12,000 hectares) grabbed for the project stressing that it is too large and not proper to displace all the villages.
Secondly, they considered the compensations (N18, 000 to N60, 000) by the Chinese Company through the Jigawa State Ministry of Land &Survey offered to some farmers as too small. They lamented that the government they elected is promoting the interest of the Chinese over the citizens who own the land.
Last month, hundreds of farmers gathered at Sani Zorro Square in one of the affected communities to express their anger and reaffirm their opposition to the project.
Aminu Mohammed Danmatsayi, one of the communities’ leader told Daily Trust that the opinion of the farmers was that the project has no direct bearing on their lives because no staple food will be cultivated.
He stressed that displacing thousands of farmers and their families from their ancestral land across these communities for one Chinese investor would be a colossal mistake.
They cultivate food crops like millet, sorghum and commercial plants such as sesame and hibiscus which fetch them better money than the sugarcane the company wants the land for.
“We have inherited the farmlands from our forefathers and would like to bequeath it to our children as the custom demands, which Islam also recognises,” he stated.
In the same vein, Ibrahim Aminu from Gagarawa said all the communities do not want the project because it would amount to complete displacement from their homes to unknown lands and throw them in an uncertain future and would distort their lives forever.
He accused their representatives at the state house of assembly for abandoning them despite election promises to halt the project.
Mallam Wada Bello a Fulani man told Daily Trust that he has never seen where government would walk into a land (12,000 hectares) belonging to its people and grab it, not for government development purposes, but for just one private foreign investor.
Mallam Bello said government did not make any effort on resettlement only to recently ask them to relocate to grazing and forest reserves over 20 kilometres away which were designed to solve the farmers-herders conflict.
“We have buried our fathers and our children on these lands which we inherited. I swear we will not watch anybody come with bulldozer to destroy those graves. We are ready to protect and die on our land even now,” he swore.
On his part, Alhassan Gawa lamented that government wants to force them to migrate to the neighbouring state of Bauchi, or even across the border into Niger Republic to live as refugees.
“We have seen how displaced persons are suffering in this country and they want to throw us in that condition, we will not accept it,” Mallam Gawa said.
He pointed out that every effort to get the relevant stakeholders to help them did not yield any result.