The leaders of the community have asked the company to vacate their land in the interest of peace, alleging that it was illegally acquired.
Indigenes of Illushi community in Esan South East Local Government Area of Edo State are at loggerheads with a rice farming company, Skaff International Agro Farms Limited, over the acquisition of a vast portion of the community’s land for agricultural purposes by the latter.
Following the development, the community leaders have asked the company to vacate their land in the interest of peace, saying it was illegally acquired.
In a reaction, the rice and rubber plantation firm said it went through the normal channels in collaboration with the government and agencies in charge of approval for a large expanse of land meant for cultivation.
Francis Abamu, a spokesperson for the community, told PREMIUM TIMES that the management of Skaff International Agro Farms Limited connived with the Chairperson of the LGA and other persons in the community to acquire the parcels of land without their knowledge, adding that they no longer have 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.
Mr Abamu said, “This very land in question, before the sales or the lease of this land, the elders are not aware. They did it on their own illegally.
“When the news reached the elders’ forum, they called and asked, before the sales or the lease of this land, the elders of this land were not aware and where is it done and how can this be? They did it without their knowledge. The signing and the sales were done in the bush.
“In ancient times, the agriculturalist who came to this land, they came here, called the elders before they commenced their work.
“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.
“This has been a pain and we are all crying. With what you are seeing, 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 lease to this very Lebanese man and the pain is now very deep in us.
“Now, the youth, the elders, we now resolved that if the Lebanese want to kill everybody in the land, let him go ahead if he can,” he said.
Also, an 80-year-old man, 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 that could lead to the loss of lives and property in the community.
Mr Richard said the youth of the community might be tempted to resort to self-help just to get their land back.
“We beg you that you should help us tell the government, 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 now we are frustrated. And may God not allow us to get frustrated,” Mr Richard added.
However, 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, at the early stage, first I wrote to the Agricultural Development Authority (ADP) to seek their approval and advise who in return wrote me back and welcomed to the idea.
“After my findings, I met with the community, their Highness and over 200 youths from the community and 14 elderly chiefs who then gave their consent and approved with a lot of incentives such as borehole, hospital, schools, scholarship, among others, before I finally met with the government for approval.
Also, Peter Aguele, chairperson of Esan South East LGA, said the allegation of him conniving with the management of the company to take over their land was baseless.
Mr Aguele said council chairpersons 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 sales of the land, you will know that it was transacted over a year before I became the 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.”
In his reaction, Richard Edebiri, the state commissioner for agriculture, could not confirm if the claims of the community were false, but said the government had over the years been partnering investors on agricultural schemes.
“As a government, we have been partnering with investors over the years. However, I will have to consult further on this matter and get back to you,” Mr Edebiri said.