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Some cocoa farmers in various settlements of Oluwa forest reserve in Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State, yesterday, protested the state government’s alleged sale of their farmland to a private company owned by public office holders.

The protesters who gathered at Akure, explained that for over 30 years, they’ve been farming in the various settlements grouped into camps comprising Ijoba, Sete II, Ipade, Ayeleso, Isero, Temidire, Adeleye Itamerin and other sub-camps and had been paying their dues to the state government agencies for farming on the government reserve.

To be precise, the farmers said they occupy eight camps of the community on 2,000 acres of land, where they cultivated over two million cocoa trees, palm trees, yam, cocoyam, maize, tomato, cucumber among other crops.

Leader of the protesters, Abayomi Rotimi, said with the severe hunger ravaging residents of the State and Nigerians as a whole, the State government should rescind its decision and also consider their means of livelihood of the over 10,000 farmers.

He alleged that the company to which their plantations were sold had stormed their farms with earth-moving equipment to uproot their cocoa trees, kola nut, palm trees and other crops.

“We are cocoa farmers, tenants of the Ondo State government, farming in the Oluwa forest reserve who have now sued as claimants in suit No. HOR//2024 – Irewole Muse and Others VS Ondo State Government and Others, filed over sale of the farmlands rented out to us by the Ondo State government leading to threat of forceful eviction of our members by ACME Palms Limited from our cultivated cocoa farmlands on the ground that it has purchased the government forest reserve for the cultivation of oil palm trees.

“This private company incorporated in July 2020, in Nigeria with RC NO. 1698827, armed with a Certificate Of Occupancy issued by the Ondo State government, dated 23rd of July 2021 and registered as No.59 at page 59 in Volume 767 of the Lands Registry of Ondo State, over about 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land the company purportedly bought from the Ondo State government has entered into the forest reserve to commence process of grading and forceful taking over of the forest reserve where about ten thousand farmers, who are Ondo State government tenants, have cultivated over two million cocoa trees prior to this alleged sale.”

Also speaking, lawyer to the farmers, Tope Temokun, said the government could grant permission or licence to people to farm in the forest reserve but believed government’s forest reserve land could not be sold outrightly to private investor.

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“Our findings have unearthed shady deals, potential conflicts of interest and compromise of public interest, the interest of the people of Ondo State and integrity of the entire process of this sale of government forest land to these private investors.

“In 2021 when ACME Palms Limited bought about 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land and obtained a Certificate of Occupancy,” he added.

Temokun, noted that, another case of conflict of interest was the fact that ACME Mercury Limited incorporated in Nigeria in 2014, with RC NO. 1216648 is one of the shareholders who owns the largest and controlling shares in ACME Palms Limited, which was incorporated in July 2020 and within a year of its incorporation, in July 2021, ACME Palms Limited purportedly bought 2000.482 hectares of the Ondo State Government forest reserve land obtained a certificate of occupancy over same.

“Curiously again, ACME Mercury Limited is a private company jointly owned by a government official and his son where they both own the shares of 960,000 and 40,000 shares, respectively and interestingly.”

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