The Jigawa State government has launched a ground breaking ceremony preparatory to the take-off of a sugar estate to be developed by a Chinese investor despite protests by the local land owners, whose land were seized for the project.
The state governor, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, who performed the ceremony, said the Social and Economic Impact Assessment conducted on the project indicates that a farmer with two hectares would make a minimum of 350 per cent of his annual farm income from the sugarcane cultivation.
But the lingering crisis over the 12,000 hectares of farmland given to the Chinese investor by the state government is taking a new dimension.
The land, said to have been released for the project, reportedly belongs to peasant farmers in four local government areas of the state.
Apart from the early resistance to the proposed project, the farmers in the affected communities now treat those who collected compensation for their farmlands as betrayers.
Those who collected compensation are now banished from their communities, some of the victims told this reporter.
The $80 million project was conceived after the maiden 2013 Jigawa State Economic Summit. However, the state government as the facilitating organ, faced series of challenges from members of the affected communities, who rejected the taking over of their lands.
The agitating farmers from Gagarawa, Suletankarkar, Garki and Taura local government areas refused to collect cheques for compensation over their farmlands and instead headed to court for redress.
Those considered as betrayers have been barred from taking part in social and economic activities in their respective communities: they can no longer get wives to marry, be invited to marriage or naming ceremonies or even buy or sell anything. Nobody is willing to be identified with them.
During a visit to two of the most affected communities, Gayawar Mallam and Garin Ciroma, our reporter gathered that majority of the locals have vowed not to take even a kobo from government as compensation, insisting that they were not ready to part with their ancestral land.
Speaking to Daily Trust, one of those treated as betrayers and excommunicated, Buhari Hussaini, despite being the district head of Gayawar Mallam, said since he collected his compensation, his subjects have ganged up against him as nobody takes instructions from him any longer, and they no longer exchange pleasantries with him or invite him to any ceremony.
He added that as a traditional leader, he tried hard to sensitise his subjects on the benefit of the project and on the need to give peace a chance.
In order to lead by example, he decided to collect his compensation but shortly afterward, the people under his area of jurisdiction held a meeting and that was how the alliance for vendetta began.
“I am the district head of my village, Gayawar Mallam. But despite my position, I have been excommunicated by people in my domain. Although nobody asked me to leave the village, presently nobody interacts with me simply because I collected my compensation which is legitimately mine.
“If I take my grains for grinding, nobody attends to me. All these are because I collected compensation for my farmland,” he said.
Another person, Rabilu Yunusa, from Garin Ciroma, who has also collected his compensation, said he is facing same challenges.
Unlike other communities, however, he said the level of intimidation was minimal in his community.
He attributed the situation to the fact that about 350 out of the population of over 500 farmland owners from his village had collected their compensation.
When the process of acquiring the 12,000 hectares began, there was a lot of misinformation which, according to him, misled the people from the affected communities, leading to their antagonism against the proposed project.
He said with the current enlightenment by the government, most of the locals have started realizing the benefit of the project.
However, Hassan Suleiman of Garin Ciroma, who is among those who vowed not to take compensation for their farmlands, said only about 30 percent from his village collected their cheques.
He argued that even those that collected their compensation may have done so under duress, alleging that they may have been pressured as they were traditional leaders and civil servants.
Suleiman said: “Seventy percent of people from Garin Ciroma did not collect their compensation. Only those that claimed farmlands that are not theirs and those from royalty signed for their cheques.
“Apart from a mobile cinema on sugarcane estate, there was never a time that the affected people were directly consulted by either the government or the investors on the project.
“We are still apprehensive. Though nobody officially told us some communities would be resettled but there is no assurance that our villages will not be relocated.”
One Zakariyau, also from Garin Ciroma, said he owned 10 hectares of farmland and that he was not ready to collect any amount as compensation because he was not ready to forfeit any part of his land.
In protest over the project, many of the land owners have torn their survey cards which signified one’s ownership of the land earmarked for compensation.
“If government wants to take away our land forcefully, we cannot stop it. But we will not collect any compensation. We only need our land. Whether we are going to be resettled or not, once our farmland, which is our source of livelihood, is taken away, we must relocate,” he said.
In Gayawar Mallam, Ado Idris said they had to be hard on those that collected their cheques in their communities because they saw them as traitors.
He said of the over 500 farmland owners from his community, only four people signed for their cheques and that among them was their district head.
Ada’ilu is another land owner from Gayawar Mallam who vowed not to take a kobo as compensation and says that anyone who signed for cheques from his community was a betrayer and should be handled as such.
He said they were rejecting the project because they were not consulted as affected people.
“We took a common stand on the project. Nobody should agree to the project because everything about the project is against us.
“If it is about development, let the governor take the project to his local government – Babura Local Government Area. Their soil is more suitable for sugarcane production than ours.”
The Head of Advocacy and Strategy Jigawa State Investment Promotion Council otherwise referred to as Jigawa Invest, Jamila Faruk, said the idea of the multi-million dollar project was conceived in June 2013 but that much was not done in the implementation process apart from the sensitization.
Faruk confirmed to this reporter that no community would be resettled and that all rumour in that regard was false.
She said the Jigawa State government adopted the implementation of Land Acquisition and Resettlement Framework (LARF) document which contained policies for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI).
According to her, some surveys were conducted by the investor, emphasizing that the investors had already carried out socio-economic survey and Livelihood Restoration Action Plan and that environmental Impact Assessment would soon be conducted.
Speaking on RAI principles as contained in LARF document, Abdulraham Danbaba, who is the Jigawa State Investment Coordinator for GEMS3, said LARF was a framework that was established by the UN, World Bank, FAO, IFAD, DFID and host of the internationally recognized bodies in close collaboration with the private sector.
The RAI principles recognize and respect right to land of individuals than how it was contained in Land Used Act which gives government too much power to land.
Land Used Act recognizes only development and economy trees for compensation which rate has not been clearly stated.
He said as a Non-Governmental Organization, their role in the project was only that of facilitator and provision of technical expertise on implementation of LARF.
An environmental scientist from the Federal University Dutse, Dr. Umar Ujih, also emphasized on the need for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the commencement of any project.
EIA is yet to be carried out on the multi-billion dollar project despite the fact that the ground breaking ceremony of the project had been conducted last month.