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Ogun community cries out over acquisition of land for cargo airport

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Ewekoro North Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Ogun State.

Residents of Igbin-Ojo, a sleepy community in Ewekoro North Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Ogun State are currently fighting the battle of their lives, to repel attempt by the state government to displace them from their ancestral land, in the name of constructing a cargo airport. 
 
They are not only concerned about the future of their children, but also confused about their survival, as their farmlands, measuring 163.992 hectares (405.222 acres), serving as their main sources of income have been forcibly taken away from them without their knowledge/consent.
 
Cassava farms, pineapple plantations and others, worth millions of naira belonging to individuals resident in Lagos and other major cities across the country were destroyed in the last few weeks. Consequently, fear has enveloped other farmers, including poultry operators who have invested heavily, that in a few weeks their investments would go down the drain. 
 
As caterpillars and bulldozers come in, their fears increase, as nobody knows what would happen next. For now, they have been gnashing their teeth that the proposed airport, which ought to be a blessing, has now become a source of worry.

When The Guardian visited the community recently, anxiety was visible on the distraught residents, who have no land to farm and also are on the verge of being chased away from their abode.

One of the elders in the community, Pa Emmanuel Olukunle Opeagbe, told The Guardian that the entire community had enjoyed absolute ownership of the land from time immemorial to cultivate, develop and also give out some portions to investors until last November, when they discovered that the road, which had been left dilapidated for many years was being rehabilitated.

“On seeing that, we were happy that the long-awaited road construction to link us up with Ibese would soon become a reality. But the second day, November 17, 2017, the former Chairman of Ewekoro Local Council, Mr. Dele Soluade, came into our land with a group of people and a bulldozer. He told our people that the proposed cargo airport would be extended to our area, adding that our community would cease to exist and that we would be relocated. He also told those farming around the area to come and register to get compensation for their crops because government wants to use the land.

“When the news got to us, our Baale, Chief Ademola Tiwalade Adisa, hurriedly ran with some elders to see what exactly was going on. They asked him why he was invading the land. He told them it was government order and brought out a paper he described as government paper.

“On November 24, Soluade came again with a group of fierce-looking thugs who started mapping out another portion of our land. All efforts mustered by us to know the reasons behind his trespass were aborted by him, as he resorted to abusing, harassing, intimidating and threatening that he would bulldoze us with our crops, if we made any attempt to stop him from mapping out the remaining portions of the land.

“To us, it is like taking our land by force because there was no dialogue with us and other affected communities on the development. On hearing that, we applied for land information certificate from the Bureau of Land and Survey at the Governor’s Office, Abeokuta, where we obtained a land information certificate dated December 13, 2017, which confirms clearly that our entire community land covered by the perimeter survey plan is free completely from all known acquisitions,” he said.

Opeagbe who described the development as injustice from a democratically elected government said the large portions of their lands that were initially “compulsorily taken for the project years back are yet to be compensated for. Even though we were not consulted till date, we never protested against it, due to our belief that the proposed project will bring development to our locality and benefit us.

“Soluade came again on December 8, where he coerced our people and tenants to append their signatures on a piece of paper he called government paper but I challenged him, which led to my arrest and the Baale by heavily armed Quick Response Squad (QRS) policemen on December 9. We were taken to a fairly long distance where I was to sign an undertaken at gunpoint that I would not disturb Soluade’s trespass on our land. The Baale was also forced at gunpoint to write an apology over my action the previous day.

“We have reported the case at Itori Police Station, staged a peaceful protest on December 18, which was reported by both print and electronic media and also held a meeting with the incumbent council chairman, Kehinde Adepegba, who was not only shocked but expressed surprise at the development.”

The residents are now living in constant fear of arrest, intimidation, harassment, kidnapping, with the belief that Soluade could make good his threat to bulldoze them anytime with their village and farm crops. “There is threat to sack the Baale, because he is a teacher, nothing must happen to him because he has committed no offence. And if they try to ‘smuggle’ the land in question, there will be problem.”
 
They are currently appealing to the Federal Government, human rights activists, Amnesty International and well-meaning individuals to prevail on the state government to leave their land and make do with the expanse of land initially taken away from them for that same purpose. 

A resident, Mrs. Ebun Ademola, disclosed that there is fear in the entire community, as nobody knows what would happen next. “Economically, the development has “ruined our farming business. We now live in hunger, we were told last year not to farm because of the project. Now our farms have been leveled, our children cannot go to school because we cannot afford to pay school fees. Amosun and Soluade should leave our land and go elsewhere, maybe to their own communities. We don’t want any development that would displace us and jeopardise the future of our children.”

But when Soluade was contacted on phone, he denied the alleged invasion, noting that he was actually representing the state government on the project, which he said when completed would create employment and open up the area for further development.
 
“I am from the area, likewise the governor. My community and that of the governor are also affected. So the allegation is wrong. If you go there, you’ll see things for yourself.
 
“The governor was there last Tuesday and we met the Baale and we told them about the developments. So, I don’t know why I am being accused wrongly.”
 
When told about the land information certificate obtained by the community, which shows the land is free from any acquisition, he said: “I don’t know where they got that.”

Efforts by The Guardian to get the Special Adviser to the Governor/Director General, Bureau of Lands & Survey, Mr. Biyi Ismail, to comment were futile.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dayo Adeneye, who is out of town directed the reporter to speak with the Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Rotimi Durojaye. But he in turn said that Ismail and the Commissioner for Works, Lekan Adegbite, were in the best position to comment.

Calls put across to their mobile phones and text messages, were yet to be acknowledged, as at the time of filing this report.

Meanwhile, the community said they have dragged Soluade to court, to ensure that activities on the said land at the instance of the state government are brought to a stop.


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