The decision by the government of Jigawa State to hand over 12,000 hectares of land spread across four local government areas to a Chinese investor is threatening the livelihood of about 150,000 persons in the state.
The 12,000 hectares are spread across Gagarawa, Taura, Suletankarkar and Garki local government areas of the state.
The state government had in 2014 signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the Lee Group to allocate land to the company to set up a sugarcane plantation with a view to setting up a Sugar factory.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the area recently, locals said if the government insists on carrying out the land grab, 22 largely farming villages and 27 Fulani hamlets will have to give way.
They also said apart from losing their lands, they will not know what to do with their “over three million goats, sheep and cattle” spread across the towns and villages”.
While the villagers are insisting that the government would have to “kill us all” to succeed in taking over their lands, the government is saying there is “no going back” on the decision.
The villagers said most of them voted for the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, principally due to the promises made by various candidates prior to the 2015 elections to “reverse the decision to hand over the lands to a foreigner”.
One of them, Muhammad Danu of Gayar Mallam village said, “We are in serious tension and everyone you see here is in a deep state of shock because of what a government we elected is trying to do to us.
“I am an APC member and I was one of those who campaigned for the party day and night in all the nooks and crannies of our communities.
“The message we passed to the people that convinced them to vote for the APC is that those seeking to govern us have promised to stop the attempt to handover our lands to Mr. Lee.
“What we understand by what Mr. Lee is planning to do with our lands will surely lead us to high rate of poverty, unemployment and subsequently armed robbery and even terrorism,” he said.
THREAT OF VIOLENCE
PREMIUM TIMES met with representatives from over 10 villages in Gayar Malam village. At the meeting, most of the speakers expressed their readiness to defend their lands “with everything at our disposal”.
A former three-time councillor representing the area at Gagarwa Local Government Council, Alhassan Gayawa, advised the government to handle the matter with caution.
“Boko Haram began because of (motorcyclist’s) helmet, there are many associations willing to join us to resist this thing. Anywhere you go now, you see refugees begging for food, that is what the government is planning to turn us to. It will never happen! We are prepared to die rather than allow ourselves turned into refugees, I swear to God almighty,” he said.
Another villager, Wada Bello, said residents were ready to lay down their lives to protect their lands. He expressed shock that the state government is “taking over lands belonging to over 150,000 people and giving it to one person who came from China.”
“Does it mean one person has more value than 150,000 people in the eyes of Jigawa State government?”
Mr. Bello said they will not allow their kids become refugees or be branded as terrorists if they eventually choose to defend their lands.
“We want to raise our children as good, law-abiding citizens. It is through this land that we take care of these children, pay their school fees and eventually help them get married and to also raise their own families.
“What the government is planning to do is not fair and it may lead to the death of thousands of people if they insist. We will never allow them take over our ancestral lands. We will resist it vehemently,” he said.
An elderly Fulani villager, Hassan Gayawa, lamented the government’s relocation plans for the affected villagers.
He said while the government has relocation plans for the native Hausa villages, there was no such plans for the over 20,000 Fulani scattered all over the area.
“Are we not Nigerians too? Every political official or traditional office holder met Fulani people in Gagarawa Local Government. They said Mr. Lee would now use all the surrounding forests, so should we stop cattle herding?”
Mr. Gayawa listed the villages to be affected by the decision to include Yalawa, Maijiruwa, Garin Ciroma, Danmade, Piriya, Goda, Kanyu, Kagadama, Zarom Gaban Giwa, Kore Balatu, Dan Nani, Kore Sabuwa, Wusada, Kore Baba, Nasarawa, Ganji, Kore Karama, Gayawa, Gagarawa, Roni, Ankai, and Mai Zaure.
He said the government had already announced that all the villages alongside 18 Fulani hamlets that have less than forty houses “would be levelled to the ground”.
“They said only villages that have schools and hospitals would be allowed to remain. Where do they want people to go?”
Many of the villagers said the Jigawa State government should learn from neighbouring Kano State.
Wada Bello said in Kura Local Government Area of Kano State, farmers were allowed to keep their lands and cultivate them while the government provides irrigation facilities.
“If you go there now, farming activities is all year round and people only pay the government for water supplied to their farmlands and other implements,” he said.
He said farmers in all the villages are engaged in the cultivation of millet, guinea corn, beans, sesame, cassava and hibiscus.
“At this very spot we are standing, one person cultivated Hibiscus and sold it for N450,000 without even taking it to the market. How can you collect that land from this person and expect peace?” he said.
Mr. Bello called on the governors of neighbouring states such as Kano, Bauchi, Katsina and Yobe to advise Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa “to have a rethink about this plan, otherwise if the situation escalates, it will affect them.”
“Refugees will naturally troop to their states. Both the governors and international organizations should come to our aid before it is too late. Now is the time to nip this thing in the bud,” he said.
All the villagers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES vowed not to accept any compensation from the state government.
“Even those who were forced to collect it are now regretting,” Mr. Bello said.
The villagers also lambasted some of their elected office holders for “siding with the government, except one, Sani Zorro, who represents us at the House of Representatives”.
LAWMAKER RAISES CONCERN
Mr. Zorro had in November 2016 raised the issue of the land grab on the floor of the House.
Speaking under matters of urgent national importance, the lawmaker alleged that the Lee Group planned to seize 15,000 hectares of farmland in Jigawa state.
He said foreign companies under the pretext of investing in Nigeria had displaced a lot of people.
He also said he was disturbed by the land-grabbing activities by Mr. Lee’s group in many states in the North, the latest being its incursion into Jigawa.
The lawmaker said that it was a ploy by the company to forcefully acquire over 15,000 hectares of farmland.
According to Mr. Zorro, the development will dispossess more than 10,000 peasant farmers of their farmlands in over 35 farming communities in Gagarawa Local Government Area of his constituency.
“The company plans to grow sugarcane against the will of majority of the people who own farmlands,” he said.
Mr. Zorro also traced the history of the conflict as it relates to Lee Group in an email response to our inquiry.
He said the Lee Group is only known in the footwear industry, in Kano. He also said the company recruited officials of the Jigawa State Government to influence the allocation of the huge acreage of land, to cultivate sugarcane, sometime in 2014.
“It later turned out that Lee Group established the Great Northern Agribusiness Ltd. with no experience whatsoever in sugarcane production, either in, or out of Nigeria, for Mr. Lee Jnr., heir-apparent to the ailing Mr. Lee Snr., a conglomerate registered in Hong Kong.
“Under a deal shrouded in secrecy, Jigawa’s former Governor, Sule Lamido, acting through his Commissioner of Lands and Survey, granted a certificate of occupancy covering the disputed farmlands on 7th January, 2015, a 40-year letter of grant, ceding the 12,000 hectares of farmlands belonging to peasant farmers, to an otherwise unknown Chinese entity.
“There was no prior consultation with either true owners of the land or elected representatives of the affected people for their consent or counsel before the premeditated confiscation of their land. And, in an attitude more identified with conquering pharaohs than of elected servants of the people, Jigawa’s current governor has chosen to turn a deaf ear to all protestations against the impunity and tyrannical fashion with which he has carried on with the project, contrary to his earlier promise, to revoke it,” Mr. Zorro said.
The lawmaker said some of the affected farmers had already organised themselves and formed the Gagarawa Sugarcane Cooperative Association and have resorted to peaceful and civilized means of seeking justice from the High Court of Jigawa State under Justice Ubale Taura.
“So far, the court has sat four times and the judge has fixed 6/4/2017 for ruling on the farmers’ earlier application for a restraining order against further encroachment on their property by both the state government and the Chinese company as well as for the retention of the status quo ante,” he said.
The Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, while ruling on the motion, had referred it to the House Committee on Judiciary for advice on the next step to be taken on the matter.
NO GOING BACK
Efforts to speak with the government of Jigawa State over the issue were unsuccessful. The spokesperson to Governor Badaru, Bello Zaki, when contacted said he had no “adequate information on the matter to share” with PREMIUM TIMES.
Also, the state commissioner for Lands could not be reached for comments for this story.
Efforts to speak with him at his office in Dutse when PREMIUM TIMES visited were unsuccessful. Aides said that he was out of the state on official assignment and declined to speak on his behalf.
He did not answer several calls to his mobile phone. He also failed to respond to our text messages.
However, an aide of the governor, Ibrahim Hadejia, said the decision on 12,000 hectares, which was initially given to the Lee Group, was inherited from the previous administration.
Mr. Hadejia, who spoke to Daily Trust Newspaper in February, said although the government did promise to halt the project during the 2015 campaigns, the decision had to be reviewed “having realised the importance of the project.”
He was quoted to have said that the government is acting within the law as it relates to the Land Use Act.
He said the fact that the villagers “did not collect their compensation will not stop us. We don’t have to force anybody to accept their compensation cheques.
“The case is in court now where they are challenging overriding public interest. Let’s play on, the law must be allowed to take its course,” he said.
The state Commissioner of Information, Youth, Sports and Culture, Ibrahim Mamser, had on December 3, 2016 informed journalists that the Chinese firm would pay N1.2 billion as compensation to the farmers.
Mr. Mamser, who spoke after a meeting of the State Executive Council that held at Government House, Dutse, did not, however, mention the specific plans for the relocation of those who agreed to accept the financial compensation.
After repeated efforts by PREMIUM TIMES, including a visit to its office in Kano, to get a response from the Lee Group on the apparent land gab, a spokesperson of the Chinese firm referred all questions to the Jigawa State government.
“Please, kindly contact His Excellency the Deputy Governor of Jigawa,whatever he told you is the position of the project,” the spokesperson of the company, Umar Majiya, said in a text response.