10,000 farmers in Ondo state have won a suspension of the ongoing corporate grab of their land. An Ondo State High Court sitting in Ore, headquarters of the Odigbo Local Government Area (LGA) granted them an interim injunction which has paused their planned eviction by SAO Agro-Allied Services Limited, an Abuja-based “investment and multi-disciplinary group of companies”, and the Ondo State government. This was after a mass protest that the farmers organised to protest the land grab in April, during which they blocked the Lagos-Benin Expressway.
The Oluwa forest reserve land occupied by the farmers is located in Odigbo, LGA. The farmers filed the lawsuit after they were forced out of the land by the Amotekun state militia, Oodua’s People’s Congress (OPC), and armed forces of the state who swooped on the land, shooting sporadically as they herded the farmers away from the area, under threat of violence. The farmers were not given notice of eviction and the government refused to heed their demands despite the massive demonstration they organised. Meanwhile, the investment company commenced grading immediately.
The suit filed by Barrister Tope Temokun, the farmers’ lawyer contained a request for “an order of interim injunction” which would restrain “the Defendants/Respondents … and their agents and/or anyone acting … on their instruction or authority, from further grading…the claimants/applicants’ farmlands.”
Justice Ademola Adegoroye presiding over the court in Ore granted the farmers an interim injunction barring the government and its agents from taking further action on the land. The interim injunction means the parties must maintain the status quo until the court has ruled on the matter.
In 2022, under similar circumstances, an injunction was granted to farmers in the Idanre forest reserve. The defendants of this suit- also filed by Tope Temokun, an activist and member of the Take It Back movement – were “Capital Management Limited, Ondo State Government, Attorney-General, Commissioner for Justice in the State, and Ministry of Agriculture”. This land was reportedly sold to unnamed Chinese investors.
The Ondo State government has been undertaking evictions without notice on behalf of investors, most of which represent imperialist interests.
It has used intimidation and the threat of violence by the ethnic-vigilante forces, Amotekun and OPC. This is usually followed by immediate grading and excavation of the land without giving the farmers time to harvest crops they had spent time, labour, and money to cultivate.
The 2022 case has not seen any new developments so far. However, the farmers continue to protest their unjust treatment and vilification by state agents. Tope Temokun argued that the government should follow due process and give adequate notice before evicting farmers who pay rent to the farm in the forest reserve. The efforts of activist lawyers like Temokun are invaluable. But the unfolding battles against land grab will not be won at the court of law, even though this is an important arena of the struggle. The farmers will have to deepen their political struggle. And they need our support.
The 10,000 farmers in the current case have been on these ten thousand-hectare plots of farmland for several years, with some of them being there for up to two decades. And they pay annual rents to the state, for them to cultivate crops such as cocoa, banana, cashew, yam, and cassava. In addition, they were made to pay N4,000 for registration before being granted access to the farmland.
Despite their compliance with due process, lawful occupation, and economic contribution, they are maligned and disparaged as “encroachers” and “poachers” by the state Commissioner for Information, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju. This disdain towards farmers for the sake of wealthy investors is emblematic of the disregard for the labour and service of working people by the ruling class and their imperialist masters.
It also shows the falsity of any argument that ethnic militia promote the interest of the people. It demonstrates that their loyalties are not to the people with whom they share ethnic affiliation despite the branding and posturing. It reveals that lacking concrete revolutionary ideology and principles, ultimately they will submit themselves as weapons of the bosses against working-class people. What is needed for defence by the masses are they themselves, the working people in our communities and workplaces in arms and not a band of armed men or the other, who claim to fight for us.
We as SWL continue to stand with the farmers as they challenge their wrongful eviction and appalling treatment. And we will continue to support all efforts against land grabbing and all other imperialist and capitalist attacks on working people.
by Iretimide Esther OSUNYIKANMI