INVESTIGATION: How Jigawa Govt’s land grab for Chinese firm threatens livelihood of 150,000 citizens

Jigawa land Owner

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.


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  • Abdullah Musa

    People were used to the practice of government taking over their land for public purposes.
    But to take the land of people to give foreigners is apartheid.
    To convert food-producing land to produce diabetes-stimulating sugarcane is criminal.

    • Galantman

      Yallabai. To be candid I supported the development of industrial scale farming not subsistence farming which has kept us backward for decades. I fully supported the Jigawa state government, but I feel the arrangement should be given a human face where the peasants whose land is used can be part of the whole process so that they benefit immensely. Enough of peasant farming

      • Shahokaya

        May the fate of the poor masses be your visited on you.

        • Galantman

          You did not read my posts properly before you jump into conclusion. So stop this sentiments because you do not love the masses more than me because I’m one of them, my roots are there.
          If you want us to remain as subsistence farmers and be importing food, it’s left to you. God has blessed us with massive land, but our rich people prefer to import everything rather than invest in agric.
          I said the farmers should be carried along, so stop this myopic sentiments

      • Abdullah Musa

        You are a capitalist Galantman.
        But one man’s ancestral property should not be taken by force for the benefit of foreigners.
        But luckily government’s have tenure.

        • Galantman

          Nothing like capitalism. I was a core Marxist, so I’m with the masses more than most Nigerians. We cannot continue with subsistence farming if we are serious about stopping poverty in the North.
          The farmers should be carried along so that they also benefit. We should not allow father, grand father sentiments to cover faces from the stark reality of poverty in the North.
          Subsistence farming cannot feed us and provide extra income for sustenance.

        • Just Me

          Do not forget that our government was planning to allocate landed property from the south of Nigeria to fulani herdsmen, you guys should fight as the south fought the land grab quagmire.

  • Shahokaya

    Just imagine that it is this Sule Lamido that confiscated the peasants land that want to contest for president of Nigeria. God forbid he would hand over the country to foreigners with enough cash to settle him. Where they to be around, both late Aminu Kano and Abubakar Rimi will be cursing the day they mate this fake progressive .

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  • kayode Olufade

    Wow! No matter what one says about this one may come off sounding insensitive. ‘Land grab’ by States is done the world over, but one expects the government to be sensitive to the plight of the people and do their best in either compensating or/and relocating them. A sugar factory will indeed increase the igr of the state via taxes and joint venture agreement. It is sad because if these settlers are asked to produce genuine C of O they might not be able to. Most just settled on unutilized land and claimed it for themselves, Land belongs to the state and the laws give concession to legal occupiers for 100 years: good luck telling that to the average rural dweller. Its a sad one but one that has to happen in the name of ‘progress’ and development. We are in a period where all states are being asked to increase igr, such things are bound to happen but not at the expense of the people. If the politicians can count their votes then their Lives and voices matter. This isn’t an APC, PDP, ATC OE or whatever party thing rather a question of priority. The people of the N/Delta haven’t gone to war even though their land and livelihood are being threatened on the daily to fuel the Nigerian economy. Understanding has to come from all quarters. God bless us all with wisdom

  • ayomi

    And most of these displaced people will end up as beggars in the South, bringing their brand of Islam with them

  • systematic

    which kind of wickedness is this just bcause of selfish interest the want to create another boko haram god the

  • SE&SE Economic Summit

    Are you a Biafran? Are you a Niger Deltan? The 1st ever East & South Conference dubbed South East and South South conference begins on April 4, 2017 in Biafra Republic. UNITY of purpose – Economic, Political, Culture, Military, and Secessionist etc are what we seek. The agenda is clear and irrevocable.

    All great sons and daughters of Biafra and Niger Delta will be there from all professionals – All Comrades in the struggle, Professors Utomi, Umokoro, Soludo etc, etc, etc and past & present incorruptible politicians like President Peter Obi and others. Be there! God bless United Republic of the East & South. We MUST reclaim our region…our country! Our destiny lies in our action or inaction today, Things will never be the same again.

  • SE&SE Economic Summit

    _
    _
    Are you a Biafran? Are you a Niger Deltan? The 1st ever East & South Conference dubbed South East and South South conference begins on April 18, 2017 in Biafra Republic. UNITY of purpose – Economic, Political, Culture, Military, and Secessionist etc are what we seek. The agenda is clear and irrevocable.

    All great sons and daughters of Biafra and Niger Delta will be there from all professionals – All Comrades in the struggle, Professors Utomi, Umokoro, Soludo etc, etc, etc and past & present incorruptible politicians like President Peter Obi and others. Be there! God bless United Republic of the East & South. We MUST reclaim our region…our country! Our destiny lies in our action or inaction today, Things will never be the same again.

  • Haba mallam

    Buhari’s government turn out to be just rubbish, selling its own people to foreign investors.

    • Eluba Inas

      The deal was done under the previous administration, yes that of Jonathan. Learn to read and comprehend first before spitting your hatred.

      • Gary

        So what? Is the current state government barred from reversing the policies of its predecessor that it views as inimical to the interests of the people?
        Isn’t that why we have changes in regimes? Let’s address the issues instead of assigning blame.

        • Eluba Inas

          I think you have equally failed to comprehend in your case the thread started by Haba mallam.
          He has already assigned a blame to the wrong party simply because of his hatred for the party. He totally failed to address the issue and my response was to his outburst.
          As far as the issue is concern I am with you. The present govt should reverse the policy, and go even further and provide the locals with the financing to develop their lands that will support the govt policies on the economy and self reliance.

      • Tommy Soto

        Don’t mind the former gatehouse boys who have graduated to the big house and have access to their master’s computer. 🙂 They are in these comment sections every day.

    • amazing2012

      You must be unaware to have mention the name of the president who is in Abuja.Please visit hospital quickly! Remeber the deal was sign under last administration, akuya !!

  • Gary

    Mallam Aminu Kano is turning in Jos grave reading this. Why would the Jigawa State government seize arable farmland from indigenous peasants and hand it over to a Chinese conglomerate to farm? In Nigeria under representative democracy in 2017?
    A government elected by the people turns round to seize their farmlands and hand them over to foreigners from China? All in the name of raising revenues? Is that morally justified even if legal to a fair-minded human and citizen of Nigeria?

    The Jigawa Governor, likely “lobbied” by the amoral Chinese businessmen, couldn’t find virgin land in Jigawa to please his new-found Asian friends nor organize the local farmers into cooperatives if the goal is to encourage large-scale farming.

    It is easy for me as a Niger Delta to simply shrug and say “welcome to our world” to the farmers of Jigawa. What they are facing is the reality of the peasants and fishing communities have experienced from the despoilation of their lands and livelihoods from decades of oil exploration.
    Sani Abacha, with the help of Justice Auta and Col. Hameed Ali, orchestrated the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa precisely over similar issues of seizing local resources for the benefit of foreign business interests. In their case, Abacha had them killed so Shell could degrade Ogoniland in pursuit of oil drilling. The environmental devastation lives on today while Shell has pulled out of the region in search of new lands to drill and despoil in search oil.
    Shame on you Senator Saraki and Speaker Dogara if under your leadership, the National Assembly allows this craven injustice and oppression of the Jigawa people is allowed to stand.
    The country will collectively pay the price in displaced farmers and herdsmen themselves forcibly encroaching on the lands of their neighbors and worsen the existing communal violence and tensions over grazing lands.

    The Nigerian government allows foreign herdsmen to stroll across our borders to kill our citizens and seize their farmlands for cattle-grazing because they are the President’s kindred.
    Now a state government is taking farmlands from its own citizens for the benefit of farmers from China. The people have voted for a government that is enslaving them to foreigners in their own country.
    Pray tell, what is the benefit of citizenship?