Tension is rising in Gagarawa Local Government Area of Jigawa State as residents alleged constant arrest and police brutality following their protest of alleged seizure of their farmlands.
Mu’azu Jibrin, a resident, said they live in constant fear of arrest and intimidation by the state authorities after they rejected and protested against the seizure of their farmlands.
The state government years ago allocated 12,000 hectares to a Chinese firm, Lee Group of Companies, for a sugarcane plantation. The allocated land extends across four local government areas in the state.
The pilot stage of the plantation has started at Garin Ciroma community in Gagarawa LGA. The community is the host of the main project of the plantation, and many Chinese and Nigerian workers are already on site.
The state government had to call in the police recently after the communities allegedly chased away the Chinese nationals from their farmlands. The locals alleged that the police arrested many villagers in the incident.
The communities had rejected monetary compensation by the state government and vowed to continue to farm their lands.
When PREMIUM TIMES’ correspondent visited Garin Ciroma, he saw dozens of armed mobile police officers stationed at the sugarcane plantation.
Sa’adu Audu is one of the residents detained by the police for four days over the unrest in the area.
“We were invited by the Gagarawa DPO who told us that he was directed to take us to police headquarters in Dutse. We were detained for four days and later released on bail. Our crime is that we sent away a Chinese working on our farmland,” he said.
Isa Ardo, another resident, told PREMIUM TIMES that the state government deployed five truckloads of mobile police operatives to their settlement in Tudun Fulani.
“We were asked to vacate the area without monetary compensation.
“I am 55 years old. Even my grandfather was born here, we settled here for more than a century ago and this is the only place we have been farming and rearing cows.
“We were told to leave because they want to plant sugarcane. They showed us where to go and settle, but they did not give us money for compensation. Government officials are also collecting money from us before we can build a hut in the area we have been taken to,” Mr Ardo said.
The police spokesperson in Jigawa, Audu Jinjiri, declined to respond to the allegations. He said the issue had been politicised.
The state’s police commissioner, Bala Senchi, was on an official assignment outside the state at the time of this report.
Why we’re against the project – Residents
Rabiu Musa, a 58-year-old resident of Garin Ciroma, spoke on behalf of other residents. He said the project was conceived by a former governor, Sule Lamido. Mr Lamido was governor of the state between 2007 and 2015.
He said the whole community rejected the project because it focussed only on sugarcane plantation, while the residents have grown a variety of food crops over the years as their means of livelihood.
“The incumbent governor, Mohammad Badaru, and the members representing Gagarawa and Gumel, and Maigatari federal constituencies, Sule Tankar-kar and Sani Zorro respectively, while on electioneering campaigns in 2015 told us that the entire project was a fraud against the locals. They said seizing our farmlands amounted to seizing the lives of the locals.
“This is one of the reasons why Badaru and Zorro were supported in the area. More importantly, we believed and trusted the governor because of his experience and he appeared to be a gentleman because of the beard he wears.
However, he was the first to swallow his words, siding with the Chinese people to our own detriment. Now it is only Mr Zorro who stood by his words, over time, fighting alongside the deprived,” Mr Musa said.
He said the state government had earlier told the affected communities that the company would channel potable water from Hantsu community in Miga Local Government Area to serve the water need of all the communities.
“However, the company has dug multiple wells serving only the sugarcane plantation, neglecting the communities around,” Mr Musa said.
“Also, they said the project is similar to that of Kadawa irrigation valley in Kano. We later learnt that it is a blatant lie. Because in that of Kano, those who complained about the project are the farmers whose farmlands were affected by the water channel. No farmland was seized and there was the sincerity of purpose because the then government wanted to economically empower the farmers.
“The system in Jigawa is a capitalist capital expansion. They completely seized our farmland and they want us to work on the plantation to produce sugarcane and to be sold to them at a price to be determined by them. We’re going to hold the horns while they milk the economic cow.
“We cannot be slaves on our own land.”
Mu’azu Jibrin, a resident of Dan-Nani community, is also affected by the project. He said the people working on the pilot stage of the plantation, work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and are paid N600.
“Many people are running away because they learnt that they wanted to use them as cheap labour.
Auwalu Garin-Ciroma, a motorcyclist, said the entire project is meant to exploit the residents.
“The compensation is inadequate I knew people who were given N10,000 each as compensation. When they complained, they told them that their farmland has no multiple tree plantation.
“Other residents are against the project because of the poor monetary compensation. They are paying N30,000 per hectare of land. That is why many are fighting against the project and we are ready to fight to the last drop of our blood unless justice is done.
“Only a few people accepted the compensation and the same people are dubiously deceiving the government by collecting multiple compensation using other people’s land number, disguising as the real owners of the farmlands,” the motorcyclist said.
Earlier, the state’s deputy governor, Ibrahim Hassan, told reporters that the government had gone beyond the provisions of the Land Use Act just to help the people.
He said, under the Act, the governor can take the land and give it to the company in overriding public interest.
Mr Hassaan admitted that the Act encourages compensation for original owners of seized farmlands, but said the governor could not be sued if he only pays stipends to such owners.
“If a (piece of) land is worth N100 million and the governor decided to give N10,000, no one can question him and no one can sue him,” Mr Hassan said.
“The compensation policy is not about money; it is for livelihood guarantee. If you give a peasant farmer N1 million compensation, you will create more problem for him because somebody that has never had N5,000 in his lifetime and you give him that amount of money, he will lose up to 90 per cent of the money to fraudsters or he is going to mismanage it,” the deputy governor said.
The deputy governor also spoke on the revolt of the locals over the plantation project.
“There are 12 villages in the heart of the 12,000 hectares of the Sugarcane plantation. Lee Group once complained about the revolt from the locals, possibly to set ablaze the sugarcane farm in an act of sabotage. But we told them to engage the villagers to work on the plantation. With this, no one will think of destroying the sugarcane farm because they are the direct beneficiaries of the activity going on there. There’s no danger that they will put fire on the farm.
“The project has a turnover of over N100billion per annum. The investor is doing the state a favour by coming to invest in the state. Gagarawa is sandy soil area. It is the only part of Jigawa that doesn’t practice two seasons agriculture,” Mr Hassan said.