How 33,000 hectares of Cross River cocoa farmland were fraudulently ceded
Government moves to make cocoa an economic mainstay
By Asare Asare, Calabar
A whole lot of issues which militated against the blossoming of cocoa procession in Cross River State, including illegal occupation and ceding of state farmlands to private persons have now come to the open through AljazirahNigeria investigations.
This has made interested government officials and aides to the government to tackle one another thereby exposing several secret deals.
For instance, both the state commissioner for agriculture, Prof Anthony Eneji and the chairman of Technical Management Team of Cocoa who is also special adviser to Governor Ben Ayade, Oscar Ofuka made counter accusations and were short of having altercation as they spoke with AljazirahNigeria recently on the state of agriculture in Cross River.
Ofuka declared, for instance, that the ministry of agriculture illegally gave out 32,000 hectares of cocoa farmlands to a particular family in Ajassor community in the northern part of the state thereby depriving the state of much-needed revenue.
He also spoke about government’s new and purposeful efforts to make cocoa production bounce back in the state.
He pointedly accused the state Cocoa Allocation Committee of ‘mindlessly squandering the cocoa farmlands and the accruable resources.
He said that apart from the 32,000 hectares which officials of state ministry of agriculture shared amongst themselves and sold some to interested parties, when he was appointed as special adviser to the governor on cocoa there was the need to properly streamline cocoa actives.
This, he said, led to the discovery of the ceded lands, although the natives claim they are ancestral lands.
Ofuka said he insisted and presented documents of 1932 which showed that such lands were documented and they actually belong to the state.
“When I was appointed I followed up the issue of lands that were illegally ceded by some government officials. We discovered fake ownership of the 32,000 hectares, and another 13,000 plots which were encroached upon.
“Although these fake owners rose against me yet I maintained my ground and with the backing of the government we have been able to recover these lands, even though they were on war path. Such cannot deter us because we can never cede state lands”, he said.
He added that the landlords of the cocoa communities supported the action.
The special adviser also accused previous governments of allowing cocoa estates and other infrastructure to collapse.
He said following determined efforts made by the government to regenerate and revamp the vast cocoa plantations in the state as a way of diversifying the state economy, Ofuka expressed optimism that cocoa can generate more than N20 million to the state every month.
He also said that following the marching order given by the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade to ensure that production of cocoa in the state hits 500,000 metric tons, they are exploring every technical opportunity to achieve the mandate, and even overtake Ondo State which presently stands as number one in the country.
He said that the state government was now addressing cocoa issue as a serious commodity which can be relied upon.
Towards this end, he said they were meeting with relevant stakeholders constantly to revitalise cocoa business.
“In no distant time, with the current spirit and agricultural revolution, especially in the cocoa sector, we are very determined to boost the economy of the state by making cocoa and other economic crops money spinners. Before now, cocoa was the major economic mainstay of the state.
“With our efforts to rehabilitate, expand and and regenerate cocoa business, old cocoa trees are being replaced. We have 3900 hectares more for cocoa plantations.
“I can certainly say that we have the capacity to generate over N20 million per month to the state. As it is now, we no longer accept second position as cocoa producer in Nigeria”, he said.
The commissioner for agriculture, Prof Anthony Eneji said they truly want to realize full potentials of cocoa
He denied assertions made by Oscar Ofuka, and insisted, for instance, that his ministry did not cede such lands to the Assam family of Ajassor in Etung local government area of the state.
The commissioner also explained that they were working hard to bolster agriculture activities in the state following marching order by the state government to revolutionize the sector for greater yields.
This is why, he said, the government has established the Rice City with an ultra-modern training school. The city is to produce good quality rice since the earlier one, Bansara rice farm in the state went moribund some years ago.
The commissioner hinted that the government has also established rice mill in Ogoja to produce 5 tons, adding that the essence is to stop importing or moving rice to other states.
“We will do rice in the state as a mega business”, he stressed.
“Revolutionizing agriculture in Cross River means that we are partnering with key players in the world. We are giving out small scale loans to many smallholder farmers. With two million hectares of land in the state, we are poised make agriculture a huge business”, he said.