By Tunde Akingbondere
Ondo, being a sunshine State has been in the spotlight and centre-stage of trending issues since the unanticipated massacre that greeted the Owo Local Government area of the State in the wake of the month of June, 2022. The gruesome murder of no less than forty human beings and deformation of many others, took place on a holy Sunday at the Saint Francis Catholic Church, Owaluwa, Owo. Though a personal wound to someone, the courageous and irrepressible Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who hails from the town.
Some weeks after the terrible massacre visited on the Owo people, there was the massive protest by the students of the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo. These students trooped out in protest against what they termed the unprofessional conduct of the operatives of the Amotekun Corps, who did not just shoot one of their students but prevented him from having access to good medical attention. They dared the rain, besieged the Alagbaka office of the governor with the body of their colleague.
Amidst these interplay of disastrous happenings and calamities came the sudden reality of the decision of the State government. This decision of his is in the form of a policy that affects the historical people of a strictly agrarian community in the State, Idanre Local Government.
Idanre, bordered by Akure, the State capital, has produced Chief Gabriel Akindeko, an erstwhile Federal Minister of Agriculture and foremost brain behind the establishment of the prestigious Federal University of Technology, Akure in Ondo State. Akindeko died some couple of years ago and had his legacies commemorated with the naming of a lecture theater after him. The theater is still in the premises of the university till today and was named after him.
The community apart from being headed by a prominent Yoruba king, plays a active role in the political and industrial development of the sunshine State, with its huge contribution of cocoa and other cash crops. It was blessed with a large expanse of land which was eventually designated a forest reserve by the colonial government.
The colonial government enjoyed the willful administration of the land in the year 1918, immediately after the formal agreement between the community people and itself. The agreement embodies salient terms of reference, one of them was in the form of a clause which ousts the jurisdiction of the government to issue timber licence to anybody except with the express permission of the Owa of Idanre. The king is at liberty to agree or not.
Meanwhile, the Oluwarotimi Akeredolu-led State government has derogated from this clause or term of reference by proceeding to concession over 40,000 hectares of the land directly inherited by the local Idanre people from their forbears, to some private individuals and officials of the government. He forgot the government was meant to hold the land in trust for the people, while also administering it in the overall interest of Idanre people and the State.
He not just granted the land out to some supposed investors (under the guise of a loan obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria) but proceeded to destroy their properties worth billions of naira. The fallow lands as at the time of putting this up are yet to be explored, nor has the farmers who suffered tremendous damage been compensated.
A legal practitioner who stood in for the Owa of Idanre at the roundtable talks with the State government, Dr. Olugbenga Oke-Samuel, said in respect to the illegal encroachment on the only means of livelihood for over 20,000 Idanre people, “the government is waging a war against Idanre people by alienating a large portion of Idanre kingdom and handling it over to very few people when thousand of our graduates are in that bush farming. Government has not been able to give jobs to people and people don’t want to steal or rob. Rules are made for the benefit of the people, any law or policy made, that is against the people or to compromise their interests. Such a law is an immoral law.”
He further said: “Our position is that if a land is going to be taken according to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999, it should be in public interest. It is not going to be handed over to private individuals or companies. We are saying after those areas have been deforested, nothing has been done in that land by government.
Similarly, the Honourable member representing Idanre Constituency in the House of Assembly, Hon. Festus Akingbaso bluntly maintained that the action is not just immoral but socially and legally unjustifiable. He said Idanre people might be needlessly provoked if the government does not slow down on his decision.
Meanwhile, the frustrated Nigerians of Idanre origin trooped out in protest of the obnoxious policy brought to bear by the government of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu today. He, according to them, not just deprived them of their means of livelihood but brazenly weaponised oppression by chasing them out of their farms, destroying their properties via the instrumentality of the State’s Security forces.
He cannot afford to replicate Ahab, whose covetousness not just pushed into depriving Naboth of his only land, but even wiping out his generation.
Ahab attempted to make Naboth sell his inherited land but was unsuccessful, as Naboth was bound by the creed which says it was wrong to sell an inherited land permanently as at then in Jezreel. It is morally wrong to take advantage of vulnerable Naboth, by not just wiping out his struggles but chasing him out of the world and land.
That which is done in gross violation of the law or stated terms of reference is not done in the interest of the public or its security. The government will have to exercise some restraints and prevent the growth of terrible crimes like kidnapping, robbery and other terrible infractions on the peace of the State. All these are best achieved by allowing Idanre people the access to their ancestral lands.