Ajaji community decry illegal acquisition of its farmland by Delta govt
By Nosa Akenzua, Asaba
The people of Ajaji community in Illah, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta has decried what it called illegal acquisition of its farmland by the state government.
The community, rising from a meeting, which was presided over by its head, Diokpa Frances Chukwurah, on Wednesday, embarked on a peaceful protest at Northsworthy Investment, a multi – billion Naira oil palm company located at a forest reserve in the area.
The people said that the investor, Northsworthy Investment, had unduly encroached into Ajaji land outside the forest reserve assigned to it, thereby, causing the community famers to vacate their farmland, and crops at the mercy of the bulldozer.
The community spokesperson, who doubles as the Odogwu (War Lord) of Ajaji community, Prince Ugo Chima, said that the issues were still being discussed with government when suddenly, bulldozers were deployed to continue with deforestation and destruction of farmlands and crops at the site.
He said that the breach caught the attention of the community, hence, the peaceful protest to call for a halt of activities at the site pending the determination of the issues between government and Ajaji community in Illah.
He said that the land in question was owned by three communities; Ajaji-Illah, Ogbe Onihe -Akwukwu-Igbo and Ugbolu, adding that the recent survey showed that the larger portion belong to Ajaji community. He said that the community, on February 20, this year, sent a protest letter to the governor in that regard, adding that the peaceful protest was to draw government attention to the further encroachment and to forestall breakdown of law.
“We, the Ajaji community of Illah, is an autonomous community as it is with all the nine villages that make up Illah.
“Historically, there was a land dispute among the three communities namely; Ajaji-Illah, Ogbe Onihe-Akwukwu and Ugbolu and as a means of resolving the dispute, the then regional government declared the area as forest reserve.
“About two years ago, our community was invited to a ground – breaking ceremony of a farm project at the forest reserve by the state government. It was sad, however, that the ground -breaking progressed with our community (Ajaji-Illah) with about 90 per cent of the land area (forest reserve) was not recognised.
“Thereafter, there was communication breakdown between us and the government; we later observed that a company known as Northsworthy Investment had started clearing the land.
“Without any further engagement, we observed that the company had encroached into a vast area of our land outside the forest reserve; this assertion is confirmed by government’s survey plan,” he said.
Chima said that Ajaji community frowned at the mention that Akwukwu-Igbo was the official address and location of the forest reserve. He said that with the de -reservation of the forest, the land area would have been reverted to its original owners, but expressed pain that the land was, instead, leased to a private company as against the Land Use Act.
“It is our prayer that the governor direct the company to steer clear our land outside the forest reserve. Further activities at the project site should be suspended pending the resolution of identified grey areas.
“And that 90 per cent of the land area by Ajaji -Illah should reflect in the entire dominance of the equity accruals of all the ancillary advantages,” Chima said.
Responding, Dr Kingsley Emu, Chief Economic Adviser to Gov. Ifeanyi Olkowa of the state, said that by law, the state government has the exclusive right to manage the forest reserve. He said, however, that there is ongoing joint review by the government lawyer and the Ajaji community lawyer as regard the land area.
Some of the inscriptions on community placards read: “Our land is our heritage; Okowa, call Northsworthy to order;” “Ajaji community deserves justice.”