Judex Okoro, Calabar
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and more than 20 communities in Cross River State have raised the alarm over high incidence of land grabbing and displacement of communities from their farmlands.
The communities, including Mbarakom, Akamkpa I, Akpamkpa II and Ekuri, from Akampka and Biase local government areas, and the NGOs, including Environmental Rights Action (ERA) as well as Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), are seeking the establishment of a framework for land acquisition.
According to them, it is the high time the memorandum of understanding (MoU) entered into by the state government, Wilmar PZ and the host communities of Akamkpa and Biase councils, wherein the firm acquired hectares of land for its palm estate 10 years ago, is reviewed.
They also want a stop to illegal dispossession and malpractices in land use/allocation as stipulated in the Land Use Act, Chapter 202 of Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990
The act vested all land compromised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the Federal Government or its agencies) solely in the governor of the state, who would hold such land in trust for the people.
The governor is also responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state and to organisations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes, while similar powers with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on local governments.
Speaking at a two-day session organised by ERA and sponsored by FIAN in Calabar, the executive director of ERA, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, said the Land Use Act of 1978 was defective, hence “we propose the policy brief through this partnership with communities and the lawmakers.”
Ojo said the partnership, which would entail the introduction of a Model Land Use Bill 2019 in the State Assembly, would also help in addressing the lapses identified in land use in the state, like poor administrative system for lands as well as absence of community participation.
He added that the bill would foster community participation in land allocation and also check incidences of land grabbing and displacement of communities or individuals.
He said: “The bill seeks to establish a Land Use and Allocation Management Commission (LUAC) with community representation in the membership, which will initiate programmes and policies for land acquisition and promptly determine grievances or disputes arising from land issues.
“Provide for the prohibition/restriction of acquisition of agricultural land by foreigners to check the incidence of land grabbing and communities’ dispossession/displacement form their farmlands by establishing a framework of land acquisition.
“Provide for human rights protection and access to justice, including freedom of information that should be a part of the land use management system to allow citizens participation and protection of community land rights,” he said.
He noted that the environment was the life of the people and the enactment of the bill by the state assembly would go a long way in protecting the environment and also bequeathing enduring legacies for future generations and humanity at large.
At the event, the chairman of the House Committee on Lands, Hon. Godwin Akwaji, said the bill would go a long way in addressing the challenges associated with land administration, particularly community participation in land use.
He said the House would ensure that the right thing is done in land administration in the state and that the rights of communities are not subjugated.
“A memorandum of understanding in land use is not for a lifetime and any of the parties, particularly the community, can call for its revocation at any point in time.
“If a MOU for land use has not been sighted by members of a community as is the case in some communities in the state, then the lifetime of such has lapsed. We will stop at nothing in ensuring that the right thing is done as there is nowhere in the world where the people’s rights have been subjugated,” he said.
On his part, Charles Egbe, representing Akamkpa State Constituency, said a number of communities in the state have no knowledge about land use and allocation in their localities, emphasising that the model legislation would address such challenges.
Similarly, a community leader from Akampka, Chief Emmanuel Effiong, said it was time to carry out a comprehensive review of the agreement between host communities and Wilmar and government to make it implementable.