By Mohammed Musa —
The Hausa definition of the English word “citizen” is “dankasa” which literally means “son of the soil”. This clearly underlines the importance of land to the concept of citizenship. A state can only be a state if it has clearly defined territory and a citizen can only be a citizen if he or she can show attachment to a defined land in a territory. The perennial conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is basically about land. After human beings, the most important asset of any society or nation is land. Land is also one of the most finite resources that has hardly been increased since its creation.
It is against this background that what is currently happening in Jigawa State with regard to a Chinese investor, Mr Lee, and the unjustified attempt by the Jigawa State government to give 12,000 hectares of land to him becomes of great importance. Mr Lee and his group want to use the land to grow sugar cane. The land traverses Gagarawa, Sule Tankarkar, Garki and Taura local government areas of Jigawa State. Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa, who has had a lot of business interests with the Chinese even before he became governor, is insisting on depriving the peasant farmers of their ancestral land to ensure that the project of Mr Lee comes to fruition at all cost.
There is strong resistance against the project in the affected communities. Farmers in these communities now treat those who collected compensation for their farmlands as betrayers and are banished from their communities. These betrayers are being ostracised from every communal activity including marriage. Many of the locals have vowed not to take any compensation for their ancestral land. Instead of collecting cheques for compensation over their lands, cheques that are in some cases as little as N10, 000 they have headed to the courts to seek redress.
One of the farmers, Husseini Suleiman of Garin Ciroma, said only about 30% from his community had collected their cheques and that even those who collected may have done so under duress, alleging that they might have been pressured as they were traditional leaders and civil servants. Mallam Buhari Hussaini, one of those treated as betrayers, said that despite being the district head of Gayawar Mallam, since he collected his compensation, his subjects have ganged up against him as nobody takes instructions from him any longer, and they no longer exchange pleasantries with him or invite him to any ceremony. He said he wanted to lead by example but ended up being excommunicated completely.
In Gayawar Mallam community, out of over 500 farmland owners, only four were said to have collected compensation and these are viewed as traitors. Mallam Ada’ilu from that community was quoted by a newspaper reporter as saying, “We took a common stand on the project. Nobody should agree to the project because everything about the project is against us. If it is about development, let the governor take the project to his local government – Babura local government area. Their soil is more suitable for sugarcane production than ours.”
This issue of land is a very sensitive and delicate matter. It is even a national security issue since it is at the heart of the existence of the people whose only asset is their land. It needs recalling that many farmers lost their lives during the Shagari administration over their protest on the Bakalori dam project in Sokoto State. Farming is the only occupation the rural people know and depriving them of their farmland will only turn them into paupers and criminals. We are still grappling with the issue of nomadism; how can we cope with the fallout of deprivation of these farmers? Where will they go to if their land is confiscated from them?
In any case, all over the world sugar is now viewed as poison because it causes diabetes which is becoming rampant now. I know of no Chinese who drinks tea with sugar. Our population is increasing exponentially by the day and we are importing food using our scarce foreign exchange. Why can’t these so-called “investors” help our local farmers to grow more food on their lands by themselves instead of taking it away to grow poisonous sugar?
In a related development, the federal government has said through the director-general of Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Dr. Husseini Ibrahim, that rampant logging of rosewood trees across the country by some Chinese and their Nigerian collaborators is depleting Nigerian forest resources. He said the Chinese businessmen were exploiting a lax regulating and enforcement environment as well as loopholes in existing laws which have culminated in the harvesting and exporting of thousands of logs to China since 2013. The illegal trade which according to him gulped more than $1.3billion in West Africa alone is decimating forests.
“Since 2011, the Chinese traders have been moving from one West African country to the other in search of rosewood. They started from the Gambia which became the largest exporter from the sub-region to China. As supplies dwindled in the Gambia following export ban, traders started exploiting Guinea Bissau, Togo, Benin, Ghana and, recently, Nigeria. In 2014, more than 30,000 Chinese companies traded in rosewood products, generating domestic retail revenues of over $25 billion”, said Dr Ibrahim.
There has to be a collective African response to this land issue, since Africa controls over 60% of the arable land in the world and every “investor” is trying to grab from this rich land. At state, national and continental levels there is need to come out with a coherent policy on land and every community has the right to control its land which is its biggest asset after its people and no one from elsewhere should dispossess them of their land in the name of any investment.
Governor Badaru has just said that anyone who opposes his deal with the Chinese is mischievous. Let him be reminded that the people made him governor and if the people do not want him to take their land and give to a so-called investor, he has to succumb to the wishes of the people. In any case the matter is in court and I am appealing to well-meaning legal practitioners to come to the aid of these powerless farmers before the might of Badaru’s government and Mr Lee’s dollar dispossess and deprive them of their only possession – land.
It must be put on record that a member of the House of Representatives representing the affected communities in Jigawa, Hon. Sani Zorro, has stood up for the right of his people not to be dispossessed of their land by a so-called “investor” working with compromised government officials. This is a most commendable example of effective representation. Hon. Zorro is always known to be pro-people, pro-poor and pro what is right and proper. Jigawa is one of the most peaceful and most harmonious states in Nigeria. Badaru should listen to the people and do what is right: give back the land to the owners of the land and let sleeping camels lie.
*Musa writes from Maitama, FCT Abuja