There have been desperate, well-coordinated and very loud denials, rebuttals and disclaimers from the Imo State House of Assembly on the one hand, the sponsor of the bill, Hon. Uju Onwudiwe and her aides on the other. What the parties involved have succeeded in doing is to allegedly tinker with the title of this bill to deceive the gullible, while the contents have remained the same, and pathetically obnoxious.
The first time I read about a grazing bill being debated on the floors of the Imo State House of Assembly, the information came from a group of online friends who are mostly from other parts of Nigeria other than the Southeast, when I took them on, they brought up some evidence to back their claims up, but I still had my doubts, and refused to come public with any opinion on the matter till I have confirmed certain basics. The alleged sponsor of the bill is not one of the Imo lawmakers notorious for being used as mercenaries to shackle the State.
When this issue trended on the social media for some time without any input from me, some of my friends started sending private messages to me, enquiring on what has gone wrong with me. Some of these friends even went as far insinuating that I am one of those bribed by the legislator and some officials of the State Government to keep quiet over the bill, so that it will sail through without trouble. When a fellow movie maker and Thespian, Chima Okereke took me up on that, I knew that the issue must really be a serious one and needed to be tackled. I never believed any Igbo, no matter the incentives would accept to smuggle in a bill that intends to snatch peoples’ lands from them and possibly give those lands to strangers, who may eventually attempt to keep those lands for themselves and possibly eject or at least, attempt to evict the original owners of the land from here. When I demanded for and got a soft copy of the bill from my friend, I could not believe what my eyes read.
The Bill which pretends to be innocuous and goes by the deceitful title of“BILL FOR A LAW TO ESTABLISH AGRICULTURAL ESTATES AND FARM SETTLEMENTS IN THE THREE GEOPOLITICAL ZONES OF IMO STATE TO INCREASE, IMPROVE AND ENHANCE THE PRODUCTION OF FOOD AND CASH CROPS, LIVESTOCK, POULTRY, FISHERY AND DAIRY AND FOR OTHER MATTERS CONNECTED THEREWITH, 2016, is a very dangerous legislative document which must not be allowed by any sane legislature to pass. Should this House of Assembly led by Rt. Hon. Acho Ihim do the unthinkable by passing this highly vesicant piece of poison called a bill, then, they would have made it clear before the whole world that they are ready to sacrifice the future of an entire people and sell Imo people off into slavery for the smallest peanut.
While I was still battling to believe that the piece of pernicious document I have in my Facebook inbox is actually real and came from an individual who claims to be a true born Igbo lady, a slight ray of hope came by in the form of another private message from one Iheanyi Enwerem who signs off as a Media Adviser to the sponsor of the bill. In the private message, the young man tried to convince me that the bill in question has nothing to do with any Grazing Bill, anywhere, rather it was targeted at ensuring a massive improvement in our agricultural yield. He invite me to the office of the Honourable Member representing Isu State Constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly, for an opportunity to interact with the woman we liked to call Igolo PPA, around 2007, when she was one of the most loyal PPA members, and who tried to convince some of us that she was actually a true Igbo woman who likes to identify with anything that guarantees the progress of the Igbo nation. I had a very busy schedule around the time he wanted me to come around, but I had to cancel some of the scenes I had to record that day in my movie and met the young man at a popular eatery in the heart of Owerri, where I got a copy of the bill from him.
The first page of the bill discouraged me as it is the same with the one I got online from my friend, however I retained some hope that the main proposals in the bill will be different from what I saw online. In my curiosity, I found myself reading up the entire eleven paged document in less than one hour, for the first time. i took a longer time in reading it the second time, and I became afraid for the Igbo nation. If anybody can append his or her signature to this piece of poison for any amount of gratification in the world, it means that if the same person who put her signature to the bill as the Chief Sponsor of the bill is paid the right money tomorrow or even assured of better things in the future she will poison the entire Igbo land.
The first Article in the proposed bill makes it clear as a bill being sponsored from the wrong quarters to empower some individuals from within and outside the State to use the instrument of this law to take over all the arable lands in the State for some bogus ‘farming’ businesses. In Part two, Article three, section one of the bill, the sponsor of the bill laid it bare before any discerning mind that she is out to help the government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha and his cronies forcefully, acquire the lands of ordinary Imolites. Hear Uju Onwudiwe’s proposal: “The Governor shall by special instrument acquire PRODUCTIVE lands in all the three Geo-political Zones of the State for the purpose of establishing Agricultural Estates and Farm Settlements.” We need to ask Hon. Uju Onwudiwe whose closeness to the Governor is well known, what that special instrument shall be and which land in Imo State is not productive. By this provision, it is clear that no land in Imo State is safe from the hands of these land grabbers, because every land in Imo State is productive.
In section five of the same Part Two of this noxious bill, the reason for rightly terming the bill a Grazing Bill is established. That section reads thus: “The Agricultural Estates and Farm Settlements when established shall maintain operational offices in Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe geo-political zones which shall coordinate operations of the Farm Settlements for the purpose of the production of food and cash crops, livestock, poultry, fishery and Dairy and for the employment and empowerment of women and youths.” Somehow, Uju Onwudiwe believes that Imolites are not intelligent enough to know when they are being led to the slaughter. When has Imo State become a dairy producing center or State? If Uju Onwudiwe was being sincere, she would have come out plain to tell us that she was proposing a Grazing Reserve or cattle ranches across the State, instead of smuggling that in in the name of dairy products. How do we get dairy, if not from cattle? Which people are mostly known for their cattle rearing lifestyle? The Hausa/Fulani. The bill simply intends to snatch our lands from us and cede them to some individuals from outside the State.
This bill also proposes a Public Private Partnership as one of the ways of generating funds for the Agency and ensuring that the operations of the Agency run smoothly without any hitches. This is another reason to believe that this bill, as confusingly titled as it is, is actually a Grazing Bill targeted at snatching majority of the lands owned by our people and giving them to some of the cronies and relatives of the Governor.
The Governor, we are fully aware grew up in the North and has most of his friends from that part of the country and he considers his Northern friends and political compatriots more valuable than his friends and compatriots from this part of the country. A good number of the concession and privatization exercises carried out since the coming of Okorocha as Governor have benefited his friends from the North. While his men and his image makers have labored most vigorously to refute the allegation that some of his friends from Kaduna are have had Imo State Hospitals conceded to them in one of the most bizarre and veiled privatization exercises ever carried out in the history of the State, there are few Imolites who are convinced have bought these denials.
This is one of the reasons why Imolites and indeed the entire people of the Southeast must be really concerned about the following section of this bill. In section 11 subsection 1 (c) of this proposed law, government is expressly allowed to sell off the lands belonging to the ordinary people of Imo State to private individuals no matter where such people are coming from and whatever agreements they may have with the people in question. This section stipulates that the board of the Farm Settlements and Agricultural Estates Agency shall have the power to: “Enter into Public Private Partnership (PPP), agreement with any company; foreign or domestic to manage the Agricultural Estates and Farm Settlements. There is no better way to tell Imolites, that should this bill be allowed to be passed into law, their lands shall no longer be theirs.
It is also curious that at a time when the government in the State is hell bent on downsizing its workforce and privatizing several government Agencies and parastatals, a legislator who is not known to have raised the slightest opposition to that inhuman policy is sponsoring a bill to create a new Agency for the government, which will see the government engaging more people and hence increasing the government’s wage bill. This situation is as curious as it is incredible.
There are people who believe that this bill actually emanated from the Governor, but he was being careful not to have his insignia on it, hence, he handed it over to Hon. Onwudiwe to sponsor on his behalf, this is after it had been taken to some other House members who refused to put their names on the bill.
No matter the explanations this government and the alleged surrogate sponsor of this obnoxious bill gives for it, Imolites and indeed the entire people of Imo State must stand up against this bill. If Hon. Uju Onwudiwe and her sponsors in the executive are keen on making the agricultural sector boom and enhance the chances of food security for our people, then, they should know that there are better ways to achieve this instead of coming to grab the peoples’ lands. The major strategy towards achieving this is by lending support to farmers in the State and providing them with the necessary facilities for their agricultural businesses.
This bill contradicts in no small way, the government’s clear stance on reducing the involvement of government in the running of most public services. Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha has privatized more Agencies and Parastatals than any other Governor in Nigeria, and he was recently quoted as saying that he would not mind privatizing the Imo State University, to ensure more effective service delivery. Is it not ridiculous or do I say insulting that the Governor who privatized a service as essential as water provision would be toying with the idea of getting the government involved in agricultural business which is mostly a private business in all parts of the world.
If Hon. Uju Onwudiwe and her friends in the House are keen on pursuing legislations that will guarantee food security and agricultural boom for our people, they should pass a motion on the floor of the House, compelling the government to invest more in encouraging individuals to go into farming, while providing the necessary facilities and support to those already in the agricultural business. Government should subsidize seedlings, farm equipment and other things that will help farmers prosper in their businesses, while providing quick and unsecured loans to them. this bill is dangerous in all shades and angles and is even more toxic than the so much hated Grazing Reserve Bill.
To summarize, the major targets of this bill are:
To forcefully take away most arable lands from ordinary people of Imo State and either sell or give them away to the cronies of those in government.
To monopolize farming by ensuring that only a select group of highly placed individuals are allowed to farm on a large scale.
To destroy subsistence farming through which many families in the State survive.
To allow the Fulani cattle herders to have unfettered access into our land and in future try to evict us from our land.
To Islamize Imo State, by bringing in the Fulani and Hausa herdsmen who will have equal rights and access and even more opportunities, as they will be in possession of most, if not all the productive lands in the State.
This bill if passed into law will ultimately destroy farming in the State and endanger food security the more as most of these lands when acquired by the government and leased or sold to wealthy individuals will most certainly be converted to residential buildings, hotels and even malls that will have nothing to do with farming . this will ultimately destroy the agricultural sector and make the people die of hunger.
This bill when ultimately passed will deprive the ordinary people of the State ownership of their lands as the only thing needed for government to take over these lands is for the proposed Agricultural and Farm Settlements Agency to mark those lands as productive and the government will quickly take them over. The Land Use Act already leaves a lot of loopholes for that.