The phenomena commonly referred to as African land grab has finally arrived Nigeria after stops termed as ‘revolution-mischance” in Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Tanzania. The euphoria of signing memorandum of understanding with foreign investors’ times without number has led to the 21st century slavery under the guise of foreign investments where African fertile lands are turned to African plantation with local farmers becoming slaves on lands that were once before their ancestors. Many ask if the influx of these foreign investors is not a repeat of the ‘Mirror Exchange Colonial Scam’ where cheap fertile lands are grabbed cheaply and polluted in exchange for mere promises of a better life in terms of employment, poverty and education – basic amenities these rurals would willingly give up their lands for and facilitated by the dishonest middleman – the government.
Are these misconceptions related to poor communication, cultural and social misunderstanding and political involvement or these are no misconceptions but a clear case of shameful exploitation?
In February, 2012, the government through the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Adesina had signed a Joint Venture Agreement on Commercial Rice farming with Calvin Burgess, owner and principal promoter of the Oklahoma-based Dominion Farms Limited.  He had said that the Memorandum of Understanding was a culmination of investment drive in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda by directly building on the Transformation Agenda. The farm site covers 30,000 hectares of Gassol swamps in Gassol Local Government Area of Taraba state, adjacent to Taraba River for full irrigation and is capable of producing 2.4 crop cycles per year. In a press release, the Minister said the farm when completed will require up to 15,000 well trained men and women working daily with 90 per cent of the land available for contract farmers, and the remainder utilized as a corporate farm and for educational training purposes by the lead investor. The need to transfer lands to Dominion Farms who in turn leases out farmland to contract indigenous farmers is largely unclear and as usual filled with ambiguities that benefit the investor and the middle man. A better arrangement can be made as regards this.
Although the number of years under consideration was not revealed, the briefing stated that 300,000 tonnes of rice will be produced annually for the Nigerian marketplace, which currently imports approximately 2,000,000 tonnes of rice annually, thereby offsetting 15 per cent of imports.
However, a year later, the Taraba State government’s assurance for immediate construction of training center, grain storage silos, rice parboiling plant, rice milling plant, rice storage warehouse, offices, maintenance workshops, aircraft hangar and runway, weigh bridge, housing compound, and a power plant is yet to fully commence and 3000 titled farmers yet to receive any form of compensation for improvements on land.
The Yala swamp, one of Kenya’s biodiversity hotspots utilized the wetland’s natural resources to support their families and secure their livelihoods before Dominion Farms leased it for 45 years in 2003 leaving the local residents in poor conditions and highly polluted environment. This scenario is playing out itself again in Gassol swamps of Taraba state where locals are greatly entrenched in the land they live on, part of which they will no longer be allowed to access.
Human Rights Watch says it has evidence that some 70,000 indigenous people in the western Gambella region (in Ethiopia) were relocated against their will to new villages that "lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities as against promises to put residents in the same or better positions I dare ask; should the LAND USE ACT CAP 202 L.F.N. 1990 ACT CAP L5 L.F.N. 2004 which vests all land comprised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal Government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State to hold such land in trust for the people and be responsible for allocation of land abuse the basic human right of indigenes surviving on these lands long before the act was established? Does it seem fair to drive local residents out of their lands without proper, prompt and adequate compensation, and default on the promise for better existence? I say no.
50 young Nigerians left for Kenya for a six months course in modern farming techniques, including tractor operation, irrigation systems, farm management, and equipment repair; rice processing, and team building according to provisions in the memodandum and some returned with health complications and no take-off allowance as agreed on. On the condition of Kenyan contract workers on farm, trainees said they lived in poverty. Indeed the Nigerian government must be extremely vigilant to avoid a repeat occurence recorded in Kenya where livestocks died from polluted water, several cases of miscarriages and health complication of the local populace. Mr Ifraim I. Kifasi, Permanent Secretary of Taraba's State Ministry of Agriculture said he was not aware of these issues before - a show of negligence. It is reported that no environmental impact assessment on Dominion Farms has been carried out and one wonders if this is not another hogwash meant to delude the people.
"Hundreds of investors from all over the world rushing to Africa - lured by cheap land prices, availability of land - all for the sake of taking over these productive lands to be able to grow foods for exports. Our research and reports by other human rights organisations - shows that this is happening at the expense of the most vulnerable people" - Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute's executive director.
The government while in a haste to shake hands with investors on good intentions is advised to carry out an extensive Cost Benefit Analysis, put up solid frameworks to guide every phase of the project and provide an adequate and easy transition for residents by involving immediate inhabitants of the land and intimating the citizenry on processes and terms of engagement, fulfilling its covenants such as prompt and adequate payment of compensable values and monitoring operations of Dominion Farms.
Several persons has called for African government to lease or sell lands to foreign investors based on some terms, most worthy of note are; sales exclusion of lands containing natural resources, water, gas, oil, manganese, cobalt, gold and diamonds, true reflection of land value in price, exclusion of tax payer monies in developing infrastructure on the leased land, application of indigenous laws on sold or leased lands, high percentage share of production for local consumption, good working conditions for employees and an adequate and prompt compensation paid before the sale or lease is finalized.
On issues of employment, food security, agricultural education and knowledge transfer, all stakeholders must be duly informed of the size, plans, activities, investment, employment opportunities, and environmental approach. Transparency and accountability is vital to improving poor communication, dispel cultural and social misunderstanding and by all means minimize political involvement.
Yet another laudable project with high number of causalities; and as is always the case, the common man is left with the soiled plate.