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April 19, 2024

Shelve Plans to Revoke Licences of  Cocoa Farmers on Govt. Leased Farmland, Paramount Ruler Tells Cross River 

The Traditional ruler of Etung in Cross River, HRH Oru Ojong, Thursday, enjoined the state government to suspend its plan to revoke licences issued to cocoa farmers on government’s leased farmland.

Before now, the secretary to the Government of Cross River, Prof. Anthony Owan-Enoh had issued a statement asking the cocoa farmers (contractors) that paid licence fees to the government to vacate the farms by December.

He asked the contractors to demand a refund of their money from Dr Oscar Ofuka, Special Adviser to former Gov. Ben Ayade on Cocoa Development in Cross River. The paramount ruler reacted to the directives at a news briefing at Ikom, Cross River. 

However, Ojong said rather than revoke farm allocations that generated money as royalties, the government should create modalities to allot the remaining 3,600 hectares of cocoa plots yet to be allocated.

He noted that before the introduction of the new method, royalties were hardly paid to government or to landlord communities in eight years previously. The paramount ruler appealed for prudence on the part of the sitting administration of Gov. Bassey Otu on the allocation of farms to cocoa farmers, particularly in Etung, his domain.

Ojong said it was unconscionable to ask cocoa farmers to vacate the farms after they had paid contract fees to the government and the money shared between government and landlord communities as royalties.

He said it was also worrisome that the sitting government asked the farmers to seek a refund of their money from an official of its predecessor administration. 

He argued that it amounted to great injustice to ask the farmers to seek refund of monies paid into the government’s coffers using payers’ Tax Identification Numbers (TINs) issued by the state’s Internal Revenue Service.

“I say this to avert crisis in the area after December 2023. Government is a continuum. What the previous administration did was to make use of an e-platform introduced for payment of royalties.

We liked the method introduced by the previous administration in payment of royalties to Etung cocoa landlord communities.

“The present administration should remember that whatever the previous administration did regarding the leasing of government cocoa estate was based on the implementation of a court order,’’ he said.

The paramount ruler noted that the terms of reference of the Pre-Cocoa Allocation Committee set up by Gov. Otu was to determine total hectares of cocoa farms encroached upon. It was also directed to ascertain the scope of new farms over the past four years and to determine the total indebtedness to landlord communities in the state, he also noted.

On his part, Mr Benjamin Ndep, Secretary-General of Etung Cocoa Landlord Communities Committee said whatever Ofuka did on cocoa farmland allocation was done on behalf of the government at the time it was done.

Ndep argued that the farmers paid licence fees into the government’s coffers and not into the personal bank account of Dr Ofuka, a government employee.

“We all know that landlord communities went to court and judgment was given on two occasions in their favour.

“What Ofuka did was to carry out the court order to ensure that royalties of landlords’ communities were paid,’’ Ndep stressed.

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