Lagos — For several days these women were on the streets of Benin, protesting the destruction of their farm lands in Iguomokhua community of Orhiomwon local government council area of Edo state. They kept vigil for several days at the palace of the revered Benin monarch, the Oba of Benin so that he would intervene in what they described as the wicked act of some of their chiefs who sold their farmlands. They have gone to the state Commissioner for Environment, Mr Fashanu Udofe, whose ministry oversees the Forestry Department but unfortunately, he refused to listen to their cry. Even when Saturday Vanguard met him for his comments on the issue, he angrily declared that "I do not have any thing to say about it, please leave me alone."
Princess Theresa Osazuwa who led the protest cried that if their lands were not returned to them, their children may become criminals and prostitutes because they may no longer feed them. She appealed to the Benin monarch and the state government to urgently come to their rescue since most of them were widows. Excerpts:
Princess Theresa Osazuwa: This forest reserve, we have been farming there for the past twenty five years. We are known as women farmers organization. To our greatest surprise we woke up one morning and saw caterpillars bulldozing our crops. Right now we do not have access to where we will farm again and most of the women here are widows. This is what we use to feed our children and that is why we have been coming to the palace for help. Infact, we have no means of livelihood now, we don't know what to do and we don't want our children to become prostitutes and criminals because this is the only source of our income. We do not do any other thing than farming.
If they want to give land to people, we are not against government giving land to people but they should shift towards the boundary between Edo and Delta. Tell me how do they expect us to feed now and the worst is that many of these women here are widows. They said they sold the land to one Esan man and as I am talking to you now, he is still sinking borehole in the land, they have destroyed all the crops we laboured to plant. We have one hundred acres of yam, only few women have removed their own while others have been destroyed. We do not know what to do now, we want government to help us. We want the authorities to help us and save us from the hands of these wicked people.
Efforts to meet the government
We have met the Forest Officer (FO), the Director General, and even the commissioner, the Permanent Secretary, the PS now referred us to the Director, the Director referred us to the assistant, the assistant said they will provide another land for us but all to no avail. Right now we do not have a place to farm. We do not even have where we will carry our crops to. We are suffering The man who bought the place said he will push us out with soldiers, they have even destroyed the huts we have in the farm. The boys working on the site are even threatening us because the man gave instruction that if any of us comes near there to disturb their work that they should crush us with caterpillar. This is wicked and callous and we women will resist it. The man is an Esan man and no man will go to Esan and drive the Esan women out of their farmlands but an Esan man is doing this to Bini women. We do not want to leave this land because we have invested in the land. We have been farming there for over twenty five years, so you will understand our agony.
Nosa Ekhator, spokesman of the community: We are natives of Iguomokhua the community in question. These women has been farming this land for years now. But recently, some of our indigenes (names withheld), about four of them, connived and sold the farmlands. I think the land is about six miles square. And they are not authorized to do this. Even if they must do it, the Oba of Benin must be told about it. So we members of the community have called them to find out what exactly is happening but they turned deaf ears. Till last Sunday here, we went round the community appealing to our people to be calm.
The Onogie of the place is a small boy; so what they did was to deceive the young man into selling the land. So the whole community are here today to register our protest to the Oba of Benin who is our father. We are calling on all true citizens of the state to help us because when there is no farm, there won't be any food. And you know that when there is no food you are closer to death. And some of these women have no help, some are even widows. We do not know why these selfish men put themselves together to defraud the entire community by selling our farmland. So the Oba is the highest person in terms of tradition in this state so we are here in the Palace to hear from the Oba.
This is our land. We were there even before the forestry people came; so we are used to all these forestry laws. So if you deprive people that all their lives have been farmers what do you expect them to do. You are turning their children to criminals and prostitutes which is inhuman. Even you people the press, please help us because what these people are doing is crime against humanity. The worst of it is that some of these thieves in Chief clothing are the greatest problem we are having and we want to tell our royal father the truth. These are chiefs who are supposed to settle disputes in the community but unfortunately they are the ones perpetrating the crime.