By Solomon Azu
Crisis is imminent over cocoa allocation in Cross River as the State Government has remained indifferent over cocoa administration by the previous government in the State.
This follows the setting up of a new cocoa allocation committee with terms of reference at variance with the already executed consent judgment between the cocoa landlord communities and state government.
Cocoa landlord communities had dragged the state government to court over non-payment of rents and royalties spanning over sixteen years.
The landlord communities had secured two consent judgements from Etung and Ikom High Courts ordering the state government to defray its protracted indebtedness to the landlord communities.
Arising thereto, the government enforced the two Consent Judgments through the concerted and properly coordinated actions of the Governor and His Deputy, the Attorney-General, Due Process Office, Auditor-General, Internal Revenue Service, Smartgov Office and Cocoa Development and Control Department, Governor’s Office.
Accordingly, “Cross River State Government established modalities for the raising of the funds to settle arrears, new and future rent/royalties liabilities to Landlord Communities including ‘execution of a document titled, agreement to secure the immediate settlement of all grievances in the consent judgment in suit no. HE/16/2013 in respect of Cross River State Government Cocoa Estate, Etung LGA and modalities for prompt, sustainable settlement of all subsequent and future rents/royalties liabilities of Cross River State to the Landlord Communities”.
Consequently, the state government approved the payment of the government indebtedness to the cocoa landlord communities through the SmartGov account platform in line with the consent judgment.
“The primary objective of Government was to proactively settle all her past, present and future liabilities and obligations to the Cocoa Landlord Communities thus, permanently preventing delay and the accumulation of rent/royalties. Accordingly, Cross River State Government opted for and approved the lease of 6 (six) years CERTAIN, to Smallholder Farmers in line with the executed Agreement dated 13th August 2021 with the Representatives (Attorneys) of the Landlord Communities.”
The previous administration in its wisdom allocated a total of 1,415 hectares of cocoa farmland to farmers leaving out 3,137 hectares to be allocated with the landlord communities having seventy per cent allocation.
So far, the landlord communities have collected over N37,000,000.00 as rent and royalties realised from the lease in the Smartgov lease arrangement while the state government has earned over N41,000,000.00 correspondingly paid through the automated Smartgov account platform number 1008000100/40237A that splits directly into landlord communities account and the state government, an action that has put an end to the age-long crisis of rent and royalties between landlord communities and the state government.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Crop and Irrigation Development, Mr. Johnson Ebekpo Jnr. while inaugurating the new cocoa allocation committee in his office in Calabar said “funds realised from the allocation would be paid into government dedicated bank account” as against the Smartgov account platform as ordered by the court.
He said the cocoa allocation would be fashioned out through a “public lottery” to select nominations across board in a transparent way where Chiefs/traditional rulers and revered public officers will be selected to draw the lottery on a big spin in proportion to the existing plots on public offer”.
The commissioner charged the allocation committee to “deduct at source from the proceeds arising from the cocoa plot allocation 45 per cent of the entire proceeds thereof, and the rest paid to the government coffers as revenue through the TSA”, which is completely at variance with the execution of court judgement.
Correspondent reports that a deviation from the automated Smartgov and seventy per cent lease allocation for cocoa landlord communities into the lottery model is likely to produce adverse outcomes.
Beneficiaries of the 1,415 hectares who have already paid their lease fees for the 2024 – 2029 period and entered into genuine agreement with the state government have vowed to seek redress in court if their plots are encroached into by the new cocoa allocation committee.