Farmers resist land-grabbing for cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria

5,000 farmers from 20 villages are being displaced for a cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria. Residents of Igbin-Ojo and seven other communities have protested over land-grabbing. Crops have been bulldozed and they fear forcible eviction.

A major cargo airport is planned in the Wasimi area (also referred to as Wasinmi) of Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, near Nigeria’s southeast coast. On 18th December 2017 hundreds of farmers from the village of Igbin Ojo and seven other communities in Ogun State protested against land-grabbing for the airport. Appealing to the Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun to intervene community leader Ademola Tiwalade Adisa stated that, on three occasions, groups of people came onto their land. Adisa reported that, on 17th November a group of people with a bulldozer invaded their land, then, on 24th November and 8th December a larger group of people encroached onto their land and began mapping portions of it. Below are photos of the 18th December protest published by The Sun Newspaper.

Narrating their ordeal of 8th December 2017 Adisa said that heavily armed men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) had forcefully arrested a number of people and, at gunpoint, forced him and his elder brother to sign an undertaking stating that they would not disturb work on their land. Villagers claim that the land trespassing and mapping was led by former chair of the Ewekoro Local Government Area, Mr. Dele Soluade, but he has repeatedly denied all the allegations, dismissing the claims he had illegally invaded the land as “unfounded” and insisting that he was acting under the instructions of Governor Amosun.

Affected villagers had undertaken a survey before the trespassing and mapping exercise began, clarifying the status of their land with the state government. They had obtained a land information certificate dated 13th December 2017 which confirmed that the land in question is completely free of all known acquisitions. The land information certificate was published in the The Sun Newspaper. Farmers’ land rights claims were fortified by this document and Abisa said: “We, therefore, appeal to Governor Ibikunle Amosun to come to our aid before he wipes our communities out in his desperation to grab our lands.”

Farmers dispossessed and crops destroyed

A 4th February an article in The Guardian Sunday Magazine painted an alarming picture of the plight of residents of Igbin Ojo, ‘fighting the battle of their lives’ to resist displacement from their ancestral land. Over the course of a few weeks crops worth millions of Naira, including cassava and pineapple plantations, had been destroyed by bulldozers and caterpillars. Farmland measuring nearly 164 hectares serving as their providing main source of income had been leveled and forcibly taken away. Fear had enveloped other farmers, including people who had invested heavily in poultry facilities which they feared losing. Farmers were distraught, dispossessed of their land and anticipating being evicted from their homes, desperately worried about their own survival and the future for their children. One woman said that that the entire community was living in fear and hunger and that children were unable to attend school because parents were unable to afford the fees.

One of the community elders, Pa Emmanuel Olukunle Opeagbe, said that the community had enjoyed ownership of the land from time immemorial up until 17th November 2017 when the first land invasion took place. He confirmed community leader Abisa’s account of land invasions by a group of people, which he described as “fierce-looking thugs”, and a bulldozer. He backed up community leader Adisa’s allegations of Soluade leading the land invasions and resorting to abuse, harassment, intimidation and threats to bulldoze people along with the crops. Opeagbe reported that Soluade had told villagers that their community would cease to exist. Along with Adisa, Opeagbe had been arrested and forced at gunpoint to sign an undertaking not to interfere with trespassing on the land.

Residents appealed to the Federal Government, Amnesty International and human rights activists for support. On 16th February the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) responded, petitioning Governor Amosun over the unlawful acquisition of land and threat to their lives. State chair of CLO, Joseph Enitan, said intervention of the governor is urgently needed because Soluade is acting under his instructions to trespass and grab lands. Farmland was being invaded and destroyed, in the name of constructing a cargo airport. Community members including council chairman Kehinde Adepegba were shocked by recent developments. New areas of land had been claimed for the airport project and encroached upon, even though the land required for the airport was allocated to the project many years previously.

A large portion of land had already been acquired for the proposed Ogun cargo airport, which was first conceived in 2005. Yet, shortly before the reports of land grabbing, in May 2017, the project languished abandoned; the only physical infrastructure that had materialized was a perimeter fence around an area of land measuring 5 x 5 kilometers. Farmers from about 35 communities, who had grown crops like rice and high-yield cassava had been displaced for the project, but they had not received compensation for the loss of their land and livelihoods. Opeagbe said the large portions of land that were “compulsorily taken for the project years back are yet to be compensated for” and that people had not protested against the airport because they believed it would bring development to their area and they would benefit from it.

Farmland is being destroyed, and farmers displaced, for an airport project which aims to export farm produce; the Ogun airport project has been described as an ‘agro-cargo airport‘. It appears that the primary purpose of the airport is envisaged as ‘transportation of agricultural products to other parts of the world’, also referred to as export of perishable (temperature controlled) goods. Only cursory mention has been made of other potential functions for the airport such as import of consumer goods, machinery and industrial raw products, pilot training school, aircraft maintenance facility, helicopter and air taxi services.

Compensation and a possible court case

At the end of February Governor Amosun announced that 500 million Naira (nearly US$1.4 million) had been allocated for payment of compensation to farmers losing their land for the airport, saying that the money would be disbursed to 20 villages directly affected by the airport project. He also said that affected farmers would be relocated to an appropriate location where they could continue their farm business, making assurances that his administration would not bring hardship to the people. It was then reported that 1,000 farmers had been compensated for loss of their agricultural land and crops and the remaining 4,000 would receive compensation within the next few weeks. If it is indeed the case that US1.4 million has been earmarked for compensation of 5,000 farmers, then assuming the same amount is to be allocated per farmer this adds up to a mere US$280 each. Igbin Ojo is one of the villages listed as beneficiaries of the first phase of compensation, along with Pataleri, Igbagba, Mosan, Igbin Orola, Igbin Arowosegbe, Idele and Balagbe.

Since this announcement GAAM has not found any reports of affected villagers’ response to the compensation offer, aside from a single resident of Igbagba village reportedly appreciative of prompt payment. There have been newspaper reports of officials making statements urging people to support the project, and exhorting its supposed benefits of employment for local people, economic development and attracting foreign investors. But it is evident that land acquisition for the airport is not supporting development, it is destroying communities. As officials proclaim potential positive impacts of the airport GAAM has not found any information on such vital matters as how the project will be funded and which firms and/or government bodies will be responsible for constructing, operating and managing the facility. But it is evident that a truly gargantuan megaproject is in the works. As he again implored residents to support the cargo airport Governor Amonsun said that ‘thousands of hectares‘ would be required for the project.

Communities resisting loss of their land for Ogun cargo airport are dragging Soluade to court in an attempt to bring the land grabbing to a halt. Their struggle has parallels with farmers’ resistance to the Ekiti airport project, north of Ogun state. In October 2015 the state government of Ekiti sent in bulldozers to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland for an airport, without even discussing the project with affected farm owners in five villages. Farmers succeeded in stalling the land clearance and suspending the airport project. Opponents from within the state government supported the farmers, arguing that the project had begun illegally without adhering to due process and criticized the high level of state funding. The farmers protested and filed a suit seeking damages for unlawful land acquisition, and in March 2016 were vindicated with a court victory upholding their claims. But in the interim ten Ekiti farmers died. Community members attributed their deaths to the terrible trauma of the injustice perpetrated by the state.


Land grab looms in hurricane-wrecked Barbuda, and what is taking shape is not just an airport

Construction of an airport on the island of Barbuda began without residents’ approval. A larger land grab looms; moves are afoot to revoke residents’ collective tenure and allocate land to private investors.

On the night of 6th September Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, an unprecedented Category 5, made landfall on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda. 185 miles-per-hour winds wreaked havoc. A two-year old child was killed, land was flooded and shorn of trees, homes were left without roofs and walls or completely flattened and the island’s road, energy and communications infrastructure were destroyed. An estimated 90 per cent of buildings were damaged. Two days later all of Barbuda’s 1,800 residents were forcibly evacuated, ferried to Antigua which only suffered minor damage.

Two and a half months after the catastrophic storm most Barbudan residents remained with relatives and friends or in impromptu shelters such as a cricket stadium in Antigua, or abroad. Only a small number of islanders were allowed to return, for a few hours at a time. Efforts to rebuild houses were piecemeal. People were patching up roofs using plywood and corrugated iron salvaged from the wreckage. Hardly anything had been done to re-establish essential services. Water and electricity supplies had not yet been restored; returned residents relied on generators and desalinated water provided by humanitarian aid organizations. Schools and the hospital remained closed. But bulldozers had been working day and night for weeks, flattening land in preparation for construction of an international airport.

In a Channel 4 report Leslie Thomas QC said development of the airport is unlawful as it had not been approved by the Barbuda Council and consultation with the Barbudan people had not taken place. Work on the airport, which will have serious negative ecological impacts on the coral fringed island renowned for its seabird colonies, had commenced without the requisite Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Already, forest, wildlife habitats and land used for livestock grazing had been destroyed for the runway.

Bulldozing land in preparation for construction of the new airport is evidently so highly prioritized by the government that it began even before Barbuda’s existing small airport had been re-fenced and resumed operations. Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne dismissed residents’ legitimate concerns that the new airport is evidence of a land grab. His text message to Channel 4 in response to coverage of the issue directed a string of insults at citizens: “The deracinated Imbeciles, Ignorant elements, say that by building Barbudans an airport, we are stealing their land. 😂😂😂 These are what we call dunce elements.”

A land grab paving the way for privately-owned resorts

Prime Minister Gaston Browne is exploiting the chaotic after-effects of Hurricane Irma to attempt to erode Barbudans’ land rights. Within days of the disaster he proposed that Barbudans returning to their homes buy freehold title deeds to their land for $1, which could be used as collateral for bank loans to get mortgages to rebuild their homes, claiming that creating an “ownership class” would be “empowering”. Barbudans objected that this would force them to buy land they have owned collectively for nearly two centuries, since 1834, when Britain abolished slavery in its colonies.

Post-Irma disarray is being used to launch the latest in a series of attempts to undermine the 2007 Barbuda Land Act, which confirms that Barbudans share common title to the land and requires their consent for commercial development. The entire island is owned collectively and managed by an elected council. As co-owners citizens have rights to utilize the island’s resources, including for grazing animals, hunting and fishing. Individual citizens, whether resident on the island or not, have the right to a plot of land for a house, to farm and for commercial enterprise. Browne refuses to recognize Barbudan’s communal land rights. He refers to islanders as “squatters” in a New York Times mini-documentary showing how people’s difficulties in retaining shared land rights are compounded by relentless struggles to retain community cohesion and rebuild their own lives.

Barbuda resident and marine biologist John Mussington maintains that the line being put out, that Barbudans do not have the means to rebuild their homes, is a myth that is being perpetuated to justify a land grab. People managed to rebuild after a hurricane in 1995. Under the current land tenure system residents are not burdened with mortgages and high land prices, so they are able to channel their resources directly into rebuilding their homes. Furthermore, there have been generous donations from international aid agencies and there will be a substantial payout from an OECD insurance scheme that Barbuda is a member of.

Collective tenure is not a barrier to recovery

Liz Alden Wily, an independent land tenure specialist, maintains that if the government succeeds in forcing Barbudans to buy title deeds to their land this will result in many citizens losing their property. Without a sufficient and steady income – difficult for people to secure when their lives have been severely disrupted by the hurricane – people may not be able to secure loans or will not be able to afford the repayments, a plight that would force them into distress sale of their plots. She refutes Browne’s insistence that individual, private land ownership is a precondition of post-Irma recovery and the only way for Barbudans to secure bank loans for reconstructing their houses. Collective title is not a barrier to securing a mortgage. Another option would be for the government to follow successful examples of establishing forms of credit, such as a credit union, which would not place people’s homes, often their main or only asset, at risk.

The privatization agenda being pushed by Browne’s government will enable developers to acquire land, in particular lucrative beach-front parcels, at low prices. In marked contrast with many Caribbean islands, including Antigua, where tourism revolves around all-inclusive beach resorts and cruise ship ports, tourism on Barbuda is small-scale. The vast majority of the coastline remains undeveloped, the beaches remain unspoiled. Residents have approved some tourism projects, maintaining a high degree of community ownership and control. Weakening the Barbuda Land Act would enable land purchase by Antiguan and foreign interests, to establish privately owned resorts. Browne admits that the airport will open up Barbuda for investors and is pushing for a cruise ship port on the island as well as an airport, to support tourism growth.

Dispossession and disaster capitalism

A land grab is looming in Barbuda, and it is bigger than the new airport and citizens’ plots of land. Imposition of individual freehold title would result in Barbudans losing their rights to most of the island. Only a minority of the land is designated as housing, farming and commercial plots; the majority of the land is long established as a communal resource which is of particular importance to poorer islanders’ livelihoods. Removal of Barbudans’ rights to this land would convert it to easy pickings for investors. Furthermore, Barbudans without land would no longer have rights to acquire plots, and nor will islanders’ descendants. Alden Wily said “The government is asking Barbudans to surrender collective ownership of the whole island for just a few parcels of land in (the capital) Codrington”. Back in October she had warned that:

“Repeal of the Barbuda Land Act would free up most of the island for allocation to investors. Overall, it is difficult to see this move as other than a classical land grab by the stronger elite, and the end result of which could well turn the island principally into foreign-owned resorts.”

Kendra Beazer, featured in the New York Times film and a member of Barbuda Council and the Barbudan People’s Movement, slammed the government’s opportunistic moves to change land tenure laws, while its people are traumatized, scattered and scrambling to rebuild their lives, as an example of ‘disaster capitalism‘: the exploitation of citizens’ vulnerability in the wake of crises – including extreme weather, war and terrorist attacks – to consolidate state and corporate power in order to drive through neoliberal policies of privatization, austerity and deregulation. Naomi Klein explores the imposition of these so-called ‘free market’ policies over the course of four decades, in the aftermath of catastrophic events including Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism, published in 2007. She commented on the post-Irma construction of Barbuda airport on Twitter:

On 12th December, in a brazen attempt to subvert democracy, the first reading of the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act took place in parliament. The Bill, seeking to repeal and replace the Barbuda Land Act and dismantle the communal tenure system, did not appear on parliament’s agenda until moments before its introduction under an accelerated review process. Leslie Thomas said the act was tabled with no consultation whatsoever. Many Barbudans – returners to the island, the disapora, and their supporters – moved to resist the land grab enabling legislation. A petition against the Act has already garnered over 2,500 signatures and dozens of people joined a picket outside parliament.

An injunction seeking permission for a judicial review of the government’s attempt to expedite amendments to the Barbuda Land Act has been heard by the Antigua and Barbuda High Court of Justice, presented by Leslie Thomas. Broader resistance is gathering momentum with formation of the Barbuda Silent No More movement, working to strengthening Barbudans’ voices as they work to protect communal land rights, determine their own future and conserve Barbuda’s heritage, culture and environment.

But the airport land grab is progressing. John Mussington, who refused to leave the  island after Hurricane Irma struck because he suspected underhand motives for the evacuation, and filmed bulldozing of land for the new airport that was used in the Channel 4 report, now reports that a huge area of land is being cleared and parceled up. The government claims that the land clearance is for an airport, but it is clear that what is taking shape is not just an airport. Water and electricity services have still not been restored, schools and the hospital remain closed. He says the “attack on our land tenure system is unconscionable” and it is clear that “powers that be” want Barbudans out of the way with the intention of a creating a “private island” for the enrichment of real estate speculators.

Regulation to pave the way for a mega-resort

Erosion of Barbudan’s land rights, and imposition of major tourism developments, already looms with government support for a mega-resort called ‘Paradise Found‘. On the site of an abandoned hotel project, islanders had cautiously welcomed proposals for redevelopment, but became concerned when the government approved extension of the 251 acre footprint of the resort by granting a lease for an additional 140 acres. Funded by famous film actor Robert de Niro and Australian billionaire businessman and investor James Packer, the plan for the $250 million luxury beachfront resort features upmarket cottages each with a private pool and a yacht marina, along with an airport.

A referendum approved the Paradise Found project, but only by a narrow majority, and the Barbuda People’s Movement challenged the result as unlawful on the basis that non-Barbudans were permitted to vote. The government pushed through laws to facilitate the resort project. In 2015 the Antigua and Barbuda parliament passed the Paradise Found (Project) Act, the provisions of which specifically support development of the resort, exempting the De Niro-Packer project from time limits on development and granting a 198 year lease along with the right to freehold tenure should this become instantiated in law. The debate on the bill attracted 400 protesters; critics warned that it stripped away the rights of the elected Barbuda Council to consider and approve large-scale property deals on the island. The Paradise Found Act also doled out a cluster of tax breaks for the two business partners; on corporate income, dividends, stamp duty and property.

The future of the Paradise Found project is uncertain, protest and litigation have bogged it down. Barbudans may well succeed in fending off the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act which threatens to open the gate to a multitude of privately-owned resorts. The drive to revoke collective tenure goes against the grain of a positive global trend. Around the world thousands of communities have secured legal rights to shared land tenure, controlling, regulating and leasing commonly held property as they see fit. In 2018 a global declaration on the rights of the world’s rural communities, making collective ownership and governance a founding right, will be presented to the United Nations Assembly.

Courageous resistance to forced eviction for New Yogyakarta International Airport

On the morning of 27th November 400 officials – police, army and representatives of Indonesia’s state-owned airport developer PT Angkasa Pura I – arrived to survey land for New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA) in the Temon District in the Kulonprogo Regency, on the south coast of central Java. An attempted land grab for the airport, and the courageous resistance of residents resisting forced eviction is documented in a video by Jogja Darurat Agraria. In the space of just two days bulldozers have wreaked devastation reminiscent of a powerful earthquake that struck the island of Java in 2006. Parts of some houses have been destroyed and trees and plants uprooted leaving bare earth.

The land does not belong to PT Angkasa Pura I and residents are refusing to leave or to sell their property. Officials, some of them armed with guns, inform the residents that they will register their houses and instruct them to vacate, and that they have been instructed to clear the land, to tear down everything, by 4th December. But 300 residents are refusing to sell the land passed on to them by their ancestors. Their livelihoods depend upon the farming that they are determined to continue, their values embedded in the culture and nature of the southern coast area.

Women play a prominent role in resisting the forced eviction for the new airport, they stand their ground against the intimidation of large numbers of male officials, facing down heavy verbal aggression, refusing to obey commands, refuting claims that the airport is for their economic benefit and asserting their right to remain in their homes. A crowd of officials confront another woman on her doorstep, try to push the door down, shout at her to get out and try to force their way into her house. She shouts out to the officials that their role is to protect civilians. Then some men begin to wrench open the door. Another woman, also confronted by officials at her door, says that they told her that received three warnings of the impending eviction, she denies this and insists that she did not receive any warning.

Officials are shown cutting off the electricity supply to some of the houses. This move is intended to amplify the threat of destruction and make other residents give up their resistance to eviction, dismantle their homes to salvage whatever they can, and vacate the area. Jogja Darurat Agraria posted photos on Facebook showing villagers gathering to witness and resist the bulldozers at work and the severing of electrical supplies.

The Indonesian government’s attempt to evict Kulon Progo villagers from their homes and farmland at this particular time, beginning on 27th November 2017, adds irony to insult and intimidation; 29th November is designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders. A video posted on 28th November shows distressed residents – women, men and children – bravely standing and lying in the path of the bulldozers as roofs are ripped off houses and trees uprooted. They are dragged away by officials. Cutting off electricity supplies continues.

The new airport is a key project of the Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, which is pushing for accelerated infrastructure development. PT Angkasa Pura I claims that the process of land acquisition and clearance for NYIA is under control. In reality a land grab is taking place. Forcible eviction for the airport is a shameful and serious abuse of human rights and the very opposite of the government’s stated commitment to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), specifically SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The struggle against eviction for New Yogyakarta International Airport dates back to 2011. The site comprises six villages, 2,875 households with 11,501 residents, most of whom sustain agricultural livelihoods cultivating many crops in the fertile soil, including watermelons, chillie peppers and eggplant. Construction of the mega-project commenced and continues without approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and there are serious concerns that destruction of sand dunes will make the coastline more vulnerable to erosion and flooding. An aerotropolis around the airport is planned, a 2,000 hectare ‘airport city’ containing hotels and other tourism facilities, shopping malls and industrial zones.

Authorities have perpetrated repeated acts of repression and violence against villagers resisting displacement for NYIA, which, in its pre-construction phase, was referred to as Kulon Progo Airport. The worst incidence occurred on 16th February 2016. Police and army officers overseeing a boundary-marking procedure subjected a number of residents who had gathered to voice their objections to a vicious and brutal attack. People were choked, kicked and trampled on. The case was taken up by the Asian Human Rights Commission which condemned the excessive use of force and called for prosecution of the officers who were in charge of the exercise.