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OPINION: Cocoa Allocation Committee: The Need For Cooperation By All Stakeholders

Mr. Nji Egbe Nji

By Nji Egbe Nji

In January, 2019, the Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency Sen. Ben Ayade announced through his Chief Press Secretary the  constitution of a new Cocoa Allocation and Regeneration Committee. The Committee which is made up of Fifty Seven (57) members is the largest membership list in the history of Cocoa Allocation Committees in Cross River state.

Recall that there was a time the entire Cocoa Estates were handed over to a single individual to handle allocation for the entire State during the last dispensation of Sen. Liyel Imoke.

Without cracking your brain for too long, one can easily figure out the fact that the Governor came up with such a long list of 57 members in order to accommodate every interest and for effective delivery of the huge task that lies ahead of the committee.

The committee which has a young vibrant and transparent Man, Mr. Collins Atu Ogar as the Chairman, also has good heads like George Abang,  Kenneth Isong, Peter Okim, Orok Etuk, Okorn Njang etc as members.

Also, for the first time, members of the Landlord Community who have been fighting against Privatization of the Estates and the interest of the communities whose land makes up the Cocoa Estates were made Members of the Committee.

Immediately after the inauguration of the Allocation and Regeneration Committee, the Chairman and his members embarked on serious consultations with stakeholders of the Cocoa sector in Cross River State in line with the mandate given by the Governor to ensure timely release of a fresh cocoa allocation so as to ensure that the beneficiaries take possession of their farms and get to work to avoid poor harvest. Also, to achieve one of their core mandates which is to regenerate the depleted areas in the estates.

Challenges

The Committee in trying to be fair, called on all Beneficiaries of the 2016 allocation exercise to go for verification and show proof of payments of the Government approved rents and levies.

That exercise to me was a wonderful idea because they are so many abnormalities going on. Most beneficiaries have deliberately refused to pay any money into the Government coffers either as rent or any form of levy.

The exercise could not see the light of the day, largely due to the fact that 99 percent of the beneficiaries deliberately refused to turn up for the  exercise and they were being backed by members of the previous allocation committee who out of greed, fraudulently gave out their farms for years and without paying a dime to the Government.

The Role of some rogue elements in CAN

Some elements in the Cocoa Association Of Nigeria (CAN), Cross River State Chapter have decided to be "Anti Government and Anti Farmers".  Their activities in the past and present haven't in any way affected the lives of farmers positively.

In other Cocoa producing States in Nigeria such as Ondo State, Cocoa farmers are very wealthy and constitute a greater percent of wealthy Men in the aforementioned State because of the Support and Cooperation of CAN.

Back here in Cross River state, Cocoa farmers are so impoverished to the extent that they can hardly boast of any achievement after every Cocoa season.

In most cases, the farmers are often indebted to the buyers to the extent that they have become "Modern day Slaves" in the hands of the Cocoa buyers who are always in an unholy alliance with some rogue and unscroplous elements in Cross River State CAN to intimidate the farmers with the assistance of some Government officials to rob the Government by evading taxes and rents and also ensure that Farmers live in perpetual poverty.

Over the years, the Government Cocoa in Etung have gradually continued to deplete, yet there have been no conscious effort to assist the Government to rehabilitate the Estate by Cocoa Merchants under the auspices of CAN.

It is imperative that the new Committee that has been given the additional mandate of rehabilitating the Cocoa Estate is supported not only by Cocoa Merchants but indeed CAN as a whole to achieve these objectives.

This, they can do through structured yearly financial contributions to the committee for purposes of raising cocoa seedlings  nurseries, extension services and innovations.

They can also acquire  plots to raise demonstration nurseries and distribute seedlings to farmers free of charge.

The present committee knows that if care is not taken, there will come a day where Cross River State will have no cocoa estates anymore, as the Estates require proper care and constant rehabilitation to keep the farms going.
Accordingly, they have decided to allocate only plots that are viable to farmers while putting modalities on ground to regenerate the entire Estates.

I hereby commend the Government for the mandate given to the committee as the Estate was gradually going into Extinction.

I also appeal to the committee to ensure that the trust and task given to them should be carried out without fear as "Corruption will always definitely fight back".

Nji Egbe Nji is a Cocoa Farmer and a Native of Etung local government area of Cross River State!
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