Cross River State Department of Cocoa Development has said that it is set to recover the N108.4 million rent from farmers to whom the state government leased out its cocoa estates.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Cocoa Development, Mr. Oscar Ofuka, who disclosed this to our correspondent in Calabar on Sunday, said that the amount was for the 1,144 plots of cocoa farmland which were leased out to some farmers that avoided the capturing of their biometrics by the department.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the department carried out a biometric verification of the farmers to ascertain the number and identities of those who actually planted on the government’s cocoa estates.
“On the directive of the governor, we recently carried out a biometric verification of the real cocoa farmers. This was to ascertain the number of plots of farmland that were leased out and the actual amount to be realised as lease rent.
“We have since concluded the exercise and it was discovered that some farmers did not pay for the use of 1,144 plots which amounted to over N108.4 million.
“Those to whom these plots were leased, failed to show up for the verification and we feel that they have shortchanged the state.
“So, we want to recover these monies and pay same into the cocoa development revenue account domiciled with the state Internal Revenue Service. The state needs money to execute projects, especially now that the revenue from federation account is dwindling seriously,” he said.
Ofuka disclosed that a five-man committee had been set up in the department with the mandate to recover the funds from the concerned farmers.
He said that the committee was also charged with the mandate of identifying the real cocoa farmers in the estates.
“We want everybody that owns a cocoa plot to be physically present in their farms, so that we separate real cocoa farmers from cocoa politicians. We want the biometric data of all cocoa farmers in the state for effective planning and proper identification,” he added.
The governor’s aide blamed the defunct cocoa allocation committee in the state for the irregularities that led to some of the farmers defrauding the state government.
He expressed optimism that the new cocoa production initiative of the Governor Ben Ayade-led administration would help stabilise the economy of the state.
“I can tell you that if the initiative is properly implemented, with cocoa alone, our state will be sustained. So, we have to do everything humanly possible to keep the pace,” he added.