On 2nd October 2015 the state government of Ekiti, in western Nigeria, sent in bulldozers to begin clearing 4,000 hectares of farmland for an airport. Bulldozers ripped down trees and destroyed farmland before compensation, for loss of land and livelihood, had been even discussed with affected farm owners . The Nation Nigeria reported that State Governor Ayo Fayose was pursuing the project with such a ‘frenzy’ that he had failed to even consult with farmers holding customary titles to the land . An oil palm farmer whose plantation was bulldozed, Tijani Hakeem, died, reportedly of shock.
Landowners from the five farm settlements affected – Igbemo, Igbogun, Aso Ayegunle, Ijan and Araromi Obbo – demanded compensation and to be relocated elsewhere. Produce cultivated on the land allocated to the airport had been their only source of livelihood, and the area also hosted sacred trees and a shrine. Their outcry succeeded in stalling the land clearance. On 13th October Governor Fayose announced that work on the airport would be suspended until December, promising to pay affected farmers compensation and grant them time to harvest their crops .
The airport faced vocal opposition from within the state government. Former Speaker Femi Bamisile described pursuit of the project as a “misplaced priority” and a “criminal act”, saying it has been inaugurated without following due process and querying the tender for the project . The All Progressive Congress (APC) of Ekiti state criticised state funding for the airport, which would benefit the elite, at the expense of initiatives for growth of the local economy to support impoverished residents. The estimated project cost was US$85.4 million, allocated in spite of Fayose’s claim that the state had no money. An APC spokesperson described the airport project as a “drain pipe to siphon money from Ekiti State treasury”, and questioned the economic rationale with an underutilized established airport, Akure, less than an hour’s drive away .
Farmers continued their resistance to the airport. In December a group of affected farmers and landowners filed a suit, on behalf of themselves and others in the four affected communities, seeking damages for ‘unlawful and forcible acquisition’ of their land, displacement, destruction of farm buildings and removal of their crops. They also sought an injunction barring officials from further removal of or damage to their crops and buildings, and for the revocation of their rights to the land to be declared ‘unconstitutional, illegal, null and void’ .
On 20th January 2016, a group of farmers protested, storming the project site, and demanded that work cease immediately, in respect of the suit that they had filed. They held placards reading: “Gov Fayose, Please Leave Us Alone, Don’t Damage Our Life”, “This Land Is The Major Cocoa Plantation, Please No Trespass”, “Please Relocate Your Airport to Government Forest”, “We All Say No To Illegal Airport Project”, “Iwajo, Aso Say No To Illegal Airport”, and “Igbogun Cries Over Illegal Destruction of Our Property”. Farmers said that government officials had entered their land and stolen produce including cocoa, yams, and bananas. They also stated that at least ten farmers, including three women, had ‘died of shock’ caused by the destruction of their farms and ensuing economic loss .
On 22nd March 2016, nine farmers secured a major court victory. Their suit was successful and all their claims – against Governor Fayose, the state Commissioner for Works, Commissioner for Lands and Housing, and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice – were fully vindicated. The high court in Ado-Ekiti ruled that forcible takeover of land for the airport project, revocation of their rights to their parcels of land, forcible entry into farmsteads, and destruction of crops, trees and buildings on this land, were all unconstitutional, illegal null and void. The judge also ordered that over US$25,000 be paid to the farmers in damages and an injunction was granted restraining the defendants from forcibly entering the farmland and from harassing or intimidating the claimants .
The project was re-instigated. In October 2016 the Ekiti State government stated that Ekiti Airport would be included in its 2017 budget . In January 2018 Governor Fayose was still determined to construct the airport and said the matter was at the Appeal Court .
On 18th November 2020, residents of Igbemo and Orun, in the Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Ekiti State, protested the development of Ekiti Airport project in their communities. They called on the state government to relocate the proposed cargo airport to the forest reserve, instead of destroying their cash crop plantations for the project. They alleged that the state government had destroyed their cash crops, noting that Igbemo Ekiti is known as a hub for the production of large quantities of local rice, called ‘Igbemo rice’. The protesting residents, most of them rice, cocoa and cassava farmers, claimed they had never signed a pact with the state government to convert their plantations into a cargo airport. Youths and elderly people from the two communities explained that their protest was triggered when they saw unfamiliar people in their farms during the night, destroying their crops and digging holes. Some protesters expressed fear that they would end up with nothing. A woman said: “We don’t have any other land to plant cocoa and rice should the government convert our farms to cargo airport. We don’t have any other occupation than farming since we couldn’t secure white-collar jobs.” Residents explained that they were not opposed to the development of their communities but were against the destruction of their farms which were their source of livelihood .
On 15th March 2021, it was announced that Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had paid financial compensation of N500 million (USD1,312,336) to 700 landowners, mostly farmers whose lands had been acquired for the airport project, now referred to as the Agro-allied Cargo Airport project. Presentation of cheques to landowners coincided with the formal handing over of the project site to the main contractor to commence construction of a 3.2kilometre runway. Governor Fayemi said a total of 4,017 hectares of land was acquired for the airport project, which aimed to connect the Ekiti state’s agribusiness industry to global markets. He said, “Agricultural products such as cassava, oil palm, cocoa, cashew, timber, rice, plantain and banana and others will be better marketed locally and internationally when the Airport becomes operational.”.
Farmers from Igbemo, Orun, Aso Ayegunle, and Igbogun towns rejected the compensation from the state government, saying they were not ready to trade their plantations because it is their source of livelihood. one of the farmers, Mr Allie Temitope, said: “though, it is a developmental step but detrimental to our well being. "There was an announcement on the radio that all the farmers in Igbemo, Orun Ekiti, Igbogun, and others should come to Ado-Ekiti to collect cheques, we are not going anywhere. “We are just appealing to the state government to leave our land because we don’t have anything to do in Igbemo and Orun than farming. "I’m a graduate, since there’s no work, I have been engaging in farming activities. "We are just begging the government, they should leave our land and relocate the cargo airport to another area like government reserve, they should go there and build it there.”
Other farmers said they had no other means of livelihood but their cocoa plantations and thus rejected the government’s compensation offer .
On 15th March 2021, as the Ekiti State Government was set to commence massive land clearance for the airport, a group of farmers whose land fell within the project area staged a peaceful protest, appealing to Governor Fayemi to grant them more time to harvest their produce. The farmers, from the Bolorunduro area, said they had discovered that the contractor had mobilised to the site and might commence clearing their farmland at any time. If this happened some of their produce - such as yams, cassava, and vegetables - would be affected. The protesters included aged people, women, men, and youths who urged the governor to save their products from being destroyed. Protesters carried placards and chanted: “Mr Governor please give us time to harvest our farm produce”, “Mr Governor please don’t increase poverty in Ekiti” and “Fayemi have mercy on our children”. Two of the affected farmers said they had continued with their farming activities in the current year because the government had informed them that clearing of land for the airport would not affect them. Another farmer, a woman who had been widowed nine years ago, said that if her farm, that she depended upon, were to be destroyed it would be difficult for her to feed her children .