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.
Land owners 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 may be revived. 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 .