This is the season of harvest for owners of Indian hemp plantations and they are already smiling to the banks as they realise millions of naira for their efforts, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered.
For those who abuse the plant, however, it is time of sorrow and pain as government, families, and health workers battle to save and rehabilitate them. Some never recover, they are either lost to the streets or the cold hands of death.
In Nigeria, Ondo State in the South-west, is said to be one of the largest producers because of the thick forest that is fertile for the growth of the plant.
Most of those involved in the illegal business, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), migrate from neighbouring Edo and Delta states to cultivate the plant hiding far inside the forest.
The Head of Operations (CN) of the agency, Sunday Zirange, who spoke on behalf of the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Col Mustapha Abdullah (rtd), lamented the high rate of deforestation in the South-west region, stressing that in the next 10 years, if care is not taken, the thick forest would disappear.
Zirange, Commander of Narcotics and Head of the Special Enforcement Team (SET) drawn from the six geo-political zones of the country, numbering over 200 personnel, led the team in an operation that lasted for more than two days.
The agency also urged the Ondo State government to encourage alternative farming which will move Indian hemp planters to cocoa farming.
The agency also destroyed about 5,000 hectares of Indian hemp plantation at Ala forest in Akure-North Local Government Area of the state.
The Ondo Commander of the agency, Mohammed Mallami Sokoto, said the state was blessed with a vast forest which contributed to the impunity of the Indian hemp cultivators.
He said, “apart from Ala forest with its difficult terrain, there are about five or six other forest reserves including Ogbese, Ose and Idanre. They start cultivation in February and around now, harvesting will commence.
Sokoto said the NDLEA was partnering the state government to know what is happening in its forests, which is a source of revenue.
The state commandant said “we are taking a proactive measure aimed at alternating cash crops and cultivation of economic trees, especially cocoa in order to eradicate cultivation of Indian hemp.
He said the NDLEA plans to liaise with the government to introduce the cocoa revolution, an initiative which was introduced by the former administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
“The present government is ready to sustain it. The programme is aimed at alternative tree, cash crops, economic trees planting in place of Indian hemp.
“We don’t just want to destroy Indian hemp farm today and come back the next day to see it back again. We want a circle where the plantation would be eradicated totally and the only way to do that is to involve a stop gap towards cultivation through the use of cash crops,” he explained.
He said Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu supports the farm produce scheme but that it is capital-intensive.
Fourteen suspects, males and females, were arrested during the operation in some of the farms.
Over 100 labourers were engaged by the agency to cut and set ablaze Indian hemp in the presence of journalists and other observers.
The Ala plantation is in a thick forest, about 70 kilometres to Ogbese town, allegedly notorious for Indian hemp cultivation. Our correspondent reports that there is only one access road to the forest.
Zirange also told journalists that the team stormed the forest with a convoy of over 20 vehicles and trekked for over three hours because of the bad road and difficult terrain, adding that there are very large hectares of land to be taken over within a week.
“We are here to get the people that are involved in this and also preserve this forest reserve because if you allow these people to continue, there will be no end to it. They are benefitting seriously, some of them export it and in several tons,’’ he said.
According to him, “the northern part is a desert region with fast encroachment while the south, which is supposed to be the hope of the nation, is witnessing Indian hemp cultivation and destruction of economic trees.
He alleged that some of the people engaged in the illegal business aligned with some influential people, who collaborate with them to cultivate the weed.
“This development is affecting this country; all hands must be on deck to tackle it,” he said.
Zirange lamented the risk involved in the assignment, stressing that overseas, they use technology, including helicopter and herbicides to destroy the cannabis farms, but in Nigeria, it is done manually as labourers use cutlasses to cut down the leaves.
He, therefore, appealed to the Ondo State government to be more interested in activities going on in its forests.
“This is the period they harvest their produce. They have harvested some of the farms, some of the people working on the farm have set up tents. You can see fresh fire; they just ran away because they saw us coming,’’ he said.