In his final SMS to Richard Tokma, 31-year-old Paul Adama said there is a God in heaven everyone would account to. If Tokma had treated him “this way” because he had no political power, he should not forget that every man, even an SSG, would face judgment someday.
It had been over a year since Governor Simon Lalong handed Adama over to Tokma, the then Acting Secretary to Plateau State Government, for compensation after herdsmen destroyed his moringa farm. But each passing day with Tokma, a little more hope was lost.
Adama was in Abuja when he learnt that thousands of cows had invaded his 160hectares farm. For several months, he had stayed in Kwi village, Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, tending, alongside 1600 labourers, to his newly-established moringa plantation. After the seeds had grown into healthy young trees and looked like they could survive on their own, Adama had returned to Abuja to take a few weeks’ rest.
FROM REAL ESTATE TO LARGE-SCALE FARMING
Adama was a successful real estate agent before venturing into large-scale farming. He had tried his hands on a seven hectares farm in the Kwali area of Abuja, and then the high demand for moringa by local and international companies pushed him to jettison his real estate business for full-time farming. A Chinese company had agreed to pay $2, 800,000 twice a year for the supply of moringa leaves, while a local company already sent a purchase order for the seeds. To meet the overwhelming demand, Adama ran to friends and associates for loans, and then emptied out his purse to produce the N147, 000,000 he needed to establish 270 hectares of moringa plantation.
DENIED ENTRY INTO HIS OWN FARM — BY SOLDIERS
On his return to Kwi, officers of the Joint Millitary Task Force (Operation Save Haven) attached to the village denied him entry into his farm. And for the two months that followed, the soldiers watched herdsmen consistently lead herds of cattle into the moringa plantation so that by the time they eventually granted access to the farm owner, over 90 percent of the seedlings were no more. Equipment on the farm had also been destroyed.
Adama would tell FIJ that the soldiers said they denied him entry to save his life, as he would have been killed by the herdsmen if he entered. When he eventually stepped into the farm, some herdsmen fired shots at him and his team. Everyone retreated to safety.
Riyom is a hot violence spot in Plateau State. Few days before the invasion of Adama’s farm, suspected Fulani herdsmen had killed 86 people in Riyom and Barkin-Ladi local government areas of the state. The resultant tension was yet very high when herdsmen led thousands of cows into the moringa plantation, after confirming from villagers that it neither belonged to government nor Brig. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the then Chief-of-Army-Staff.
THE LARGEST OF ALL DESTROYED FARMS DURING 2018 CRISIS
Adama’s was the largest farm destroyed during the 2018 Plateau crisis. It is, therefore, not a surprise that the state government invited him to a high-point conflict resolution event to submit his report for possible compensation. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, while on a commiseration visit to Plateau, had promised that the Federal Government would release N10billion for the rehabilitation of farms and farming communities. So, it wasn’t all bleak for Adama — at least, until Tokma entered the picture.
GOVERNOR LALONG’S INTERVENTION
Governor Lalong had invited Adama to his office, and on his arrival sent him to the Acting Secretary to the State Government (SSG). After reviewing Adama’s report, the SSG asked him to cut the amount he requested, as government would not pay that much in compensation. By that time, herdsmen had also destroyed two other moringa plantations belonging to Adama, putting the total hectares at 270. He wanted a compensation of N147million in all, but following Tokma’s directive, he reduced it to N93million. The SSG then assured him that he would get in touch after a meeting with the governor.
Adama got words from Tokma after a long wait. The 2019 elections, in which Governor Lalong was seeking reelection, were approaching. The governor had asked him to hold on till theconclusion of elections. Following APC’s victory at the polls, the farm owner returned to the Rayfield Government House in Jos. But this time, Tokma advised him to seek the help of a higher authority.
VP OSINBAJO WRITES LALONG
Adama then appealed to Osinbajo. In a letter dated April 12, 2019, he told the Vice-President his ordeal in the hands of herdsmen, and three months later, Osinbajo — through his Deputy Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye — wrote to Lalong, imploring him to take necessary action over Adama’s unpaid compensation.
SSG TOKMA IS ANGRY
Consequently, Tokma invited Adama to his office and spoke in a harsh tone. How could he go to that extent? Did he not understand that he, the SSG, was only answerable to the Governor and not the Vice-President? Did he not know that the Vice-President could not compel him to do anything? Adama watched, with surprise, the same man who had asked him to seek the intervention of a higher authority.
TOKMA FIRED AS SSG
Tokma accused Adama of attempting to destroy his career. And four days later, the SSG was relieved of his position. Adama would learn that the governor was dissatisfied with the Vice-President having to remind him of an issue he had instructed the SSG to address.
Before firing him, however, Governor Lalong had forwarded the Vice-President’s letter to Tokma’s office for action. But rather than pass it on to the incoming SSG, Tokma ensured the letter was completely out of the office. He sent it to one Ezra Bawa, a Senior Special Adviser to the Governor, and for the eight months that followed, Adama kept on appealing to the SSA, but the latter would refer him to Tokma, who had returned to his former position as Permanent Secretary, Policy and General Services, in the state civil service.
‘YOU WON’T SET EYES ON THE GOVERNOR AGAIN’
After an insider told Adama that Tokma and his cronies may have released and shared the compensation fund, and that they would ensure he never set eyes on the governor again, Adama approached the British High Commission and the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. Dominic Williams, the then Political Counselor at the British High Cmmision, Abuja, sent several emails to the Chief of Staff to Lalong, but none was replied.
Dominic, in one of his messages to Adama, noted that the British High Commision had already done more than it normally would.
“I have already gone further than we normally would in raising your case directly with the Governor’s Chief of Staff,” Dominic wrote. “However, the power to act rests not with us but with the Plateau Government.”
Loaners had started mounting pressure on Adama for refund. If things had gone as planned, moringa leaves would have been due for harvest in his farm by September 2018, and the initial proceed would have been enough to clear his debts.
By sunset on Friday, January 24, 2020, Adama had finished writing another letter to the Vice-President. This time, he told him of his very bad state of despair. He could no longer sleep well at home due to the barrage of assault from financiers and workers. The situation had been so bad that he could no longer offset his rent, and his children were out of school. He also informed Osinbajo that nothing positive had come out his letter to Lalong.
THREE YEARS, NO PROGRESS
The Plateau State Government had, at that time, already applied for the N10billion rehabilitation fund the Vice-President promised, according to Government House sources. A Fulani source also revealed that herdsmen who claimed their cows were killed in the 2018 crisis had been compensated.
In August 2020, Adama got a response from the vice-presidency. They had confirmed from the Plateau State Government that Richard Tokma was the one who mishandled his case. And then they told him his letter and the documents he provided had been forwarded to the appropriate quarters.
“They asked me to wait,” he says. “They asked me to be patient.”
Since then, Adama has not heard anything from anyone.
It is now three years since herdsmen destroyed his N147million farm. And despite instructions from Governor Lalong and pleadings from Vice-President Osinbajo, he has not been paid a dime.
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