By Kolade Larewaju
The Cocoa Association in a statement backing down from their hard stance said that government should endeavour to carry the Association along before formulating policies concerning their business in the state and that Commodity Development Fund by government should be released to the farmers on time to provide a relief  to the farmers during cocoa growing.

THE Cocoa Association of Nigeria has sheathed its sword in the ongoing cocoa war in Ogun State, agreeing to pay the new fees and levies but said the Produce Department, collecting the levies, should monitor quality of cocoa at the farm gate.

The Cocoa Association in a statement backing down from their hard stance said government should endeavour to carry the Association along before formulating policies concerning their business in the state and that Commodity Development Fund by government should be released to the farmers on time to provide a relief  to the farmers during cocoa growing.

The Association in the statement signed by its General Secretary, Alhaji Najeem Olomide, said: “Availability of government inputs and provision of necessary chemical to the farmers must be improved upon and compensation and support for cocoa farmers who were the victims of recent over flooding in the South West that lost cocoa farms worth N500 million.”

The state government through the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Tunji Akinosi had earlier insisted that the new fees were overdue and that it was already being implemented in 13 of the 14 cocoa producing states, adding that members of the Cocoa Association were only playing politics.

Mr. Akinosi had said “the business of cocoa is moving. Their announcement that people should not pay the new grading fees has not any effect. Not a penny of the state revenue has been lost.

Those crying are not the target. I asked their Secretary, Alhaji  Olomide who has been the one shouting; ‘how many cocoa have you bought this year?’

“Since 1999, they have been paying N3,000 and now we asked that you pay N5,000 and they are shouting even when we have given them imputs; chemicals and seedlings worth over N40 million. Common sense also says that this grading is overdue for increment.”

Members of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria started a showdown with the Ogun State Government over the latter’s unilateral and arbitrary increase in the fees and levies to be paid by the produce merchants.

Thrice, the association had written to the state government but only a firm response that it would not back down from the increase was received. Apparently dissatisfied with the response, members have been directed not to pay the new levies while most have decided to move to neigbouring Cocoa producing states to ply their trade.

Trouble started when the State Government through the Department of Produce Services in the Ministry of Agriculture on 2nd September, 2010 issued a circular reviewing the Grading and allied Levies for Cocoa in the state.

In the Circular signed by Director of Produce; O O Kushimo, the review were Inspection fee; N1,300, Grading fee; N2,000, Evacuation fee; N200, Commodity Development Fund; N500 and Produce Trust Fund; N1,000 all totalling N5,000.

The total fees which hitherto was increased from N3,000 to N5,000 was according to Kushimo was to take effect on 1st October,2010. But in a swift reaction the National Assistant Secretary Alhaji Najeem Olomide replied asking for a stay in the review followed by another one after there was no response until the 8th of October when another one was written in the same regard.

Olomide in his letter said “we have sent several letters to your office that all the cocoa producing states are yet to implement this new tariff, as we are always saying that Ogun State is not the only State producing cocoa, we don’t want any action that can cause problem between the produce buyers and the produce department.

“We are now demanding for your urgent reply and action from your office to rescue the cocoa buyers that could not practice there business for now in the instance of your information to us”.

Government however in its last response in a letter signed by SA Adenopo for Director of Produce Services declared that “the review, which was long due, was at the instance of the Governments of the 14 Cocoa Producing States of the Federation, hence it is a national issue binding of all the producing states”.

With these final words from Government, the Association directed all its members not to pay the new levies  as the Government had not carried the group along.

Rising from their meeting in Abeokuta on Thursday, a communique issued said apart from not being duly carried along in the formulation of the policy, the produce department collecting the levies has not been monitoring the quality of cocoa at the farm gate.

Moreover members of the Association said that they have been denied Commodity Development Fund  which was meant to provide a kind of relief for the farmers during cocoa growing and that there was no government input and provision of necessary chemicals to the farmers and that cocoa farmers who were victims of the recent flood disaster with a loss of cocoa farms of over N500 million.

Speaking with Vanguard in Abeokuta, the National Assistant Secretary Alhaji Najeem Adenopo said “they first changed the fees and levies under the military in 199 from N1,000 to N3,000 and it was forced on us. But if government would increase the cost of doing business it should call stakeholders and explain if it was not anti people; we should have been called for a meeting.

“Other Cocoa Producing States have not increased; they have maintained the levies. Even Osun State which produces more Cocoa that Ogun has not increased the levies. In Kwara; it is still N2,500. Why Ogun?

Government insisted that it was a decision of the Cocoa Producing State and we investigated; it is not true. Even then, the Constitution does not recognize Cocoa Producing States. Democracy is about consultation. We are not fighting but we are asking that they do something urgent as produce merchants are already moving from the state.

“The levies are meant to kill the Sector as they are discouraging cocoa dealer from neigbouring state to come and trade in Ogun. The excessive regime of levies is anti-people and capable of ruining the Cocoa business in the state.

“We have met and decided that anybody operating in Ogun State should not pay the levies and we have decided to let the Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel know about all these things because we suspect that some of the officials may be behind the intransigence”

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