Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 October 2021:
One of the most dangerous issues in Sierra Leone today is the right of private landowners to repossess their land and property that have been illegally occupied or encroached upon by squatters.
In Sierra Leone, the cost of bringing court action to repossess land and property is not cheap. Yet even after a court decision granting permission for the rightful owner to repossess their land and property, they are in most cases met with violent resistance from squatters and encroachers whose respect for the rule of law and order is non-existent.
Most encroachers and squatters in Sierra Leone claim possession based on the false and misguided jungle principle of – “finders – keepers”. “You found, you take, and you keep.”
But this law of the jungle is an absolute anathema to the constitutional order upon which the society and State of Sierra Leone were founded and depends on for peace and stability.
According to local journalist – Amin Kef Sesay, the Law Courts are awashed with cases of disputed claims of rightful ownership to private land and property in Freetown.
And this week’s violent scenes witnessed and captured on video around the leafy suburb of IMAAT – an affluent area of the capital Freetown is typical of what private landowners must face if they are to attempt repossessing their land and property after a court order has been granted in their favour, despite heavy police presence.
What took place at IMATT this week is not an isolated case. Since 1992 the Carlton-Carew family of Freetown have been battling with the courts and police to repossess their family land situated at Thompson Bay – off Carlton-Carew Rd / Wilkinson Road, in the west of Freetown where squatters and encroachers have built makeshift houses and refusing to leave despite a court order granting the family the right to repossess their land.
The family has received death threats and their home has been attacked – set alight by hoodlums to intimidate the family and prevent them from repossessing their land. The police are reluctant to take action to ensure the family can safely repossess their land, as it seems the matter has become politicised.
Despite letters written by the Carlton-Carew family to President Julius Maada Bio, vice president Juldeh Jalloh, the Attorney General and Inspector General of Police, no one in authority cares about justice for the Carlton – Carew family and their right to repossess their land.
According to local journalist – Amin Kef, “These land conflicts “wahala” or disputed cases have become so alarming in certain communities around the country to such an extent that those in authorities that deal with land issues must really take a proactive stance to ensure that the right things are done in order to prevent mayhem from taking place.”
The following is Amin Kef’s report of what took place at IMATT this week:
On the 18th October 2021, there was a serious fracas within an area called IMATT, South Ridge to be precise, in the far West End of Freetown, as the illegal occupants of the piece of land, said to be the property of Seidya Development Company Limited, putting up a stiff resistance lasting several hours.
In the process of ejecting the illegal trespassers from the said piece of land by bailiffs the alleged illegal occupants and their supporters put up a very stiff resistance, wailing that they have been unfairly treated.
The said property is situated at Off Leicester Peak Road, Hill Station, Freetown as shown on the Survey Plan No. SLS67/04 dated 4th March 2013.
The land is believed to have been under the control of a caretaker who decided to sell the piece of land to five different individuals, on separate dates, namely: Samuel Kargbo, Ibrahim Kabia, Alhaji Kamara, Francis Kai Kai, Henry Brewah, all of Leicester Peak Road, Hill Station in Freetown.
The matter was taken to court by Seidya Group (SL) Ltd as Plaintiff/Applicant and the five illegal trespassers as Defendants/Respondents.
In a High Court Ruling by Justice John Bosco Alieu dated 10th February 2021 it was stated that the plaintiff is at all material times to this action the person entitled to possession of the property occupied by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendant /Respondent which said property is situated at Off Leicester Road, Hill Station, Freetown as shown on the Survey Plan numbered SLS67/04 dated 4th March, 2013; that the Plaintiff/Applicant is to recover possession of the land from the 1st , 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendant/Respondent; and that the Plaintiff/Applicant is to recover damages for trespass against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendant/Respondent respectively.
The Court also granted injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendant/Respondent whether by themselves or by their servants/ Agents, privies or however called from trespassing upon or remaining on the Plaintiff’s land; that the Counter Claim filed for and on behalf of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendants/Respondents against the Plaintiff/Applicant be dismissed.
The Court ordered cost against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Defendants/Respondents in the total sum of Twenty Million Leones (Le20, 000,000.00) each, and that the plaintiff/Applicant is at liberty to pursue his claims against the 4th Defendant/Respondent by filing Summons for Direction fourteen (14) days after delivering this ruling.
Indeed, the land dispute has been a long-drawn matter. Head of the Seidya Development Company Limited, Alimu Sanu Barrie, who is the Proprietor of PAVI FORT Roads Construction Company has been so busy with the rolling out of contract projects that he dedicated little time in pursuing the matter.
However, based on the fact that the illegal occupants have been very intransigent to vacate the land and with the intervention of two Members of Parliament, Hon. Telson Koroma of Constituency 127 and Hon. Benjamin Turay of Constituency 128 an amicable mediation plan was put together which all the parties to the land dispute must adhere to.
According to a written document, dated 8th June 2021, Alimu Sanu Barrie said in recognition of the mediation between the Honourables and himself plus his magnanimity not to put untold suffering on the illegal occupants, he is offering them the following: 2 Acre of land, 2,000 bags of cement, 15 tons of iron ore, 10 trips of sand and One Hundred Million Leones (Le100, 000.00) in compensation.
In return he demanded that all occupants cease to lay claim to the property, that they access the offer through the Members of Parliament, all make shift structures and permanent structures shall be forfeited and no claim shall lie on the demolition of the said structures and that the full judgment shall be enforced without recourse to any mediation. The offer was to exist for two weeks to be accepted.
That offer did not quell down the tense situation that has been building up relating to the said ownership dispute of the land. The situation became so tense and violent whenever the court order was to be executed to such an extent that the Ministry of Lands had to intervene.
It was understood by this medium that recently the Minister of Lands, Dr.Turad Senessie engaged both parties to the dispute and categorically told the illegal claimants that the land belongs to Seidya Group (SL) Ltd. He advised them to accept the offer informing them that if anything befalls them he will have nothing to do with it
As of now the situation is relatively peaceful and efforts are being made to engage the trespassers to accept the aforementioned offer inter alia given to them by Alimu Sanu Barrie. Indisputably by all indications the rightful owner of the piece of land is Seidya Group (SL) Limited.
This is the statement issued by the Ministry of Lands Housing & Country Planning on Monday, October 18 2021:
The attention of the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning has been drawn to a social media video depicting a demolition exercise believed to have been undertaken at South Ridge, adjacent the IMMAT and American Embassy in Freetown. The Ministry wishes to inform the general public that the demolition exercise in question is not sanctioned by the Ministry.
However, the Ministry is concerned that even if such action is sanctioned by a competent court of law, the exercise should be done in a manner that will not threaten the social peace of citizens and other residents in the locality.
In this regard, the Ministry is requesting all concerned parties to put a hold on any further action on the ground effective immediately.
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) has received instructions to stop the said exercise and ensure the immediate removal of all equipment being used at the demolition site and its environs.
All parties are therefore invited to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning on Wednesday 20th October 2021 at 1600hrs to chat the way forward.
The Ministry appreciates the usual cooperation of all concerned.
Signed: Media & Public Relations Office, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning
In another related development, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning announced that the moratorium on lease and sale of State lands has been lifted with immediate effect: