Locals in the Nyawa Chiefdom in the Kenema district have vowed to this morning of June 15th 2010, resist any attempt by the Resident Minster East, William Juana Smith to send a police force to intimidate them against their right to a large portion of land threatened to be taken away from them by their Neighbours in the Small Bo Chiefdom.¬†The land dispute started more than a year ago when a certain Liberian company known as ITAL entered into an agreement with authorities in the Small Bo Chiefdom for land concession for the planting of a large acreage of rubber trees.
In an exclusive telephone interview last night with one of the chiefdom elders who gave his name as Luke Abdulai Yajah, he said the company has brought a caterpillar in readiness for bush clearing without their expressed consent.¬† According to him, Small Bo Chiefdom authorities entered into the agreement with the company sometime last year, went ahead to give concession that ate about 80% of their own land without any formal agreement with the people of Nyawa.¬†
"When we met with authorities of Small Bo, they told us they needed not confer with us as the land belongs to them," he said, adding that thereafter several stakeholders were called upon to mediate for peaceful coexistence to no avail.¬†
"We are not against development but what we want to say is that the People of Small Bo must include us in any negotiation with regards the rubber cultivation on our land,í he went on.
Mr. Luke Abdulai Yajah further informed that two month ago they wrote an official letter to the Vice President and copies sent to various stakeholders, including the Resident Minister vividly welcoming the development but with reservation that they are being by passed by the Small Bo people with claims of ownership to the land.¬†
"The impasse had continued until three days ago when we saw a tractor for bush clearing and road construction into our land", the chiefdom elder said.¬† He however disclosed that when the youths saw that ugly development, they vowed to ground the machine until the matter was amicably resolved.¬†
"This probably angered the Resident Minister who ordered police from Blama two days ago to come and cow us," he continued, adding however that the incident provoked an emergency meeting last night of elders and the youth of the chiefdom to ensure that the machine remained grounded until a land survey is undertaken by the Lands Ministry to determine the rightful owners of the land.
"If they want to include our land into the cultivation, we must have our own terms as a Chiefdom of its own, instead of using the powers that be to rob us of our rights," Mr. Yajah opined, adding that the youth are ready today to block the machine from further moves.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
When contacted however, Minister Juana Smith denied having interfered into the matter. He in fact said he was not in any official knowledge of the land dispute and insisted that the road which the caterpillar was trying to grade was not a new road but an old one he knew of having existed since he was a small boy.¬†
"How did they transport huge logs from Nyawa forest on multiple-wheeled trailers if not on that road?" Smith rhetorically questioned adding, "The letter they are talking about was not directly written to me so what do they expect me to do?"
"What I know is that the company wants to start road construction for the plantation so we need to give them protection.¬† The question of inviting Lands Ministry is not the case here because that is development," he said over phone.
When put to him that he was invariably giving a wrong signal in that regard, and that the Nyawa people will not forgive him for backing the Small Bo People, he strongly damned this writer over the¬†phone and threatened to sue this medium if any unsavoury article is written against him.
Meanwhile, the Nyawa people say they are ready to furnish the Awareness Times all correspondences with regards the land dispute and the Ministerís unwillingness to settle the matter. As of this morning, they say they are prepared to "shed blood" in defence of "our right to our ancestorsí lands" should the Resident Minister send armed policemen to forcibly overpower them within their own chiefdom. The Resident Minister on the other hand, insists that he will definitely send the Police over this morning as "no-one has the right to stop development or block a thoroughfare anywhere within my area of oversight which is the entire Eastern Province including Nyawa". Efforts to get the newly deployed Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Eastern Province, Mr. S.B.¬†Kargbo proved futile upto presstime last night.
Awareness Times is keeping abreast of the developments this morning and we will keep our readers informed as to whether or not "blood" will be "shed" in Nyawa Chiefdom this morning as is being promised by¬†belligerents.