From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, Things are going from Bad to Worse…: Lands Minister Shamelessly Usurping Private Lands
By Journalists Aruna Turay & Dauda Koroma
Jun 7, 2010, 18:58

Section 21(1) of Sierra Leone’s Constitution states that "no property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of, and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired…" but it appears to be a section that the Minister of Lands and Country Planning, Denis Sandy is unaware of going by his actions. The minister has been reported up at State House for his maverick actions not limited to grabbing private lands of people in the Western Area like the family of the late Dr. John Abayomi Cole but President Koroma has not been seen to be able to contain the excesses of his errant appointee. The latest incident involves a brazen, shameless attempt to grab a private piece of property situated at Regent up in the Mountain Rural District.

According to the caretaker of the land in question, Mr. Victor Thomas, a retired Managing Director of the Sierra Leone Brewery, the said piece of land belongs to his cousin presently residing in the United States of America. He said it is part of a whole piece of land initially owned by two of his cousins, Donald Fowler and Philip Thomas and willed to them by their ancestors with all necessary documentation of ownership dating back decades.

The signboard placed by Government Operatives on Private Land at Regent

Mr. Victor Thomas explained that, some months ago, one Lawyer Kowa marshaled a team of men to his house, begging him, to allocate a section of the land to them for the purpose of linking their constructed house, which is located back of the land in question to the main street.

"Being a caretaker, I consulted the real owner of the land in America who refused offering any part of the land to them as requested" Mr. Thomas explained, adding that to his consternation, last week, he was alerted by neighbors that some unknown men are constructing a motorable street on the same piece of land.

"Hearing this, I rushed to the scene and stopped the road construction exercise automatically," he went on, adding that after stopping the work on the land, the workers informed him that they got the permission from Dr. Dennis Sandy, the Minister of Land to forcibly construct the road across the private land. Mr. Thomas revealed that he forced them to stop the work and also forced them to leave his cousin’s land.

At about mid day on Saturday 5th June 2010, Mr. Thomas furthered, another set of unknown men, claiming to be executing an order from the Lands Minister came to the land and erected a huge signpost with words painted on the signpost that said this said piece of land is henceforth now a Government owned land and no longer a private property.

Mr. Victor Thomas explained that when he was alerted by neighbors of this ugly development, he wasted no time in coming out of his house and dropping the sign post that had been illegally mounted on his cousin’s property.

"After this, I tried calling on the Minister through his mobile phone to discuss the issue with him but to no avail as he first took my call and when I identified myself and stated the burning issue for which I was calling him, he abruptly ended the conversation. Repeated efforts to phone him again were rebuffed as he could not pick up my further calls," said Mr. Thomas.

Awareness Times reporters tried on several occasions using various telephone lines of different SIM numbers to contact the Minister for his side of the story but the latter deliberately refused to grant interviews on the matter. He would pick up the phone and when we would identify ourselves as journalists investigating the issue of Mr. Thomas’ land at Regent, he would cut the phone off.

At another point, he threatened us with police action for "harassing" him with phone calls. "Why are you calling my line?" the so-called public servant growled out at us journalists seeking to have his side on an issue of public interest. Following this threat to cease calling him or face police action, Awareness Times sent him several cogent SMS text messages to his mobile phone in which we detailed out our questions for his attention but to no avail. It was clear that the Minister did not want the opportunity to give his own side of the story in this shameful development of Governmental grabbing of private citizens’ lands contrary to Section 21(1) of the National Constitution of Sierra Leone.

This presshouse has been receiving a ceaseless stream of complaints about such cavalier attitude of this Minister towards privately owned lands that he would arbitrarily abrogate as Government Lands. We have in our possession, several heated letters between Minister Sandy and local lawyers over this issue.

In one such set of correspondence between himself and Lawyer Christopher Peacock, he started off by praising the fine manners of Lawyer Peacock and later ended up by insulting the lawyer because the lawyer insisted that one Mr. Aaron Cole’s private lands at Lumley Beach were not Government land.

In another letter he sent to Lawyer Blyden Jenkins-Johnston, he threatened physical violence towards one of the lawyer’s clients whose land he was attempting to illegally grab at Leicester and further stated that Jenkins-Johnston Esq. was "jealous" of him.

In yet another letter to Lawyer Chukuemeka Taylor, he proceeded to lecture Chukuemeka Taylor Esq. of what he perceived to be the Law after someone was murdered on a client’s land following the minister’s illegal actions that could make him be liable to charges of murder of a human being as an accessory before the fact.

The actions of the Lands Minister has been variously described ranging from erratic to impulsive to simply lawless and his actions have been reported to the President at State House but with no action seen to be taken to curtail the man’s excesses. The country’s main opposition party recently questioned President Koroma’s judgment of character going by the questionable character of persons he appoints to high office.

Meanwhile, Awareness Times is carefully watching this latest constitutional contravention issue as it unfolds up at Regent. Section 21 is an entrenched provision. Stay tuned.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.