Bathurst Land Saga… Sierra Leone Lands Minister Violates Court Order

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Minister of Lands, Dr. Dennis Sandy

By Amin Kef Sesay

The Judiciary constitutes the third arm of Government and its primary mandate is to interpret the law and punish law breakers. It is the expectation that verdicts given by the Judiciary after due process has been followed will be executed and respected in order for justice to roll down like a mighty river. However, in this part of the world we have witnessed the flouting of legal decisions with some using political influence to get away with it.

The latest case in point is that which has to do with the latest tyrannical move instituted by the Minister of Lands, Dr. Dennis Sandy, on the 7th October 2019 when he personally arrested a peaceful business man by the name of Abdulai Bademba Barrie, for no clear or justifiable reason and later drove him in his official vehicle to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Freetown where Abdulai was detained and was refused granting him bail. Even when Abdulai Barrie had wanted to use his own private vehicle to drive to CID the Minister insisted that he should only onboard his official vehicle creating the impression that Barrie is a coupist or celebrated criminal.

The said arrest was effected at Bathurst,in the Western Rural District, after Abdulai honoured the invitation of the Minister to his office at Youyi Building and later  Sandy took the former to the land site at Bathurst not clearly specifying whether it was to conduct an inspection or do some form of assessment of a piece of land that has been legally proven to belong to Abdulai Bademba Barrie.

It will be recalled that on the 30th September 2019 a Court Order of eviction was executed by Military and Police Personnel at Bathurst, Soja Tong, in order to reclaim a piece of land that was purportedly encroached upon by individuals who have no business to be there, including some soldiers. The land in question, before Abdulai bought it, was a private property and not a State Land as some may want to suggest. Alleged illicit structures were bulldozed on the piece of land, leaving the so-called squatters out in the open.

From our findings at the CID there was no clearly stated or defined reason given why Abdulai was really detained, denied bail but manipulatively forced to spend the night in detention. In other words, no convincing charge has so far been proffered against him for any wrong doing.

In relation to the said matter, the attention of this medium was first drawn to audio messages making the rounds on social media as well as write-ups purporting that certain individuals have been dispossessed of their bona fide parcels of land at Bathurst said to have been genuinely acquired from the Ministry of Lands, Environment and Country Planning. Being very much passionate about championing the cause of the “Voiceless” in society, we became very much interested in the issue and thereof decided to undertake a thorough investigation to get to the heart of the matter in order to ascertain the veracity of the aforementioned audio messages and postings.

Indeed, when we went to the scene where the demolition of structures was taking place it was really emotional as those affected were bitterly crying, some carrying on their heads their only earthly properties.

Contacting the Judiciary of Sierra Leone in order to get their own side as to whether they are aware of any Court Order that should be executed to evict occupants on the land, the response was in the affirmative. It was affirmed that the issue was before the High Court of Sierra Leone for adjudication but in the final analysis the court authoritatively ruled in favour of Abdulai Bademba Barrie after looking at all the evidences. The ruling states that the legal owner of the land is Abdulai  Bademba Barrie.

Interestingly, it was understood that even after the Court Order was given six months back the occupants on the land stoutly put up a stiff resistance to quit but rather claimed that the parcels of land were their real properties which they legally acquired after going through all the necessary channels and have resided in the locality for ten to fifteen years period.

This medium learnt further that the military personnel, one of them who has reached the rank of a Colonel, another who is Major, even after the demolition exercise are putting up the stiff resistance vowing that they will use all their contacts to ensure that what is rightfully theirs will not be clandestinely or wickedly taken away from them. Vengeance, according to them, will be theirs.

For now they are using the social media to whip up public sympathy, painting the picture that someone who is very influential in society has trampled on their human right to ownership of property.

But here is a clear case where the Ministry of Lands, before this time, carried out a thorough survey and assessment of the land and did all within their mandate to verify the authentic possessor of the land. Out of the Ministry’s findings it was categorically ascertained the said piece of land, allegedly encroached on, authentically belong to Ibrahim Bademba Barrie according to the judgement.

Besides, the highest arbiter of justice in the country, the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, has ruled in favour of Bademba Barrie, as he is popularly known.

We are all aware of the fact that at this material point in time it is difficult to easily get access to accommodation in Freetown and so to just eject someone from his abode would not go down well. But here is a situation where the illegal occupants were given prior warning before execution of the Court Order to quit but obdurately refused to comply. Should they blame others for what befell them?

As far as revelations are concern this is not a matter of the high trying to muzzle the downtrodden. This is simply a case of bona fide ownership of a land as against illegal encroachment.

According to a land expert he opined that if the aggrieved party are so desperate over possession of land they must first find out whether they were duped by officials of the Ministry of Lands or not. If it was so, he furthered, then they should be in a position to prosecute them to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). He added that they could also file an appeal in a court of law.

However, from our investigations it is overwhelmingly convincing that the said piece of land rightfully belongs to Abdulai Bademba Barrie according to the Judiciary.

Again, according to our findings we came to the realization that Abdulai Barrie has no blood relationship with the Vice President, Dr. Juldeh Jalloh and has never bragged of using any connection with the 2nd gentleman to lord it over less influential individuals in society as it is propagated by some of the affected persons. “Bademba is a very religious person who is passionate about helping others and he cannot be reduced to a savage who  is always glad to see others groaning in pain,” the youth leader of Bathurst confided in this medium.

Various stakeholders, whom this medium spoke with, blatantly condemned the Minister’s action saying it is totally unconstitutional and an affront to the independence of the Judiciary. “For the Minister of Lands to express the view that Abdulai Barrie should have first informed the Lands Ministry about the proposed demolition exercise after the High Court has given a verdict and issued a Court Order is a total disrespect for an important Organ of Government.

This is not in any way democratic and is out of tune with good governance,” a development expert expressed indignation, adding that the actions of the Minister of Lands, seemingly taking the law into his own hands, has become detestable also insinuating that the Minister, through his actions, has been giving the Maada Bio led SLPP Government a bad name.

According to a legal dinosaur in the country “Only the Court of Appeal can reverse the decision of the High Court. No other person or agency or Ministry has that authority. And anyone that does anything contrary to that court order is abusing the rule of law and abuse of office. There are laws which are there to prevent abuse of office .I think the best thing the Minister can do is to advise the defendants to appeal and if the Ministry feels that the land does not belong to the Plaintiff they can ask the AG to institute action for recovery. Everything else is just posturing and a violation of the rule of law. It is really that simple.”

A retired Civil Servant, who once worked at the Ministry of Lands, had this to say on the said issue: “The Demolition was carried out by the Bailiff Office. What the Minister is doing presently is undermining the Judiciary. Thus, for the Lands Minister and officials of CID to act on the contrary by arresting the landowner constitutes a Travesty of Justice. Incidentally, it also erodes the authority of the Inspector General of Police who approved for Police assistance as a backup in the event of a resistance by the squatters and trespassers.”

A seasoned Civil Society Activist disclosed, on the condition of anonymity, that there is probably a political undertone around the whole issue. He questioned Minister Sandy’s action, maintaining that he is trying to fight for the aggrieved parties because they are his tribesmen and staunch party supporters. “The Law is the Law and No one is Above the Law,” he said reiterating that if the court has given its verdict then who is the Minister of Lands to challenge the authority or decision of a constitutionally constituted court of law.

Attempts made to contact the Minister of Lands and the Ministry’s Public Relations Officer on his Cell No: 079174028 proved futile as both of them were uncooperative. When again we got in touch with the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Information and Communications, Emmanuel Turay, he responded that he will get back to us but up to the time of going to Press such did not transpire.

Head of Police Media, Superintendent Brima Kamara informed that the Police are looking at three issues relating to the issue. One is that the Minister of Lands made a claim against the Abdulai Barrie, that there was malicious damage of structures on a piece of land and thirdly the legality of the Court Order. He stressed that they are looking at those three issues and at the end of the day if Abdulai has a case to answer then the matter will be charged to court and if not the matter will be thrown out. He said the aspect of granting bail is discretionary stating that according to law the word MAY is means it is discretional.

As the matter keeps unfolding this medium will continue to provide objective updates.

 

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