By Foday Moriba Conteh
In a significant move to address longstanding land injustices in Sierra Leone, John Paul Bai, the Director of Sierra Leone Land Alliance, delivered a compelling statement during the launch of a Policy Brief titled: “Agony of Affected Landowners: A Case For National Land Commission.” The event took place on Wednesday, February 7th, 2024, at the prestigious Amnesty International Conference Hall on Water Street, Main Motor Road, Congo Cross in Freetown.
John Paul Bai revealed that over the years Sierra Leone has grappled with numerous land disputes, prompting the establishment of various Committees and Commissions to investigate and address those issues, adding that in 2021 similar Committees were formed to probe allegations of land corruption but their effectiveness varied.
He stated that His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio, and the Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning, Dr. Turad Senessie, have shown a preference for forming Complaint Committees to tackle complex land issues, despite limited insight into the outcomes of past efforts, furthering that the Complaint Committee established by Dr. Turad Senessie in March 2021 to examine land disputes in the Western Area revealed alarming findings, including the manipulation of citizens through ethnic divisions and the unlawful seizure of prime land from rightful owners.
He disclosed that the delayed implementation of the Committee’s recommendations has led to frustration and even deaths among affected landowners, underscoring the urgent need for action.
Recognizing the need for comprehensive land reform, he said the Government enacted the National Land Commission Act 2022, establishing the National Land Commission. Endowed with broad investigative powers, the Commission is tasked with resolving disputes, promoting security of tenure and providing redress for those dispossessed of property due to past discriminatory laws or corrupt practices.
“Given the complexities of land disputes, litigation often proves inadequate for achieving satisfactory resolutions. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms, such as mediation and negotiation, offer a more flexible and collaborative approach to resolving conflicts,” he maintained.
He pointed out that the Policy Brief advocates for the National Land Commission to leverage ADR to address historical injustices, ensuring equitable outcomes for all parties involved.
On behalf of the Sierra Leone Land Alliance, he outlined recommendations which include firstly the utilization of Traditional Dispute Resolution Mechanisms: Community-based approaches should be employed, particularly in resolving disputes over communal land in the peninsular areas.
Secondly Prioritization of Conciliation and Mediation: ADR methods should precede legal proceedings, fostering dialogue and compromise before resorting to litigation.
Thirdly the Expansion of National Land Commission’s Powers: Granting quasi-judicial status to the Commission, with oversight from the High Court, would enhance its ability to enforce recommendations, ensure compliance and finally be collaborative Engagement: The Commission should actively engage with affected landowners’ representatives to expedite the resolution of pending cases and deliver justice effectively.
In conclusion, he stated that the launch of the Policy Brief underscores the imperative for urgent action to address land injustices in Sierra Leone, by embracing ADR and empowering the National Land Commission, the nation can embark on a path toward equitable land governance and sustainable development.
Solomon Sogbandi, a member of the Sierra Leone Land Alliance, emphasized the significance of the Policy Brief in guiding the National Land Commission toward fulfilling its mandate of safeguarding citizens’ access to and rights over land.
He acknowledged the potential challenges associated with implementing certain recommendations but emphasized that some are readily actionable. However, he expressed frustration over the Ministry of Land and Country Planning’s reluctance to enact certain recommendations.
For instance, he highlighted a specific recommendation advocating for the return of land to rightful owners, which has yet to be realized despite repeated calls.