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Land Disputes, Confusions & Conflicts: Liberia’s Next National Challenge?

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In a congratulatory message to the newly-appointed National Land Commission for its Draft Land Rights Policy recently made public for national, consultative debate and eventual legislation, dedicated to land acquisition/possession and definition of ownership rights reform, including Customary, Land Tenure reform in Liberia.

Land is Human Life

In that message, we held that “Land is human life or that human life depends on the Land is so  obvious and self-evident that it needs no proof; however, it is necessary to cite a few examples for emphasis. From the Land come”:

The materials used to build huts, houses and the mansions in the villages, towns and cities in which we live for shelter; the clothes that we wear; the automobiles, trains and railroads, airplanes for rapid mobility are made from primary products from the land; and that so are the telephones, television sets, computers and paper products, including the very (printed banknotes) money that we use as the medium of exchange for the acquisition of all of these life-supporters and life-givers are from the land.

More importantly in our case, there is more land in Liberia than there are people; our small nation of less than 4 million people is, indeed, sparsely populated and that the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives on the land, mainly, in accordance with Customary Land Tenure, and survives economically, by subsistence agriculture.

Nation-wide Land Disputes

However, throughout the length and breadth of this troubled land – from the rolling hills, rice paddies, the land of Liberian bread basket of Lofa County in the west to the cocoa, oil-palmed and fisheries land of Maryland County in the East; and from to the giant, forested mountains, iron-ore and diamond-rich land of Nimba County in the north to the densely-populated trade, commerce & industry land of Margibi, Montserrado and Grand Bassa Counties in the south – there are numerous, increasing and deeply-troubling disputes, confusions and conflicts with threats of armed violence among and between farmers, personal/private landowners, city and county authorities.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf referred to this condition in her Annual Message (January 28, 2013) as “. . . as if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”

The illegal, wholesale land-grab phenomenon that is rampant nationwide with threat of renewed, national nightmare is based upon and derived from the new, 1989 “revolutionary theory” of the insurgent, civil war “freedom fighters” who plundered, looted, destroyed, raped, maimed and murdered thousands of innocent citizens in order to create a new socio-political order under no democratic rule of law, but “jungle justice”. In rural and the urban Liberia, some of these rebel, freedom fighters who took possession of others’ land at gun-point are now mayors, superintendents, senators, representatives and powerful officials who wield and abuse socio-political power with impunity, even are some judges, attorneys and counselors at law. Add to this their friends and relatives who, also, are now encroachers/squatters and occupiers of land that is not, lawfully, their own, also, with impunity.

The Prevailing Condition

This alarming condition is due to illegal actions of the land-grabbers, encroachers/squatters of land not their own, exacerbated and compounded by the civil war and, most importantly, now Aided & Abetted  by some, apparently, un-ethical, greedy, dishonest Attorneys & Counselors at law (who, the average public believes, are the major cause of delays, delays and delays with persons accused and held in detention for months or years, and known by the relatively un-informed as “Liars & Cheats-at-Law”); also Aided & Abetted by some Judges who certify and approve registration/admission of these lawyers as Counselors; and the political power that appoint to and maintain these “Judges” in their life-time positions of power/authority.

No wonder that there had been, and continues to be, an avalanche of criticisms and condemnations with demands by our “partners-in-progress” for comprehensive reforms of the Liberian Judicial System!!

Case in Point

Then there is the potentially, explosive issue of thousands of the Cooper Beach Estate Landowners and illegal encroachers/squatters. Some of the illegal Encroachers/Squatters built shops, churches, homes and mansions on land that they do own, refuse to vacate and render possession to lawful owners, even upon the nation’s Supreme decision, with all necessary legal mandates in favor of the Cooper Beach Estate and the land owners who acquired their properties lawfully from the Estate. Where else may one turn for redress/remedy?

The illegal encroachers/squatters depend, simply, upon these lawyers who seek and secure baffle, delay, baffle, delay and extended delays (known as “continuance” in legal parlance) for years to the point that rightful owners are “tired-out” with court expense – filing fees, lawyer’s fees, lawyer-eating-from-both-sides etc., etc, etc. In one case, the Supreme Court gave a definitive decision but owners have yet to take possession from the illegal squatters, because, it is said, that the Ministry of Justice will intervene because of the nature and volume of citizens involved. The lawful owners are still waiting for ministry of Justice – it is now more than a year!

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