Tit for Tat Between Squatters and Omega Magisterial Court
The Omega Tower Community which is expected to host the Paynesville City commercial hub of Red-light, Gobachop Market has become a tense ground for a land dispute over the past two weeks.
Land disputes remain a major threat to peace in post-war Liberia. Despite the creation of a Land Commission to deal with ownership conflicts, land problems persist in the country.
An estimated 90 percent of Liberia’s civil court cases are related to land and as many as 63 percent of violent conflicts in Liberia have their root in land rights issues.
The land dispute in the Omega Tower Community erupted after some citizens of the area claimed they were provided squatter rights by the Paynesville City Corporation over the last 10 years for them to live on the public property until the government gets ready to develop the land.
The incident took a dramatic scene after officers of the Liberia National Police arrested some of the community residents following rising tension in the area. The residents in their numbers marched to the Omega Magisterial Court chanting, “Omega Community-women want justice; we want justice”
Izetta Sheriff, 40, told The Stage Media (TSM) that in 2005, the city of Paynesville headed by Mayor Isaac Flomo provided squatter rights which were signed by John N. Watkins, then – head of Land Commission.
Isaac and Watkins allowed the squatters to reside on the land until the government is ready for development.
Sheriff said after they received the permit which has lasted for several years from the City of Paynesville, to their dismay, two other persons, Nat Ballah and Ernest Segbeh appeared few months calming ownership of the parcel of land.
She said, “We have been abused on many occasions by those men claiming ownership of the land but when we informed the police, they can refuse to go with us.
She continues, “At one point in time, they even beat and naked our female’s neighbours for this same government land business and today they have arrested six community members including my son providing us information that they are taking them to the Monrovia Central Prison for terroristic threat.”
Sheriff told TSM that “When a group of Emergency Response Unit (ERU) -a police officer- came to our house with weapons, they asked for my husband but I told them he has gone on a preaching assignment but to my surprise, Ballah told the police that I was one of the people they were looking for so they arrested my son and other children (youth) in the community and brought them to this Magisterial Court.”
She said when the police arrested the community youth; they were taken to the court and later send to Prison unconditionally.
Mrs. Dinah Boley, another resident of the Omega Tower Community said that Ballah and Segbeh had earlier on admitted that the land was for the government but to the utmost surprise of community dwellers, the two men are now claiming ownership of the piece of land.
“The only reason they are claiming ownership of the land is that we have renovated (fix) the place that was one over flooded with water into dry land so they want to sell now,” Mrs. Boley said.
Mrs. Boley said she has no idea why the court sends huge armed men to arrest peaceful citizens after listening to one side of the story.
Court document in the possession of TSM disclosed that on April 10, 2021, the Omega Magisterial court order the Writ of Arrest for the citizens involved to appear before the stipendiary magistrate Lawrence W. Jackson.
“You are hereby commanded to arrest the living body (ies) Pastor Sheriff, Grant Bolay and others to identified Defendant(s) and forthwith bring them before the Omega Magisterial Court to answer to the Charges: Criminal Conveyance of Land and Terroristic Threats based upon the oath and complain of the public of Liberia by and thru: Rev. Julius B. Doe and Agents Kwaloe Private Prosecutor,” the Write said.
When connected Segbeh told TSM that the administration will respond on their time. “For now, we cannot speak to the media”. He said.
According to the court document, the defendants resisted the court’s order and ordered the community boys along with Madam Beatrice Kpan to run the sheriff and bailiff out using weapons.
An action that led to the judge ordering a general arrest that was implemented by the police but still could not get the defendants to the court.
According to the document, after the police were resisted, the court later wrote the Inspector General Patrick Sudue requesting more officers on grounds that officers who were present to effect the arrest orders were overpowered by the community members.
The communication to I.G. Sudue reads: “By directives of his Honor James Ngafua associate Magistrate we write and request you to please see Self-Explicit Write of arrest and a general arrest order attached for Pastor Sheriff, Grant Boley and other identified who are presently escaping justice and have hired some gangsters and hooligans who are said to the armed with weapons such as knives, cutlasses and sticks to be guarded.”
“Based on the above-mentioned situation, it is difficult to have the named defendants arrested and brought to court. Therefore we request you kindly augment the arresting power with some riot police offers,” the document indicated.
The court document furthered that the LNP Inspector General provided more armed officers of the ERU on May 1, 2021, and arrested those associated with the violence and turned them over to the court.
Jeremiah K. Diggen, Public Relation officer of the Paynesville City Corporation in an interview told TSM that the corporation has no information about the community claim that they were provided squatter rights.