Land encroachment: the dynamics of an on-going experience


Urbanisation of Accra inter alia has led to criminal acts of land grabbing which has gained the notorious name ‘land guards’. Anybody who has suffered the activities of land guards knows that it is something that no government should tolerate not to the extent of which it has almost become an acceptable norm. What happened to the much touted digitisation of lands in Ghana? I guess it is one of the usual political antics to show in the eye of the public that government is working on resolving the problem when in fact they do little or nothing to solving the problem.

Chiefs are usually associated in most of the land guard operations. They are perceived to have sold a piece of land to several people hence the clash of several owners to the same piece of land. In this article, I will paint a perfect picture of the dynamics of an on-going experience in a land encroachment encounter belonging to a close relation and how helpless we are in trying to get the law to work.

  1. The context       

The said parcel of land is situated at the western part of Accra. The owner of the land has been in possession since year 2000. It was acquired by toil and labour. Through work, the owner saved money and bought the land.

Over the years, he has tried to develop the land through same means of toil and labour. There was a caretaker who cultivated vegetables on the land for some time. Later, the land owner started developing the land. He constructed a four bedroom foundation.

Just recently, he was informed of an encroachment on the land. The encroacher demolished the four bedroom foundation. A complaint was made to the police for protection of the property. The police took no action. The encroacher started developing the land in the night when mortals went to sleep.

The report to the police was escalated to the police headquarters. Now the builders come to work during the day under armed land guards waiting to be approached so they act. The owner sees the armed land guards protecting the builders. He cannot risk his life to approach the builders except to rely on the police. No arrest has been made till date.

  1. The law

The law is clear on the stipulated years a land owner has to develop a piece of land for residential and/or farming purpose. The same law is clear on the distinction between a land which has been entered on and one that has been left fallow. In this instant case under discussion, the land has been entered on. So the questions are;

  1. What then gives another person the right to come on same piece of land, demolish construction works and start a new one?
  2. Is there no protection for such innocent land owners?
  • Must government institution like the police sit unconcern when such report has been made?
  1. Must the innocent land owner also engage the services of other land guards so there will arm fighting for the land?
  2. If the innocent land owner sought legal remedy, who bears the cost of the legal fee knowing that going to legal aid may be an exercise in futility?
  3. What does one do when his land is taken under such circumstances?

The innocent land owner resulted to legal remedy.

  1. The nuances of the law

Action brought before the law court must be against a legal person else the court will not tolerate it. This grand norm has dealt a big blow to the innocent land owner because he cannot go on his land for fear of the land guards meanwhile the police has failed to act.

The lawyer of the innocent land owner has requested that he be given the name of the developer so that an injunction will be filed. The lawyer claims an injunction cannot be filed if the name of the developer cannot be ascertain. The law is truly an ‘ass’ as they say.

Can our courts take a different approach to land cases for example in issues like we have at hand where if the encroacher continues to build to lintel level it becomes a problem to demolish? Why can’t the injunction be taken by the court and direct to be posted on the walls of the building site, the court notice board and published in the national newspapers just like it is done in substituted service?

Going by the approach in the immediate paragraph above, not seeing the legal person to serve the suit on will not even matter. As long as the injunction is pasted on the site and pictures of the present state of the construction taken, any further development after the injunction is posted will be tantamount to contempt of court.

If this approach is not taken, and the police remain adamant to arrest the developers, the poor land owner will become a victim of a gigantic mischief perpetrated by the law enforcement agency. I have not touched on documentary evidence of ownership of the land because that is also an issue of law that will be a subject of determination by the court when the injunction is filed and the case heard.

Be that as it may, the innocent land owner has the legal documents covering the land in his name genuinely obtained from the Lands Commission. Granted that the administrative processes at the Lands Commission is what it is expected to be, no two person must have title to same piece of land. This is where we fail as a country as compared to Rwanda.

  1. Lessons from Rwanda land system

It begs a simple reason that having a President as a lawyer, land issues has not improved. Rwanda’s shinning success in its Land Administration is worthy of emulation. Every foot of land in Rwanda is carefully and properly demarcated and documented and ownership is not an issue of argument.

No two people own the same piece of land in Rwanda. How they have done it is a matter of leadership call. Determined leadership takes decisions that have lasting solutions to national problems. Land issues in Ghana particularly in Accra are striking to say the least.

My reading, understanding and experience of the success story of Rwanda’s Land Administration were aptly anchored by digitisation and a clear understanding of land ownership. In Ghana, the land laws are so clear about the system of land ownership. Digitising and clearly adhering to the ownership of lands in the records indicating who owns what and where at the registration processes by the Lands Commission will help greatly.

This means that one cannot successfully register a piece of land which does not belong to the person. Also ownership of land must be clearly determined before building starts. Stipulated period for the start and completion of a building project must also be strident.

In conclusion, land issues in Accra are a sad spectacle which should not have been allowed to flourish. The wrongful selling and buying of lands must be jointly condemned. The confidence of the land courts will be reassuring if land cases are handled in the most expedient way that does not disown poor rightful owners who cannot seek redress.

My biggest joy between 2016 and 2020 would have been if the whole legal institution amalgamated in the expansion of legal education, legal profession ethics, court administration and making more people get access to legal services. The digitization of the court system will be another subject of study to determine its efficacy.

In my estimation, between 2016 and 2020, Ghana has not achieved much in the legal space for which reason unlike Professor Evans Atta Mills who saw the operationalization of the new Law Faculty building at the University of Ghana and the High Court Complex, I will not applaud our sitting President with same advancement of the legal institution.

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