After a fierce legal debate among nine Supreme Court Justices on May 23, 2012, the white-wigged legal authorities ruled 6-3 in favour of Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), to keep custody of a controversial government land recently leased to him. Jakeâs land at No. 2 Mungo Street, Ridge, was a matter of legal interpretation after two NDC ministers dragged the issue to the Supreme Court.
Apparently, the Atta Mills government did not take kindly to the ruling, so in less than 24 hours after the ruling, a cabinet meeting was convened at the seat of government in the Osu Castle, where top government executives decided that in spite of the Supreme Courtâs ruling, the government was not going to release the contentious land to Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey.
Like a military junta ruling with a decree, the Mills government, with executive fiat, cited âmoralityâ as the basis for its disagreement with the Supreme Court. What followed this face-off between the top arms of government was akin to a constitutional crisis that drew wide public outcry.
Now the fallout has claimed the job of the helmsman at the Lands Commission -Wordworth Odame Larbi, and a well-thought-out policy is on the verge of being scrapped. This is likely to compound the current accommodation crisis that has hit the capital.
Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Mike Hammah said government was reviewing the Accra Re-development Policy to prevent it from being abused; this is the policy that Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey used to acquire his contentious property. Interestingly, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) claims that top guns of its political opponents, the NPP, have been the major beneficiaries of the policy which was passed by the previous NDC government in 1995. It has however not disputed the fact that some of its own officials are currently occupying lands acquired under this scheme.
The Accra Redevelopment Scheme was part of the Greater Accra strategic plan initiated in 1992 and finally endorsed as a policy in 1995 by the NDC government. The scheme was aimed at transforming the central part of the capital city into a modern metropolis.
Given the huge capital required to develop these neighbourhoods, the government, at the time, reasoned that the only way to sufficiently achieve its goal was to grant investment access to private individuals and corporate entities to transform the fallow or dilapidated government properties and lands which are fast becoming an eyesore in the city. To gain benefit from this scheme, investors or purchasers would need to sufficiently demonstrate their ability to construct modern commercial, residential and recreational properties.
Several people, particularly government officials, took advantage of this policy to change the landscape of Accra from its hitherto low-lying sprawling real estate to the modern high rise commercial and residential apartments currently dotting prime areas in the city.
Beneficiaries took advantage of prime areas such as Osu, Cantonments, Ridge, Kanda, Airport Residential area etc which were all earmarked in this scheme. While these lands were being gleefully appropriated, an integral segment of the community was seething with intense anger.
The Ga Dangme Agitation
The Ga Dangme people are the original owners of all the lands in Accra, and during the colonial era, specifically in the 1840, the colonial government took up some of the lands in a 50-year lease from the people. The lease was apparently renewed when the colonialists felt they would need a longer stay at the enchanting Gold Coast that was considered to be flowing with âmilk and honeyâ at the time. This land kept changing hands between successive colonial administrations and was eventually passed on to a Ghanaian administration when the country gained independence in 1957. Since then, successive governments have assumed certain rights over the lands in Ghana, particularly in Accra which doubles as both the administrative and commercial nerve-centre of the country.
Consequently, several legislations have been carved to address land ownership in the country. The laws clearly spell out various ways in which government can assume rights over lands in the country.
The Ga Dangmeâs however feel some of the instruments of laws are detrimental to their very existence. According to them, the government is indiscriminately selling their ancestral lands to private entities, in total disregard for the original contracts held between the people of Ga Dangme and government.
According to Nii Sama Okropong, a sub-chief in the Osu traditional area in Accra, some of the lands that government is either selling or leasing to private entities are on lease and most of the leases have long expired.Â âThe leases expired in the 1980s and government has no business selling those lands,â he tells DAILY GUIDE.
In his analysis, the popular race course opposite the Parliament house, for instance, was leased in 1876 for 50 years. It was returned to the Ga people in 1923 and it was given to one Dr. E.C Reindorf, but âDr. Kwame Nkrumah forcibly collected it from the Ga people in 1964, and never paid a fraction of a farthingâ, fumes Nii Okropong.
Â âGovernment is a squatter on all the lands it is operating upon and has been very irresponsibleâ, says the sub-chief.
âMany of us have died, but not all are dead. We hold the government in trust for our properties, we know what is happening and we just want to plead with government; government has been a squatter on our lands, government has no mandate to alienate any of our lands.â
According to him, in colonial times, the colonial government acquired most of the lands from the indigenous people and current indigenous governments are using colonial tactics to continue this land acquisition. âWhy should we perpetuate what we think the colonial government did wrongly on our own people?â
Currently, the traditional Ga occupants hardly have enough space, as modern structures are mostly owned by Lebanese, Nigerians. Other foreigners and ex-government officials and their cronies gradually squeeze them out of their extremely scarce resources. Areas such as Osu, Labadi, Teshie, Old Accra (James Town), Nungua, etc, are typical Ga settlements, but the contrast between the new developments and the space left for the indigenous people can give credence to the contention being expressed.
Â âWe wish to stress that Ga land space is severely limitedâŚunder these circumstances, Ga Dangmes need their land to harness and control their own modest resources for development and to provide basic necessities for their own people,â states Professor Jonas N. Akpanglo, President of the Ga Dangme Council.
Incidentally, the Ga Dangme youth are beginning to quiz their forebears about the land situation that has pushed their living areas to obscure corners of the city. They want to know what caused them lose so much land to foreigners, individuals and businessmen. âWe had a meeting and they asked me so many questions about the land and I told them that the Osu stool is handling it,â says Nii Ako Nortei IV, the second-in-command to the Osu Paramount Chief.
Resisting The Status Quo
On Monday, June 4, 2012, the Ga Dangme Council called a press conference during which Prof. Jonas Nartey stated categorically that the time for incessant fruitless dialogue with the government over issues relating to their land was over and hinted at the peopleâs resolve to fiercely resist the status quo.
According to the visibly infuriated Professor, all attempts to get government to resolve the situation have fallen on deaf ears; âAll governments, past and present, have been insensitive to the needs, and therefore turned deaf ears to the cries and pleas of Ga Dangmes about the many illegal sales of Ga Dangme lands and unconscionable and reprehensible acts of officials of the Lands Commission and other departments in dealing with Ga Dangme land issuesâ.
Â âWe have had a number of press conferences over the past 14 years of our existence [As the Ga Dangme Council]; we have marched to presidents in the Castle etc. We have done all that we needed to do and we are not getting answers. Our people are getting tired and angry,â he said.
Even though Prof. Nartey did not want to disclose the exact plans the council has up its sleeves, there are indications that the country may soon see several legal suits against the government by the Ga Dangme people.
Â âGa Dangme strongly considers that the bungalows have been sold mainly on the basis of âinsider tradingâ by which âbig timeâ politicians and key government officials have come to learn of such information because of their employment or work in government,â Prof. Nartey states.
This arrangement completely denies indigenous people the opportunity to gain access to such lands even though they have the first option of purchase as stated in the statutes.
âIn other cases, their friends, business and political associates and family members might have been tipped off about such pending salesâ.
Lands Commissionâs Indictment
The Land Commission has been fingered for carrying out many of the alleged illegal sale to undeserving individuals. The commission has disputed this though.
According to Nana Adjei Ampofo, Chairman of the Commission, the problem goes beyond mere sales. He thinks it borders on a lack of education on the actual functions of the Land Commission. âIn darkness, people imagine so many things when there is light, you see whatever is around and it does not become imagination again, it becomes a reality.
âHere in the Lands Commission, we never sell land, we grant lease and other rights.â
Â âIn the case of Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, the commission never sold him the land. The commission only granted him a lease for 50 years. After the 50 years, it must revert back to us, so whatever people are saying that we are selling their lands, it gives a wrong impression,â he says.
He emphasises that, âWe are not selling the lands, we are managing the lands, and some of the ways in which we manage is to grant leases and other rights.â
Even leases come with a lot of conditions, as according to him, if granted a lease and a lessee does not do any meaningful development on the land, the lease is taken away from the individual.
Land tenure system in Ghana is a labyrinth, but in Accra, when government decided to withhold Mr. Obetsebi-Lampteyâs lease with the posture of the land owner, the situation became murkier. The Ga Dangme people felt spited; not because Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey was being denied a sealed lease transaction. Rather, they felt spited because government was acting as though it owned the land and could do whatever it wants with it.
âOur lands never belonged to government. I hope no Ga Dangme will ever talk about âGovernment landsâ; Government has no land. Perhaps, if they were to fight people from the moon and acquire lands, that would be their land, but so far as we are concerned, they have no land,â fumes K.B Asante, a former Diplomat of Ga Dangme descent and the former President of the Ga Dangme Council.
âBy the provisions of Article 20 (5) and (6) of the 1992 constitution, government has no right to sell such lands in the first place without giving the original owners the first option to buy up the property. The selling of the property is therefore illegal,â states Prof. Nartey
Alhaji Bakari Sadiq Nyari, the Director of Public Vested Land Management Division of the Lands Commission, explains the intricacies of government involvement in land issues in Ghana. According to him, there are two ways government can assume control over a land. First, the government can vest the management of the land using the Administration of Lands Act 1962 ACT 123.
There is however a second process where the government can assume ownership over a land under the State Lands Act 1962, and in the past, it was the same law called the Public Lands acquisition Ordnance of 1876. âIn these cases, the state acquires ownership. The state has become the owner,â says Alhaji Nyari. When the state acquires land under this legislation, it is obliged to pay compensations to the owners.
Indeed, the acquisition of such lands under the State Lands Act of 1962 does not come that easy. The government will first have to identify the land that it wants to acquire, and will have to head to the Supreme Court to get a certificate that will authorize it to a title on that land. This, of course, will have to be given after the owners of the land have been identified and the value of the land ascertained.
Setting The Ball Rolling
Some Ga Dangme families do not appear to have the time for all these interpretation. One such family is the E.B Tibboh family which is going around the Osu and Cantonments areas in Accra, marking buildings that they believe should revert back to them after their leases. Some chiefs have condemned this act, saying that the lands in Osu are stool lands and not family lands. Nii Notei confirms this, but states, âSo many things have passed through under the bridge, I donât know what they stand for.â
âWe are affected on all fronts; socially, economically, everything, we are affected. Without land, you canât do anything. Land is very important,â states the chief. Several land economists agree with this point of view, but in Ghana, land issues are the most complicated to handle.
By Raphael Adeniran