The canker on our land …Vigilantism and Related Offences Act, 2019, Act 999 (Sect. 7) — still-born?
“You shall not remove your neighbour’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess” (Deuteronomy 19:14 NKJV).
“Cursed be anyone who removes his neighbour’s landmark.”And all the people shall say ‘Amen’ (Deuteronomy 27:17). Proverbs 22:28 and Proverbs 23:11 repeat the same admonition.
The Biblical quotations above are some of the admonitions God gave to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This shows that from the beginning of time, God knew how precious land is. He therefore warned the Israelites about trespass and encroachments on land that did not belong to them.
When I was studying economics over four decades ago in the Secondary School, I remember there was a topic I studied – “Factors of Production”. This is related to resources or inputs that were used in the production process i.e. finished goods and services. I learnt that there were three basic factors or resources of production; land, labour and capital.
Land, it was said, included not only the site of production, but also natural resources above or below the soil. Without this scarce factor of production, no economic activity could go on in real estate, agriculture, mining, industries, etc. land is of so much importance that communities, families and even nations have fought wars to protect their inheritance.
Land is of such importance that Chapter Twenty-One of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana was devoted to Land and Natural Resources.
In fact, land was held so sacred that Article 266 (1) of the 1992 Constitution was solely devoted to Ownership of land by Non-Citizens. Article 266 (1) reads: “No interest in, or right over, any land in Ghana shall be created which vests in a person who is not a citizen of Ghana freehold interest in any land in Ghana.”
266 (4) also reads:
“No interest in, or right over, any land in Ghana shall be created which vests in a person who is not a citizen of Ghana a leasehold for a term of more than 50 years at any one time.”
What these clauses of our Constitution seek to show is that Ghanaian lands are so important that the maximum number of years that a non-Ghanaian can get, upon the acquisition of land in any part of Ghana for whatever purposes, shall not exceed fifty (50) years.
Article 18 also guarantees the protection of privacy of home and other property 18(1) “Every person has the right to own property either alone or in association with others.”
(21) “No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of his home, property, correspondence or communication except in accordance with law and as may be necessary in a free and democratic society for public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the protection of health or morals, for the prevention of disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights or freedoms of other.”
It is for the above reason that even the government with all its powers cannot compulsorily take possession of any property or interest in or right over any property unless the acquisition is necessary in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning or the development or utilisation of the property in such a manner as to promote public benefit (See Article 20 (1) (a) of the 1992 Constitution.
Article 20 (5) also states that any property compulsorily taken possession of or acquired in the public interest shall be used only in the public interest or for the public purpose for which it was acquired. The state cannot acquire such property free, hence the provision in Article 18 (2) (a) that compulsory acquisition of property by the state shall only be made under a law which makes provision for the prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.
So if even the state cannot by the use of its coercive force trespass someone else’s property, how come that some people, who are now known as landguards, appear to be more powerful than the state and by the use of brute force, threats, intimidation and outright mayhem enter to take possession of parcels of land that have been legitimately acquired by their owners?
This phenomenon has become so entrenched in Accra that the Ghana Police Service had to establish a whole unit – the Property Fraud Unit at the CID Headquarters in Accra. The Property Fraud Unit of the Ghana Police notwithstanding, these landguards, who are a law unto themselves, appear to be unruffled. They have become so powerful and influential that they have become untouchables, with their own army platoons of motor riders. They have beaten, maimed and even killed innocent property owners because they dared challenge them.
The Nana Akufo-Addo government, realising that this phenomenon is getting out of hand caused to be passed the Vigilantism and Related Offences Act, 2019, Act 999. For this Article, our interest is in Section 7 of the Act “Prohibition of activities of landguards.”
7(1) A person shall not, directly or indirectly, facilitate, organise or promote the organisation of landguards, for the purposes of protecting or guarding land or property, whether belonging to that person or any other person.
(2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten years and not more than fifteen years.
(3) A person shall not act as a landguard.
(4) A person who contravenes subsection (3) commits an offence and in liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years and not more than 15 years.
(5) A person shall not directly or indirectly engage a landguard to protect or guard the property of that person or any other person.
(6) A person who contravenes subsection (5) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years and not more than fifteen years.
(7) Despite a provision in any enactment, a person who acts as a landguard armed with an offensive weapon commits an offence.
(8) A person who commits an offence under subsection (7) is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years and not more than 25 years.
These provisions are however very encouraging paper tigers! Before the passage of this law in 2019, as far back as in 1962, Section 34 of the Land Registry Act, 1962, Act 122 had made fictitious land transaction an offence under the Act. It reads: Any person who knowingly:-
- purports to make a grant of a piece of land to which he has no title; or
- purports to make a grant of a piece of land without authority; or
- makes conflicting grants in respect of the same piece of land to more than one person, shall be guilty of an offence which shall be a second degree felony and may, in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed upon him, be liable to pay an amount of twice the value of the aggregate consideration received by him.
Generally, a person convicted of a second degree felony shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.
We are in 2020. My question is, how many chiefs and other grantors involved in these fictitious land transactions have been convicted under this law for the past fifty-eight (58) years? Meanwhile, it is in the public domain that it is these fictitious land transactions that have led to the formation and recruitment of landguards.
It is also an open secret that these chiefs, and so called land owners and the land guards openly boast and publicly show that all the people who are expected to see to it that the law bites are either in bed with or in the pockets of these landguards and their pay masters.
Let anyone have an encounter with some of these people and lodge a complaint at the Property Fraud Unit of the CID Headquarters or any of the Divisions and Districts of the Greater Accra Regional Command; that is where you would realise that, there is indeed a whole network, including top police officers, national security operatives, politicians, even individuals, groups and public office holders professing to fight corruption in Ghana are involved.
The role of officials of the Lands Commission, who directly or indirectly facilitate, organise or promote the organisation of landguards in Ghana, especially in Accra cannot be glossed over. Why on earth would officials of the Land Commission, most of whom are lawyers of so many years standing, find it difficult to interpret and implement Court of Appeal and Supreme Court decisions?
Under what circumstances can retired military officers use their influence to recruit armed soldiers, to follow the landguard chiefs to forcibly enter people’s properties they know do not belong to them? Why would top government officials use their exalted positions to protect these landguards?
Why would well known master landguards and land fraudsters be walking in and out of top the offices of state security officials and dropping their names at the least opportunity without blinking an eye? Have these state security operatives not overheard a complaint about their names being used for such nefarious and antisocial activities? If the government does not crack the whip, we shall continue to experience more of the embarrassment some people have caused the nation on the trespass of the Nigerian High Commission in Accra.
Why are dedicated and honest officers of the national security apparatus, who are prepared to bring these anti-social beings to book not getting the needed support from their superiors?
What are other statutory bodies clothed with the power and authority to prevent and detect organised crime such as Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) doing? May I respectfully remind the leadership of EOCO of the objects of that Office Section 2 of the Economic and Organised Crime Office Act, 2010, Act 804 which deals with objects of the office states:
2. The objects of the Office are to (a) prevent and detect organised crime, and
(b) generally to facilitate the confiscation of the proceeds.
Why are these antisocial persons being allowed to publicly exhibit their ill-gotten wealth without any restraint?
It appears no one wants to bell the cat but the Prophet Habakkuk has the following admonition for us all: “woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it”. (Habakkuk 2:9-11) (NIV).
I heard this scripture used for the first time by the former Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana Her Ladyship Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood.
It appears Section 7 of Act 999 is still-born and gone to its grave like old Roger.
BY YAW ADJEI AFRIYIE NKETIAH