As ex-chief confirms judgment
By Omar Bah & Oumie Mendy
At least eight families in Pirang have appealed to the government to intervene in a land dispute between them and a Jammeh Kunda family in Basori. The Ceesay, Demba, Camara, Barrow, Sanneh, Touray, Darboe and Jabang Kunda families of Pirang want the government to enforce a judgement delivered on the land by the former Kombo East chief.
In that judgment delivered in May 2014, the Kombo East district tribunal, presided over by the former chief, Alhagie Basiru Jarjue, ruled that the families of Pirang are the rightful owners of the land in the east of the cattle track and urged the Jammeh Kunda family of Basori to stay away from the cited land for the sake of peace.
But his ruling was recently brushed aside by a lands and dispute committee at the West Coast Region governor’s office. In its conclusion, the committee said: “The judgment issued by the Kombo East tribunal cannot be valid as the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to try a leased land more so where the said lease process passed through the same tribunal. The village as set by the chief and his tribunal was illegally done. The tribunal has no mandate to establish both district and village boundaries. Therefore, the pegs as done by the tribunal must be removed or not recognised.”
The five-man committee is headed by the deputy governor Musa Suso and Musa Badjie, a former National Assembly Member. The controversy surrounding the land has been dragging for years now. Four senior residents of Pirang speak to The Standard on behalf of the eight families.
One of the land owners, Fabakary Camara of Pirang told The Standard that the late Pirang grand marabout was the one farming on the land since in the sixties. “The land was allocated to the marabout by late chief Fa Touray Sanyang. The land was cleared by our fathers and brothers in the sixties and since then we have been farming there until 2010 when the Jammeh Kunda family started selling the land,” he said.
He said he then reported the matter to the former chief Basiru Jarjue who, after months of consultations, delivered a judgment in favour of Pirang.
Camara, who is in his late seventies, said despite the chief’s ruling the Jammeh Kunda family continues to encroach on the land. “I then reported the matter to the police but they keep dragging the issues. So, the problem is the central government has to act or else there will be serious conflict,” he said.
“When we were clearing this land some of these people who claimed ownership of the land were not born,” he said.
Also speaking to The Standard, Buba Sanneh said the cattle track has always been the border between Basori, Pirang and Tubakuta. He said the cattle track was identified in 1962.
“We sold part of the land to Muhammed Jawara to develop the rest of it. But these Jammeh Kunda families are working closely with some scrupulous land dealers to sell our land. We want to call on the government to intervene before the situation goes out of hand because we are ready to attack them if they continue selling our land. We don’t want to see it. Period,” Mr Sanneh said.
He said the Jammeh Kunda family has been provoking them because they feel empowered by the governor’s office. “We are not going to accept the provocation anymore. How can one family want to take land owned by eight families from a different village?” he said. He said they have been patient for nine years but if the government fails to intervene, they would retaliate. Mr Sanneh said the governor’s office has no power to brush aside the chief’s ruling.
Sulayman Darboe of Pirang Darboe Kunda said his family wanted the government to end the controversy surrounding the land. “It is very sad that few people in Basori are making life so difficult for us unnecessarily. This land belongs to us and they know it but because they know the government will not do anything they are trying a chance. But we will not let them have it their way,” he said. Mr Darboe said the community is planning to mobilise a vigilante group to ensure they drive the Jammeh Kunda family out of the land. “We have exhausted all efforts and the government is refusing to listen but when we fight, they will do something,” he said. He said they are ready to take the law into their own hands now.
Lamin Jarju of the Pirang Dembo Kunda said his family has been farming on the land for the past 50 years or so.
“Nobody would have thought at the time that one day people would come from Basori to claim ownership of the land. So we want the government to address the issue or else there will be a serious confrontation,” he said.
To confirm whether there was a ruling on the matter, The Standard visited former Kombo East Chief Alhagie Basiru Jarjue, who said: “I can confirm to you that I presided over the matter and ruled in favour of Pirang. As far as I am concerned, I followed due process. Musa Suso and Musa Badjie have no right to overturn my ruling. This nonsense can only happen now. It has been over seven years since I made that decision but nobody raises issues about it. Why now?”
He added: “I want them to understand that the powers the chiefs have in determining matters of tradition even the magistrates don’t have. So, the governor’s office has no right to brush aside my ruling because I followed due process before making my ruling including talking to both sides. I made my conclusions based on the responses I received from them and there was no appeal made to the tribunal for consideration.”
Chief Jarjue said when investigating matters of traditional land, “you ask the fundamental question of who cleared the place first. If you are able to establish that and the location of the place, then you will be able to make an informed decision.” He said since Jammeh left scrupulous land dealers have re-emerged grabbing people’s land all over Kombo. “People don’t care about the law now, everybody is doing what they want because during our time, we never allowed something like this,” he said.
The unhappy former chief said the former alkalo of Tubakuta and some senior residents of the surrounding villages were called to the disputed land to identify the boundaries between them.
“So, the cattle track was identified as the boundary between Pirang, Tubakuta and Basori,” he added. Chief Jarjue said he has taken his decision in good faith.
The chief said the committee refused to summon him to testify at its hearings because that would have given him the opportunity to tell them how he reached the decision.
Musa Suso explains
When contacted for comments, West Coast Region deputy governor, Musa Suso said: “What happens is that during the process of hearing the matter, we realised that a matter that has already been handled by the ministry of land cannot be discussed at the governor’s office level. So, to that effect, we wrote to the ministry to ask them to take the case over. This is why we could not reach the point of inviting the chief.”
When asked about a judgment made by the governor’s office land dispute committee and obtained by The Standard, deputy governor Suso argued: “That ruling is null and void. It doesn’t hold anymore. We are now waiting for the ministry’s decision.”
Police investigation on Jawara’s case
Meanwhile, a police investigation report obtained by The Standard on the same land between Mr Muhammed Jawara and one Thomas of Organic Farms has concluded that the land belongs to Pirang. The investigation also recommended forgery and criminal trespass charges against Thomas and 2 agents of his Limz Organic farm, Modou Lamin Dampha and Morr Ndow.
In 2019, Sanusi Touray of Banjul, lodged a complaint at the police over a land he bought on 8th March, 2018, on behalf of Muhammed Jawara and Sulayman Jawara from Muhamadou Touray of Pirang village measuring 400m X 256m X 290m after Thomas had reportedly sold it out to one Sulayman Jagana.
The police investigation found Able Thomas and his agents wanted for forgery and trespass.
The report revealed that one Kebba Khan, a former employee of Limz Organic Farm, was designated with the responsibility of purchasing properties for the company.
In 2000, Khan reportedly bought land located in Tubakuta from Muhamadou Touray of Pirang.
Muhamadou Touray told the police investigators that the land he sold to Khan belongs to his late father’s Quranic student, Bekaye Jabang.
The police said Mr Khan was issued a transfer by the late alkalo of Tubakuta for the land but before he could finalise the transaction with the company, he parted ways with them.
The police investigators concluded that Modou Lamin Dampha and Morr Ndow, both employees of Thomas then approached Aminata Gassama of Pirang Berending, secretary to the alkalo, requesting for a transfer document but they could not produce the original document.
“Our investigations revealed that Thomas invaded the property of Sanusi Touray and sold part of it to one Sulayman Jagana on behalf of Haji Jagana of USA,” the police said.
The investigation also revealed that the late alkalo of Tubakuta, Karafa Bojang, transacted a transfer document for the land Thomas bought in Tubakuta to Haji Jagana after a phone call from Thomas.
Muhammed Jawara, a US-based Gambian who bought a land in the disputed area, told The Standard from his based: “The first step in addressing land issues in the West Coast Region is to disband the land committee and restructure it with people of substance who are both competent and qualified to arbiter between sparring parties.”
He alleged that the current committee led by Musa Suso is corrupt and often works with notorious land criminals for their selfish interest.
“It is high time for the government to address this issue before it gets out of hand. We have reported trespass in our land by the Jammeh family to the police on several occasions and provided all our documents to show ownership. The Jammeh family has been advised by the police to address their concerns through the courts but have resorted to taking the law into their own hands by vandalizing our fence and using the governor’s office as the one who gave them ownership. It is frustrating to deal with such lawlessness in the Gambia.
“I am appealing to Musa Suso and the land committee to respect the rule of law and stop sabotaging the efforts of the government for land reforms, national development, and maintaining peace,” Jawara added.
Jawara also accused the Police Commissioner of West Coast Region, Pateh Jallow and OC Biram Jallow of being soft in enforcing the law.
“Every time these officers are provided with the judgement from the former chief tribunal, they turn the other way while protecting the criminals. How can law enforcement officers allow the Jammeh family to continuously be in contempt of the former chief’s ruling without any repercussion? This is very unfortunate and undermines the efforts of the government for reforms. All we are asking for is for them to enforce the law,” he concluded.