By Omar Bah
A US-based Gambian has threatened legal actions against physical planning, Kombo East chief and one Winston E.E. Able Thomas, a land dealer, for allegedly conspiring to take his land in Pirang Berending.
Muhammed A Jawara alleged that the said land was bought by himself and Sulayman Jawara from Muhamadou Touray and his brothers of Pirang Berending.
But according to him, Thomas allegedly sold part of the land to one Muhammed Jagana.
Jawara, who doubles as the chief executive officer of Gikay Farms, said after all his efforts to convince Thomas, Kombo East chief Sanyang and physical planning to stay off his land proved unsuccessful, he is now resorting to the courts.
“As we are now stuck in this web of bureaucratic red tape plastered with negligence and corruption, we are now working on suing the chief and physical planning for negligence and Thomas and Muhammed Jagana for trespassing,” he told The Standard.
“Based on our conversations with Thomas, physical planning and chief Bakary Sanyang, we are convinced that they are conspiring to defraud us of our land. The system has pushed us to the wall. The document Thomas presents is determined to have been forged,” Jawara alleged.
When contacted for comments, the permanent secretary ministry of lands, Buba Sanyang, said: “When Muhammed Jawara brought the issue to my attention, I consulted the Kombo East chief who brought me a document he signed for Muhamadou Touray showing the said land was sold to Limz Organic Farm, a company I was informed is owned by one Able Thomas.
“Jawara wanted me to rely on a police report but I said no, he should allow us to deal with the matter at the level of the ministry. Tomorrow the chief is coming with the alkalolu of Pirang and Tubakuta and Muhamadou Touray to discuss the matter.”
PS Sanyang said the ministry will inquire from Muhamadou Touray whether he sold the land to both Muhammed Jawara and Limz Organic Farm.
He said the meeting will be attended by the physical planning officer in Brikama and a representative from the governor’s office but the two parties will not attend.
“We hope the meeting tomorrow will help us reach to the bottom of the matter. We will invite the parties to tell them our findings,” PS Sanyang added.
He said they bought the land on March 8th 2018 and cleared it immediately, adding that they had also bought lands from Buba Sanneh, Fabakary Camara, and two Janneh Kunda families in the same area.
But in July 2019, he added, “we found some people working on part of the land, approximately 100mx185m. They claimed they were assigned to work on it by Sulayman Jagana. When we contacted Jagana, he claimed to have bought the land from Winston E.E. Able Thomas. But the transfer was done by the alkalo of Tubakuta despite the land being located in Pirang”.
“I reached out to the alkalo of Tubakuta as to whether he was shown an original purchase and ownership documents by Thomas for the land he claimed to own. The alkalo told me he sanctioned the land sale based on a phone call with Thomas. He confirmed there was no original purchase paper tendered for verification,” Jawara said.
He said when he contacted Thomas, he told him he had purchased the land over 20 years ago but couldn’t remember exactly when he bought it and that he doesn’t have the original transfer document since it was done a long time ago.
Thomas allegedly told the person he sold the land to that the original owner, Muhamadou Touray had agreed to leave 100mx185m for him.
He said if Touray had informed him that he already sold the land, he would not have sold the land.
However when contacted, Muhamadou Touray said he could not remember ever setting eyes on Thomas and he can only recall selling a land for one Bekai Jabang to one Kebba Khan in Tubakuta. He said the land was originally given to Bekai Jabang by the Daffeh Kunda family in Tubakuta.
Bekai Jabang was an Arabic student in Pirang Berending but had since returned to his home country of Senegal.
Touray said the land he sold to Jawara belongs to his family and has nothing to do with the land he previously sold to Kebba Khan in Tubakuta.
Buba Sanneh, a senior elder in Pirang Berending who has his own land in the same area, said: “I cannot understand why Thomas is going around selling people’s lands. The land is owned by Pirang and that’s all. I risk my own life by taking a gun against Yahya Jammeh’s men just to stop MA Kharafi from expanding their rice fields to this land”.
The Pirang Berending alkalo’s wife and secretary, Aminata Gassama, confirmed to The Standard that the land sold to Muhammed Jawara is located in Pirang and not in Tubakuta as claimed by Thomas.
“I can confirm to you that the particular area they are talking about belongs to Pirang Berending. The man (Muhamadou Touray) who sold it to Muhammed Jawara is a son to a late marabout called Alhagie Ebrima Touray, alias Baa Janko. That is the transfer I can confirm I made,” she said.
She added: “It was when the new owners had already started developing the land that I was informed that part of the land was sold to one Morr Ndow, Muhammed Jagana and others. But those who resold it got a transfer from Tubakuta – which is illegal and wrong.”
She said Thomas’ agent approached her to issue a transfer but she refused because the document he showed her was forged.
“The paper that he brought to me was an A4 paper which contained a land measuring 3000X5000 metres. I told him I have never written a transfer of that magnitude my entire life. I wonder how they get that document. I asked them to provide the original transfer but until today they have not returned,” she added.
The matter was since reported to police who initiated a probe into the issue and interrogated Thomas, Muhamadou Touray, the akalolu of Pirang and Tubakuta, who did the transfer, the imam of Tubakuta, the two former chiefs of Kombo East and physical planning.
The Tubakuta imam was contacted for comments but begged to be spared as he is not feeling well.
The former chief of Kombo East had some years ago ruled that the cattle track should be the border between Basori, Pirang and Tubakuta. This demarcation was consented to by all parties.
Jawara said since January this year, they have been engaging physical planning to give them clearance to start developing the land.
“Despite sending a technician, one Ismael Fofana, to survey the area and later provided his report which confirms that the cattle track is what separates the two villages – physical planning is still dragging their feet,” he added.
Jawara said physical planning through their former West Coast Region office manager, Amadou Daffeh, had once invited all the relevant parties to a meeting but Thomas and the late Tubakota alkalo refused to show up.
“There was no explanation given and Daffeh refused to arrange another meeting. When I ran out of patience, I reached out to Momodou Bojang, the director of Physical Planning. He promised to send a principal to the Brikama office to investigate. Within a week of my conversation with him, he told me they were going to take administrative action against Daffeh for his behavior. When I asked him what behavior of Daffeh, he told me that was an internal matter. He conveyed to me that Daffeh was going to be replaced by someone else within a week,” Jawara added.
“Daffeh was transferred and replaced. But not before changing the report prepared by his technician on the border separating the two villages. He however forgets to change the sketch which shows that the land was located in Pirang Village Kombo East District West Coast Region and owned by Momodou Touray and now transferred to Muhammed Jawara.
“When I engaged director Manjang again on the way forward he asked me to engage Sowe, the person who replaced Amadou Daffeh. But Sowe clearly told me he wouldn’t be able to do anything unless he receives authorisation from his bosses,” he said.
When he tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to get the Physical Planning to address the matter, Jawara said he reported the issue to the PS ministry of lands, Buba Sanyang, who advised him to get a confirmation of the border from the local authorities.
“PS Sanyang promised me that once the border confirmation comes from the alkalolu and signed by the chief, Physical Planning will act on it. I raised the issue of the legitimacy of the document with him and asked him to call Thomas to verify if he bought 1500 hectares from Muhamadou Touray or not. But he refused,” Jawara lamented in frustration.
He said the alkalo of Pirang had since prepared a document to validate the border and the owner of the land but the chief refused to stamp it despite the intervention of the Pirang alkalo.
“The chief told the owner of the land (Muhamadou Touray) that Physical Planning had told him that their records showed that the land belonged to Thomas. This is a big fat lie. We tried to communicate with the chief on several occasions. Every time we call him, he tells us he is busy. When Sanusi Touray visits his house, he tells him he does not give appointments on the spot. He refused to give us an appointment for weeks,”.
“We also reached out to governor Lamin Sanneh. But all he said was to ask us to sue Thomas for trespass,” he added.
When contacted for comments, Able-Thomas, tersely said: “I don’t involve myself in such matters. Such matters cannot be subvented to journalism”.
Thomas has previously taken part in a number of land deals. The latest scandal concerned a property in Manjai Kunda, held under lease SRN K259/1995 sold for D100, 000.
When he was summoned by the commission looking into the matter to testify, Able Thomas, told the Commission that he bought the said property for about D6, 000 but could not remember the name of the person he bought the said property from and that he did buy the said property in “19 something”.
Asked to produce a document showing he bought the said property from the person he could not remember, Thomas said he had not got any document with him.
The Standard reached out to chief Bakary Sanyang on two occasions for comments, but on both occasions, he would just say: “I am in a very important meeting. I cannot talk now. You always call me at the wrong time”.
The PS, ministry of lands Buba Sanyang said he is planning to setup a committee to look into the matter.
Meanwhile all efforts to reach the director of physical planning proved unsuccessful.