Nimba County - Tensions between the Soko and Garnwin families over the Sokopa land dispute has resulted into the suspicious disappearance of the Soko family.
The Soko and Garnwin families are both claiming 1837 acres of land in Sokopa, a town located on the borders of Bong and Nimba counties.
In early February of this year a scuffled between the two families ensued when the Soko family attempted surveying the 1837 acres and encountered resistance from the Yeaney family in which one person was wounded and the other reportedly missing.
The situation was so intense that the people of Sokopa fled to nearby towns for rescue after reportedly hearing a gunfire.
Edward Mansah, a member of both families in an interviewed with this paper explained that the 1837 acres of land in dispute was given to the Soko family by the Yeanay’ to settle after their grandmother Ma Miatta Soko Sackor who is a Yeaney and was married to Pa Soko Sackor of the Soko family.
He said base on what they were told; the people of Garnwin did not sell the land to Pa Soko, his grandfather but was given to him because of the intermarriage.
He also noted that he was placed in charge of the land as a caretaker for a period of 12 years by his cousin Seleke Soko Sackor while he was away in Monrovia.
Mansah noted that on February 6, 2017 they received a citation from the Eight Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie granting right to the Soko family to carry out a survey on the 1837 acres of land.
According to him, he was out of town when but received a message that on February 8, 2017, which was on a Friday, that there were gunfire during the survey which disrupted the exercise and led to the disappearance of one of the brothers of the Soko family, while the surveyor was wounded with a machete.
“I was told that during the survey there were about 8 officers from the Police Support Unite (PSU), to guide and protect the process so that there is no one occurrence of violence, but the process somehow was disrupted and until now no one knows who was responsible,” he indicated.
According to Mansah in 2010, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up a committee headed by Musa Bility to investigate and mediate all land disputes in Nimba County, he said unfortunately there is no outcome of the committee, investigation and there is misunderstanding between the two families.
“The people of Garnwin are demanding Tribal Certificate and the people of Sokopa are claiming to have deeds for the land .
“The Garnwin’ are saying if there’s no tribal certificate there will be no survey,” he said.
He recommended that the only way this situation can be resolve, is for the government to have a round table discussion between the two parties, noting there they can come with common understanding on how to resolve the issue.
According to Seleke Soko Sackor the land is the property of his late father, Pa Soko Sackor, who was given this land by their grandmother family (Garnwin) upon giving their daughter to their late father Soko.
He said his father then took the certificate that was issued by the people of Garnwin to the government and obtained a deed in 1955 that gave him right ownership of the land in dispute. He accused Mansah of selling portions of the land while manning it
“We got document from the Circuit Court in Sanniquallie that gives us the legal authority to do survey on the land, we told it the entire community member, do announcement on radio about the court document giving us right to do survey on our land,” he asserted.
He accused people of Garnwin of ethnic bias and discrimination by making utterances such as, “Mandingo man cannot settle on the land and for that they will not allow any survey by any Mandingo man.”
He admitted requesting Police support unit to assist with the survey due to the utterances allegedly made by the Yeaney family of Garnwin
He said the survey got disrupted when they were attacked by some unknown men that put out a gunfire leading to one of the surveyors was wounded and one of the brothers, Ayouba Soko Sackor missing.
The situation also led to the disruption of the voter registration exercise while and schools were ordered close for three day due to fear.
The Yeaney Family in Garnwin refused to make any disclosure on the land matter saying that the matter was already in court.
Our reporter who visited the Eight Judicial Circuits in Sanniquelleh found that the case in court was only about a missing person and not the land dispute.
Meanwhile Mr. Seleke Sackor has disclosed that the Minister of Justice based upon instructions of government through an out of court settlement in early June ordered the Yeaney family to produce the living body of the missing person and promised that the survey would have taken placed in two weeks with government underwriting the cost of the survey. According to Mr. Sackor the survey is yet to take place.
He disclosed that to have the issue resolved when the Bility committee sought to mediate the land dispute they had agreed to offer 400 acres of land to the Yeaney family as a means of settling the dispute which the Yeaney family rejected.
When contacted the Minister of Justice Cllr. Frederick Cherue neither deny nor confirm the assertions made by Mr. Sackor but promised to call back after a meeting with the speaker, to give his side of the story.
After several calls made to the Justice Minister, Fredrick Cherua, he has refuse to accept calls made on different numbers in order to get his side of the story.
However, according to Stanley Nimley Toe, the Executive Director of Land Authority he noted that he has no information on the Sokopa land dispute, but the passage of the land act will assist to remedy such disputes when the land right policy is passed.
The new Land Right Policy suggests awarding equal protection to customary land rights: “Customary Land Rights are equally protected as Private Land Rights”.
These rights will protect community land collectively, rights of individuals and rights of family land within a community because majority of Liberians depend on their land for their livelihood.
The Land Rights Policy establishes four right types as follows.
- Private land is a land owned or otherwise held by private persons protected by legal document referred to as a deed under the laws of Liberia,
- Public land is acquired by government through purchase, seizure, and gift or otherwise which is not presently used by government foe it facilities or operations,
- Government land is a land used by government for its buildings, projects or activities that concern government and
- Customary land is a land owned by community and used or managed in accordance with customary practices and standards
Report by Mafanta Kromah, Contributing Reporter