Battle Of Achimota…Legal Bullets Ricochet Across Terrain

The Achimota School, Ghana’s finest Senior High School has filed a suit at the Lands Division of the Accra High Court, praying for an order to join the battle for the repossession of over 170 acres of its land, which has been given out to Nii Ako Nortei of Osu, after the later had sued the Lands Commission. The court, to be presided over by Justice S. H. Ocran, who had earlier heard the mandamus application brought against the Lands Commission by Nii Ako Nortei, asking for an order to compel the Lands Commission to register the land in his name, will listen to arguments of the Achimota School this morning. All the parties involved in the case had already been served with the writ to appear before the court. Nii Ako Nortei, the Mankralo of the Osu Division of the Ga State, sued the Lands Commission in 2010, claiming that since the disputed land, belonging to the Achimota School and Achimota Forest administered by the Forestry Commission, had not been used for the purpose it was acquired for, it should be returned to him, as spelt out in the 1992 constitution of Ghana. According to the plaintiff, the land was acquired by the colonial government on 17th March 1922, for “extension of college site”, under certificate of Title LS No.43/27. However, according to him, it has not been utilised for the purpose for which it was acquired. The plaintiff, who had Josiah Aryeh, a popular politician as his lawyer, contended that, given the fact that the land had not been utilised for the purpose for which it was acquired, the Osu Stool had a right or pre-emption, or first acquisition, under Article 20 clause 6, of the 1992 Constitution. The plaintiff pleaded further that the Osu Stool and its subjects have, since 1922, remained in adverse possession, and the said adverse possession has been largely through the cultivation of crops and vegetables, as well as erection of permanent settlement and residence structures, and these activities are open and adverse to the acquired ownership by the government. This claim by the plaintiff, surprisingly, was not challenged by the defence counsel. The Lands Commission (the Defendant), according to Justice Anthony Oppong, who heard the case, rather conceded that the facts are not in dispute, and proceeded to advocate for termination of the dispute by legal arguments, which was granted by the court. During the legal arguments, Dr. Josiah Aryeh maintained his position that since the government compulsorily acquired the land for a specific purpose but failed to use the land for that purpose, the Osu Stool should be given the first chance to repossess. In his ruling, Justice Oppong noted that the plaintiff made a case that since 1922, their subjects, families, elders, functionaries have not only been in possession of the land, but have been doing acts adverse to the title the government acquired, nonetheless, the government failed to take action. “Plaintiff stressed that they have been in adverse possession by farming and putting up permanent settlement mansions on the land. This averment was not traversed. All that the defendant said was that there are mechanics, artisans and squatters, who are presently occupying the land. “But what must be observed is that no such mechanic or artisan or squatter has sued the defendant. It is the Osu Stool that claims that the court must intervene to safeguard their possessory interest in the disputed land. “Essentially, the averment that subjects of Osu Stool have built permanent places of abode on the land, without any protest from the government, remains contradicted. “Indeed, by the conduct or inaction of the government, the subjects of Osu have been encouraged to believe that their title to the land has not been extinguished, and in my view, this court will not interfere in any way that might disturb the right of the people of Osu to occupy the land. “In other words, the Government of Ghana has sat down unconcerned for the subjects of Osu to develop mansions and to even grant a good chunk of the land to other developers, who have constructed permanent structures on the land. “In my view, what plaintiff and its subjects have done on the land for so many years, over 80 years, was adverse and inconsistent with the acquired rights of the government, who failed to do anything by way of protest, or raising the least objection. “If a person in possession of the land exercises ownership rights adverse to the owner (like what has happened in this case) for a long time, without the owner raising objection or taking steps to protect his rights, the person in such adverse possession attracts the protection of the land,” the learned judge noted. But the headmistress of the Achimota School, Mrs. Beatrice Adom, told The Chronicle in interview yesterday, that until Nii Ako Nortei brought police personnel to the area to take possession of the land, the school did not know that there was a case of that sort in court. The Lands Commission, which represented the state, did not inform the school. According to Mrs. Adom, documentary evidence in possession of the school indicates that the land was bought but not acquired from the Owu Family on 29th, June 1922, with a compensation of 4000 Pounds paid to the Owu family by the then colonial government. The said receipt with certificate title number 869/1921 reads: we the undersigned claimants (Owu Family) for compensation under the Public Land Ordinance in respect of the above mentioned land, hereby agree to accept the sum of four thousand pounds in full satisfaction of all claims which we now have or may hereafter have against the government of the said colony for such compensation as aforesaid. She argued that since the land was paid for, no family can come back to claim it because it (land) has not been used for the purpose it was acquired. The headmistress further told The Chronicle that the school intends to expand the Geography and Science departments among other facilities, through Public Private Partnership, and that the takeover of the land, if not reversed, would greatly affect the future development of the school. Mrs. Adom regretted that though Nii Ako Nortei had been served with the writ that the school had filed, he came to the land last Saturday to slaughter a sheep. The vividly worried headmistress further told this reporter that she had no personal interest in the land, but as the head of the school, she has a duty to protect the interest of the school, which belongs to all Ghanaians. Meanwhile, concerns are being raised about the conduct of the Lands Commission in the whole case. According to Justice Oppong, who sat and ruled on the case, when Nii Ako Nortei produced a site plan covering the land, counsel for the Lands Commission did not challenge it. Interestingly, when the case went to Justice Ocran, following the order for the issuance of a writ of possession filed by Nii Nortei, the Lands Commission went and argued that the site plan submitted by the plaintiff did not meet the requirement of LI 1444 of 1996. The court, however, threw out the argument because the Lands Commission should have appealed against the ruling of the High Court that sat on the substantive case, if they knew that there was any problem with the site plan presented to the court, but they sat down for the appeal period granted by law to elapse, before making such a claim.