(Monrovia, Liberia 29 July, 2017) The residents of the Roberts International Airport(RIA) and its environs headed by Morris Boer, Isaac Boer and Nimely Bestman have on 25 July, 2016, filed a formal lawsuit at the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Kakata, Margibi County through the Justice and Public Interest Consortium Africa(JUPICA) against the Government of Liberia represented by the Ministry of Justice, Management of the Roberts International Airport(RIA) and a cartel of businesses associated with them including the Chinese Company, Sinohyro Construction, RIA Credit Union, the Management of Farmington Hotel, among others.
This latest action is the result of the failure of a peaceful dialogue initiated by the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) formerly Land Commission, about five years ago, during which the residents were advised to present their title deeds for possible compensation after it was established that the RIA Management which had been claiming the over 2600 acres of land since 1941 had no title deed or any legal instrument to support its claims.
The Justice and Public Interest Consortium Africa (JUPICA), formerly Innocent Project Africa(INPA), was, and has been in the forefront of the negotiation exercise and has been working closely with the residents in the RIA area and the former Land Commission to amicably resolve this matter.
The path to a negotiated settlement became necessary after an iron-fisted tactic of terror and brutality adopted by the Government of Liberia to illegally and forcibly take away the property from the residents by the deployment of heavily armed riot police guards failed. This rebel-style behavior was challenged by JUPICA at the Supreme Court of Liberia by means of a petition for a writ of prohibition. Thereafter, an agreement was reached amongst the parties based on the mandate of the Justice presiding in chambers by assignment, His Honor Kabineh M Ja’neh that an investigative survey be conducted to determine the actual ownership of the property and all parties were accordingly advised to produce their respective title deeds for the conduct of the survey.
Strangely however, it soon became obvious that the RIA Management did not have a title deed or any legal instrument to support its claims for the over 2600 acres of land including the runway of the airport that it has been occupying since 1941 up and including 2015. It was also established that only the residents had various title deeds for the property that has been the subject of the dispute, meaning the RIA Management was nothing but a “squatter” illegally operating on private property.
JUPICA has finally decided to file a lawsuit against the government of Liberia, the RIA Management and all those doing business on the land, including Farming Hotel, the Chinese Company, Sinohyro Construction, on behalf of the residents after every reasonable effort to resolve the matter short of litigation has been frustrated by President Sirleaf’s seemingly inordinate desire to illegally take away private properties using her presidential powers under the pretext of development.
This lawsuit is a last resort on the part of JUPICA to tell the world that the Government of Liberia is engaging in illegal land grab as part of its policy and to openly challenge and expose the juvenile behavior of its surrogates and advisors at the Liberia Land Authority and the Ministries of State for Presidential Affairs and Justice who believe that they can hide behind their positions in government to sport with the legitimate property rights of the residents of RIA with impunity.
This lawsuit is also intended to send out a clear unambiguous message to the disciples of the illegal grab policy that is being pursued by this government, especially President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf against the residents of RAI and its environs that lawlessness will not be accepted or cordoned at any level of our society no matter whose interest is involved.
JUPICA has taken this course of action in defense of the rights of the residents and specifically as a response to the outrageous action of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in circumventing the discussions for a negotiated settlement and secretly preparing what she termed a ‘development deed’ in favor of the RIA Management to unduly dispossess the residents of their properties under the pretext of expanding the RIA.
JUPICA does not only condemn such action by the Nobel Peace Laureate as counterproductive to the resolution of the land dispute but also wishes to remind the President that prior to signing the so-called development deed in favor of the RIA Management, it was established through an investigative survey conducted and subsequently confirmed by the former Land Commission in communications to the Ministry state and Honorable John Bestman, that the RIA Management did not have any title deed or any legal instrument to substantiate its claims for the over 2600 acres it has been occupying, and that the property in question, actually belongs to the residents including the Honorable John Bestman and his family who presented title deeds during the survey.
Because of the recognition of the residents’ ownership of the property, the Land Commission, initiated a series of meetings, during which each of the residents was asked to present his/her title deed for the 2600 acres in and around the immediate vicinity of the RAI and this was subsequently done in anticipation of a peaceful settlement and relocation.
It is pathetic to say that, following the presentations of their title deeds to the Land Commission to accelerate discussions for possible compensation as was indicated by the Commission itself in previous meetings, it soon became apparent that subsequent meetings planned to finalize the quantity of land space that the RIA Expansion Project would have covered and under what terms and conditions each residents would have been paid were unceremoniously called off and permanently discontinued on a number of occasions based on flimsy excuses that President Sirleaf had either invited the commission to a meeting or the commission was invited to a foreign country.
Further, the residents individually and collectively were told by some members of the Commission that no concerted actions could be taken to finalize the arrangements for compensation because a bill to change the land regulatory authority from Land Commission to Liberia Land Authority and thereby give it more power, was pending at the National Legislature and therefore needed to be passed into law to conclude all the arrangements regarding settlement and relocation.
Sadly, a year after receiving all of the residents’ title deeds for the over 2600 acres of land, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the fêted Nobel Peace Laureate, who at the onset of the dispute deployed heavily armed riot police guards at the RIA and its vicinity that brutalized peaceful residents, impeded, restricted and denied the residents access to their own properties until such brutality and reign of terror was halted by a Supreme Court order, secretly ordered another investigative survey of the property without the knowledge and participation of the residents, carved out 2400 acres from the 2600 acres, prepared and signed a title deed in favor of the RIA Management as means to dispossess the residents and to carry out the so-called RIA Expansion Project.
This conduct is not just utterly objectionable and vicious in form and character but it also reveals a disproportionate exercise and abuse of state power to steal private properties and dispossess the thousands of innocent residents in the RIA vicinity.
Incredibly, the strategy may be different and perhaps the victims too, at least this time around they are wretched villagers, but in clear and unambiguous terms, the pattern and the objective are the same, and this reflects the same tactics used by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in dispossessing scores of residents on a piece of property lying and situated in the Paynesville area in 2009 without any court order and without due process. Though the matter went to court but it died on arrival because Ellen Johnson Sirleaf does not only control the criminal justice system but she is the only one who can determine who gets arrested, charged and taken to court no matter how frivolous the charges may be.
Moreover, President Sirleaf is the only Sitting President since 1847, who can sue, and has filed a lawsuit against a private citizen, sat in her office, monitored the trial of the New Broom Newspaper for libel and then won the case in court without appearing in person to testify because she is after all, the law, and uses scare tactics through her apologists, pranksters and charlatans to enforce nonresistance to her rule.
JUPICA believes that the constitutional exercise of presidential powers does not include a callous and blatant disregard for the property rights of private citizens or the illegal and broad day theft of private properties by the Government of Liberia in the name of so-called ‘development.’ The situation at the RIA presents a classic example of the abuse of presidential powers and must be seen in the context of a state organized “robbery” that is being perpetrated against the innocent residents of the RIA.
While the Honorable Nobel Laureate may have changed her game plan by preparing a title deed for over 2400 acres of the 2600 acres of disputed land to give the RIA Management the legal rights to remain on private properties without any compensation, one thing that is consistent is a pattern of her government’s imperial arrogance and defiance to dispossess the citizens of their land and complicate their already complicated lives much of which is credited to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s atrocious and pugnacious advocacy of the 1980s which instigated the 14 years civil war according to the TRC report, and ultimately led to the deaths of 250,000 innocent Liberians. It is an open secret that President Sirleaf is and remains an unrepentant TRC inductee.
As the Public protector, JUPICA calls on all peace loving Liberians including the political parties, presidential and representative aspirants in the October 2017 elections, the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), the Islamic Community, the Press Union of Liberia, the Catholic and Justice Peace Commission(JPC), The Carter Center, the United States Embassy accredited near Monrovia, the European Union, UNMIL and other international partners dedicated to the peace and security of Liberia to kindly advise Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the celebrated “Nobel Peace Laureate” and her government to desist from their illegal land grab policy and adopt a more civilized approach by ordering the Liberia Land Authority to reconvene discussions for a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
JUPICA wishes to make it clear that it will stand by, for and with the people of Liberia including the residents of RIA and its environs to defend their property rights under the 1986 Constitution and will ensure that all those on the land in the name of doing business such as Farmington Hotel, the Chinese Company, Sinohyro Construction, RIA Credit Union, FIR, and others under the protection of the Government of Liberia which has stolen the land will face the full weight of law to be followed by demands for just reparations.
Meanwhile, JUPIC calls on the residents of the RIA Community to remain calm as the law takes its course to address what has now become a broad day theft of private properties by the RIA Management, its accessories and the Government of Liberia.
Sayma Syrenius Cephus
COUNSELOR-AT-LAW & Accredited Counsel, ICC, The Hague, ACHPR, Arusha, Tanzania, AEA Int’l Lawyers Association(Europe) and International Law Association(ILA) (London, UK).