1. In 1998, I paid US$2,500 for my first plot of land in the Ablekuma area even as an undergraduate attending University of Cape Coast. Indentures and all other necessary documents covering the land were provided. I was advised by the seller to start “a small” project on the plot, so I built a structure which encompassed a chamber and hall on it. But in no time, a second owner emerged and pulled my structure down. The police could not help. You may recall it was around the same time that the police lost one of their own, Kwaku Ninja, and had no clue what was going on, or were apprehensive to venture into that neighborhood. The man who sold the land to me, Alhaji Bubba, was finally attacked and clubbed to death by others he must have duped using same method. Prior to his death and right after my structure was pulled down I tried to recover my money from him. I was able to retrieve just about US$1000 before his death.
2. In 2005, on the recommendation of a cousin, I again paid £3000 to another frontline man for a chief for a plot of land at Bortiano, a suburb of Accra. This time, I took the trouble to conduct a search at the Lands Registry after having being coerced by employees of the Department to pay advance handling fees without which nothing could be done. Initially, I resisted paying these unauthorized fees and complained. Further investigation detailed the institutional corruption of collecting these illegal advance processing fees without which nothing could be done. The results of the search at the Lands Registry indicated the land was free. The demand for illegal advanced fee payments alerted me to do things to protect my interest. As a result, I kept a recorder in my pocket, unbeknownst to those involved in the transaction and recorded every process of the transaction. Consequently, upon purchase and receipt of the indenture, again, I was asked by the middleman to erect a structure on the said plot. Assured that the land was free upon getting my indenture, I erected a storefront property on the land and left for London, United Kingdom. On my return from London, someone had gone to erect a wall around the whole plot.
I reported the case at the Police Headquarters and the middleman was invited. In my statement to the police, I gave the name of the woman who facilitated the search at the Lands Registry (Tina). Sensing trouble, she tried to disassociate herself from the whole process and vehemently denied any role in facilitating the fraudulent search. I was, therefore, compelled to play out my recordings to her. She immediately went on her knees to beg me for forgiveness and the middleman also promised to refund my money. I spent the next three months running between the Police Headquarters in Accra, home, and other places in a never ending circle. Finally, by the time a refund was made available, expenses on the Police, the constant depreciation of the cedi, and other expenses had eroded a substantial part of the money. The refund could be just about £2000. For Ms. Tina at Lands Department not doing due diligence for the work she is being paid with tax payer's money in addition to demanding advance fee from me I would not have purchased the land neither would I have spent additional time and money chasing a mirage!!!!
3. Aware of the aforementioned nasty experiences, Mr. Fui Tsikata recommended a colleague, Mr. Mahama Adams, who is the current National Coordinator of the Youth in Agricultural Program and a member of the current government who has been helping people to acquire land, to assist me to find land. He seemed genuine by all the standards and I believe that any reasonable person would have concluded the same. He provided documents covering the said land in 2007. Subsequently, I paid him US$800 and Gh3, 000. It must be noted that Gh3000 at the time was more than US$3000. This was around when the cedi was redenominated. I committed about US$8,000 into developing the land. This was based on the understanding that he would process the documentation transferring the property into my name in tandem with my intended building project, as I was in a hurry to have my own place so that I could move out of my family house. But for three years, he has played the hide and seek with me. He finally asked that I prepare my own indenture which is contrary to the initial verbal agreement and the understanding I had with him. After returning to Ghana three times in three years, I managed to get a surveyor to prepare the indenture, which I handed over to him which he would have used to acquire my title to the land.
But excuses are never exhausted in this game of deception. I travelled over a long distance to his house many times only to be told stories. At one point, I met a young man by name T.T. who was supposed to transmit the indenture to his father who is supposed to be a chief and a signatory to the document. He took Gh100 from me as part payment to facilitate the process of getting the indenture signed by the chiefs. After being paid the money all subsequent calls to T.T. were no longer answered. Persistent attempts to ensure the right things are done failed and I had to return to the United States.
On my return trip to the US, I reached the conclusion that I would demand my monies paid to Mr. Adams Mahama, pulled the structure down and opt out of the transaction. I returned to Ghana again in May 2011 to pursue this goal, insisting a refund should be based on the US$ rate at which I paid him for the plot.
As of August 2011, Mr. Adams Mahama had failed to give me the refund due me. Due to the incessant frustrations I encountered due to the inactions of Mr. Mahama, I arrived at the conclusion that I needed to share my “lessons learned” from these transactions with the general public. I followed it up and made my intentions known to him. Whereupon Mr. Mahama contacted Mr. Fui Tsikata, who introduced him to me, to intervene. At the said meeting, he pleaded for a one month period to produce the document. Of my own volition, I suggested six months moratorium within which he should produce the document. This decision was based on a couple of factors: (i) if he could not produce the indenture in over three years, how on earth was he going to produce the document in a month? (ii)knowing very well that he was preparing to contest the NDC primaries for Adenta constituency, I knew I would be blamed for any public actions that might be perceived as damaging to his public image and I wanted enough time to elapse to give him time to prepare for his campaign.
However, to prove to me that he meant business, he decided to take me to one Mr. Afottey Agbo, by then a Minister of State in the Office the President and currently appointed as the Greater Accra Regional Minister. The understanding was that his father was supposed to endorse the document. At a meeting in his office, he took the documents from me and asked me to call him in a month's time by which time the documents would have been endorsed. Soon after that, I returned to the United States and directed my cousin to call him on my behalf at the appointed time to collect the indenture. But surprisingly, Mr. Afottey Agbo intimated to my cousin he did not know anybody by name Prosper Tsikata.
I again reported this development to Mr. Adams Mahama who continues to be very elusive in this matter.
Through these experiences – from the chief's palace, the land registry, to the police station and the courts – I have realized that all these individuals work in a league to dupe unsuspecting members of the public and the police are very much aware of these characters and their scurrilous actions, but like vultures, they wait to feed off the carcasses these human preys leave in their tracks.
4. My conversations with Ghanaians revealed that both NDC and NPP have spent millions of dollars on land reforms, but those monies must have ended in the pockets of some officials without the problem being addressed, otherwise what do we have to show for these reforms? This makes me ask the question: who are we as a people? There are definitely ways or answers to the problems which do not even require intensive capital investments from loans for these problems to be solved, but those in leadership do not get it.
5. Listening to the President's speech during the 2012 edition of the independence celebration admonishing “posterity will judge us harshly,” I believe that his call is not only to those he works with directly but to all Ghanaians. So, I asked myself: “are we going to leave these problems of manipulations in land administration to generations coming after us?”
Indeed, as a Ghanaian I feel very much motivated and excited by the president's speech exulting me to act with urgency. I consider his speech a defining moment to act with urgency since time is not on our side as Ghanaians if we continue to wallow in the business as usual fashion and “fame Nyame” stupor. Like the “father for all” that he is, I believe that, just as in real life situation in our homes, not all children obey what their parents tell them line, hook, and sinkers. Some children have criminal tendencies and would bring the name of their parents into opprobrium; others are responsible and are the joy of the family. So the Bible reminds us in Proverbs 27:11: “be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.” There are other Biblical passages with similar admonitions, but I will cap it the most profound: Psalm 2:10: “therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.”
6. As I began to hold discussions with individuals in preparation of this event, it became clear to me that almost 70% of people I spoke with have had some bad experience in their attempt to secure a piece of land for domestic purposes. I read about problems in land administration in Ghana as a JSS (experimental) student. When I visited Zimbabwe in 1997, I was amazed how that country was planned and organized with address systems. My ride from the airport to my destination took the driver only a look at the address I provided and without any difficulties, I was at my destination. I received my letters in the postbox at the gate where I lived, just as one would find in any Western or developed country.
7. The point is that 55 years after independence, where inexpensive technologies are even available through GPS systems to demarcate all lands and keep records at the Land Registry, so that individuals can check on these lands before making any investments in them, we have allowed these lands to be used by criminals who have invaded the chieftaincy institutions to use these lands to dupe unsuspecting individuals in thousands and millions of cedis. And when these individuals even try to develop these lands, the irresponsible government which has shirked its duty to the citizens all these years turns around to demolish their buildings and so on. Of course all these ignoble actions are possible because of the existing chaos in the country regarding land acquisition, registration and title acquisition. Where chaos exists, fraud and illegality reign supreme. Where else do we hear of organized crime syndicate dubbed “land guards?” This egregious situation is no longer acceptable in our country. Members of the legislative assembly and the general public can follow an article I intend to publish on this issue on a wider platform regarding solutions to this problem.
Indeed, these are issues beyond the handling of individuals. The state has the capacity to engage Ghanaian experts in GPS technologies, who for lack of opportunities back home are in many developed countries performing menial jobs, to lead students from our Land Economy Departments and Geography Departments of the universities to render these services to the state as their “service learning projects,” for which stipends will be paid to them and billed against landowners and buyers to avoid these needless self-destruction we are being subjected to as a people.
8. Many are aware of the thousands of jobs a well-planned city holds for its people and the millions and billions of cedis that are waiting to be generated in the process. After all, Mr. Emmanuel Boah, the current Deputy Minister of Energy was a post office employee at Gettysburg in Maryland in the USA until his appointment as a minister and can attest to this. But we are so fixated with buying airplanes and other things we ourselves have condemned others of trying to acquire to the neglect of the truly development issues that confront us.
9. Knowing truly well that the workings of Parliament in Ghana does not reflect what it ought to be, whereby communities have the opportunity to make inputs to discussions that are carried to the house, I humbly wish to find out through the Speaker, the Majority leader, and the Minority leader, to the newly appointed Regional Minister for the Greater Accra Region, where land cases are hitting the roof, what he intends to do to curb the situation and to bring sanity into land administration in the region he is being appointed to lead. Given my personal experience with him, whereby in collusion with his associate, Mr. Adams Mahama, they visited deception on me, I personally do not believe that this appointment would make any difference in this matter. I see this appointment as the usual musical chair that has been visited on the people for a long time.
If government cannot in consultation with chiefs and traditional leaderships provide the technology to map out lands to prevent the avoidable fraud that is being visited on the people, then I urge communities to form vigilante groups to protect their properties from a lawless state or government which attempts to pull their structures down.
10. Finally, I urge Mr. Adams Mahama, the National Coordinator of the Youth in Agriculture Program, to refund my money to me immediately and I will pull down the structures on the plot. If he fails to heed this public call, I will take such actions as I deem fit (sure without recourse to violence) to get my money. But rest assured the courts and the police are out of the equation so also is violence. I also call on all Ghanaians who have been duped to start thinking of ways to get their monies back. Please stay tuned on this issue.
Prosper Yao Tsikata