A major cause of the problems associated with land acquisition and administration in the country is landguardism. Landguardism involves the employment of thugs to protect lands. The Oxford dictionary defines a land guard “as a member of an organised criminal group employed to protect land and property through the use of violence”.
In Ghana, describing landguardism as a menace is an understatement. These are people who demand ransoms from land developers, sell lands illegally, harm people and sometimes even go to the extent of maiming and killing people.
We all remember the tragic incident that befell some police officers who were savagely killed at Ablekuma in the late 90s by land guards.
Landguardism is driven mainly by the desire of people to protect land, terrorise others into giving up their lands and also instilling fear into people. It is a system of the display of power that had gotten out of hand and has become a major national security threat.
There are allegations that land guards have the protection of powerful forces that use them to perpetuate violence to protect their interests. Land guards, therefore, go about their nefarious and illegal activities without fear and continue to terrorise people, cause havoc and create mayhem in society.
Identity, power, survival
Land as a critical component of human existence, symbolises identity, power, survival, development, unity, and depending on how it is managed has the potential to ignite conflicts, break families, cause deaths and even lead to wars.
Thus, land has serious implication on peace and stability, national planning, economic growth, and national security.
In our country, Ghana, problems such as landguardism, illegal and multiple sale of land, corruption in the land acquisition system and some lapses in land administration, coupled with the endless stream and never ending land litigations have become so pervasive and somehow institutionalised that there seems to be no antidote to resolve them.
The high cost of renting also forces many people to use their meagre incomes, and many a time also take loans to acquire lands anyhow so as to develop their own properties. It is, therefore, heart-breaking when such people become prey to land scammers such as land guards, unscrupulous chiefs and land owners who engage in multiple sale of lands.
Recently, the Greater Accra Regional Security Council (REGSEC), led by the Regional Minister, Henry Quartey, decided to inject some sanity by demolishing buildings on government lands belonging to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The move by the REGSEC, though heart-wrenching, has generally received commendation, but once again it lays bare the challenges in our land acquisition and administration system.
Who sold the lands to such persons, and who even made it possible for people to breach a 200 acre land that had been walled and start building on it.
Another worrying phenomenon is that, even those who legally acquire lands face serious challenges in trying to regularise their documents as such processes take ages with allegations of corruption in the process. These are worrying but how can we overcome such problems?
What the law says
More particularly, activities of land guards are criminalised. Assault, threat to kill and murder are already activities outlawed by the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29).
Most importantly, the Land Act, 2020 (Act 1036) specifically makes it an offence for one to engage in landguardism or employ the services of land guards, with punishment of up to 15 years imprisonment.
Section 12 (1) of Act 1036 stipulates that a person
(a) “who unlawfully exercises or purports to supervise or control land development,”
(b) “has no interest in land and extorts money or other benefits from a person who has interest in land, or prevents a developer from developing the land;”
(c) or “personally or through another person unlawfully uses force or violence to prevent a person who has interest in land from having access to the land or drives that person with an interest in land from the land’’
“commits an offence and is liable on a summary conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than five years and not more than 15 years’’.
Section 12(2) of Act 1036 provides that a person who by him or herself or through another person uses force to prevent a lawful land owner from developing the land, commits an offence and is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years and not more than 15 years.
Since it became law in 2020, it seems there had not been enough sensitisation to educate the public that landguardism has now been designated as a criminal offence with serious penal consequences. The public must be educated to help people understand that the state has taken a strong stance on landguardism.
Also, education alone will not resolve the landguardism menace. It has to be supported with rigorous enforcement to deter land guards, potential land guards and their benefactors from continuing with their nefarious activities.
If one or two culprits are jailed for 15 years for landguardism, I am sure the signal will be clear that landguardism is a serious offence that would not and must not be tolerated in Ghana.