Tension is mounting in four communities in the Jomoro District in the Western region of Ghana over a case of forced land acquisition, sparking fear of a possible unrest in the virgin Jubilee Oil fields of Ghana.
The Lead is reliably informed that four communities in the Jomoro district namely Bonyere , Kabla-Suazo, Dum-Suazo and Egbazo are seething with rage over the decision by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation(GNPC) to take over a piece of land measuring over 400 kilometre square in their community without the due process of acquisition.
The situation could become the cause of the first oil related conflict in Ghana following the discovery of oil in 2007, as GNPC had also been cutting down coconut trees and other crops while demarcating the land, without any prior discussion with farm owners.
Assembly members and people of Bonyere, are getting ready to stage a street protest against the manner in which GNPC, government’s lead petroleum exploration agency, was annexing their land.
A field trip by The Lead showed vast stretch of land transcending the three coastal towns of Bonyere to the south, Kabla-Suazo in the middle and Egbazo to the west, with boundaries already demarcated around the land. Coconut trees situated on the land were being cut.
On the piece of land, also were old installations abandoned by Gulf Oil of America who had prospected for oil, on-shore in the area between the 1950s and 1960s. Also, there were still black greasy substances believed to be crude oil popping out of the wet parts of the land, near the Domuli Rver.
Peter Nweah,39, one of the Assemblymen of Bonyire explained to The Lead that the people believed GNPC was taking the land , because they were aware of the crude oil deposits beneath, or wanted to grab the land at a cheap price and later re-sell to investors at a higher price.
He also disclosed that there were seven different clans and over 200 individual land owners from Bonyire alone with land in the affected area.
“Apart from these, there are other owners from the two other communities,” said Nweah, adding that the people were agitated, and were getting ready for a show-down with GNPC and the authorities.
In a letter dated March 16,2010, the Adahonle family wrote to GNPC protesting the purported annexation of their land without due recourse to them. GNPC replied on April 16 explaining that, they had “neither acquired nor paid” for the land.
“What GNPC has done is to merely identify the Bonyere and Kabla-Suazo area as a suitable location for the siting of a gas processing plant to be built in the near future,” the GNPC letter explained, adding that they were yet to establish the actual acreage of the land before contacting the land owners to be affected.
However, the laws of Ghana forbid forced entry into anyone’s piece of land to carry out any activity without express permission from the owner, hence, legal experts were of the opinion that GNPC, by their own explanation, had erred in the Bonyere land issue.
Gladys Abaka, a religious leader and native of the community and Awuah Striver Thomas another citizen who said they owned 10 acres and over 30 acres respectively in the affected area also informed The Lead that GNPC had hired thugs to act as guards on the land, driving people away from their farms and destroying their crops.
A chieftaincy dispute in Bonyere made both the Regional House of Chiefs and the Chieftaincy ministry declaring their stool vacant. However GNPC had been accused by the community of dealing with a usurper to the stool.
One Francis Romanus Awokah was said to have been holding himself out as chief of Bonyere under the stool name, Nana Nyameke Annor III.
He told the community at a recent meeting he had released a parcel of land to GNPC. The laws of Ghana however forbade chiefs from leasing out lands belonging to individuals.
Meanwhile The Lead gathered that there were about 25 ex-soldiers in the community whose lands were also to be affected by the unilateral action by GNPC.
Sources said these ex-military men had promised they would not hesitate to resort to the use of arms to defend their inheritances.
In a chat with this reporter, Francis Romanus Awokah Arloo conceded that GNPC had been cutting down the coconut trees on the said land without notification or negotiations with the farm owners.
He also said although GNPC had not disclosed to them the size of land they were interested in, they had demarcated round the stretch of land transcending the four communities of Bonyere, Kabla Suazo, Dum-Suazo and Egbazor.
According to him the Paramount Chief of the Western Nzema Traditional Area Awulai Annor Adjei III was the one who called the chiefs of the communities to meet GNPC officials who were in the company of energy minister Hon. Dr. Oteng Agyei and his deputy Hon. Emmanuel Buah, where he informed them of GNPC‘s interest in the said land.
Checks however revealed that Egbazor, one of the affected communities does not have a substantive chief, but Francis Arloo maintained that the Tufuhene and elders of Egbazor were at the said meeting.
The Queen Mother of Egbazor , Ama kiaba V was however on Ankobra fm about a month ago to complain about some unknown persons who were taking over their lands, cutting down their coconut trees which is the source of livelihood for a great majority of them.
“We are not against the sitting of the gas processing plant in our community, but all we demand is that GNPC comes forward to tell us how much land they need, and deal with the individual land owners and farmers who will be affected,” a cross-section of the people in the affected communities told us.
They also warned that whoever deals with Francis Arloo as the chief of Bonyere does so at his or her own risk, since he was not the recognized chief of the community.
Records from the National House of Chiefs and the Ministry of Chieftaincy confirmed that the gazette for Francis Arloo as Chief of Bonyere had been withdrawn and he was instructed to stop using the title, Nana Nyamekeh Annor II
At the time of going to press, Awulai Annor Agyei V was not available for comments.