While delivering a speech last Thursday at a durbar to climax the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo stated that his government is prepared to reclaim all state lands encroached on by private developers, including that of UCC.
He said, for example, that one-third of UCC’s legally-acquired land for had been taken over by encroachers, describing the situation as unacceptable, and that he was saddened by that state of affairs.
Every concerned Ghanaian must be saddened by encroachment on state lands just as President Nana Akufo-Addo is but he has the power others do not, to address the problem.
What precipitates the encroachment should be a matter of more concern.
Some people invoke the doctrines of adverse possession and long possession of land to claim ownership of it.
In the case of adverse possession, for instance, some
people are saying 10 or 12-year stay on a bare land can subsequently guarantee the squatter ownership.
For long possession, the perception is that once a trespasser or encroacher stays on a land for a considerable long time, he can assume ownership.
Some even say once you manage to build a structure up to the lintel level, you are on the way to possessing it.
Meanwhile, only the courts have the true meaning or interpretation of these doctrines.
Thus, there is the need to educate the public about such perceptions and misinformation about assumption of ownership of land by trespassers or encroachers to be aware of the risk they are taking in developing lands that do not belong to them in the first place.
There is also one problem relating to the law that makes people encroach on lands not belonging to them — the long court proceedings.
Another problem is lack of enforcement of the law, especially in the particular case of state lands.
All along, there was the Public Lands (Protection) Act, 1974 (NRCD 240) that made it illegal for anybody to trespass or encroach on public lands.
After 46 years, the Land Act, 2020 (Act 1036), which frowns on encroachment on state lands and criminalises such acts, was passed.
The state should be blamed for failing over the years to enforce the law, making encroachers, including chiefs, daring to unlawfully taking possession of state or public lands, including Ramsar sites and lands belonging to important state institutions like Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana Atomic Commission and universities.
It is also the case that sometimes the political establishment of the day shows the lack of political will to decisively tackle the problem for reasons best known to its actors.
Rumours are rife that the politicians themselves encroach on state lands and so fall in a situation where they lack the courage to take on the chiefs and others encouraging the encroachment on state lands.
In the face of all this, President Akufo-Addo has indicated the resolve of his administration to take back state lands from encroachers.
Just last week, some walls raised by private developers in the SakumunoRamsar site were pulled down, an indication that the government is poised to take back state lands.
We pray that the government would sustain the action with no excuse in favour of individuals or groups.