PAYNESVILLE, Montserrado – Over 3,000 squatters residing at the 72nd Military Barracks in Paynesville risk eviction from their homes come April.
Most of the squatters currently occupying the military facility took shelter there during the country’s 14-year civil crisis.
The facility is also being encroached upon by several other persons purchasing and claiming land in the surrounding area.
David Dahn, the assistant minister for public affairs at the Ministry of Defense, disclosed that on April 30, 2017, the Armed Forces of Liberia would repossess the military facility from the squatters to carry out renovations meant to provide accommodation for its soldiers.
“All squatters and owners of business facilities located on the premises of the 72nd military barracks are advised to take immediate adherence to the directive and adjust themselves before April 2017,” Dahn said.
The ministry sent similar notices to squatters in the area between 2010 and 2013 but they remain there and evidently, the ministry did not take any action to evict the residents.
“Failure on the part of the squatters to adhere to the final notice, the ministry or AFL will not be held responsible for any consequences that may arise out of the actions by the soldiers to repossess the military facility,” Dahn warned.
Martha Jackson, a resident in the area, claimed she had purchased two lots of land in 1975 from an individual who is now deceased.
Jackson said if the government knew that the property was owned by the ministry, ordinary citizens should not have been allowed to purchase land or reside at the facility, especially since residents like herself have been living on the premises since the administration of the late president William R. Tolbert.
However, while Jackson was frustrated about the government’s claims to the land, she said she would not fight the decision if she was compensated for the property.
“Some of us have properties that are being leased to business people in the area and the government cannot come and remove us without compensation,” she said.
In fact, she even considered the announcement as welcoming news, in light of the reportedly high rate of criminal activities occurring at the facility.
Land rights remain a thorny issue in a post-war Liberia, often causing disputes and violence between involved parties. It is still difficult to determine who owns a particular parcel of land as government records are far from exhaustive and individuals frequently sell and resell land they do not own with little repercussions.
Even government agencies are not immune from the effects of a lack of transparency over the land rights. Several government properties have been occupied over the course of the war by squatters or have been illegally sold by individuals.
The University of Liberia is still continuing with its eviction of squatters from parts of its property at the Fendell campus. Additionally, Ministry of Health officials are still struggling to remove squatters from the Catherine Mills Rehabilitation Center in light of the limited space for mental health patients at other facilities across the country.
A bill to establish the Land Rights Act, which still remains unpassed in the Legislature, is expected to resolve some of the issues associated with land disputes within the country.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah