…three claimants emerge but Akufo-Addo opts for Mahama era petition not court judgment
The Herald’s nosing around the 361-acre Achimota land matter, is suggesting an elitist conspiracy which could deny the city of Accra and its residents their last patch of plants and animals, saving them from air and other forms of environmental pollution.
The claim by the Akufo-Addo government led by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources that the land had been returned to a family, known as the Owoo family from Osu in Accra, is passing as a cooked story by the gang, to take the prime land and share, as the Owoo family, has constantly been defeated in its quest to take over the Achimota lands.
Some are also questioning Akufo-Addo’s decision to merely act on a petition and recommendations submitted and inherited from the John Mahama administration during the tenures of Alhaji Collins Dauda and Mike Hammah as Lands and Natural Resources ministers, but not a court decision where evidence of the ownership of the said land, would have been established by the Owoo family. They suspect something fishy.
This paper, further learnt from Osu insiders, about another group known as the Owuo family, also from Osu, which had in the past laid claim to portions of the Achimota land on which the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) sits, but did not make any significant progress either.
The Herald’s contacts in Osu with ties to the stool are, therefore, at a loss as to why the Akufo-Addo government is returning portions of the land to the Owoo family in particular, insisting if the state has no use for the land it acquired for the forest reserve, the Osu Stool, must be the one taking custody of the land and not the Owoo family as is being done.
Additional reports dug out by The Herald are that, while the Owuos are from the Owuo We Royal family in Osu, the said petition was from the Owoo family from Faase, in Ga Mashie, but has some remnants in Osu by virtue of marriage to a lady. The late Paramount Chief of Osu and President of the Osu Traditional Council, Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, was mentioned as coming from the Owoo ancestry.
But both claimants are subjects of the Osu Stool, and could not demand access to the Achimota Lands from the state on their own.
Indeed, The Herald learnt about the many failures of the Owoo family in particular to claim portions of the Achimota Lands, particularly the prestigious Achimota School, but had been unsuccessful against the school.
The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, had yesterday denied reports making rounds in a section of the media that the Achimota forest had been sold.
This follows reports that President Akufo-Addo, through an Executive Instrument (E.I) has given out part of the forest reserve in the capital, Accra to private developers.
The Executive Instrument (E.I.) 144 gazetted which had been kept under total secrecy on behalf of President Akufo-Addo by the Lands Minister, indicates that effective May 1, 2022; a holiday, the land on which the forest is located shall cease to be a forest reserve.
“The President’s action was in accordance with Section 19 of the Forest Act, 1927 (CAP. 157) which gives him the authority to declare that particular land is no longer required as a forest reserve,” a portion of the EI said.
However, in a Facebook post on Tuesday (17 May), the lands minister said, “Achimota Forest has NOT and will NOT be sold!!!”
At a press conference yesterday, Samuel Jinapor, said the E.I. pertained to 361 acres of peripherals of the Achimota forest that the government is returning to its custodial owners, identified as the Owoo Family.
The land was returned, because it was not being used for its intended purpose, which included the extension of the Achimota School. The family’s quest to retain its land dates back to 2007, when it petitioned President John Kufuor for the release of the portion of the Forest Reserve adjoining the Tema motorway.
After consultations between the Presidency, it was recommended that the petition be granted. In 2011, the Owoo Family, submitted another petition to the then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, for the grant of portions of the Forest Reserve.
The Minister constituted a committee to inquire into the legitimacy of the request that was eventually granted.
During the press conference, Mr Jinapor, explained that the E.I. declassifying the parts of the forest was accompanied by a separate E.I., 154, “which states emphatically, the area of the forest shall remain a Forest Reserve.”
“What EI 144 does is to make the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family in September 2013, portions of which have already been developed, cease to be a Forest Reserve, to ensure a development that is consistent with the area of the Forest Reserve,” the minister explained.
The Minister believes “both instruments contain adequate provisions that seek to protect the ecological integrity of the Forest Reserve.”
Mr Jinapor, assured further that the forest was integral to the government’s agenda for aggressive afforestation and reforestation.
“The Government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, will continue to protect the Achimota Forest and prevent it from being further encroached.”
It said “in 1921, the Government of the then Gold Coast, by a Certificate of Title dated 16th December 1921, made under the Public Lands Ordinance, 1876, acquired from the Owoo Family the parcel of land on which the Achimota School is situated.
§ Subsequently, by another Certificate of Title dated 17th May, 1927, the Government acquired from the same Family another tract of land measuring approximately four hundred and seventy-nine (479) hectares as an extension to the Achimota School. Although there are receipts indicating payment of compensation for the 1921 acquisition, there are no records of payment of compensation for the 1927 acquisition.
§ By an Order 31 of 1930, dated July 17, 1930, the Government, pursuant to its power under the Forests Act, 1927, (Cap 157), constituted the land acquired in 1927, as a Forest Reserve for the purposes of Fuel Wood Plantation for Achimota School.
§ Following several encroachments on the Forest Reserve, the pre-acquisition owners, the Owoo Family, in 2007, submitted a petition to the then President, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, for the release of the portion of the Forest Reserve adjoining the Tema motorway. After consultations between the Office of President and the relevant bodies, it was recommended that that portion of the Forest Reserve be released to the Owoo Family. This culminated in an Agreement dated 24th November, 2008 between the Government, acting by the then Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, and the Owoo Family for the grant of a lease over ninety (90) acres of the land to the Owoo Family for a term of ninety-nine (99) years. The Lease agreement was, however, not executed as agreed.
§ In 2011, the Owoo Family, submitted another petition to the then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Mike Hammah, for the grant of portions of the Forest Reserve. The Minister constituted a committee, chaired by the then Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Mr Samuel Afari Dartey, to inquire into the legitimacy of the request and its impact on the Forest Reserve.
§ The Committee after its investigations concluded that the request of the Owoo Family was legitimate.
§ The Minister then, sought executive approval to implement the recommendations of the Committee.
§ On 5th September, 2013, the then President of the Republic, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, gave Executive Approval for the conversion of the Forest Reserve into an Ecotourism Park, and to release the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve to the Owoo Family, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
§ Pursuant to the said Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the then President, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, three (3) leases executed in September 2013, granted these portions of the Forest Reserve to the Owoo Family for a term of ninety-nine (99) years. The Family then registered the land in its name and granted sub-leases to other private developers with the consent of the Forestry Commission. However, because the land remained a Forest Reserve, by virtue of Order 31 of 1930, the lessees and sub-lessees could not develop the land, although they had obtained all the necessary permits.
§ Pursuant to the same Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the then President of the Republic, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, entered into an agreement with Aikan Capital, a limited liability company for the development of the core area of the Forest into an Ecotourism Park. The Commission also executed a lease agreement with the company in February 2016, by which 227.84 hectares of the Forest Reserve was leased to the company to undertake the planned development.
§ The Owoo Family and their grantees, in a bid to develop the peripheral portions of the land which had already been granted to them, continued to petition the Government to release the peripheral portions as a Forest Reserve. Government, after assessing the entire situation, and based on the advice of the Forestry Commission, that the ecological integrity of the Forest Reserve will not be compromised by the Release, decided to release the peripheral portions of the land from the Forest Reserve.
§ This led to the publication of the two instruments, the Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument, 2022 (E.I 144), and the Forests (Achimota Firewood Plantation Forest Reserve) (Amendment) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 154). The first makes the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family in 2013, with portions developed, cease to be a Forest Reserve. The second, amends the area of the land that should continue as Forest Reserve.
§ However, as part of measures to ensure that the area of the Forest is not compromised, both Instruments contain provisions that restrict the nature of the development that can take place on the land. Under E.I. 144 for example, before any development can take place on the peripheral portions of the Forest that has ceased to be a Forest Reserve.
§ Land Use and Spatial Authority shall prepare a Master Plan for the development of the area, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the remaining portions of the Forest Reserve.
§ The Master Plan, must be approved by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, acting on the advice of the Forestry Commission;
§ No development can take place without the express approval of the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the Forest.
The government has claimed that the Owoo family from Osu is the one laying claims to the Achimota land and has had portions of the land returned to it. But The Herald probe is suggesting that, the prime state land might be going into the wrong hands, as there is no known Owoo family from Osu, but a family called Owuo.
The Akufo-Addo government has said that it is only continuing with a release programme which started under the John Mahama administration with a petition sent to that administration by the Owoo family, but details of that petition and the petitioners are yet to be made public.
The content of the recommendation from a committee chaired by Samuel Afari Dartey, the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission under the NDC government, is also yet unknown.
Interestingly a Friday, October 24, 2008 news story published by Joy FM’s Nathan Gadugah titled “Asamoah Boateng: Achimota Forest not for sale” had the Kufuor government dismissing “allegations that it intends to sell the Achimota forest for commercial purposes”.
At the time, Joy FM claimed to have intercepted a letter written by the Executive Secretary of the Lands Commission, Alhaji Hamidu Ibrahim Baryeh, seeking advice from the Executive Director of the Forestry Commission on a proposed redevelopment of the Achimota Forest.
Alhaji Baryeh, was acting on a directive from the Office of the President with a clear mandate to the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines to conduct feasibility studies on the conversion of the forest into a commercial centre.
The news sparked harsh criticisms from civil society and some members of the NPP. But Stephen Asamoah Boateng, the then Minister of Information and National Orientation, said the government had no plans to sell the forest.
Speaking to Joy News’ Araba Koomson, Mr Boateng disclaimed the said letter from the Commission, saying “I haven’t seen any such letter; if the Lands Commission wrote such a letter it is not true. Government has not taken any decision to sell the Achimota Forest, nor has the minister taken any decision to do anything.”
“Achimota Forest remains Achimota Forest and we need it to balance our ecosystem”, he added.
He, however, explained that a woodlot close to the Achimota Forest was the land in contention. According to him, the family who owns the whole of the forest is demanding the return of the woodlot which has necessitated the demarcation of the two.
The above suggested that the NPP government had since 2008, planned to return the land to the Owoo Family.
Asamoah Boateng, had taken a swipe at his colleagues Yaw Osafo Maafo, former Minister of Finance, and former Deputy Interior Minister, Nkrabea Effah-Darteh for not cross-checking their facts with the government before rebuking it for the attempted sale.