The Sierra Leone Ministry of Lands has closed the door on a land dispute between The United Methodist Church and the Masantigie community, but not before issuing a stern warning about keeping the peace.
The Sierra Leone Conference and village community had been at odds over a United Methodist property in rural eastern Freetown until August of last year, when the conference agreed to give 60 acres of its 443-acre Pa Loko land to the neighboring community.
The Masantigie had lost at least two lawsuits concerning rights to the land over the course of the seven-year dispute.
United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu met with Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio in May of 2019 to ask for help after a dawn raid on the property during which five members of Mango Brown United Methodist Church were wounded, three seriously.
Bio established a committee to work on a resolution between the two sides. The culmination of that work was celebrated at a special ceremony Jan. 15.
Minister of Lands Denis Sandy spoke at the crowded event and recalled the cordial relationship that existed between the parties before the dispute. The denomination used to provide jobs and other means of livelihood for the Masantigie community, he said, and he hoped the parties would go back and build on that relationship.
In resolving the matter, Sandy said, the committee took into consideration population migration and other factors.
The ministry presented the site plan and “letters of offer” to both parties during the event.
The Rev. Solomon Rogers represented The United Methodist Church on behalf of the bishop, who was unable to attend. After signing the plan, he thanked God and President Bio for intervening.
“We have done this not only for the church, but the Scripture also says righteousness exalts a nation. If we are all righteous … and we are satisfied with what is happening around us, the country also will develop. We pray that the future will be bright,” he said.
Mohamed O. Kanu, headman of Masantigie village, also thanked the government for intervening to bring peace. He said the community would accept “what they have been offered for now” in the interest of peace and because the church has promised to build a university on the property.
He said, in his opinion, the 60 acres of land offered to his community was too small. The statement drew sounds of disapproval from the crowd, and deputy minister Alex Bhonapha issued a warning in response to his statements.
“I am assuring you that if this peace is breached by anybody, (the) government will come in full force to implement what is on paper … We will not be going back and forth. … This is the end of it. We now expect you to go and work within your 60 acres. (The United Methodist Church) will take the portion we have given them,” Bhonapha said.
“We took our time, pains, to take the process to where it is today. That’s why we did not force it down the throat of anyone. We were very realistic in all this. And I believe the UMC have been magnanimous enough for the final outcome. … The response should not be ‘we have accepted it for now.’ This is the finality to that agreement. It is extremely serious. The government cannot afford to lose one more life from the matter,” he said.
The resolution followed a survey of the property by the lands ministry after the parties agreed on a deal granting the Sierra Leone Conference 256 acres of land and the Masantigie community 60 acres. An additional 127 acres of the property not under dispute will remain with The United Methodist Church, bringing its total acreage to 383.
Israel Jigba, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Lands, said that while this has been a long, protracted matter, it has been resolved today by the grace of God.
“We expect that the people of Masantigie and the UMC will live together as brothers and sisters in peace and harmony … We hope this deal will bring development to the people of Masantigie and the rest of the surrounding communities,” he said.
The letter of offer limits the conference to a few conditions and urges the denomination to possess and develop the property in two years or the ministry will rescind the offer. The ministry requires the conference to present a robust implementation plan to build a United Methodist university on the property before the commencement of the project.
Other conditions are:
- In the event of any dispute, the church should not go to court but should seek redress through the ministry;
- That violation of any of the terms and conditions will result in the outright termination of the grant.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.