The Sierra Leone Conference has agreed to give 60 acres of its 443-acre Pa Loko property in rural eastern Freetown to the neighboring Masantigie community.
The conference and community have been at odds over the property for seven years, and the community has lost at least two lawsuits concerning rights to the land.
The local United Methodist church at Pa Loko and caretaker families who reside on the land have been the victims of repeated incidents, including burglary and attempted arson. In a recent confrontation, at least five members of Mango Brown United Methodist Church were wounded, three of them seriously, after a dawn raid on their homes.
After the attack, Bishop John K. Yambasu met with Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio to ask for help, noting that previous efforts by the land ministry were not enough to stop the violence against the church and its members.
Bio constituted an expanded team to resolve the matter while appealing to the bishop to exercise restraint.
After mediation, an agreement was reached between the two sides, 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.
Survey work to demarcate the 60 acres was completed Aug. 21.
Following the decision, Denis Sandy, Sierra Leone Minister of Lands, Housing and Environment, addressed a community meeting featuring government officials, church leaders and members of the Masantigie community.
“I’m happy to be here this afternoon for the fourth time,” said Sandy, recalling how long the matter has taken to resolve.
“Today, I bring you good news. In the end, we all agreed that for the good of this country, for the sake of development and for the sake of our young people, we the people of Masantigie, the Pa Loko community, the government, we must all work together and move this country forward,” the minister said.
He said The United Methodist Church has agreed to use its more than 250 acres to establish a United Methodist university, which would create jobs for the community and would be a win-win situation for all.
He urged the community to help provide security for the land and all development projects that would follow.
“In all of this, there has to be trust. Let there be no suspicion in this agreement. Let nobody spoil this arrangement,” he said.
Sandy said his ministry would monitor developments to ensure that there are no breaches, adding that he expects maximum cooperation between the two sides.
“I have no doubt because (The United Methodist Church) is one of the religious denominations with a very good history in this nation. They have a very sound track record. I personally have no doubt in them.”
He recalled that the denomination had a cordial relationship with the people of Masantigie before the war.
“You people know how much they did for your community at the time. Some of your children benefited. Some are in Sweden and Holland and elsewhere overseas. So, it’s a very good denomination. I thank the people of Masantigie a lot for showing commitment to the survey we are starting today,” he said.
Mohamed O. Kanu, headman for Masantigie village, thanked the government for resolving the matter. He said the church has not been a stranger to the village and has played a significant role in their community.
“But we have an adage that says, ‘the teeth and tongue can quarrel.’ But … at this peak, we know that peace has now come once and for all. Even though there is disparity in the quantities of land allocated to the two parties, we have accepted in the interest of development because both Pa Loko and Masantigie communities will benefit.
“Education is knowledge. I hope the whole process will be transparent. There is no bias where there is transparency,” he said.
The Rev. Solomon Rogers, administrative assistant to the bishop, said “without God’s intervention and presence, we would not have reached this stage.”
He thanked the president for his timely intervention and highlighted other details of the agreement, including that the 60 acres given to the Masantigie community must be used for community purposes.
He also said, as part of the agreement, that the conference is not limited to using the land solely for university purposes, noting that there are other projects planned for the land.
Ishmael Mansaray, councilor of several villages, including Masantigie and Pa Loko, assured all that he would monitor all the young men to ensure that no one disturbed the peace process beginning from the resurveying into the future of co-existence with The United Methodist Church.
“Whoever builds a college, builds a nation. The benefits far outweigh the Masantigie community. I and the headmen together with the active youths will support the UMC to make sure the development goes ahead,” he said.
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.