Homelessness, Tears, Angers -Supreme Court Verdict Hammers Hundreds of Citizens

MONROVIA: Justice, which is widely cherished and adorned, is a two-edged sword—one edge inflicting pain and agony and the other emitting joy and smiles. For dozens of Liberians, and perhaps non-Liberians, in the Congo Town area, the fiery side of the justice-sword turned against them, and homes they had sojourned in for years, some for decades, fell to the blades of bulldozers. As The Analyst reports, it all left behind mountains of rubble, seas of tear and anger.

It was a pitiable scene yesterday at the Catholic Hospital community, Congo Town, when a court enforced demolition exercise in adherence to a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Gaye Family. Hundreds of residents were rendered homeless as their places of residence were destroyed by earth-moving equipment which moved from one house to another to the astonishment of the occupants who told The Analyst they least expected the action.

Yesterday’s action was a follow-up of what should have happened last Saturday, but the exercise was resisted by the residents who stood their grounds not to allow the demolition to go ahead despite heavy security presence to support the demolition.

However, it was said that the Gaye family and their agents were able to pass the message around that there will be a reinforcement in subsequent days and for the interest of the affected residents, they should conveniently, in a shortest possible time, relocate to new destinations.

According to court documents obtained by The Analyst, the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Civil Law Court acting upon the ruling of the Supreme Court of September 23, 2022, issued the Writ of Possession in the protracted dispute which had Staton V. Gaye, Victoria D. Gaye, George Giah and Sammie Peter Paul representing the intestate estate interest of the late Joseph V. Gaye, Sr  as petitioners on the one hand and Mr. and Mrs. Darkpah Johnson, Mrs. Margaret Wreh and Henry S. Wreh who represented the interest of the affected community as defendants.

In the writ of possession signed by Alfred N. Morris, Clerk of Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit court dated February 5, 2024, it was stated that the Lower Court was acting on the ruling of the apex court of September 23, 2022 which favored the petitioners and thereby was under compulsion to activate the order for the petitioners to take possession of the property and the defenders and others to vacate the premises.

“Said petitioners /plaintiff in the above captioned cause of action are entitled to the abovementioned property by virtue of the ruling of the Honorable Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia on September 23, 2022, under the signatures of their Honors, Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Honorable Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia, sitting in its March Term AD, 2022.

“You are further commanded to oust, evict and eject the above-named defendants/respondents from the subject property(ies) in keeping with the law.

“You are further commanded to oust, evict and eject the above-named defendants / respondent(s) from the subject property(ies) in keeping with the law.

“You are further commanded to duly evict and eject the defendants and all the individuals occupying plaintiff’s described of law and lying being situated in Congo Town, Montserrado county, Liberia and to return the writ of possession to my office or before the next term, March AD 2024, ordered on the back of the original copy of the writ of possession on your official return as to the manner and form of its service and placing petitioner in complete full and unrestricted possession to the premises / property described supra”.

In compliance to the court order, as early as 7 am on Wednesday, April 3, 2024, security agents, especially members of the Liberia National Police, had mustered their men to move into the community alone with the yellow machines to carry out the demolition exercise.

The residents got what appeared to be temporary sigh of relief when Representative Yekeh Kolubah visited the area earlier in the day to intervene, pleading with the Gaye family to allow the residents to remain on the premises unmolested.

But things turned the other way when, upon his departure, the security men with the yellow machines began moving deeper into the community starting from the back end, breaking down buildings and other structures such as shops, warehouses, and halls recklessly.

Our correspondent, who was at the scene when the first set of demolition commenced, said some youths who had constituted themselves as a counter group against the demolition were beaten up by the police and chased away while the yellow machines were going from one point to another destroying structures.

“This is a dark day in the lives of my family. For many years, I have resided in this community and not a day I was told that there is a family who owned this land and were finding a way to take it back,” said a pensioned civil servant and head of a seven-member family, weeping profusely as he looked on helplessly the yellow machines destroying his house nearby.

“How this became something that we should suffer for I cannot understand. Just look where am I going to go with my family? Is there any government in this country that we can look up to? Is the President listening or will he do something to save us? You can’t see this in other countries but for Liberia where everything is the opposite.”

According to some of the affected residents, they migrated to the community and met most of the land unoccupied, made up of swamp and water and it was due to their individual efforts that had the land filled up before construction took place.

“We moved here some years back and you should have come to see the place when we initially came,” another victim, who simply called himself Toe, said. “Complete swamp and water all over the place. I paid for three truckloads of pure dirt to fill this place before building my house that was just destroyed right in my presence.”

He continued: “Now, who compensates me for what I have done to this place that is now a dry land? We did not know that there was a family who had this land and I will begin to even ask where were they when this place was like a jungle?  This is something that the government should look at and come to our aid. You can’t treat people like this.”

When our reporter made further enquiry how the residents got to the community and began to develop the area without seeking the consent of the landowner, some of the residents said that there was a story behind the place; that it was a government land that people were carting portions based on their capacity to develop the places they were taking and that the government was not keen to reclaim the land from the people.

Another demolition victim, Wilfred Thompson, told the Analyst: “I came here and met the community leadership and after settling them, I was shown a big swampy area that I used to develop for about two years before I started to build my house on it. It was later on sometime in 2020 that I got to know that there is a landlord who has instituted legal action to reclaim it and for today. All his history with my family being the victim and no one to turn to.”

However, there were several other victims who, during individual interview, claimed that they have legitimate documents to the land as squatters, as they helped developed the land and if need be, they will take legal action to revert the court’s decision to remove them from the land.

Mr. Bass, who was also affected, said: “My brother, we were not out of our mind to come here and occupy free land. This was almost like a wilderness; nothing was here. It was a government land and we came here. No one has ever asked us after all these years until the dispute started and despite our representation, the land has been taken away from us but we will not give up.”

Our correspondent reported that other residents were seen packing their things out of their destroyed structures and uploading them in waiting trucks to move to unknown locations.

Meanwhile, plans are underway, according to the affected persons, to stage a major march to urge government’s intervention in the crisis so as to enable them to return to their land.

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