Businessman, church in row over 1,200-acre land

Police inspect part of the contested piece of land in Amunoit Village, Buteba Sub-county in Busia District at the weekend. PHOTO/JOSEPH OMOLLO

What you need to know:

  • The land in question covers part of three villages in Tororo Municipality.

Police in Tororo District are investigating a case in which Tororo Catholic Archdiocese and businessman David Ochieng Okolong are fighting over ownership of land measuring about 1,208 acres.
The investigation stems from a case filed at Tororo Central Police Station by Mr Ochieng, accusing the archdiocese of trespassing on his land that covers part of the three villages of Angorom, Angololo and Amunoit in Kayoro Sub-county.
The officer-in-charge of Tororo Central Police Station, Mr Dickens Ahimbisibwe, said on Tuesday that both parties have been summoned to record statements over the matter.

“The investigations are ongoing and the parties have been directed to present relevant documents and witnesses,” he said.
Mr Ochieng accuses Rev Centurio Olaboro, the coordinator for peace and justice in Tororo Archdiocese, and Mr George Alfred Obore, the chairperson land commission in the archdiocese, of organising a group of people on Saturday night to interfere with the mark stones on the disputed land.
“If the church wanted land, it would have used a rightful channel but not using force because I have evidence of grown up eucalyptus trees that I planted along the edges of my land but can you imagine that with even this, the church comes and starts to claim ownership of part of it. This will not happen,” he said.

The businessman claims that he has been using the same piece of land for decades since he acquired it from Abajabi, one of the predominant clans of the Samia in the area.
“Nobody had ever come to claim this land until last Saturday when l received information about people planting survey stones on the surveyed land,” he said.
Mr Moses Ouma, 40, a member of the Abajabi clan, told this publocation that the archdiocese has never owned land.
“We have been using the contested land as grazing ground, especially during dry seasons, until a time when my grandparents led by late Ojambo transferred its ownership to Mr Ochieng after being compensated to a tune of Shs25 million, so we don’t know how the church is coming now to claim ownership,” he said.

The chairperson of Amunoit Village, said the matter needs to be resolved amicably to restore harmony in the area, saying there are many people who derive a living from cultivating on the contested piece of land.
“Even me as a leader, I have always known Mr Ochieng as landlord and whoever has been cultivating on this land has been seeking permission from his agents who take care of the estate,” he said.
However, the archdiocese claims it acquired the contested land in 1993 from former Samia Bugwe legislator George Alex Wejule.
“From that time, the church has been renting it to its Christians to cultivate and that people have not been complaining until of late when they heard that there were some people trying to stop them from using the land,” Rev Centurio Olaboro, who spoke on behalf of the church, said.

He said the church first informed police about the exercise to open boundaries of its land to avoid future conflicts.
“We informed police but we were surprised when we saw people accusing us of trespassing into their own land,” he said.
Rev Olaboro said the church is in the process of setting up demonstration and research centres on the land.
“What I have to categorically state is that this land belongs to the church and we have documents supporting it and someone coming to begin interfering with it means he is fighting the church,” he said.


GROWING TREND
Being one of the biggest landlords in the country, the church is battling many illegal settlers on its vast land in different parts of the country. Land has continued to be a sticky issue in many districts in Uganda where wealthy people with land titles are evicting poor tenants from their ancestral land claiming that they are illegally settling on the land.  It is on this basis that the government is pushing for land reforms, which they say are aimed at curing rampant evictions in the country. Moneyed and politically well-connected individuals with land titles are the ones being accused of evicting poor tenants from their ancestral land claiming that they are illegally settling on the land.
 

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