Inside the battle between bibanja holders, landlords

Police officers and residents inspect a disputed piece of land. On February 28, President Museveni issued a directive asking Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo to prevail over the judges and magistrates, who he claimed are colluding with land grabbers. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Mr Yusuf Nsibambi, a lawyer, says bibanja holders hold exclusive rights on the land and this exclusivity is not time bound.

“…In light of the above, I note that the transaction between the defendants in respect to kibanja on plot 664 was lawful as they sought consent of the caretaker … their occupation of portion marked with letter “B” cannot be considered to be trespass in law as on behalf of landlord,” in part read the court ruling in May 2017 by Ms Mastula Mulondo, Grade one Magistrate at the Magistrate Court in Entebbe, Wakiso District.

The ruling was against the complainant, Ms Magdalene Nabizizi, who had filed a matter indicating that Mr Hibert Nixon Mugabo and his wife Betty Nakitende Mugabo were trespassing on land in Mutungo Village, Kigo, Wakiso District in Kyadondo Block 272 plots 664, 645, 647 and 963.
The Court ruled that Mr Mugabo, who now stays in Boston in the US, and wife were the legal bonafide owners of the Bibanja which they bought between 2000 and 2002.

Not satisfied, Ms Nabizizi appealed. On August 23, 2019, Justice John Eudes Keitirima at the appellate court declared: “I find no merit in this appeal, which I will dismiss with costs to the respondents.”
Ms Nabizizi’s current legal team insists that a mistake made by her legal representation at the Magistrate Court continues to haunt her.
Without specifically addressing himself to the case, Mr Sam Mayanja, the junior Lands minister, made clear “that unless the kibanja holder has agreed with the landlord to compensate or buy him/herself, there is no law that allows the landlord to forcibly evict the bibanja holders.”

After a long stay in Europe, Ms Nabizizi, 86, decided to return to Uganda and occupy more than 150 acres of land found in Mutungo-Kigo village in Wakiso District. After finding multiple bibanja holders staying on her property, she attempted to ward them off. After meeting resistance, she enlisted the help of estate managers. 
Ms Aisha Naluzze, the current estate manager, told this publication that after advising the people occupying the land “to get land titles or be compensated …we scored on a number of them, but others remained resistant.”

What the law says
Mr Yusuf Nsibambi, a lawyer, whose speciality is land law, says bibanja holders hold exclusive rights on the land and this exclusivity is not time bound.
“If landlords want a fee, the law gives the bibanja holder leeway of up to Shs1,000 paid to the land owners; but they cannot be evicted without a court order,” he said, adding: “The problem is that those that steal the land are protected and connected so impunity can prevail.”

President intervenes
On February 28, 2020, President Museveni issued a directive asking Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo to prevail over the judges and magistrates, who he claimed are colluding with land grabbers.
“…by a copy of this letter, I request His Lordship the Chief  Justice to prevail on his Magistrates and judges from violating the Constitution by illegally evicting our people in collation with the land grabbers,” Mr Museveni’s letter to the Prime Minister read in part. 
The President also directed that evictions should not be allowed to take place in a district without the district security officer and chaired by the resident district commissioner (RDC).
More than four years after Mr Mugabo’s court ruling, Ms Nabizizi took over plots of land by fencing off two of the three pieces that Mr Mugabo lays claim to. Mr Mugabo is not an exception.

Ms Faridah Nabukeera says she bought a 50 by 100 decimals piece of land in 2000 from Ms Nabizizi. When the latter dragged the former to court, Ms Nabukeera was given the green light. Regardless, Ms Nabizizi went ahead to fence off the land.
“Someone is trying to follow it up but I don’t think I am interested anymore.  These people are stealing from us,” Ms Nabukeera says of the land dispute, adding that the court ruling did not insulate her from being arrested and being held in police custody for more than a week.

Ms Naluzze, however, insists that Ms Nabizizi enjoys a good relationship with bibanja holders on her land.
“In this case, I would advise them to see legal redress but you can also see that the legal process has been defied. Even the court and police are in this whole mess conniving with thieves,” Mr Nsibambi says of Ms Nabukeera’s travails.

Mr Sam Mayanja, the junior Lands minister. 

Glut of cases
Mr Ahmada Mukasa, the chairperson-in-charge of defence and security on the Local Council Committee of Mutungo-Kigo village, told this publication that this is the umpteenth case of land grabbing and illegal eviction of this matter his office has received.
“As the LC of the area, we intervened and held meetings with these people, especially those that have fenced off the land,” he said, adding: “Some of them told us the truth that they are stealing the land.”

Mr Mukasa admits that the more than 13 cases his office handles every week is overwhelming. 
It’s not just seemingly powerless people like Ms Nabukeera caught in the crosshairs. Ms Nancy Kalembe, a presidential candidate in the 2021 General Election, was also sucked into a land dispute after someone impersonating Ms Nabizizi attempted to evict her.
“There are people who just target old women and those that are not around and they take over people’s land forcefully,” Ms Kalembe said in an interview, adding: “They came saying that Ms Nabizizi had asked them to evict me and they started cutting down my crops and fenced off my land. We had a court case but I am happily living on my piece of land.”
A tour around the land in question revealed that there are more than 30 people who are locking horns with the landlord over alleged trespass and illegal eviction.

“The problem is that some of these people bought land from different people who lied to them that they were the estate managers when the old woman (Nabizizi) was not here. Now these are the very people claiming to be illegally evicted from the land,” Ms Naluzze told this publication.
Sources, who spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity, said land grabbers always work hand-in-hand with the area police and other authorities to flout court orders and orders from other relevant authorities.
“A client identifies a piece of land that is lying vacant,” a source told this reporter, adding: “Normally the owners of this kind of land targeted are abroad or staying away from their land for a long time.”

Ms Christine Nanding, the deputy officer-in-charge of legal and human rights department at the Uganda Police, is charged with interpreting court cases. She told this publication that she investigated some of the land matters, including Ms Kalembe’s while she was still the commandant at the land protection unit.
“There have been several complaints about this land (Ms Nabizizi’s). I have seen court orders, but I have never met the individuals involved. There is even another complaint that was made to the Inspector General of Police and an investigation was conducted. So I have not been close to that matter again. Our office is for interpreting court orders and that is what I have done,” Ms Nanding said.

Using ‘gangs’
During an onsite visit of the piece of land in question, we discovered that the people who contest the occupancy of the person on the land come in the middle of the night and erect a wall fence. This is usually before gangs are deployed by the broker of deal.
A member of one of the gangs told us that besides enjoying the unqualified support of powerful people, they are each paid anywhere between Shs10,000 and Shs20,000.
There are many groups spread across the city that supply gangs, according to sources, but the notable ones are Cocomanga group found in Kajjansi area and the Lipanda in Katwe near Nsambya in the city.

Ms Betty Kazungu, the officer-in-charge of Kajjansi Police Station, confirms the gangs involved in land grabbing. She, however, is quick to say they have since worked with the community to eliminate them.
Last year, Ms Nakitende—the wife of Mr Mugabo—reported a matter of assault at Kajjansi Police Station under reference number 55/29/5/2021. She claimed that unknown people attacked her and prevented her from accessing the piece of land before it was fenced off.
Ms Kazungu said she was not the officer-in-charge at the time, but added that the file failed to gain substantial evidence for it to be sanctioned.  “We investigated and found out that this case was raised on false alarm,” she said.