Residents of four communities in the Jomoro District in the Western region are gearing up to stage a street protest against the Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC) over a case of forced land acquisition for oil exploration.
Adom News sources say the four communities namely Bonyere, Kabla-Suazo, Dum-Suazo and Egbazo are seething with rage coconut trees they depend on for their livelihood are being cut down without their consent to make way for the GNPC to take over a piece of land measuring over 400 kilometres square.
The arbitrary takeover of the land means some 27 clans and more than 200 farmers who have their coconut trees on the land would be affect.
The situation threatens to become the cause of the first oil-related conflict in Ghana following the discovery of oil in 2007, because the GNPC has reportedly hired thugs to drive the coconut farmers and land owners off the land.
In reaction to the GNPC land guards, some 25 affected ex-service men are also reportedly threatening to use arms to defend themselves and their inheritance.
The Lead newspaper first reported that vast stretch of land transcending the three coastal towns of Bonyere to the south,
Kabla-Suazo in the middle, and Egbazo to the west had boundaries already demarcated around it, whiles coconut trees situated on the land were being cut down.
The paper said the land also had old installations abandoned by Gulf Oil of America who had prospected for oil, on-shore in the area between the 1950s and 1960s.
“There were also some black greasy substances believed to be crude oil popping out of the wet parts of the land, near the Domuli River in that area,” the paper said.
A 39 year-old Assemblyman of Bonyere, Peter Nweah explained that the people believed GNPC was interested in the land, because of the crude oil deposits beneath.
“They want to grab the land at a cheap price and later re-sell to investors at a higher price,” he said.
One of the affected families, the Adahonle family wrote to GNPC on March 16, 2010, protesting the purported annexation of their land without due recourse to them.
GNPC replied on April 16, 2010 explaining that, they had “neither acquired nor paid” for the land.
“What GNPC has done is to merely identify the Bonyere and Kabla-Suazo area as a suitable location for the siting of a gas processing plant to be built in the near future,” the GNPC letter explained.
The letter also stated that GNPC was yet to establish the actual acreage of the land before contacting the land owners to be affected.
However, the laws of Ghana forbid forced entry into anyone’s piece of land to carry out any activity without express permission from the owner, hence, legal experts were of the opinion that GNPC, by their own explanation, had erred in the Bonyere land issue.
Gladys Abaka, a religious leader and native of the community and Awuah Striver Thomas another citizen who said they owned 10 acres and over 30 acres respectively in the affected area also stated that GNPC had hired thugs to act as guards on the land, driving people away from their farms and destroying their crops.
A chieftaincy dispute in Bonyere made both the Regional House of Chiefs and the Chieftaincy Ministry declare the stool vacant.
However GNPC had been accused by the community of dealing with one Francis Romanus Awokah Arloo, a usurper to the stool.
Francis Arloo was said to have been holding himself out as chief of Bonyere under the stool name, Nana Nyameke Annor III.
He reportedly told the community at a recent meeting he had released a parcel of land to GNPC, even though the land in question belonged to individuals.
Arloo also admitted that GNPC had been cutting down the coconut trees on the said land without notification or negotiations with the farm owners.
According to him, the Paramount Chief of the Western Nzema Traditional Area Awulai Annor Adjei III invited all the chiefs of the communities to meet GNPC officials who were in the company of Energy Minister, Dr. Oteng Agyei, and his deputy, Mr. Emmanuel Buah.
“It was at that meeting that we were informed that GNPC was interested in the said land,” Francis said.
But the people have warned that whoever deals with Francis Arloo as the chief of Bonyere does so at his or her own risk, since he was not the recognized chief of the community.
Records from the National House of Chiefs and the Ministry of Chieftaincy confirmed that the gazette for Francis Arloo as Chief of Bonyere had been withdrawn and he was instructed to stop using the title, Nana Nyamekeh Annor II.