By Victoria Saffa
15 landowners have been reportedly arrested in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun district, for allegedly preventing SOCFIN vehicles, machinery and workers from accessing the main road to the chiefdom headquarters town.
According to reports gathered by the Sierra Leone Network of Journalists Against Land Grabbing, SLNJALG, company officials promptly reported the incident to Paramount Chief B.V.S. Kebbie after disgruntled landowners barricaded the main road to the chiefdom headquarters.
P. C. Kebbie, the report further said, wasted no time to alert the police, who arrived at the scene and arrested fifteen members of the protest group. The men are currently standing trial at the Bo Magistrate Court.
SOCFIN and a group of aggrieved landowners have been in dispute over the lease agreement between the agricultural company and the government.
Secretary-General of Malen Affected Land Owners Association (MALOA), Sima Mattia, said they were never consulted before the land lease agreement was signed for seventy-five years between the government of Sierra Leone and SOCFIN Agricultural Company Limited, leading to the ‘forceful’ acquisition of their lands.
He said they were not privy to the contents of the agreement, and that P.C. Kebbie had earlier prevailed on landowners to voluntarily give up their lands in return for compensation, noting that “instead of allowing the people to willingly make the lands available, the company with full backing of the Paramount Chief embarked on forceful acquisition for pittance.”
Other indigenes who preferred anonymity disclosed to this medium that PC Kebbie negotiated a paltry one million Leones per acre of palm oil tree plantation, a deal which was rejected outright by the landowners.
Pa Lahai Sallu, a land owner in Kortumahun village, told Concord Times they were not notified about the agreement between government and SOCFIN Agricultural Company, witnessed by their paramount chief, in respect of their lands.