As land-grabbing cases in the Greater Accra Region, the national capital city of Ghana continues to grow rampantly, an Accra circuit court had made an example out of a charismatic pastor found guilty of land grabbing and sentences him to 24 months in jail.
The circuit court, presided over by Mr. M. E. Essandoh, on Wednesday, this week, handed a 24-month jail term to Rev. Joshua Okpoti Sowah, for land grabbing and criminal trespass.
Joshua and his biological father, Rev. Christopher Sowah, are pastors of the International Faith Church of God, which is located at Oyarifa, a community on the outskirts of Accra
Last year, Christopher Sowah, popularly called Osofo Sowah, was convicted on similar land grabbing crime and sentenced to a fine of 25 penalty unit.
Unlucky as his father, Joshua was handed a 24-month custodial sentence, 25 penalty unit and a GHS30,000 compensation payable to the complainant, W.O. Patrick Kuntor, a retired military officer.
The younger Sowah was charged with two counts of criminal offence of unlawful trespassing, contrary to Section 157 of Act 29/1960 and fraudulent transaction of land, contrary to Section 34(a) of Lands Registry Act 122/1962.
But he vehemently denied all the charges with a plea of not guilty whereby the court granted him bail in the sum of GHs50,000.00 and two sureties, all to be public officers earning not less than GHS2,000.00.
Joshua, after the bail, put up a strong defence, with different kinds of lawyers during the trial, but they all failed to convince the presiding judge.
According to police prosecution charge sheet, Joshua unlawfully entered Kuntor’s land at Oyarifa, and leased a grant of two plots of the land to one Bernice Nkansah at a cost of GH¢80,000.00.
After evaluating the evidence adduced by police prosecution, led Chief Inspector Francis Tassan, the judge handed Joshua with 24 months in prison in hard labour to serve as deterrent.
The presiding judge also ordered Pastor Joshua to pay a 25 penalty unit to the state and compensate the complainant with an amount of GH¢30,000.00, for collective and aggravated damage.
Before handing the 24 months sentence, the court held the view that, the prosecution was able to prove the guilt of Joshua beyond reasonable doubt that he (Joshua) was never the true owner of the six plots land that he grabbed, but went ahead and sold two plots to Bernice.
Citing several Supreme Court rulings and other law authorities to buttress his judgement, Mr. Essandoh said, the prosecution demonstrated with undisputed evidence that Kuntor was indeed the true owner of the land and that the court was unable to find reason of acquitting the accused (Joshua).
Joshua’s legal counsel, Samuel Ofori, pleaded for leniency for his client on the fact that he is a first-time offender and a family man with lots of dependants under his care, but the judge turned down the plea.
The case of the prosecution was that, the complainant, Patrick Kuntor, is a consultant, while the convict Joshua, is a pastor.
According to Chief Inspector Tassan, in 2009, the complainant purchased a parcel of land located at Oyarifa and registered it at the Lands Commission in that same year, and was issued with a land certificate in 2010.
The prosecution said the complainant travelled and returned in May 2016 and detected that someone had trespassed on the land and developing same.
A report was made and parties were invited over to the police station.
Police Chief Inspector Tassan said Beatrice mentioned the convict as the one who sold the land to her, and so Pastor Joshua was invited severally, but he refused to honour the police invites, under the excuse that he was medically unfit to attend to police invitation on the matter.
The police prosecution said, upon investigation, it was discovered that, Pastor Joshua has no documents covering the land and was not the rightful owner, yet he went ahead to dispose of the land.
He added that, in order to ascertain the true owner of the land, police conducted a search at the Lands Commission on May 19, 2016 and the result confirmed the complainant as the rightful owner of the land.
Mr. Kuntor, a retired military capo during the Rawlings regime has been in the land battle with Pastor Joshua and other developers for forcibly and unlawfully repossessing his landed property and selling same to unsuspecting developers.
He fought the case from the High Court up to the Court of Appeal and successfully won in all trials and entered possessing judgement to regain his property of about 57 acre plots on the Oyarifa -Aburi Highway road enclave.
After the court’s judgment, Mr. Kuntor told journalists he felt vindicated by the court on the grounds that, Joshua, as well as other trespassers, have made it a business on his land and transacted same with unsuspecting developers fraudulently.
He expressed thanks for the true haven prevailed in Court and that it would send signal to others who believed that because he is not a native of Oyarifa he has no right to own a land in Greater Accra region.
The former military man, who is currently working as a United Nations Security for the West African sub-region, said he bought the land from the lawful owners of Oyarifa and therefore has the legal title and certificate of the land and would not allow any individual to trample on his rights to his property.
He vowed to use all legitimate means to resist any person or group of persons who would want to use unlawful means to deny him his rightful owned landed property and warned prospective developers to desist from dealing with people who styled themselves as land owners and defrauding them on his land.