What you need to know:
- According to court documents, the church occupied the land in 2002.
- "The sale agreement dated 20th March 2002 indicated the land was vacant, which was not the case," the judge said.
- Despite the Kajiado land registry furnishing the court with documents showing the plaintiff was the registered owner of the disputed land, the court said the title deeds were acquired unprocedurally and fraudulently.
The Lands court has ordered the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) to vacate its Sh650 million premises in Kitengela town within 60 days after it lost a land case to the Export Processing Zone (EPZ).
In a virtual session by the Environment and Land Court on Thursday, Justice Maxwell Gicheru ruled in favour of EPZ, ending a nine-year battle for the land.
The church had moved to court after EPZ management laid a claim to two and a half acres of prime land where the church and a school stand.
The EPZ is a state corporation under the Ministry of Investments, Trade and Industry, established in 1990 by the EPZ Act CAP 517, Laws of Kenya.
Its mandate is to promote and facilitate export-oriented investments and to develop an enabling environment for such investments.
On Thursday, tension was high in the church as a handful of worshippers and learners, led by Reverend Hezekiah Murage, followed the court proceedings on giant screens.
In the ruling, the judge said the defendant had proved that the government legally acquired the land on September 13, 1991 and no court of law or land tribunal had nullified the same.
The court also noted that the original owner was fully compensated for the land.
"It has been proven the Government of Kenya lawfully acquired the land in 1991.The same land could not have been registered to a third party," the ruling states.
Justice Gicheru added that EPZ had proved there was water infrastructure on the land between 1991 and 1994 when the plot was purported to have been sold.
According to court documents, the church occupied the land in 2002.
"The sale agreement dated 20th March 2002 indicated the land was vacant, which was not the case," the judge said.
Despite the Kajiado land registry furnishing the court with documents showing the plaintiff was the registered owner of the disputed land, the court said the title deeds were acquired unprocedurally and fraudulently.
The church was ordered to vacate the land within 60 days, leaving stakeholders with questions on what would happen to the Kitengela mother church and its five sub-stations.
Further details indicated that the church had sold part of the land behind the church to individuals, and the plots are currently developed.
The EPZ is claiming the entire land.
The Reverend Murage contested the ruling, saying it was unexpected and that they would pursue other legal avenues to overturn the decision that he described as doomsday for the church.
He said they would reach out to the PCEA foundation, which is the custodian of Presbyterian Church properties.
"Our land documents are in order. We had carried out due diligence before purchasing the parcel of land. We will appeal. We have more than 2,000 worshipers every Sunday in this church [who] come for spiritual nourishment," he said.
Church Chairman Peter Mwangi said the court ruling had sent shivers among worshipers but he urged them not to panic as they continue seeking justice.
"We urge worshippers to remain calm. We have investments…on this piece of land. Hundreds of people depend on this church," he said.
PCEA Kitengela Township Primary and Kindergarten head teacher Josphat Njoroge said the ruling might have a negative impact on the school’s pupils, parents and employees.
The school was started in 2004 and currently has a population of 936 learners.
PCEA church lawyer Njogu Mungui, through a statement, said that EPZ was fighting for a small fraction of the area around the tank but in the wisdom of the court a nullity declaration of the entire piece of land was made, consequently affecting the entire title.
"While an appeal in the Court of Appeal will most likely overturn the judgment, it is evident that our overwhelming evidence and credible legal thought was ignored or frowned upon or even magically tilted by thought or other forces," he said in a statement.
Also read: Has the Church become Kenya’s new burden?
The land has a church that was opened in 2014 and cost about Sh80 million to build.
In the same parcel stands a school with storeyed buildings and several other structures belonging to the church.
On the right side of the church compound stands the abandoned EPZ water infrastructure, including a raised tank and water kiosk.
The remaining space serves as the church parking that doubles up as the learners’ playground.