A court has stopped Makueni County and Governor Kivutha Kibwana from issuing title deeds to squatters on a parcel of land measuring more than 40,000 acres.
Makueni High Court Judge Charles Gitonga Mbogo last week barred Prof Kibwana, Makueni and the Lands ministry from settling more than 600 squatters at Nguu Ranch pending determination of a suit filed by aggrieved parties.
The property is valued at over Sh1 billion and is currently being occupied by over 1,500 people.
Justice Mbogo ruled that a suit filed by lawyer Nzioki Muthini for 60 petitioners has established glaring irregularities identified in the settlement of the squatters, whose genuineness has been questioned.
The petitioners accuse Prof Kibwana and other government officials of bringing on board persons who were not originally meant to benefit from the ranch and issuing them with title deeds.
The judge noted that some squatters flushing title deeds have descended on land initially occupied by persons who claim to have been living on it since 1965.
The areas invaded by squatters include Manooni, Mulima Dam and Katelembo, all within Nguu Ranch.
The judge further noted that the director of adjudication and settlement from the Lands ministry, Mr Philip Abong’o, has “acknowledged irregularities in the allocation exercise.”
He said the petitioners bemoan invasion of land allocated to them on orders of the late President Daniel arap Moi in 1992.
Following President Moi’s orders , the then Makueni district commissioner formed a committee which identified the bonafide members of the Nguu Ranch Settlement Scheme, comprising 13,689 hectares of the suit property.
The suit property has two properties - registrations L R No.12134 and L R No.12971 - which in 1995 the Makueni District Selection Committee surveyed as it planned on settling deserving cases.
No public participation
The committee commenced an adjudication exercise which saw 3,813 plots allocated to members.
The judge stated in his ruling that the petitioners have a genuine claim over the land which they have now occupied for quarter a century.
Justice Mbogo said affiants have deposed that the fresh allocation of their land is being done secretly and without their involvement.
“It has been disposed that the adjudication process was convoluted and contrary to the land Adjudication Act because no Gazette notice was published for the intended adjudication process nor was an adjudication register made available for inspection,” Justice Mbogo said in his eight page ruling.
He added that the petitioners say there was no public participation in the exercise.
“It is therefore the petitioners’ conviction that, should this court fail to intervene, not only will their proprietary rights be infringed but they will also suffer irreparable loss and damage.”
The petitioners say they have developed schools, churches and market centres which they stand to lose if the land is allocated to squatters.
The government, through lands director P K Mwangi, opposed the case saying that on February 3, 1993 Nguu Cooperative Society Limited “surrendered its proprietorship as a lessee over the suit property to the government for purposes of settlement of the landless”.
Mr Mwangi, the judge said, averred that the land was subdivided into smaller parcels of land in favour of the Nguu society, displaced people and other squatters from the region.
On July 3, 2006, the L;ands minister authorized regularisation of the allocations and demarcations of the boundaries at Wayani, where skirmishes may erupt as it is where implementation of a committee's report became difficult.
Justice Mbogo further acknowledged a report by the director of adjudication and settlement, Mr Philip Abong’o, that “there are irregularities in the allocation exercise”.
The judge further said that upon evaluation of all the evidence, including government reports and a raft of letters written by various representatives of the Nguu Ranch Settlement Scheme, he established the petitioners have a genuine claim and the issues presented are triable.
He said there has been inertia by relevant government officers in handling the claims.
“The petitioners bemoan the political and financial expediency that has marred the process of issuance of titles deeds,” Justice Mbogo said.
He also noted the petitioners have decried a move to repossess their land and its reallocation to other individuals arbitrarily.
The 62 petitioners, led by Pius Kalisa Mbuvi, Jackson Kavoo Musoli and Peter Mwaniki Nzung’a, have named the chief lands registrar, director of adjudication and settlement, the National Lands Commission, Prof Kibwana, the Attorney-General and the Makueni County Executive Committee as some of the respondents in the case.
The court ruled that the “petitioners have indeed established a prima facie case and have demonstrated that their proprietary rights are under threat on account of inertia in resolving their problems, coming from the director of adjudication and settlement, coupled by the subsequent issuance of titles by the lands registrar, Makueni district”.
“The irrepressible conclusion is that I find merit in the petitioners’ application. I hereby issue conservatory orders in favour of the petitioners …. pending the hearing and determination of the case,” the judge ruled.
The prayers granted stopped the government, its agents, servants and/or employees from entering and trespassing into the suit property to settle squatters.
The government has also been stopped from issuing titles deeds for the suit property.