KAMPALA, Uganda: Clad in a grey Kaunda Suit, Mzee George Echonga Okabo looked composed but his facial and body expression betrayed the irritation boiling beneath his person. He seemed highly perturbed by the fact that he was before a Judge over a piece of land he certainly believe is his own.
The father to Fred Enanga, the Uganda Police Force mouthpiece, Mzee Echonga was yesterday (Tuesday 15th 20190” before the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led land tribunal, laboring to dispel rumors that he and his son Enanga are baking a plot to grab three square miles of land in Oretta village in Apac District.
A group of people led by Echonga’s elderly Uncle, Naphtali Enanga are the masterminds of the accusations being investigated by the land tribunal sitting at Wandegeya, in the outskirts of Kampala. Clearing his name, Mzee Echonga clarifies that the charges are fabrications staged by malicious family members who do not want him to enjoy his inheritance.
Recently, some sections in media reported that Fred Enanga and his father were out to grab the land onto which, they are planning to develop a family farm. “I have not seized anyone’s land. What I am accused of grabbing is actually an inheritance from my own father,” Echonga elucidated.
He went on to explain how his late dad Enoci Okabo braved the ever-hungry wild animals, driving them out before he could singlehandedly acquire the hitherto unadorned square miles of land in the late 1940s in Oretta before he later, time after again, bequeathed the same to his siblings.
Disputing the assertion that the land falls under the customary tenure, Echonga explained, “My father (Okabo) moved from Alia in Akokoro and settled on the land. There was no one occupying it at that time. It was being inhabited by wild animals,” the respected former civil servant who actually rose to the rank of Superintendent of Police educated the tribunal.
Echonga explains that the primary reason why his father partook the ‘wild’ decision of invading animals was because he had lost and buried his loved ones back in Alia and the place had turned into a nightmare to him. While moving to Oretta, explains the now 85-year old witness, the Late Okabo left behind his father the late Ojok Okaka.
Okaka was buried at Alia village, Akokoro Sub-county in Apac District. On reaching Oretta, Okabo invited his brother Naphtali Enanga, who was a tailor in Aduku to join him. Other relatives as well as their close friends, unrelated to the Okabo’s family, explains Echonga, would later join the new occupants and were helped with land to settle on and cultivate.
Decades later, Mzee Okabo decided to apportion the ten square miles among his children, relatives and other people unrelated to him. This is how Echonga ended up getting his share of the three square miles while Naphtali walked away with four square miles. The rest of the land was distributed among Okabo’s relatives and other settlers including the family of one Alfred Owiny. The latter has since joined other people to claim that the land had been customarily owned since time immemorial.
In the evening of his life, Okabo reportedly tasked Echonga to pursue a title for the land. Echonga followed suit by making an application to the land ministry in 1976. “In 1976, while at CID headquarters, I started pursuing the application of registering this land with the guidance of my father.” He was later notified of the application and instructed to pay Shs460 which, he did. The application letter was then sent to the West Lango District Land Board for further formalities.
Indeed, in 1978, states Echonga, Mzee Okaka delegated his (Echonga’s) brothers Johnson Angala and Benjamin Enanga to receive and lead the surveyors. “Angala was told to go and pick the surveyors from West Lango District Headquarters. The District Commissioner [also] came with his team and passed by Ssaza headquarters to collect the Akokoro Gombolola Chief, a one Kirya.”
The land was surveyed but… explains Mzee Echonga; “Due to insecurities at the time (It was the Ex-President Idd Amin’s war time), the process could not continue after the survey.” Nevertheless, around mid-1990s he resumed the process but hit a snag after he lost the documents following his Brother Gilbert Echonga’s death.
“I went to Gulu myself and handed over the documents to my brother Gilbert Echonga who was working with Uganda Commercial Bank as a Manager. I gave him everything including the deed print of the land. Around November 1990, he (Gilbert) was assassinated. We later tried to follow up with his wife and his father Naphtali Enanga and the Gulu regional office but all in vain. The only document that was retrieved was the application form of 1977 which indicated the sheet reference of 40/2, also showing the amount that I had paid,” reads in part, Mzee Echonga’s statement.
Nonetheless, Mzee Echonga finally resumed the process and acquired the title last year. His expressive explanations notwithstanding, the panel seemed every inch not convinced that the land was individually owned. But the old man insisted that his departed father distributed the land among them, adding that he did not do anything wrong by applying for a lease on his own portion.
Given the modern days of today, Echonga advised; “the other beneficiaries would do well acquiring titles on their portion of land other than fighting me.” During the trial, it emerged that State House itself had handled the matter previously and that it is the very high office in the land which recommended the Apac District Land Board to issue the land title that is now under contestation.
In an exclusive chat with the Investigator after the session, Mzee Echonga expressed his dissatisfaction with the commissioners saying they are wasting theirs and his time. “They seem biased and convinced by my accusers. If they are certainly interested in the truth, they should move to the ground. They have been fed with a lot of lies but they are not interested in digging deep,” he said. Today, his son Fred Enanga faces the panel. Watch this space…
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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