Uganda’s land fraudsters are facing a grim future as the legal system cracks down on their illicit activities. A local judge has delivered a significant blow to the widespread practice of generating freehold titles over existing Mailoland titles and publicly owned land titles. This groundbreaking ruling has far-reaching implications, even for legitimate Mailoland owners. They are now prohibited from selling land occupied by lawful bibanja holders without legal consequences.
This verdict has sent shockwaves through the real estate market, leaving potential buyers of bibanja-occupied plots in peril of losing their investments. Justice Bernard Nahamya, presiding over the Land Division, pronounced this historic judgment in a 2017 land dispute filed by Senior Counsel John Kaggwa. The case involved nearly ten individuals who had manipulated and sold Kaggwa’s ancestral kibanja land in Ssisa, Wakiso district, without engaging with the rightful owners.
The kibanja in question had been passed down to Kaggwa’s late father, a prominent lawyer and former leader of the DP mobilizers group, Michael Kaggwa. Justice Nahamya ruled against the defendants, emphasizing that their failure to consult the landowners or provide compensation rendered their actions legally and ethically unjustifiable.
Furthermore, the judge noted that the defendants had deliberately underestimated the kibanja’s value by over one hundred million Ugandan shillings, plunging the entire transaction into a quagmire of legal controversies. This deception, along with the clear understanding of both parties that compensation was due to the kibanja holders, rendered the entire transaction illegal from inception.
The judge’s decision underscores the fact that both parties were fully aware of the rightful occupants’ presence on the kibanja at the time of the illicit deal. This awareness raises questions about the authenticity of similar transactions and further highlights the precarious nature of the land market. The kibanja had been occupied by the Kaggwa family for more than a century, surpassing the required twelve-year threshold for legal recognition as bonafide holders. Nevertheless, the rampant creation of fraudulent freehold titles had diminished the rights of both Mailoland owners and kibanja occupants.
The menace extended beyond private land as speculators took advantage of publicly owned plots. By altering ownership of these parcels ahead of government acquisition for public projects such as roads, these “freehold owners” colluded with corrupt officials to extort the government of substantial sums. The compensation, amounting to billions of Ugandan shillings, represented unjust enrichment for the land fraudsters who had illicitly claimed public property as their own.
However, celebrations might be short-lived, as the affected parties are likely to appeal the judgment. As day follows night, this legal battle is far from over. Observers are advised to keep a close watch on unfolding developments
- 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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