‘ASAASE NO Y3 ME DEA!’ (THE LAND IS MINE); AN EXPOSITION ON THE HIERARCHY OF LAND OWNERSHIP IN GHANA by Amanda Edinam Ahiadormey

Owiredu had always told himself that he would move out of the family house as soon as it was legally possible. The building housed eight different families in his clan, and living together was as frustrating as could be.

From having to clean up the toilet they shared after someone other than him had used it, to being reprimanded unnecessarily, Owiredu had had enough.

He yearned to live as far away from them as possible, to avoid being told to go back to his room and change when he stepped out with his hair ruffled up and his underpants loosely hanging.

All pleas to get his father to move had fallen on deaf ears. His father would look him in the face and say that family was what made the world more bearable, and that nobody in his nuclear family was going anywhere so far as he had a hand in it.

His mother, who usually fell for his antics, seemed to exclude moving away from the compromises she was willing to make regarding him, bearing in mind just how much it meant to her husband to stay with his maternal family. She would just look on as if she hadn’t noticed just how much it infuriated him to stay, and smile at him as though soothing his wounds.

Owiredu’s family made his skin crawl. As soon as he was done with school, he embarked on a mission to build his own house. He had saved long and hard to get it.

The wind seemed to carry with it whispers, and before long, Owiredu had heard of the infamous ‘Poison’, a fellow known for making people’s housing dreams see the light of day.

He met with Poison three times before he found the plot of land he thought he liked.

Owiredu refused to heed his mother’s words to stay home, and purchased the land from Poison to start building his dream house.

Within a year, Owiredu had put up a simple cottage. He intended to move in with his girlfriend Naa Shormey the minute the marriage ceremony was over.

Just when he was ready to furnish the house, a man showed up with land guards and a bulldozer, saying, ‘ASAASE NO Y3 ME DEA!’, meaning, ‘the land is mine’.

Owiredu put up a futile fight before discovering that Poison had no link to the land whether directly or indirectly, and was infamous for duping unsuspecting people who fell for it because of the cheap rates at which he sold the land.

Owiredu would have been safe if he had acquired the land from someone who actually had title to the land. What this means is that he should have purchased the land from its legitimate owners and acquired a proper title to the land.

 

The first type of title in the hierarchy of land ownership in which the title is absolute and superior to any other is the Allodial title. Bentsi-Enchill describes it as the only customary title not held by a tenant to a landlord.

What this means is that the allodial title holder owes no other person any obligation with regards to the land because he owns it and is entitled to using and enjoying it, as well as deciding who to transfer ownership to whether permanently or temporarily. In Ghana, this title can be held by customary communities through stools and skins, and through families, and even in individuals. Allodial title holders have right to the land until they sell it, abandon it, have to let go of it due to compulsory acquisition by the government or happen to be conquered and their land taken over.

 

Allodial title holders may decide to transfer their title, giving to what is termed the usufructuary title. This title is also known as the customary freehold, customary law freehold, or the determinable estate. There are two types of rights associated with the usufruct as defined in its name. ‘Usus’ is the right to use and enjoy the land without altering it, while ‘fructus’ is the right to derive profit from the land, for instance, by engaging in crop farming. Someone with this title is not the owner of the land, but can farm or build on it. It is potentially perpetual and returns to the owner upon its completion. It may come to an end if the holder makes the mistake of denying the allodial title holder, because in that case, his title becomes invalid. He would have shot himself in the foot because the question would arise as to how the one claiming the usufruct legitimately acquired the title if the one he claims he got it from has no title himself.

 

Buying land from Poison, who had no title, was an invalid sale because he who does not own something cannot confer its ownership to another. This is illustrated by the Latin maxim, ‘nemo dat quod non habet’. Land could be passed on through legitimate sale, gifts, discovery and conquest as well as inheritance.

 

Owiredu, who was seeking land to build, should have run a check in the Lands Commission database to ascertain if the land had been registered and if so, to whom. The Lands Commission of Ghana has a register of all titles and deeds in relation to all the land in Ghana. That would have enabled him to legitimately acquire the land, through purchase, from the owner, free from stress.