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Understanding the Achimota Forest Reserve controversy, the Owoo family’s involvement

Achimota Forest Gbc Picture.jpeg A section of the Achimota Forest Photo credit: GBC

Sun, 22 May 2022 Source: ghana.dubawa.org

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Social media went ablaze after excerpts of an Executive Instrument (E1 144) signed by Minister of Land and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, on the authority of President Akufo-Addo went public.

The instrument which declassified some portions of the Achimota forest reserve has become a huge subject of controversy with a tinge of partisanship as well.

After the publication went viral on social media, there have been claims that the entire Achimota forest has been sold to a private developery as can be seen here, here, here, here, here, but such claims have been refuted by Mr. Jinapor. The former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources under Former President John Evans Atta Mills has also corroborated the statements made by Mr. Jinapor.

Given the controversy the issue has generated, DUBAWA set out to investigate and provide an understanding of the whole issue.

Owoo family and the 361 acres of land

In 1921, the Government of the then Gold Coast, by a Certificate of Title dated 16th December 1921, made under the Public Lands Ordinance, 1876, acquired from the Owoo Family the parcel of land on which the Achimota Senior High School is situated.

Subsequently, by another Certificate of Title dated 17th May, 1927, the Government acquired from the same family another tract of land measuring approximately four hundred and seventy-nine (479) hectares as an extension to the Achimota Senior High School.

Even though there are receipts indicating payment of compensation for the 1921 acquisition, there are no records of payment of compensation for the 1927 acquisition.

Fast forward, in 1930, a section of the land was constituted into a Forest Reserve by the government to provide cheap fuelwood for the Achimota school and that’s how the name Achimota Forest Reserve came about.

What happened during President Kufuor’s tenure?

Following several encroachments on the forest reserve, the pre-acquisition owners, the Owoo Family, in 2007, submitted a petition to the then President, John Agyekum Kufuor, for the release of the portion of the Forest Reserve adjoining the Tema motorway since the land was not being used for its intended purpose.

After consultations with relevant stakeholders, the government agreed to release the lands to the family. Consequently, there was a 24th November 2008 agreement with the Owoo family for the government to release the lands, but that agreement was not executed until President Kufuor left office.

What happened during President Evans Attah Mills tenure?

In 2011, the Owoo Family, submitted another petition to the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mike Hammah during the President Evans Attah Mills era, for the grant of portions of the Forest Reserve as agreed on by the previous government.

After the Minister constituted a committee to inquire into the legitimacy of the request and its impact on the Forest Reserve, it concluded that the Owoo family’s request is legitimate. As such, the minister sought executive approval to implement the recommendations of the Committee but that approval was not given due to the death of the former president, John Evans Attah Mills.

What happened during President John Mahama’s tenure?

When President John Dramani Mahama came to power in 2013, he gave the Executive Approval for the conversion of the Forest Reserve into an Ecotourism Park and to also release the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve to the Owoo Family, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee set up by the then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mike Hammah.

Pursuant to the approval by President Mahama, the Owoo family then registered the land in its name and granted sub-leases to other private developers. However, because the land was still registered as a Forest Reserve, by virtue of Order 31 of 1930, the developers whom the land had been given to could not work on the land.

Pursuant to the same Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the then President of the Republic, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, entered into an agreement with Aikan Capital, a limited liability company for the development of the core area of the Forest into an Ecotourism Park in August 2016.

What happened during President Akufo Addo’s tenure?

All this while, the Owoo Family could not work on their lands given them because they are classified as Forest Reserves. As such, the Owoo family who also wanted to develop the peripheral lands that have already been given to them had to again petition the Government to declassify those portions of the land as a Forest Reserve, so their developers can work on it.

The government, after assessing the entire situation, and based on the advice of the Forestry Commission that the ecological integrity of the Forest Reserve will not be compromised by the declassification, decided to release the peripheral portions of the land from the Forest Reserve.

This led to the publication of the two instruments, the Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument, 2022 (E.I 144) and the Forests (Achimota Firewood Plantation Forest Reserve) (Amendment) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 154).

The first instrument makes the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family in 2013 cease to be called a Forest Reserve. The second, clarified which area of the land should continue as a Forest Reserve.

What next?

Now since the government has given clearance to the Owoo family that the peripheral lands given them are no longer under the Achimota Forest reserve, developers can now begin work on the lands.

However, as part of measures to ensure that the Forest reserve is not compromised, the government says the Land Use and Spatial Authority shall prepare a Master Plan for the development of the area, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the remaining portions of the Forest Reserve.

Government says a Master Plan must be approved by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, acting on the advice of the Forestry Commission;

It further indicated that for any development to take place on the lands given to the Owoo family, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources needs to give an express approval taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the Forest.

Will there still be a forest reserve?

Yes, there will still be a forest reserve. According to the Forestry Commission, the Forest reserve is three-hundred and sixty (360) hectares which calculates into 889 acres. However, according to the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, the 361 acres which calculates into approximately 40% of the entire reserve being given to the Owoo Family are peripheral lands. Peripheral land are ones which are on the edge of a larger area.

Conclusion

The Achimota Forest reserve has not been sold. 361 acres of the land, which according to the government are peripheral lands, has been declassified as a forest reserve and given to its custodians which is the Owoo family.

Source: ghana.dubawa.org