By Alieu Alvin Kargbo
In 1979 the people of Magbenbera in Mapoli section, Lower Maforkie chiefdom and the Magbebera Oil Palm Produce agreed to a lease agreement between the chiefdom and the Magbebera Oil Palm Produce owned by the former Vice President, Sorie Ibrahim Koroma which was for plantation of oil palm trees for the production of palm oil on forty four thousand (44,000) acres of land.
This agreement has however deprived the people from cultivating their land to sustain their homes for more than 40 years now. As per agreement, the company was supposed to support the community with school and hospital buildings and other services as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Listening to some of their testimonies, Mammy Sonnay Bangura who claimed to be au fait with the agreement said “the late S.I Koroma came to our people with respect but today it is ironical that because of the love and respect we had for him that is why we went into such an agreement. But we were skeptical about the effect it would have on our people; but thank God, it’s over now and all we want is our land back.”
The situation was emotional as the old woman ended her testimony in tears asking for forgiveness from the people, confessing that for 40 years now they have deprived their people from what they rightfully deserve.
In regret, she claimed they were ignorant of the economic and other effects the agreement would have on the people, but confessed that the late S.I Koroma was dedicated to his commitment until shortly after he passed away. She added that the remaining 38 years during which Haja Mabinty Koroma was in charge together with her farm manager were years of bondage.
They however thanked President Bio for introducing free quality education because they now realize the importance of education after their children opened their eyes to see the implication of what their parents had agreed to forty years ago.
The Youth Leader, Alimamy Okass Sesay while testifying their pains emphasized on the importance of education, because according to him Haja Mabinty wanted to renew the agreement but because some of them are now educated, they explained to their parents the implication of what they had previously agreed and how it will affect their own generation.
According to him it was like an eye-opener for their people because initially they imprinted their thumbs to sign and ignorant of what they were doing because they were afraid of politicians and respected them almost too much.
Chief Bai Santigie Kanu who is one of the stakeholders in the community said their people have suffered humiliation since the death of the late former Vice President Sorie Ibrahim Koroma. He said after the death of the former Vice President the company was transferred to Haja Mabinty Koroma, wife of the former Vice President and she introduced them to Mr. Abass Mansaray who was the Farm Manager.
According to Chief Bai Santigie Kanu, Abass Mansaray has been a thorn in the flesh all their lives. He continued to say when Haja Mabinty brought Abass from Koinadugu District they gave him land to build his house and treated him like a brother with so must respect. But later they saw Mr. Mansaray building a police post in his compound and when they enquired to know the reason; little did they realize he wanted to protect himself based on his mission.
According to Chief Kanu since the erection of the police post, Mr. Mansaray has been treating them as if they strangers; no freedom, no joy and uses the police to intimidate them claiming he is the local police partnership chairman.
But following this allegation, AYV tried to get the side of Mr. Abass Mansaray. He however denied all the allegations made against him. When ask if he is the farm manager, his exact words were: ‘I was the Farm Manager before but now.” His response was strange to even the people and probing further on who is the current Farm Manager he said there is no Farm Manager at the moment.
The Resident Minister North-West is the constitutional head of the entire region. She disclosed to this medium that she is aware of the issue, but that the people ignored her and went to court. According to her its fine by her but such deep matters should have been settled amicably because according to her the lease has expired. Even though there were lots of agreements with different sets of chiefdoms, some twenty five years (25) while others were forty years (40) but as for Magbebera, she believed the forty years’ lease has expired. Therefore, even though the matter is in court she summoned the parties involved; both the community people and the Koroma family for proper dialogue that will facilitate the handing over of the property to the rightful owners based on what was agreed upon. She noted that she is aware of the ban which restricted all parties not to enter the plantation and that was done to restore sanity within the community because the people were aggrieved and the situation was getting beyond control.
She continued to say that the ban is not to deprive the people but to find a lasting solution to the issue.
Therefore, she encouraged the people to exercise patience as they have been deprived for far too long, and further reassured them that the truth will prevail and so they must be law-abiding.
The people of Magbenbera in Lower Maforkie Chiefdom are therefore calling on the government to quickly intervene into the matter as they have been deprived for far too long. According to them they have not been using the land for other purposes and some other areas where they plant food crops you just have to use the plantation to pass through to reach those areas but they were instructed not to go into the land for any purpose. They are kindly asking the government to consider their children and lift the ban.