The family which owns vast tracts of land behind the La Trade Fair in Accra is celebrating as gratifying, a Supreme Court judgment last week which lawyers say adds to a chain of judgments establishing emphatically their legal title and right to the land.
The judgment of the five-member Supreme Court panel, presided over by Justice Jones Dotse, followed a motion filed by claimants to the land, the East Dadekotopon Development Trust. The Trust was seeking to set aside an earlier judgment by Justice Anthony Abada of the High Court. The latest judgment by the apex court, a private legal practitioner, David Ametefe says, should bring an end to the decades of litigation on the land.
Justice Abada in May this year gave a judgment in favour of the Nuumo Ofoli Kwashie Family after making a finding of fraud against one Edward Nsiah Akuetteh, an extended family member who was not remotely connected to the original case.
Mr Akuetteh was found by the High Court to have made false misrepresentations on the basis of which he sought to settle an earlier judgment delivered by Justice Ofori Atta in 2010 which granted title to 808.644 acres of the land behind Trade Fair to the Ofoli Kwashie and Ataa Tawiah Tsinaiatse families. Justice Abada traced the genesis of the case before him to the one heard and adjudicated by Justice Ofori Atta and on which he pronounced judgment in 2010.
Justice Ofori Atta rules
The 2010 judgment by Justice KA Ofori Atta stemmed from an action instituted by the Heads of two families – Edward Mensah Tawiah of Ataa Tawiah Tsinaiatse family and Ewormienyo Ofoli Kwashie of the Numo Ofoli Kwashie family – in 2006 against the Acting Chief Registrar of Lands and the Trustees of the East Dadekotopon Development Trust. The crux of their case was that more than 808 acres of land had been granted to their forebears as far back as the 1920s and that they had been in possession of this land undisturbed all this while. They told the court that even though they took steps to register the land, and a publication made to that effect as required by law without any protest, the then Acting Chief Registrar of Lands issued title to the land to the East Dadekotopon Development Trust and without recourse to them.
The families sought among others a declaration by the High Court “that all that parcel of land traditionally belonging to the…families and as confirmed by the Deed of Grant by the La Mantse and his elders cannot be made part of the beneficiary interest of …the Trust.” They wanted an injunction against the Trust from interfering with the enjoyment of their right to the land and damages for trespassing.
After more than four long years of legal battle, and just before presiding judge, Justice KA Ofori Atta gave his judgment on December 7, 2010, the only surviving plaintiff, Ewormienyo Ofoli Kwashie, died. Justice Ofori Atta’s judgment nonetheless went in the families’ favour, stating on page 18 that “I find no legal basis for the inclusion of the [families’] lands in the so called Trust property [because they] had not consented to it either orally or in writing.”
He further found that the land title issued to the Trust by the Acting Chief Registrar of Lands and the circumstances leading to its issue were actuated by fraud. To that extent, he declared “…that the Land Title Certificate issued to the [Trust] by the [Acting Chief Registrar of Lands]…is null and void.”
The court proceeded to order the land title registrar to cancel the title issued to the Trust and “issue a Land Title Certificate in the joint names of the plaintiffs (Ataa Tawiah and Ofoli Kwashie families) in respect of the land…”
Trust appeals and ‘settlement’ filed
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the Trust appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal and obtained a stay of execution of the judgment on March 1, 2011. While the appeal was pending, one Edward Nsiah Akuetteh, who traces his ancestry to a sibling of the original beneficiaries of the land, falsely represented himself as a duly selected Head of the family, substituted himself with the deceased Ewormienyo Ofoli Kwashie, and acting on the blind side of the principal members of the family, entered into settlement with the Trust under the guise of “reconciliation, peace and development.” A source says this set off, if not perpetrated, a chain of events and manoeuvrings designed to tamper with legitimate ownership of the land.
The terms of the settlement, described by legal practitioner David Ametefe as so lopsided they are absurd if not perverse, were adopted by the Court of Appeal on March 27, 2015. The first term of the settlement purported that the Ataa Tawiah and Ofoli Kwashie families “accept and recognize the title of the East Dadekotopon Development Trust…”
Conversely, the Trust would recognize some grants of lands made by the families. “In addition, the Trust shall grant fifteen (15) acres of the land to the Ataa Tawiah Tsinaiatse and Numo Ofoli Kwashie families in…full and final settlement of the case and any claims that the families may have against the Trust,” the ‘agreement’ stated.
What sense does it make that after more than four years’ fight at the High Court and getting a favourable judgment granting them 808 acres, the families would suddenly turn around and settle under an agreement that gives them only 15 acres of land, David Ametefe wondered.
“It is not surprising that Daniel Ofoli Ewormienyo, the first son and legitimate heir of the deceased Ewormienyo Ofoli Kwashie sued as soon as he became aware of the misrepresentation and fraud being perpetrated at the Court of Appeal without the knowledge of the respected Court,” the lawyer explained.
Settlement/consent judgment set aside
This was the case before Justice Abada and on which he found that the so called settlement was accentuated by fraud since Mr Akuetteh lacked the capacity to enter into any such settlement on the basis of a case he was no party to. Justice Abada said the defendant (Akuetteh), while he belonged to another branch of the larger Tsinaiatse and Ofoli Kwashie families, was neither validly elected nor even qualified to be so elected as Head of the Ofoli Kwashie family.
Two elders of the family, BT Quaye (left) and Samuel Tawiah Quaye
Subsequently, Akuetteh himself renounced and recanted in open court, both orally and in a sworn affidavit, his earlier claims. The High Court consequently held in May 2019 that, “…the Defendant having admitted openly in the well of court that his action was wrong and fraudulent, then any subsequent decision, order or judgment premised on that falsehood be it the consent judgment fraudulently procured from the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court are all null and void a
The learned judge proceeded to restate the orders given by Justice Ofori Atta, particularly relating to the issuing of land title certificate in the name of the families.
Aggrieved by the judgment, the East Dadekotopon Development Trust, went to the Supreme Court, arguing amongst others that Justice Abada lacked jurisdiction to restate Justice Ofori Atta’s orders relating to the issuing of land title to the families – orders which affected the interests of the Trust. In any case, it insisted the matter before Justice Abada was a dispute over who is the rightful head of the Numo Ofoli Kwashie family and nothing more.
The Trust faulted the judgment on another ground which was that the parties did not testify on oath and were not cross-examined before the judgment was given. It, therefore, asked the Supreme Court to quash the judgment of Justice Abada dated May 21, 2019.
Supreme Court rules
The Supreme Court in its two-page judgment delivered on November 19, 2019 agreed that the High Court judge had no jurisdiction to order the issuance of land title certificate to the families for the 808.644 acres of land – orders lifted by Justice Abada from what had already been granted by Justice Ofori Atta in 2010. The Supreme Court but did not, however, quash the entire judgment as prayed by the applicants Trust.
Private legal practitioner, Mr David Ametefe, however, said, “In my respectful opinion, the applicants got nothing out of this judgment because the fulcrum of Justice Abada’s ruling is the establishment of fraud and consequent setting aside of the settlement judgment of the Court of Appeal which the Supreme Court did not touch.”
For him, the Supreme Court judgment “has elevated Justice Ofori Atta’s and restored it to its rightful place for the benefit of the family.” He maintained that the fraudulently procured consent judgment having been set aside, the orders by Justice Ofori Atta stand on solid ground and now have the blessing of the apex court even if indirectly. Any attempt to reopen the case, he said, will amount to re-litigating settled matters.
Quashing the consequential orders of Justice Abada does not hurt the judgment, he asserted.
Head of the Ataa Tawiah Tsinaiatse Family, BT Quaye, expressed delight at the judgment. He hopes this will bring finality to the energy-sapping litigation.