Those unprotected cemeteries in Freetown!
Encroachers are still rejoicing over government’s snail-pace to take action
In most countries in the world, the capital cities are densely populated to such an extent that the people scramble to get plots of land to construct houses, offices, factories, among other things. (Photo: Vehicles being parked at the Circular Road cemetery)
The fervent desire to get a piece and parcel of land at all cost in the capital cities have led to the destruction of many important facilities especially the cemeteries which are direly needed for the burial of the dead.
Freetown is not an exception. Currently, most of the lands belonging to the various cemeteries in Freetown have been encroached. Some ill-motivated Sierra Leoneans in their quest to get a piece of land have constructed make-shift structures as well as transforming some of these sacred places into garages and dump sites.
Cemeteries are burial grounds, memorial parks, mausoleums, garden of remembrance, among other names. These are sacred places were the dead are buried and they should be protected at all cost.
Some of the most popular cemeteries in Freetown include Kissy Road, Circular Road, Murray Town, Ascension Town, Kingtom, Race Course and Kissy and these cemeteries are not protected from encroachers. In fact, they are not fenced!
They are being controlled by the Freetown City Council but despite the numerous cries by the media for them to be fenced so as to debar encroachers, there is still not concrete action taken.
In will interest everyone to know that most of the occupants of the lands belonging to the cemeteries in Freetown are legal occupants. Some of these people have documents issued to them by the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment. So who is fooling who and who is referring to those that have occupied cemetery lands as illegal occupants?
Frankly, the government has been taking a snail-pace in the protection of the lands belonging to the cemeteries. For God sake cemeteries are the resting place for all human beings no matter the persons’ status. The Ministry of Lands on the other hand, should be able to access every land before issuing documents to people.
Encroachers are very clever and smart. They will start their illegal activity by pretending as if they are taking care of these sacred places. They would start by putting up make-shift structures where they can carve ornaments which are used on graves. Relatives of the dead would ask them to make ornaments in order to decorate graves. The decoration of graves by relatives of the dead is regarded as a means of showing love and respect for their lost ones.
If only these encroachers are not questioned or asked to demolish the make-shift structures, they will eventually start by constructing permanent dwelling houses and thereby claiming pieces of land that belong to the cemeteries.
An aggrieved resident of Freetown, Tony Murray said the encroachment of cemeteries in Freetown have been going on for decades with the government showing little or no concern.
“Most of those that owned the garages and make-shift structures at those cemeteries are probably supporters of the ruling government and that is why they have been there unhindered. Freetown is no longer having pieces and parcels of land to be allocated for cemeteries and that is why we should protect the existing ones,” he said.
Sulaiman Zainu Parker, the Environment and Social Officer at the Freetown City Council (FCC), in an interview with this writer confirmed most of the lands belonging to the cemeteries in Freetown have been encroached.
“In fact, most of the cemeteries posed environmental hazards because people have transformed them into dump sites. This is like an eyesore to people who are in the habit of visiting the graveyard of their dead ones,” he said. He added that most of the people that have encroached on the cemeteries’ land do so to construct make-shifts and permanent structures while others transformed them into garages to park and maintenance their vehicles.
He disclosed that the problem is with the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment that has been in the habit of issuing building permit and other documents that legalize the existence of those people residing at the cemeteries.
He cited that there is a building at the Ascension Town cemetery situated on top of three mass graves that contain over 200 buried corpses.
He disclosed that the encroachers always take advantage of the changes of leadership of the council. He added that whenever a Mayor takes them to court, they will be in court until his term of office expires and that they go to the Ministry of lands and secure fresh documents.
“People also take advantage of the damaged fences at the cemeteries to access the land and put up structures but plans are underway to fence and beautify the cemeteries so as to scare away encroachers,” he said.
He added that the council needed strong political will so as to enable them to evict the encroachers.
One of the grave diggers at the Circular Road cemetery, Foday Boima said Freetown City Council have visited the burial site and warned people to stop dumping wastes at the cemetery but they failed to heed to the warning.
He added that the people were being motivated to embark on dumping their wastes, parking their vehicles for repairs and building make-shift structures because some sections of the cemetery are not fenced.
However, despite the various efforts by the media and other residents of Freetown to attract the attention of the government to evict encroachers from the cemeteries, those efforts proved futile. This has motivated the illegal occupants of cemeteries’ land to continue their illegal activities unabated.
Most of these encroachers are currently rejoicing over the manner at which the government has been dragging its feet to evict them.
In order to solve this problem, the government through the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment, should visit and verify the lands before issuing a building permit or even land documents.
Also, the government should demolish all make-shift structures constructed on lands belonging to the cemeteries. In doing so, the government should not be bias. All those who are supporters of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) should not be sacred cows including those who do not support the current government.
By Joseph S. Margai
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