5 July 2012

Uganda: Watoto Church Accused of Land Grabbing

Watoto Childcare Ministries, which also runs Watoto church, one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Uganda, is facing charges of fraudulently acquiring land.

The land in question is a 179-acre property stretching over the villages of Lubbe and Sekomangwa in Kakiri, Wakiso district. It belonged to the late Eric Gganja Kiyuba Njuki, and one of his sons, Dr Fredrick Njuki, a medical practitioner in Houston, Texas, in the United Sates, has taken the matter to court, demanding that Watoto be driven off the land.

In a plaint filed in the High Court's Land division on June 12, Njuki accuses his elder brother, Ivan Nsubuga, an employee of the UN in Nairobi, of stealthily selling the land in question to Watoto at Shs 800m. Njuki has submitted to court, as an exhibit, his late father's will dated October 5, 2009, witnessed by former Archbishop Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo, among others.

It indicates that the deceased bequeathed the land equally to the two brothers. Njuki claims his brother sold it without his consent, and is demanding his share of the inheritance. In the plaint filed by his lawyers, Birungi & Company Advocates, Njuki claims that Watoto bought the land without involving the area local council officials or neighbours, and did not carry out due diligence at the Land Registry to ascertain the true owners of the property.

He also faults Watoto for buying the property from Nsubuga, "who was not in physical or constructive possession of the land at the time of sale." He claims that his father had entrusted the land to his niece, one Jackie Nansubuga, who was living on and cultivating it at the time of the sale.

Njuki says Watoto has since razed the crops, including a three-acre banana plantation and destroyed structures their father had erected on the land. The plaint includes, as evidence, caveats dated December 22, 2011 and police summons in respect of the land, which the seller, Nsubuga, reportedly ignored.

Njuki says Nsubuga forged powers of attorney in his favour, purportedly executed by their father, which gave him authority to sign and execute all documents and transfers in respect of the property. According to the plaint, the deceased discovered the fraud when he caused a search at the Land Registry in early January 2011, having learnt that Watoto agents were clearing part of the land, claiming that it belonged to the church. The church organisation had allegedly bought the land on October 1, 2010.

The deceased "discovered that in the year 2009, his son, Nsubuga, had caused all the plots of land to be transferred into his names using transfer forms with a forged signature attributed to him [the deceased], whereas it was a forgery," the plaint states.

Nsubuga would later sell the land to Watoto, claiming it belonged to him and his wife, Ann Nsubuga. Mrs Nsubuga, whom Njuki is suing as a conspirator in the alleged fraud, reportedly signed spousal consent documents, authorising her husband to sell "their family property".

When he discovered the fraud, Njuki says, their father authorised him to file a case on his behalf, to recover the land. Njuki submitted, as further evidence, powers of attorney executed by their father on March 7, 2011 to "commence legal proceedings against Nsubuga".

The old man would later die, on January 12, 2012, before the case got underway.

Also sued is the commissioner for Land Registration for acting on forged documents to have the land transferred to Nsubuga's names and, later, to Watoto's. In its defence filed on June 25, 2012, Watoto, through its lawyers, M.B. Gimara Advocates, denies having connived with Nsubuga to fraudulently acquire the land.

"Further evidence shall be adduced to show that the 1st defendant [Watoto Childcare Ministries] carried out a due diligence and physical search before it purchased the suit land. Evidence shall further be adduced to show that the 1st defendant is a bonafide purchaser for value," Watoto's defence states.

Court is yet to schedule hearing of the case.

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