A land dispute pitting Mombasa-based televangelist Wilfred Lai of the Jesus Celebration Centre against squatters, some of whom also happen to be members of his church, has spilled into the courts with each party accusing the other of invading the suit property.
The dispute now puts at stake the church's Sh1.2 billion investments as the squatters have moved to court accusing JCC of encroachment. In the case filed in Mombasa, the squatters want the church to surrender part of the property.
"We want Bishop Lai to surrender the suit premises that he did not purchase. We want him to also produce documentation indicating who sold the land to him," Mr Juma Mwanzunga said.
The church is one of the biggest in Mombasa. The squatters maintained that part of the 50-acre parcel was not sold to Bishop Lai.
"We don't have any problem with the parcels of land he bought genuinely. What we are opposed to is encroachment on the land that does not form part of his property," Mr Mwanzunga said.
The JCC counters that it bought the land more than 20 years ago and that over time, it has put up various facilities worth Sh1.2 billion, which are under threat following continued invasion by the squatters.
The church says it acquired the land in 2003 and 1999 but after building a church and other facilities, it left some parts undeveloped.
The JCC said in suit papers that it had built a church with sitting capacity of 30,000 and associated amenities, a secondary and primary school and a pre-unit facility.
"Since acquiring the property in 1999, it has been in our continuous physical and legal possession," church member Justus Kimeu said, adding it hosts a farm house, water well, tanks (and) cattle.
THREAT TO SECURITY
In an affidavit, Mr Kimeu said that the squatters had invaded and taken over grounds that the church uses to hold night prayers and if they are not stopped, they are likely to interfere and destroy many social amenities.
"With the presence of armed strangers in the suit property, our right to conduct night prayers is compromised and curtailed contrary to the law. The undeveloped portions of the suit property are used by learners as playgrounds and parking yards for church members, hence the presence of the squatters is a threat to their security," he said
Last month, church members held protests against the squatters, whom they accused of planning to grab their land.
They said the invasion took place on October 13 when they suddenly discovered structures being built on the land.
They claim the land was bought by the church, under the Redeemed Gospel Church, for Sh20 million more than 20 years ago.