Squatters whose structures are being torn down in Fendell on the property of University of Liberia (UL) say they were misled by the government’s record of ‘warnings without action’ in the past that caused them not to leave when they were told to do so.
They said the government has shown remarkable leniency on its properties occupied by squatters and therefore they assumed no one would have really demanded the land they occupied for more than ten years.
Among the structures were some very decent buildings, which housed businesses that provided a variety of goods and services for students attending the Fendell campus. Owners of the structures said they spent thousands of dollars to build.
In a tour of the area yesterday, several squatters told the Daily Observer that they were aware that the land belonged to the University of Liberia.
“I have been living here for more than ten years,” said Hawa Sumo, 40, a grandmother, “and now with my nine family members we don’t have anywhere to go.”
Madam Sumo agreed that she, along with the others, were told to leave the land because the owners wanted to take it back.
“I wanted to leave and I thought they would give us something to help us to relocate,” she said.
David Johnson, 51, said he was resided on the land for more than ten years. He said he was not present when the caterpillar came to destroy his brick house and therefore lost everything.
“I was out and when I came back everything was gone and my house was no more,” said Johnson, who happens to be a builder. There are seven members in his family.
Also affected is Anthony Xwisdyu, 50, who has worked with the University of Liberia Police for the last 18 years. He has six family members, including a 4-year-old and a one-year-old.
The two men yesterday joined others to scavenge from what was left from the forceful destruction of their mud-brick houses.
“We are taking the zincs and beams that we can use elsewhere,” Johnson said.
Madam Musu Nyepah, 50, has lived on the property for three years and recently completed her brick structure with her children.
“We made the bricks and sold some of them to use the money to buy sticks for the house,” she said, “now all is gone.”
She admitted she was informed that she was residing on a property that belonged to the University of Liberia.
“I never thought they would come and break our houses down,” she said, though she also admitted having been informed to leave the property.
Mr. Blama Allison, known in the community as a tailor, because he made dresses for many, is chairman of the Fendell Junction Community. He has lived on the property for 16 years and when he realized that the UL authorities were serious, managed to build another home, away from the current one, for his family.
“I knew it was going to come to this,” he said, but noted that information about the property, particularly from people claiming to own it, was deceptive, but he could not convince residents to make other choices.
He said, “I never went to court over the dispute, but we were always told that everything was fine and so many did not care to act with urgency.”
Many of those affected packed their personal effects, including mattresses and cooking utensils and chairs, on pick-up trucks and drove away to wherever they could find a place.
With a team of anti-riot police present, the caterpillar moved from one house to another, bringing them down as former owners looked on in shock and shame.
Many also worried about the future of their children’s education, since now they have to find accommodation elsewhere that might change the schools their children must attend.
Several others said their situation would not have been bad if the government and UL authorities had made that decision more than ten years ago, and appealed to the government to ease their frustration by at least providing them some financial compensation.
“So that we could use the money to start a new life elsewhere,” an older woman said.