By Mustapha Jallow
A group of vendors and land owners at Sukuta-Salagi market on Wednesday expressed their anger and concerns over the demolished market by officials from the Department of Physical Planning. The group also said that Physical Planning claimed that the said disputed land is part of government’s reserved lands and now being allocated to NAWEC.
But the claimant of the land and Salagi market vendors argued that the land in question was inherited from their forefathers and ancestors.
The angered men and women accused physical planning and the land ministry for bringing sleepless nights and chaos in their community by selling their lands to certain people. They alleged that the government had also confiscated most of their lands it claimed to be State reserve lands.
When our reporter visited the disputed land, he observed that the market, where mothers and other young women make little income to pay for their children’s school fees, rent, fish-money, and daily needs were demolished. No structure or canteen was spared during the demolition.
The market vendors were left with worries about their goods, wondering where they can go and sell their food to make ends meet, adding that they do not want the place identified to them by the government to be their market because it is isolated.
Ousman Bojang, the claimant of the disputed land and some Sukuta youth, on Wednesday, July 20, 2022 were found trying to rebuild what was initially destroyed by demolishers, only to see some officials from physical planning and NAWEC, with an escort of armed paramilitary officers, stomp his land at 12 pm. Bojang said he was told by physical planning to stop the rebuilding because the said land is a reserved area now allocated to NAWEC.
Moreover, armed paramilitary forces and a senior NAWEC staff were still at the place when our reporter visited the place. Women vendors were also present at the market with their goods for sale. They said they would not move an inch even if the officers decide to shoot them.
Bojang, 54, said he is the rightful owner of the land because he inherited it from his forefathers, saying he had been farming in the land and making a living with his family and relatives.
Few days back, when Bojang went to the land he claims and found some individuals measuring the place, he quickly intervened and asked them to stop what they were doing.
But he would later realise that his land had been given to NAWEC without his notification, saying he then decided to report the matter to the police.
The police intervened and asked those individuals to stop the measurement, according to him.
“I was in my land with friends today, to my surprise, I saw the same individuals escorted by armed officers, again measuring the land. When I asked them, they claimed that my land now belongs to NAWEC. This makes me think that poor Gambian with no power cannot win,” Bojang stressed.
Bojang, who is also a carpenter, said he had built a big carpentry workshop on his land and employed a lot of young people, but this has been destroyed leaving his employees in a state of confusion.
A NAWEC borehole is stationed next to the disputed land, which Bojang said was part of the land, but his father gave it to NAWEC since 1991.
Bojang stated that the said land issue is in court and the matter has since been adjourned. He accused the State, particularly Physical Planning, of using power to forcefully usurp his land. He demanded that the investigation report into the Salagi land conflict be made public.
“It is very sad to see the state taking someone’s land and give it to another person. I therefore call on the authorities to urgently respond to our concerns and help resolve our problems,” he said.
Lamin Jatta, brother to Bojang, said he was alerted by his younger brother (Bojang) that PIU officers and NAWEC staff were heading to their land. Upon arrival, he said he asked one of the senior officers of the PIU what their mission was and he told him that they were there to protect the officials demarcating the disputed land.
“They stomped here without even serving a notification to my brother, neither compensating him. This is not fair at all,” he said.
Jatta urged the relevant authorities, especially the land ministry, to ensure Salagi people get back their land.
Bintou B Colley, a 27-old-year vendor at Salagi, expressed her concern over the demolition of their market, describing it as sad.
“We are not sitting at home or begging anyone. We are here to earn a living. The government does not care about us, particularly the issues of women empowerment; this is not true because women like us are treated badly and not empowered,” she lamented.
“They bulldozed everything that we had built. Our market should not be sold in any form because we want the market here not at an isolated place.”
Colley said she had spent D5000 just to build her canteen, but the bulldozing officers downed everything and destroyed what she worked so hard to build.
Colley said their market was destroyed without proper notification from the appropriate body, saying they were only told that a site was identified for them, which she described as an isolated area, which is not good for marketing.
“It is from the market we get money to send our children to school. By doing this to us, we are going to suffer. So, we urge any government [that’s in power] to prioritize market vendors and ease their frustrations,” Colley disclosed.
Maimuna Bah, President of Sukuta/Salagi Women Group, said they are disappointed by the current government, and for that, they will not forget this in their entire lives.
She said the place identified for them to use as a market is someone’s property and already, there have been bickering over the ownership of the place.
“I spent D17, 000 to build my canteen which was destroyed during the market demolition,” he explained.
Scores of women vendors have also expressed similar dissatisfaction about the demolition which is affecting their lives at the moment.
NAWEC PRO was contacted for comment but he could not be reached. However, the Physical Planning director told our reporter to go to his office in Banjul today (Thursday), when contacted for an interview about the matter.
This medium will follow it up with the relevant authorities to bring their sides of the story.