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Man demands Shs785 million after district runs road through his farm

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SOROTI — The High Court in Soroti has summoned district authorities to explain their decision to construct a road through a farm belonging to a private individual.

Charles Aben, the proprietor of Moruapesur Family Farm, has sued the district and its leaders of trespass on his property, demanding over Shs785 million in damages.

The civil suit number 12 of 2018 follows a recent incident in which the district resolved to construct a road that connects Soroti town with Gweri Subcounty. The road, to be named after the retiring Soroti Church of Uganda bishop George William Erwau, passes through Moruapesur Family Farm located at Moruapesur Cell D.

Through their lawyers Emmanuel Wamimbi Advocates and Solicitors, Aben wants the district chairman Gregory Egunyu, Edward Esegu, the the LC3 chairman for Soroti Sub County, Margaret Amongin, the councillor for Eastern Division, Denis Ocung, the district roads engineer, and Simon Edoru, the district vice chairperson to explain their role in approving the contentious decision.

Background

On April 13, a team of district leaders, including LC5 Egunyu, Woman MP Angeline Osegge, and Soroti Municipality MP Herbert Edmund Ariko, launched a road construction project at Cell D Moruapesur connecting to Acetigwen village in Soroti Subcounty.

But things did not go as they wished after Aben accused the district leadership of having selfish agenda in opening up his private land for the roadworks.

On Wednesday, last week, a mob allegedly descended on the farm destroying property, including a solar system valued at Shs50 million, damaging the water system and water connection to fish ponds. They also allegedly burnt down nursery beds and beat up workers including a pregnant woman.

Charles Enyagu, one of the farm workers, told Crime24 that before their attackers descended on them, district chairman Egunyu had visited the farm in the morning.

“Where are these thugs?” he allegedly asked the people who were at the borehole adding; “Ok, we shall see who will win.”

“After a short while, we saw over 50 people armed with machetes and clubs descending on the farm and started hitting us and vandalising the farm,” Enyagu said.

He said their attackers made off with his phone and Shs1 million they made from recent orange harvest.

Judith Ideta, an expectant woman who was also caught in the scuffle said she had to lock herself in the farm houses.

“I felt so terrified that I almost gave birth,” the seven-month pregnant woman said, adding that their attackers warned them to stop supporting those against the road project.

But Egunyu denies mobilising any mob, insisting that his work was to only approve the use of machinery in the project.

According to Aben’s lawyer Wamimbi, the district authorities used a grader and destroyed nursery bed containing pine trees, bamboo, citrus, mangoes and banana suckers.

“The grader also damaged water pipes that supplied fish ponds,” the lawyer’s letter says.

Crime24’s Collins Ikwap in Soroti says, last week, a farm worker, Charles Enyagu, filed an assault case at Soroti CPS against the district chairman accusing him of mobilising people to beat them up. The case is registered under SD50/09/2018.

AS well as Enyagu’s suit, Aben lodged another case at Soroti CPS case number SD37/22/04/2018 accusing the district, Egunyu and others of destroying his farm and trespassing.

A worker shows water pipe damaged on the farm | COLLINS IKWAP.

Police on the spot

Meanwhile, Moses Akabwai, the manager at Moruapesur Family Farm, has accused Police of being reluctant to pursue the matter.

“There is a way Police are acting in this case, it’s fish,” Akabwai said.

When Crime24 tried to get details of the cases filed, the officer in charge of CID, Bosco Gume, confirmed that there were files of the cases at his desk but that they were yet to follow up on them.

Moses Akabwai accuses Bishop George William Erwau and the LC5 Egunyu for being the masterminds of the farm attack and destruction.

He said for that reason, the two are using their positions to influence the district to make a road pass across the Shs5 billion farm.

Akabwai said that, according to the 2008 Soroti Municipal Physical Plan, there is no road planned to pass through the area of contention and was wondering why the two leaders were insisting on the road.

He blames Bishop Erwau and LC5 Egunyu for mobilizing people to attack their farm adding that the incident is fueling tribal sentiments between the Kumam and Iteso in the two neighboring villages.

“That is why you see that Egunyu and Erwau went and mobilized Ikokolemo [Kumam] to come and raze down our farm,” Akabwai said.

But Bishop Erwau has denied any wrong doing and distanced himself from the the case.

“I do not even know how that road got my name so please leave me out of those road issues,” Erwau told this website in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile Soroti District chief Egunyu swears that he will not go to court “because it is a waste of time.”

“I will only wait for them to carry me to the dock, but I will not go there by my self, never!” Egunyu said.

He said that it is the Soroti LC3 chairperson Esegu who had earlier told him that the communities had agreed that there was no trouble constructing a road at the identified area.

“That is why I cleared the district machines for the road construction. I’m now shocked that I am being dragged to court,” Egunyu said.

But he defended Bishop Erwau for not being party to the road saga saying he should be left alone.

What the district says

Moses Chuna Kapolon the Soroti deputy Chief Administrative Officer told Crime24 that in as much as they have received the court summons, they are exploring options of having the matter resolved out of court.

“We do not want to drag these issues, that is why we seek to talk to Aben out of court,” Chuna said.

Asked whether the district is willing to fork out over Shs700 million in damages to Aben, the deputy CAO said that they will seek the services of a government valuer to assess the damage caused on the farm before they can make any payments.

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