The government has explained that the high amount of monetary compensation needed for land influenced the decision to return the peripherals of the Achimota Forest to the Owoo Family, the allodial owners of the land.
The Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in charge of Lands and Forestry, Benito Owusu-Bio, who made the clarification, said the return of the peripheral portions of the Achimota Forest to the original owners, in lieu of compensation, was right "because, on humanitarian grounds, the Owoo Family deserves something".
"In terms of compensation, they can demand payment in cash or land in lieu. But, then, let us cast our minds back: some years ago, the value of the land we are talking about was not too much.
“Now, how much do you think will be the value of an acre of land at Achimota? And we are talking about hundreds of acres for which we have to pay them huge sums of money," he explained.
Mr Owusu-Bio gave the explanation during a working visit to the Achimota Forest yesterday.
With the deputy minister were the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission, John Allotey, and the Technical Advisor on Forestry at the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry, Joseph Osiakwan.
Mr Allotey took the team to some parts of the Achimota Forest and gave an assurance that everything possible would be done to protect the forest from destruction.
Following the coming into force of Executive Instrument (E.I.) 144 that was gazetted on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on April 19, 2022 by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, some portions of the Achimota Forest in Accra were declassified as a forest reserve.
The declassification of those portions of the forest in the southern periphery close to the N1 Highway took effect on May 1, this year.
Some environmentalists, especially A Rocha Ghana, has raised concerns about the declassification of those portions of the forest and argued that the government could have bought back the land, instead of giving it out in compensation to the pre-acquisition owners.
Responding to a question on what the government's position was on that concern, Mr Owusu-Bio observed that the action taken was not a novelty, as there were many cases in the country in which land had been given to original owners in lieu of compensation.
"This is not the first time this is happening. In Accra here, we have all seen land being released to settle pre-acquisition owners in lieu of compensation.
"In the 1960s, the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) area was part of the Achimota Forest, but it was declassified, and it is now serving a very useful purpose," he said.
The deputy minister further observed that the decision to give back portions of the Achimota Forest peripherals to the Owoo Family was not out of place, especially when the government had activated processes to return all vested lands to their original owners.
"As we speak now, the government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, has set up a committee to look at the devesting of all lands that were vested in the state; and that is another way of giving back lands to the owners," he said.
When asked if the current issues surrounding the Achimota Forest would not defeat the Green Ghana project, Mr Owusu-Bio said the government was committed to restoring the country’s degraded landscape.
Owoo Family's response
Meanwhile, the Owoo Family has said it has suffered grave historical injustice since the state acquired the land for Achimota School in 1921 and 1927.
This was contained in a statement signed by seven principal elders of the family — John Kwartey Nee Owoo, Francis Kwatei Nee Owoo, Nii Kwate Owoo, George Kwatey Owoo, Frank Nii Kwartey Owoo, Nat Holly Nii Owoo and George Annan Owoo.
The family maintained that compensation had not been paid for the 1927 acquisition.
"The acreage due the Owoo Family was arrived at through a long-standing negotiation which, in many respects, predates the current administration. This was done with the active involvement of various state technical negotiators and agencies," it added.
The family pledged to conduct itself in a manner that would not compromise the ecological integrity of the adjoining forest reserve.
It also said the much talked about August 19, 2016 ceremony which had been stated in the public as an occasion when land was released to the Owoo Family was false and misleading.
"That event was a sod-cutting ceremony for the development of the Achimota Forest into an eco-tourism park. The Owoo Family were mere invitees/guests," the statement added.