She was only 19 years when she joined a group of people investing in a land buying company with the hope of settling down in her own property.
It wasn’t easy for Ruth Wanjiru Ng’ang’a to raise Sh3,000 from her small business of selling second-hand clothes to buy shares at the Nakuru-based Jumaa Farmers Company.
And little did she know that her venture would remain elusive for another 43 years.
Together with more than 1,000 other members, they’re not sure if they will ever get their rightful share of the 540-acre prime land that has been at the centre of a protracted legal tussle.
One of their members, Mr Njuguna Mwaura, who served as the company’s director and treasurer, was awarded the land in Solai, Nakuru County, through Adverse Possession.
The High Court awarded Mr Mwaura the land after he filed summons for orders of Adverse Possession through his lawyer, Mr Waiganjo Mwangi. This triggered other legal suits. The last one was filed last week at the Court of Appeal in Nakuru by firm member Kings Onyancha Maina.
Adverse Possession refers to acquisition of a valid title deed for land belonging to another person due to continuous occupation of the property as a squatter for at least 12 years.
Wrangling is common among members of land buying companies in Kenya, with myriad claims of fraud and deception, especially when law courts fail to settle such disputes.
At times, delay in allocating land to members results in ugly incidents. This is what Ms Ng’ang’a and her colleagues at Jumaa Farmers are trying to avoid.
“We have decided to exhaust all legal channels to get back our land,” the 64-year-old mother who is now the company’s secretary told the Sunday Nation last week during an interview in Nakuru.
Mr Mwaura, she recalled, was among a group of landless people who were allowed to squat on the property, previously owned by Ampiva Estate Ltd (1970), a German company that grew coffee at the farm.
Some of the squatters were employees of the farm but they managed to buy shares with Jumaa Farmers. They continued to reside on the land waiting for share allocations. The squatters said Mr Mwaura was a tailor who lived in a hut in the coffee estate.
The awarding of Adverse Possession to a single person has also threatened to dispossess another group of farmers affiliated to Endao Company who also claim to have bought the same land from Ampiva Estate, although they failed to produce documents to prove their allegation.
A sale agreement between Jumaa Farmers and Kaplan & Stratton Advocates shows the former paid Sh500,000 to Ampiva Estate, through the latter, for purchase of the farm.
“The purchaser, Jumaa Farmers, takes possession of 75 shares of land from Ampiva Estate immediately,” reads the agreement prepared by the law firm on October 22, 1977, and signed by both the purchaser and the vendor.
A receipt showing the money paid to the seller was issued to the purchaser by the same law firm four days after signing of the sale agreement. The remaining 25 per cent of the 560 acres is the property of Endao Company.
All along, Mr Mwaura — who is now deceased — served as a director and treasurer of the farmers’ company until 2001 when he filed an application at the High Court in Nairobi seeking to be registered as the sole owner of the land.
“The affidavit in support says that the plaintiff has lived on the property without interruption since 1959. He has, therefore, acquired prescriptive rights over it under SS 37 and 38 of the Limitation Act Cap. 22. I, therefore, take the order as prayed in favour of the applicant,” Justice Andrew Hayanga said in his short judgment on February 19, 2003.
The defendant was EK Banks Ltd, which ceased to exist in 1970 and converted to Ampiva Estate. But as the title LR No. 1058/Nakuru indicates, the property was owned by EK Banks.