Due to the differences in legal status, the practice of otaining land also differs between the Western Area and the Provinces. Nevertheless, land may be acquired for any purpose by private individuals or corporate bodies. Rather, it is the process which may be a deterrent to serious investment. In Freetown and its environs, because the land is held in freehold ownership, a person seeking to acquire land will negotiate with the landowner to reach agreement on a sale (usually of the freehold) at a specific price based on the size, quantity and location of the land. Once agreement is reached, the land is then surveyed. The site plan is taken through the Validation Process in the Ministry of Lands. After the Validation Process, a solicitor draws up a deed of conveyance, which is then registered in the Deeds Registry at the Office of the Administrator and Registrar-General (OARG).57
While Sierra Leoneans can acquire fee simple title in the Western Area, non Sierra Leoneans can only acquire leaseholds. The Non-citizens (Interests in Land) Act, 1966 (No. 30 of 1966) introduces limitations on the interests foreigners may acquire in land in the Western Area. Section 3 of the Act prohibits a non-citizen of Sierra Leone from acquiring a freehold interest in land in the Western Area. Non-citizens are also barred from acquiring interests longer than twenty-one years in land in the Western Area without first obtaining a licence from a Board comprising the Minister of Lands (as Chairman), the Ministers of Trade and Industry, Finance, Development, and the Attorney-General. In this way, the law acts as a disincentive to investors in urban development and effectively infringes the rights of land owners in Freetown to deal in their lands.
In the Provinces, there are two basic processes involving town lands and farmland though there are some minor differences among the various tribal areas. Differences also exist among family members and strangers. Where an individual family member requires land for farming, s/he will approach his/her family head at the beginning of the farming season and will be allocated a piece of land for his/her use. However, it is unclear whether the proceeds of the harvest from his/her labour are exclusive or to be shared with the family.
For “strangers” which include non-family members who are nationals of Sierra Leone58 and foreigners generally, the procedure involves the person requiring the land to call on the Paramount Chief to make the request for land; they will usually do this in the company of a citizen of the community. The Paramount Chief then directs them to the land-owning family whose land they require. All negotiations are done with the family head and the principal elders; the Paramount Chief is not expected to be present.59 The required monies are paid to the family head.
Where the land required is for the cultivation of annual crops, usually no money is paid but at the end of each farming season the farmer must give some token produce of the farm to the family head; this is usually the equivalent of a bushel or two of rice and the purpose is to remind the farmer that he is a tenant of the family. The family head then gives the Paramount Chief part of the money received.60 However, the interest conveyed in this transaction is not clear. The grantee of such land can occupy and use the land for as long as they wish to remain in the community. In addition they must be a worthy member of the community, participating in all activities and generally be on good terms with the Paramount Chief and the land-owning family. In effect, despite the appearance of a clear process of acquisition, much discretion about the status of the land still rests with the family and the Chief. Such a situation does not provide the certainty and predictability which is required for large commercial investments.
In some cases, the families grant leaseholds. In such situations, the procedure is the same as described above except that after the payment of the money to the land-owning family, a surveyor is employed to demarcate the land and prepare a site plan. This goes through the validation process and is signed by the grantor and the grantee, the Paramount Chief, the Survey and Lands Division in the Ministry of Lands and Housing, and the Town Council. In addition, a deed of conveyance is prepared by a solicitor and may sometimes be registered in the Deeds Registry. No freehold interests can be granted in farmlands. The laws governing acquisition of land in the Provinces date back to Colonial times and are clearly discriminatory.61 Section 3(1) of Cap. 122 states “No land in the provinces shall be occupied by a non-native unless he has first obtained the consent of the tribal authority to his occupation of such land”. Section 4 states “No Non-native shall acquire a greater interest in land in the provinces than a tenancy for a term of fifty years . . . for a second or further term not exceeding twenty-one years.”
Some Sierra Leonean citizens, such as the Krios, Akus and Kroos are categorized as non-natives by the above statute and are thus deprived of customary land rights even in the provinces. The two provisions should be repealed without further delay. In effect, the impact of the two sections is to discourage any serious investor from investing in the Provinces. Leases are inherently terminable, and an investor who has invested time, effort and money is potentially vulnerable where the investment is tied to a short term lease. Issues of litigation and enforcement of contractual provisions against Tribal Authorities are problematic as is the proper forum for such actions.
The multiplicity of interested parties when dealing with large tracts of land in the provinces is also a particularly thorny issue frequently encountered by mining companies. Even the government is sometimes frustrated in its attempt to acquire large tracts of land for development purposes. This is compounded by the lack of proper documentation confirming ownership and possession when dealing with family owned property. In Nigeria, the Land Use Decree 1978 was passed which vested all land in the Nigerian government subject to certificate of occupancies being granted to purchasers and grantees. This Act to a large extent resolved the problem of inalienable customary land and opened up all land to title ownership and development throughout Nigeria.