The faithful of the Church of Christ in Africa (CCA) in Gem, Siaya county at the weekend decried alleged encroachment on their church land at Gogo by officers who should protect their right to property.
The friction between the church, the local administration and the community has been simmering for nearly 17 years and has lately metamorphosed into full-blow war, with the church falling victim.
CCA is fighting to retain plot No. NORTH GEM/LUNDHA/803 measuring 0.47Ha while its opponents wants the parcel set aside for Gogo Dispensary.
The dispensary was constructed in January 2005.
The killing of a Gogo church faithful, Nelson Ochieng’ on August 7, 2022 and the attack of the in-charge Archdeacon Noah Ochola on December 27, 2022 have both been linked to the conflict over the church land.
“Did you come to proclaim the gospel or to fight over land?” three goons asked Ochola before he was attacked, struggled and sedated at his Opal home in West Gem Ward.
Ochola told the Star that his attackers, who pounced on him in the middle of the night while he was visiting the washroom, further directed him to inquire from a person named Sammy of the whereabouts of his brother.
Sammy is also a CCA faithful at Gogo church and brother to Ochieng’, who was struggled and killed in August last year.
Ochola said he reported his attack to Wagai Police Station vide OB No.04/28/12/2022, only after regaining his consciousness several hours later.
Police promised to investigate the matter but no-one has been arrested to date, Ochola told the Star.
Before the attack and bodily harm on Ochola by the goons, something weird had happened at Gogo on the night of December 23, 2022.
The columns of the church building which was under construction were demolished and construction materials stolen.
Parts of the old church structure were also destroyed.
The chairperson in-charge of development at Gogo Earnest Odhiambo, told the Star that the church lost property approximated to Ksh300,000 on that night.
Most of this cash had overtime been obtained from harambees.
A vehicle had left a trail from the site and metal rods, timber and a water tank had all been ferried away, Odhiambo recounted.
The destruction and theft was reported at Mutumbu Police post vide OB No. 02/24/12/2022.
The destruction and theft, the church leadership asserted, was a demonstration of the brazen oddosity by some of their opponents and community members who were allegedly incited to act with impunity in full disregard of the law.
Just three days before the destruction and theft, Gem Sub County DCC had chaired a meeting with an aim of resolving the matter.
During the meeting, the current and former leadership of the dispensary led by Walter Njaya and the area assistant chief Maurice Amburo, Ochola said, had urged that the church be evicted from the plot.
According to Archdeacon Ochola, the Gem Sub County Police Commander Charles Chacha told him that nothing could be done because the church did not catch any suspect on the act.
“The OCPD told us that they can do nothing because nobody caught them destroying property. They said that we should do our own investigation as they do theirs and nobody has been arrested to date,” Ochola told the Star.
Prior to the DCC’s meeting, on December 13, 2022, the Assistant Chief Amburo had ordered the fundis who were building the church to stop the construction work.
Charged community members would invade the construction site on the day that followed; baying for the blood of the fundis and the church leaders, Ochola said.
The CCA said that the hostility was reported at Mutumbu Police Post vide OB No. 03/14/12/2022.
Afterwards, the OC Crime in-charge of Yala convened a reconciliation meeting which the hospital’s team and the local administrators gave a wide berth, Ochola said.
Speaking to the Star on Saturday, Archbishop Emeritus and a Registered Trustee of the CCA Habakkuk Onyango-Abogno, said that the contested land is legally CCA’s for over 60 years.
Abogno produced documents to justify their claim.
The documents showed that the parcel was first registered under the Kisumu County Council on April 19, 1971 and was reserved for the CCA and Nursery School.
Then, the Siaya County Council was not yet in existence. The title deed would later on November 9, 2000 be transferred to the Siaya County Council.
The commissioner of lands in a letter referenced 109749/158 of September 7, 2004 forwarded the transfer of land documents to the Siaya Land Registrar in favour of the CCA and Nursery School and Archdiocese of Johera Masogo Registered Trustees.
Abogno noted that the CCA grudgingly accepted the construction of Gogo dispensary in January 2005, then spearheaded by retired North Gem chief Naboth Ofinyo Kosanya.
Kosanya is a member of the church’s faction that disintegrated from the CCA.
Abogno told the Star that Kosanya never explained to the CCA why he was spearheading the allocation of the plot without the latter’s nod.
“They now want to manage the church or throw away the church altogether as if they are the owners of the plot. They do not want the church to build or improve it’s buildings yet we are the registered owners of the plot,” said Retired Archbishop Abogno.
Abogno said that the CCA has been rattled and now they are not ready to host anyone and wants the hospital to be evicted instead.
“It is even against the Bible. Read Ezekiel 48:14 – “None of this special land will ever be sold or traded or used by others for it belongs to the Lord; it is set apart as holy,” Abogno cited.
Abogno stressed that CCA – Johera is also registered to own property under certificate of Incorporation of August 13, 1999, under the Trustee (Perpetual Succession Act – Chapter 64 – laws of Kenya.
Abogno is calling on the State to respect their right to property and protect the CCA from attack and mob injustice.
The CCA has since served governor James Orengo and the Siaya County Commissioner with letters requesting for their intervention, reconciliation and protection of their right.
A signage on the wall of Gogo Dispensary indicates that its construction was funded by the Gem Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and currently under the management of Siaya county government.
According to Abogno, the CCA – Johera is an independent church registered in 1958.
Gogo Dispensary Board Chairlady Mary Muga told the Star that the land in question is originally community land which used to host the a nursery school before a government directive said that such learning institutions should be domiciled in primary schools.
The nursery was hosted at the nearby Gogo Primary School, Muga explained.
According to Muga, the CCA was initially worshipping under a tree and had requested the community to have them build a structure on the contested parcel of land.
“When the nursery school was taken to Gogo Primary, the community decided that a dispensary would be constructed there. But Archbishop Abogno had manuevered and acquired a title deed saying that the land belonged to CCA and Nursery,” Muga said.
Muga added: “Friction began when CCA rejected the idea to have the dispensary constructed on the land.”
The community is aggrieved because Abogno has shortchanged them and do not want the dispensary on the plot yet it is the community that welcomed him, Muga said.
“The church had a fundraiser and began the construction work without consulting the hospital and the community. They dug the foundation next to the maternity wing instead of doing so towards the extreme end of the plot,” Muga said.
She said that the county government of Siaya has asked them to pursue reconciliation so that the two facilities can co-exist.
Gem Yala Deputy County Commissioner George Chege said that any criminal act will be investigated by the police and attackers brought to book.
Also, Chege noted that the said dispensary is operational and it is unfair for the church to ask the community to remove the dispensary from the plot.
“You would wonder whom the church is purporting to serve if they are insisting on the community removing the dispensary,” Chege observed.
Chege said that it is the same community that can best offer the church security and so they must learn to co-exist within the community.
Chege thinks that the county government of Siaya should also way in on the issue because nursery schools (which the land is allocated for) and the dispensary are under the devolved units.