A family at Sogi who have been told by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s government to relocate is not leaving without a fight.
In fact the Tokuma family has engaged the services of a lawyer to challenge the government’s decision to relocate them.
This was confirmed by family elder, Nanai Liu Tokuma, 76, during an interview with the Sunday Samoan yesterday.
The family’s lawyer is Pa’u Tafaogalupe Mulitalo.
“We have been left with no other option,” Nanai said. “We’ve tried everything so that we can keep our land but now we have nowhere to turn to for help so we have decided to take this matter to Court.”
Asked if they are seeking money and compensation as part of their lawsuit, Nanai said no.
“This is not about money and it will never be about money,” he said.
“We’re not looking for any compensation or anything; we just want our freedom to remain on this land. This land was offered to us by the late Mata’afa Mulinuu when the government at the time mistakenly charged my father with the death penalty. Luckily he escaped the charge.”
He added that the Court challenge is about fighting for their inheritance.
“We don’t want any money. We just want the government to give us that freedom to live and die on this land."
“I’ve already given my statement to the lawyer; it’s all in his hands now.”
Asked for a comment, lawyer Pa’u said he believes the Tokuma family has a legitimate claim.
“The Tokuma family has been living in Sogi for more than a hundred years.”
Pau made reference to an incident involving the government many years ago.
“One of those problems was when Nana’i’s father, Tokuma Torurae, was mistakenly charged by the government and when he was about to serve his death penalty, someone testified that Tokuma didn’t kill the businessman."
“Then the late Mata’afa offered the land for Torurae and his family because the government couldn’t afford to pay what they owed him."
“At this stage, we’re looking at imprisonment, unlawful detention and the death penalty that nearly took the old man’s life."
“This matter shouldn't be taken lightly especially when Mata’afa told Tokuma ‘go live on the land with your children’.”
Pa’u said the family’s Court claim is seeking three orders. They are:
• An order from the court to restrain the government from asking the family to pay for any surveying and evaluation works on the land.
• An order to stop the government from relocating the family
• A decision by the government to allow these people to own the land
Pa’u said the family strongly believes in their case.
“It’s not that they didn’t have any written evidence to prove their right to the land,” Pa’u said. “They have lived on this land for more than a hundred years now; that in its self says it all. This case isn’t going to be an easy one. I will be doing this case for free and we’re working on it now.”
Earlier this year, Nanai, rejected a warning from Prime Minister Tuilaepa for them to move.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Thank you Prime Minister Tuilaepa for your warning that we now have to leave. But let me tell you something, you know nothing about this piece of land. So leave us alone.”
At the time, Tuilaepa said a 30-day eviction notice given to the Sogi residents has expired and there will be no more chances.
“For your information, this land was given to our father, the late Tokuma Torurae by the late Mata’afa - the first Prime Minister of this country,” Nanai said. “With his words to my father – ‘Go live on the land with your children; the government can’t afford to pay what we owe your father, now the land is yours forever.”
Asked to elaborate, Nanai said his father had been mistakenly charged for the death of another businessman.
“He was sentenced to death,” he said. “I remembered vividly when our father said goodbye to us with his hands already handcuffed, ready to be executed. His hands were already tied, with a rope on his neck and cloth that covered his face.
“While walking towards where he would be hung, two Chinese men ran and told the Police that they were the ones who killed the businessman. My father’s life was spared.
“My father walked out free while fighting back tears right in front of us and our mother… that’s why we were offered this land where we’re living now.”
“I know the government has all the power in running the government. I don’t care still, we have all the right to fight for this land.”
It was not possible to get a comment from Prime Minister Tuilaepa or the Samoa Land Corporation yesterday.
But the decision by the government to relocate residents of Sogi was initially announced in 2011.
The government then offered families a quarter acre of land at Falelauniu which they will ‘lease to own’ at just over $30,000 and $3,000 cash to relocate. Many families at Sogi have taken up the offer. But many others have refused.