6 November 2013

Liberia: 'Battle for Survival' - Motorcyclists Threaten Resistance to Restrictions

Photo: Lamidi Bamidele/Vanguard
Motorcycles have become a major mode of transportation in many parts of Liberia.

The Liberian government through the national police will today begin a process that keeps motorcyclists confined to particular parts of the city as a way of containing the indiscriminate waves of accidents involving motorcycles and vehicles on the one hand, and motorcyclists and pedestrians on the other hand. Already, the decision to contain motorcyclists is provoking resistance from motorcyclists who say they plan to stage street protests. The New Republic reports on the emerging development that could put Monrovia on edge.

A new battle has ensued between the Liberia National Police and motorcyclists across the country as police authorities have initiated efforts to put in place mechanism intended to regulate motorcyclists and reduced deaths, injuries and property damage resulting from reckless driving by motorcyclists. But investigation by The New Republic newspaper has found that the motorcyclists are determined to resist government new attempt to reduce their presence in the capital.

Many say it is a battle for survival because the police are working to ensure the security survival of the nation and to protect safety of its people while motorcyclists are determined to protect their interest and survival as well, considering that most of them depend on it for livelihood.

Already, the LNP officers from traffic division, Police Support Unit (PSU) and Emergency Response Unity (ERU), took over some parts of Monrovia yesterday to apparently indicate its preparedness and determination to deal with any resistance that might come from motorcyclists in the wake of the decision to confine or reduce their presence in central Monrovia.

Heavy police presence was noted on the Bushrod Island which plays host to huge portion of the total motorcycles in Monrovia and other suburbs. .

Many watched throng of police trucks mounted with officers parading the narrow and ponds-prone streets while some motorcyclists chanted anti-police slogans and made known their preparedness to resist any form of effort to contain them in any particular place. Few officers were posted at the entrance of the Gabriel Tucker Bridge to prevent motorcyclists on the other side of bridge from entering central Monrovia, and there are indications that police officers will always be stationed there.

Police have, since the introduction of motorcycling, on countless occasions to checkmate motorcyclists but has not materialized.

Reported Threats of demonstration

This paper has learnt of plans by motorcyclists to stage mass protest across the city that could cause serious shutdown of normal activities, but an LMTU official said such information was not to their knowledge.

According to our information, the action would be in response to the government's action to reduce their presence from the major streets In Monrovia and focus in the communities.

The motorcyclists on Tuesday morning attempted blocking the Gabriel Tucker Bridge over the Du River in Monrovia for few minutes before they were asked to leave by riot police of the LNP.

Apparently enraged by the action of government, the motorcyclists said they would move on the streets of Monrovia to set up roadblocks before they proceed from one point to another with placards.

Areas that could be affected if the plans go effect include the ELWA Junction, Red Light community, Foreign Affairs Ministry, the temporary seat of President Sirleaf, Caldwell Duala Junction, Free Port Monrovia, Waterside Market, Rally Town Market and in central Monrovia.

They claimed it would be a violation of their rights to restrain them from using central Monrovia, noting that over 100,000 of their members will form part of the protest.

No single group, in the most recent times has succeeded in staging a mass demonstration that is anti-government or otherwise. Recently, police broke out a gathering of group of Liberians who had planned to demonstrate to demand the resignation of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Despite police success in quelling demonstrations, members of the five motorcyclist unions have vowed to engage the police should they use any force to have them leave the streets.

Background of the restriction

The decision to regulate the movements of motorcyclists stemmed from the recent setting ablaze of a bus by motorcyclists in protest of the death of one of their colleagues.

The motorcyclist died on the spot, thus prompting a very swift reaction from his colleagues by setting the bus on fire.

During the chaotic situation, a senior officer of the LNP sustained serious injury on the head.

Motorcyclists' swift reaction in a violent way whenever one of their colleagues is killed in an accident, even when the victim was in the wrong, is commonplace here.

According to medical reports, a huge percentage of the life-threatening injuries most Liberians encountered are caused by motorcycles.

However, the Secretary General of the Liberia Motorcycle Transport Union (LTMU), Mr. Robert Sammy could not deny or confirm the information, but noted that the administration was not aware of any demonstration.

Instead of demonstration, he said the LTMU has ordered owners and operators of commercial motorcycles to pack as of today in protest of the abrupt order released by the Traffic division of the Liberian National Police.

"People are saying that commercial motorcycles should not ply the main streets of Monrovia and because of the abrupt order, we have asked all operators and owners to pack their equipment until otherwise ordered", the Secretary General noted.

Mr. Sammy pointed out that the union remains committed to cooperating with the Government of Liberia in its strive to provide investment friendly environment and called on owners and operators of commercial motorcycles to avoid confusing with law enforcement officers.

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