25 June 2014

Liberia: Police Extortion Compounds Traffic On Monrovia-Ganta Highway

From Careyburg to Kakata on the Monrovia-Ganta Highway is a place most motorists will like to avoid especially at night. Ordinarily, the journey ought not to last beyond five minutes.

But motorists could spend hours on that stretch of road, which is not more than five kilometers as a result of two checkpoints on both sides of the road.

Apart from the checkpoints, a cross-section of people, who spoke with FrontPageAfrica, also said some 'revenue collectors' also constitute a nuisance by obstructing the flow of traffic under the pretext of collecting revenue from taxi drivers.

A taxi driver, who gave his name only as Prince, told FrontPage Africa that the policemen were always stationed on the road extorting money from the taxi drivers.

A Desire to Give Them Anything'

He alleged that each driver was usually made to cough up between LD$100 and LD$400 before he could be allowed to leave. He noted: "Those policemen have become an embarrassment on the road. When we are giving them money at times, I shed tears because they were using their positions to extort money.

"It is not that we do not like their presence on that road because in the past, it used to be a hotbed of criminal activities. But I expect that they should have pity on us. If we desire to give them anything, it should come from our hearts, not by force."

Another taxi driver, Sunday James, called on the relevant authorities to caution the policemen. James said on many occasions that he tried to argue with them, they always threatened to impound his vehicle.

"On one of those occasions, my passengers were waiting for me to deliver them. In fact, wasting further time would have discredited me in the eye of the passengers. I had to part with the LD500 they demanded," he said.

Yet, another driver, who craved anonymity, said as it was only the relevant authorities could save the situation. He said: "It is not only on the Monrovia-Ganta highway. At Ganta-Saclepia road, the situation is the same. "It is time the relevant authorities stepped in to stop the intimidation of our people who are doing legitimate business."

Our correspondent, who passed through Monrovia-Ganta highway, showed that the roadblocks which create the constant gridlock are set up at Careysburg.

'Always a Nightmare'

The policemen manning the roadblocks do not seem to be concerned with checking vehicles. But they become aggressive when they see commercial vehicles laden with passengers or goods approaching. They sometimes threaten to jail drivers who don't want to comply

Another taxi driver, Joshua Simpson, said the journey between Kakata and Careysburg was always a nightmare. He said, "As short as that journey is, I spend at least an hour from work to my house sometimes. It is just annoying.

"The Police no longer care if anybody is complaining. They stop vehicles and demand money from drivers shamelessly. There was a time I challenged one of them and he said he would slap me. He told me I was interfering with his work. I could not believe my ears."

He said if they refused to pay, the policemen would delay them for some hours, compelling them to part with money. The driver said: "The activities of the policemen are shameful. They are so shameless that they do not hide when they are collecting money from drivers.

"The most pathetic is that when they see suspicious vehicles, they don't subject them to any form of search. They just collect money and let them go. I wonder how they can track criminals by so doing.

"On Monday, I was delayed for more than one hour when I was returning from Gbarnga because they demanded LD$300 from me which I could not produce. After begging them, they reluctantly collected LD$100. That is the situation we find ourselves on the expressway."

As for another commercial bus driver, Jimmy Jones, the presence of the policemen on the road constitutes a nuisance. He said they were not there to prevent crime, but to extort money from drivers, adding that he usually cough up between LD$300 and LD$500.

Jones said, "Really, their activities are affecting our business. They are causing gridlock on the highway. It is customary that after searching your vehicle, you must set aside between LD$100 and LD$200 for them. If not, they won't allow you to pass.

'Checkpoints Necessary', Police say

Another commercial bus driver, who gave his name simply as Eric, called on Police Inspector Chris Massaquoi to intervene in the situation. When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in Margibi, Joseph Guah, Mr. Joseph Guah, said the checkpoints were necessary because of the recent surge in criminal activities on the highway.

He added that the traffic was artificially created to prevent criminals from escaping. He said: "The aim is to prevent criminals from operating freely. "The traffic is artificial,but also helpful because stolen vehicles, items or even weapons in vehicles would be easily spotted."

Guah maintained that the checkpoints had been instrumental in tackling crime and implored motorists to endure the situation. He, however, promised to look into the matter and inspect how the checkpoints were set up.

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