10 July 2014

Liberia: Mittal Steel Riots - What Was a Lawmaker Doing Among Rioters?

Photo: Tami Hultman/allAfrica.com
A mountain-side site of Arcelor Mittal, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Yekepa.

Monrovia — Last weekend's riots that saw the looting and vandalizing of properties belonging to Arcellor Mittal continues to receive condemnations, but FrontPageAfrica has learned that the Liberia National Police arrested a current lawmaker from Nimba County during the riots.

Sources hinted FrontPageAfrica that Rep. Prince Q. S. Tokpa (Nimba District #2) was arrested with the rioters and that he failed to identify himself after the arrest and it took the intervention of House Speaker Alex Tyler and other lawmakers to secure his release.

Sources say the lawmaker was allegedly dressed as some of the rioters and was therefore mistaken to be one of them as he was allegedly seen leading dozens of motorcyclists to the scene of the riots before the Police got there.

During the appearance of those arrested by the Police at the civil law court at the temple of justice in Monrovia on Wednesday, lawyers representing the accused mentioned the arrest of the lawmaker and asked why he was not present in court with the other 41 persons that were arraigned.

All efforts made to contact Rep. Tokpah did not materialize as his mobile phone was switched off; but House Speaker Alex Tyler speaking to FrontPageAfrica in a mobile phone conversation said the legislature is investigating circumstances surrounding the riot including the alleged involvement of a lawmaker.

"It has come to our knowledge, but we are investigating and we are working with the government through the President to ensure that we get to the bottom of what happened in Nimba," Speaker Tyler said. The Liberia National Police remains mute on the arrest of the lawmaker as investigation into the Nimba fracas is still ongoing and authorities at the LNP could not confirm nor deny the accusations.

The House on Tuesday suspended regular session to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her Foreign Ministry office to discuss issues regarding the alleged brutalizing of Tokpah by the Police. The House reached the decision after almost two hours of secret session to discuss the issue surrounding the arrest of Rep. Tokpah by officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberian National Police.

Rep. Tokpah alleged that he was arrested and handcuffed by Police officers on the scene of the violence when he had gone to help calm the situation, but sources say he did not identify himself as a lawmaker when he was arrested.

He told legislative reporters that he identified himself as a lawmaker and asked that he be allowed to meet the protesters and was granted the permission by some officers of the Police but was later arrested and handcuffed and transported to the country's central Security Hub in Gbarnga, Bong County. The alleged arrest of Tokpah raises serious questions about his role in the Nimba fracas. The House of Representatives was on Tuesday said to be planning a contempt against the Police.

Article 44 of the constitution states that "Contempt of the legislature shall consist of actions which obstruct the legislative functions or which obstruct or impede members or officers of the legislature in the discharge of their legislative duties and may be punished by the House Concern by reasonable sanction after a hearing consistent with due process of Law."

"No sanction shall extend beyond the session of the legislature wherein it is imposed, and any sanction imposed shall conform to the provisions on fundamental Rights laid down in the constitution. Disputes between legislators and non-members which are properly cognizable in the courts shall not be entertained or heard in the Legislature."

But it is left to be seen whether the legislature will exercise such powers. On Tuesday, a high level delegation consisting of senior officials of steel giant ArcelorMittal are in the country to assess the damage caused by the rioters at the company's facilities in Nimba Country. The company's global vice president Mr. Kleber De Silva heads the delegation, which met President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her Foreign Ministry office on Tuesday.

At a stakeout after the meeting, Lands and Mines Minister Patrick Sendolo said both the government and Arcelor Mittal, despite the fracas are fully committed to the company's project in Liberia moving ahead. He said the government is prepared to take whatever corrective measures necessary to make sure that the timeline that was agreed on the plans for the project, are adhered to as much as possible. The minister said the company would give a full report about the level of damage caused to its facilities and its mining operations in the country after a full assessment.

"An assessment of the damage that was visited on the facilities of Arcelor Mittal, is currently being undertaken, the government and Arcelor Mittal are committed to receiving a full comprehensive report which sets forth the full extent of the damage and the impact that we expect or the impact that we anticipated this will have on the existing operations and on the plans for expanding the project," said minister Sendolo.

"Arcelor Mittal will come up with a mitigation plan to take a look at all of the things that have been impacted by these events and we will now agree on a clear plan of action, about how the government and Arcelor Mittal can work together to mitigate any of the damages or problems which has been created as a consequence of the incident at Arcelor Mittal over the past few days."

He said the level of damage caused by the weekend's riots was huge and Liberian must understand the impact of such activities on the country's investment climate adding that ArcelorMittal is set to become a major contributor to Liberia's economy in the next year. President Sirleaf has held a series of meetings with the legislature, including the Nimba County Legislative Caucus, outlining the extent of the damage caused to the company's infrastructure and how much the government could lose if such continues sources say.

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