Paynesville — Angry marketers at the newly opened Omega Market have threatened to go back to Red-Light if the government fails to stop others from selling there. The marketers, most of them small business owners and vendors, on Friday set up road block between Coca Cola Factory and the Omega Market; a move they said was intended to draw the government's attention to their complaint.
They said the government's inability to stop people from selling goods at Red-light is not only undermining its own relocation plan, but causing severe damage to their businesses since buyers no longer reach to them. Some of the friends have also abandoned the market stalls and returned to Red Light, the aggrieved marketers told FrontPage Africa.
"Some of our friends are building mini containers in Red-Light; undermining our business here. And the police are not doing anything about it. Under this condition, we cannot make it. So, we will continue to protest until the government can hear us," the group's spokesperson said.
"The only person that can take us from here is the President who told us to come here. We will continue to protest today and tomorrow. If he doesn't come, we will go to Red Light."
Following a failed negotiation with them to remove the roadblock, which halted the free flow of traffic, leaving several commuters including students of the University of Liberia stranded, the police fired tear gas, dispersed the crowd and removed the blockade.
Red-Light used to be the largest commercial hub in Liberia, hosting thousands of business people, from both the formal and the informal sectors. In July, the marketers, with no prior notice, were ordered to relocate to the Omega Market, which construction was initiated by the past administration.
The order followed one of President George Weah's impromptu visits to the area. Despite the marketers requesting for additional time to draw up a relocation plan, the authorities were determined to clear Red-Light, ignoring their plea.
Majority of them had no choice. They reluctantly left and stationed at the new Omega Market. Some, mostly those of the informal sector stayed, roaming from one end to the other with their goods. In the earlier stages of the exodus, the government deployed police to enforce the order. In some instances, the police used force to drive them out of the area.
'Blame The Police'
But five months later, Red-Light is still crowded with marketers. Some of them have set up makeshift containers stalked with goods and are doing normal businesses, much to the annoyance of those stationed at Omega.
"Business is hard. They are not buying because people are still selling in red Light. The market you see us selling, they get people in Red Light that are selling the same market. So, it is hard for buyers to reach us here," said Irene Koway.
Some of the marketers, asking not to be named, accused the police of being bribed.
"They have refused to take our friends from Red Light because they are being bribed. When they seized their market, they give money and the police give it back. So, the police are now taking this thing as an opportunity to make money," said Linda, not her real name.
"That's why they cannot remove the marketers. If they were taking the market and not holding bribe, then nobody will be selling in Red Light," another marketer said.
FrontPage Africa reached out to the Liberia National Police through its spokesperson, Moses Carter for response, but Carter did not respond. His phone rang with no answer, and he did not respond to text message sent him.
Omega Market Official Agrees with Protesters
Meanwhile, an official of the Omega Market, William Togbah said the protesters' complaints were genuine but urged them to go about seeking redress in an orderly manner.
Mr. Togbah said the refusal of a huge number of the marketers to use the market halls, instead, opting for the open area along the main road, was also posing serious problem to both businesses and commuters. As a result, Togbah said there is always traffic along the market, discouraging people from going there to buy.
To solve the problem, Joseph Kolleh, another business owner, called on the government to be decisive in enforcing its mandate.
"The only solution lies in the hands of the government. It should be sincere with itself and the people they serve. When you say this must be done, you should ensure that it is done. Failure to do so will expose your weakness and compromise what you stand for."