Students, officials of government residing in Caldwell Township and ordinary residents of Montserrado County Electoral District#15 woke up here on Monday, 19 February to a nightmare when group of angry residents demanding power for the township held officers of the Police Support Unit or PSU in a standoff.
The entire township with a population of over 5,000 residents has been without electricity for more than a year since solar energy street light poles erected by the Chinese went off.
The angry protestors set up road blocks at every junction in an attempt to prevent the police from moving in, while demanding power from the Liberia Electricity Corporation or LEC.
The residents, who besieged various intersections, preventing vehicles and motorcycles from coming in, explain that their action is intended to get full attention of LEC authorities on the need for electricity in the township.
Speaking to this paper in the township, a disenchanted resident, Anthony Kollie, laments that it was frustrating that Caldwell playing host to the Mount Coffee Hydro is without electricity, while surrounding communities have access.
He says the management of the LEC has allegedly failed to explain why it is finding it difficult to have Caldwell connected, saying, “If you checked in Logan Town, Clara Town, and even in West Point, all these communities have current then why are they not telling us something? It is because of this that some of us thought to carry on this roadblock here to call their attention.”
When asked if they sought permission from the Ministry of Justice to carry on such protest, Kollie clarifies that their action was not intended to impede the movement of people, saying, “We don’t want any waste of time; going to the Ministry of Justice would delay, we want the management of the LEC to know that we are taking this matter with seriousness, and we’re not even afraid of the police.”
“How come we who are the host of the mount coffee hydro power plant are being denied electricity, is this not something to protest against? We will continue this exercise, if nothing is done immediately to address our situation.”
But responding to the incident that took place, LEC Assistant Director for Planning Mr. Edwin Fahnbulleh, says management has no plan to abandon residents of Caldwell Township.
He continues that there has been series of discussions between the corporation and the residents on the issue of providing electricity. “We had lot of discussions with the leadership of Caldwell at our Bushrod Island office on this current issue, what we want the people of Caldwell to know is that we put them under a project that will soon commence”, Mr. Fahnbulleh discloses.
According to him, Caldwell is under the Liberia Electricity Expansion Project, which is to be funded by the World Bank. “You have to be patience when dealing with donors, and besides, that is an engineering work, so this project is a process”, he adds.
What began here Monday as a peaceful protest subsequently degenerated to stone throwing and tear gas battle between residents and the police.
Business people hurriedly closed their businesses, while people ran helter-skelter as the main road from the township leading to Monrovia was put at a standstill for several hours, causing serious traffic congestion.
“It’s very unfair to us, people of this township, since LEC started connecting other communities around Monrovia, we have written series of letters to the authorities of LEC, but they refused to honor our call, forgetting to know they live with us right here in our township. How can we have the hydro that is supplying power all around Monrovia then we who live with the hydro right here don’t have lights,” a man identified as spokesman for the protestors asked.
Abraham Toporh explains that the protest has because necessary because it is unfair to them as residents of Caldwell Township to live with the hydro plant and non of their homes is connected to the LEC.
He notes that they have written the LEC authorities times with without numbers and even met all requirements in getting communities connected, but all that has fallen on deaf ears.
He says nothing has been done by the office of the township commissioner when in fact CC copies of the letters were sent to the office. “This is the reason for our protest and we will not rest till our call is honored.”
He continues that while the peaceful protest was ongoing, authorities of the LEC and the Liberia National Police arrived at the scene with armed officers from the Police Support Unit in trucks, creating panic among the residents.
Mr. Toporh further explains the chief of police mandated them to select four residents to accompany him to the National Police Headquarters to better discuss their plight, but they all disagreed and instead, maintain that they would all walk through the streets to the police headquarters.
“While we were peacefully walking, the Police Director ordered the arm police officers to forcibly stop us from crossing the Caldwell Bridge, it was in that process that some of us got very angry by the manner in which the police were hitting on us and firing tears gas among us and we started reacting,” Toproh concludes.
Police officers on the scene refused to speak on the matter, but this paper observes that no arrest was made on the scene during Monday’s protest Caldwell Township.
By Lewis S. Teh & Ben P. Wesee