NEWS FLASH
Left-Right: One of drugs sale points on the Township’s beach side; Mr. Jeremiah Kolobalee, Chairman of the Township’s Community Watch Team Left-Right: One of drugs sale points on the Township’s beach side; Mr. Jeremiah Kolobalee, Chairman of the Township’s Community Watch Team

Another Liberia’s Drug Menace: Day-Time Robberies ‘Ripping’ Township of West Point… -Uniformed Police officer seen receiving drugs

MONROVIA, LIBERIA -The Township, situated in Liberia’s Capital, was created in the 1960s by the William R. Tolbert-led Government, aimed at dispersing “squatters” dotting all spaces in Central Monrovia that reserved for “financially privileged” persons—government officials and owners of business centers (stores).

The Township’s thriving fishery industry and hosting one of the Capital City’s booming market grounds make here attractive to outsiders—including drug smugglers from other parts of Liberia. The Township is a 180-minute radius (of distance on leg), from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—hosting the official office of the Head of State, George Manneh Weah—on Capitol Hill, Monrovia. And it is in a 250-minute of perimeter with the Head Quarters of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), located in Fiamah Community, Sinkor, Monrovia.

Many of the “snatchers”—of mobile phones, computers’ bags or money—around the Township or in other parts of the Capital City live here or come here to be “charged” with drugs. Finding any of the Township’s ‘drug sale points’ is easy. They are lined up on the sand bank of the Township beach. The closer access point is by the Water Street’s branch of Ecobank. Follow the street and branch off left on a narrow route opposite a barbed wire-fenced for-sale water storage tanker (built with cement blocks) in front of an Islamic School—named Solidarity Elementary, Junior & Senior High School.

On a visit at the house of some biological relatives living in the Township on April 19, 2021, I heard pandemonium of wailing and threatening noises coming from between houses along a narrow road, but major route, leading into the Township, passing behind the LEC’s premises. A gang of six armed, each with a knife or scissor, was robbing a roving male trader few meters from seats of some men sitting and watching the scene. The victim was selling phone, call recharge cards and minutes of Lonestar Cell and Orange—Liberia’s current two leading telecommunication companies.

The robbers had blocked his way and formed a ring around him before seizing all the U.S. dollars and Liberian currency he had on him. While he was calling other people’s attention for rescue, three of the bandits raised their kitchen knives and scissors over his head, and swung around the hand with the weapon—a sign to anybody that dares come out on ‘rescue mission’ for the victim. None of those watching moved toward the robbers and their victim or said uttered a word to the gang. Seconds after the robbers had escaped, people around started discussing their actions against the traders.

I engaged a group of men discussing national politics about ten yards to where the robbery had occurred, indirectly blaming them for what had happened to the trader about twenty minutes ago. “None of us here has the bravery you are talking about,” one of them responded to my concern “Do you want us to do what the Police and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency’s officers assigned in the Township can’t do?” another answered my question with a question.
Another guy said to me: “If you want to become those guys’ target for stabbing or if you want them set fire to the house you’re sleeping in during nighttime, attempt preventing their OPS.” OPS is a Liberian security code for “operation”.

A woman living in a house near the robbery point said to me: “Things similar to what you just saw happen on this route every week.” Four minutes later, I saw a member of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberia National Police (LNP) passing, going toward his family’s house few meters from where the robbery had taken place. “I saw those guys coming entering through this way and told them to go off from the public. I didn’t know they were on a criminal mission” the Police officer, later identified as Mr. Chris Doe, responded to my report.

Every drugs-related discussion in the Township is dotted with assertions of ‘collaboration’ by the State’s law enforcement officers (assigned in the community) with drug sale kingpins in the Township. The Government’s security agencies often mentioned are Liberia National Police (LNP) and Liberia Drug Enforcement (LDEA) During many of my visits in the Township, I had seen LDEA officers marching young men (in hand cuffs) toward the Townships’ Station of LDEA— situated few meters to the Township’s Police Station and he Township’s Hall (hosting the Office of the Commissioner).

“They arrest only common people who bought the stuff from one of the dealers based on the beach and was getting high in the street,” a member of the Township’s vigilante group reported to me, about three minutes after a team of five LDEA officers marched three young men towards the LDEA’s Station. Some residents told me about “line of big cars appearing around the entry points to many drug sale points” between 1pm and 3am during weekend; members of the Township’s dissolved security watch team hinted me about a special “weekly collection” (money) from the body of drugs dealers for some top LDEA’s officers from the Headquarters.

“The leader of the drug sellers sometime the money to the LDEA officers or they send their representatives to West Point to collect the money,” a male member reported to me during my interaction with a body of disbanded watch team during one of my visits in the Township on Sunday in May. During one of my visits, my male host called my attention to a light complexioned, huge frame young man in a group of six young men and four ladies passing us. He was between three men—at his front and at the back. The guy’s both arms were decorated with tattoos. “He’s one of the leaders of West Point’s drugs sellers and armed robbers,” my host whispered to me.

On the 7th day of April, 2021, I saw a man in the dark blue uniform of the Police Support Unit (PSU)— shirt, trouser and boots—collecting powdery and grassy substances from a drugs sale point (tarpaulin) near the fish dryer mentioned earlier in this story. “PSU” was inscribed on one of the arms of the shirt. From this drug sale point he entered another drugs sale point (sea erosion-destroyed house) few meters from where he had collected the “drugs”. Twenty minutes I reported to LNP’s H. Moses Carter, LNP’s Spokesperson, what I saw.

In the morning of Sunday, May, 2021, bumped into Hon. Solomon George, Representative of District #7 (comprising West Point) in front of his compound on Snapper Hill, Monrovia, and reported the drug issues in another part of his Legislative Constituency. “I’m not the main person you should tell about the drugs issues in West Point. The best person for the message is the Township’s Commissioner, the direct representative of the President,” the Lawmaker replied.
In Liberia, smuggling or sale of narcotic drugs is a “bailable offense”, according to the Country’s Revised Drug Law crafted during the Presidency of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“This has weakened all concerned Liberians’ collective fight against anybody smuggling drugs into the Country or selling it here. Drug smuggling into Liberia or sale will stop or drastically reduce if the Liberian Government introduced a drug law that says at least fifteen years for anybody caught with any narcotic substance or drug in the Country,” Mr. John Saah Mbayoh, an official of the West Point’s Leadership (Commission) said to me during a chat in the absence of the Township’s Commissioner for interview for my story.

Speaking further, Mr. Mbayoh said the Township’s Commission had reported the community’s drug issues many times and facilitated arrests of many of those in the illicit deals, but those arrested are seen in the Township a short time later. “Holding a drug dealer for a short time in Government’s correction center endangers the life of each member of the community’s leadership who had played a role in sending the person to jail. Some of the Township’s drug leaders forwardedto the Police Station return, in a short time, come to us and brag that they have connection more than the governmental authority in political appointees in the Township’s Commission.

No member of the Township leadership wants to be killed by any drug dealer who cannot be held over a long time in Government’s correction center in the Township,” Mr. Mbayoh added. The officer of the Township’s Police Depot I was referred to for interview on this story refused to speak on the issues, but referred me to the community’s LDEA office as the “appropriate Government’s Agency in the Township clothed with the responsibility to speak on any drug-related matter in the Township.” The head of the Township’s LDEA Command couldn’t be physically reached for comment; his telephone contact (0770297640)--given by one of the officers I told about my mission—couldn’t connect.

On the 15th day of October, 2015, some concerned male residents of the Township organized themselves into a security watch/surveillance group—named “Power Plant Community Watch Forum”—focusing on only one quarter of the Township, named “Power Plant”. Weeks later the named was changed to “West Point Community Watch Forum” when members saw the need to protect the entire Township from rampant night-time armed robberies and other crimes.
Mr. Jeremiah Kolobalee (pictured above), born on October 10, 1977, was chosen as Chairman of the Watch Forum. He migrated to West Point in 2001.

In an interview with this writer in July, 2021, Mr. Kolobalee said the total number of members of the Watch Forum was 35. The Forum started operation with members’ escorting groups of West Point’s traders returning from selling during late hours from outside of the Township, to prevent them from robbers that used to set ‘ambush’ from the intersection of Mechlin Street and King Sao Bosso Street toward the end of Water Street connecting with West Point.
“After guarding all the Point’s traders and they were safe home, we came to protection of the entire community, beginning from 12pm and 6am,”

Mr. Prince Wleh, Chief of Operations of the “Power Plant Community Watch Forum”, and Co-Chairman of the “West Point Community Watch Forum” said to this writer during interview for this story. But the West Point Community Watch Forum was short-lived—dissolved three years later. “The West Point Community Watch Forum was dissolved because of lack of support from owners or occupants of houses, the Police authority, Office of the Township’s Commission, and the Representative” Mr. Kolobalee said during interview. The “support” requested from the community people, Mr. Kolobalee disclosed, was fifty Liberian dollars from each house on Saturday.

“We told residents of the Township the money collected will be used to buy battery-powered torch lights for patrolling Watch Forum members during, night-time tea and other things for those patrolling,” he disclosed. On the crimes being complained on by community members, which prompted formation of the Watch Forum, Mr. Kolobalee said: “Breaking into people’s houses and snatching of phones and bags, even during daytime.” Mr. Kolobalee is now a freelance teacher for students of the Township’s grade-level schools.

“Another challenge the Forum encountered was constant attacks with knives, cutlasses, and throw of pieces of broken bottles from people stealing current from LEC’s lines passing over and through houses,” said former Co-Chairman Prince Wleh, currently into currencies (U.S. dollar and Liberian dollar) exchange business in the community. On tackling the increased rate of crimes in the Township, Mr. Kolobalee said members of the dissolved West Point Community Watch Forum are prepared to restructure.

“When we get support from the Government, we, the younger residents of West Point, will restructure remobilize to end burglary and armed robberies in the Township, and we will prevent people who committed crimes outside using our community as a hiding place or fortress. We will expose any of them who runs here for safety,” he said. Other parts of Liberia are experiencing drugs-related problems, and the George Weah-led Government appears incapacitated to tackle the menace—similar to the Presidencies of Charles Taylor and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Like it was during post-civil war Governments of Charles Taylor and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the George Manneh Weah-led Government is being accused of “conniving with foreign drugs smuggles” through members of Liberia’s Immigration and Drug Law Enforcement Agencies stationed at the International Airport and land border points. This information is being leaked by “wrongly dismissed” Immigration officers. In November, 2020, a retired officer of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) told me and other journalists during an informal discussion a the office of a popular Liberian media capacity-organization (in Central Monrovia) that a “special chartered Plane” brings huge consignment of drugs into Liberia every Month.

“When this Plane lands at the Roberts International Airport, all junior Immigration and LDEA officers are temporarily removed from their posts, so that they don’t see the drugs being offloaded by the senior officers and the Plane’s crew,” the Immigration officer reported. The proof of this retired Immigration officer’s assertion can be seen on the beach side of West Point community and other communities in Liberia. A visit at the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital (a partner of the State-owned John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center), located in the Duport Road community, in Paynesville, will bring you into contact with another “drugs-induced behavior” by some of the “young people” being hosted here. I covered the World Mental Health Day’s celebration (October 10, 2020) by the Liberian Government, held here, on a pro-bono-service (free) appeal from Mr. Mr. James Bill Crayton, the Public Relations Officer of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center.

The program was partially sponsored by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), France’s global health support Organization. MSF has a medical (psycho-social) presence in the Township of West Point, working with the Catholic Hospital (Star of the Sea Hospital) at the Township’s main football field. Through its Liberian staff, MSF dramatized “psycho-social issues” in Liberia. Liberian Government’s drugs record show foreigners in the lead role of drugs smuggling and constitute over fifty percent (50%) of persons selling the stuffs. Foreigners’ leadership rold of smuggling is attributed to Government’s “low salary” of each “junior LIS officer” on the frontline (border area) from where the drugs enter into Liberia.

Others feel a “high Government’s salary” won’t prevent national drug law enforcers’ connivance with international drug traffickers running to post-war Liberia. My neighbor, a senior Liberian Immigration officer, addressed the Liberian drug menace succinctly during our chat in July, 2021 on the drugs-related issues in Liberia. “Even in financially superior America, where the salaries of Immigration officers are more than nine times the Liberian Immigration officer’s, foreign drug traffickers still pass through the system. You think what pushed U.S. President to begin construction of the wall between the America and Mexico?” Is Liberian prepared for “arms smuggling”—a cousin of “drugs smuggling”?
I am imagining a band of financially powerful “drug lords” toppling a Liberian Government one day—if the exodus of foreign drug traffickers isn’t halted now.

 

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