OP-ED: Sirens in Pro-Poor Times 

I have watched from the sidelines as our new leaders ply their way through the traffic with sirens for the last few months. Shortly after the new government took over, this new trend has become increasingly popular among the “VIPs.” I quote VIP only because there is no way of finding out how important they are since the cars are usually not marked and carry a dark tint.

With the exception of the president who usually comes with a vehicle marked Presidential Escort, there is no way to find out who the sirens belong to. This trending norm is becoming so prevalent that even police officers have joined the bandwagon.

Many times, police officers are seen in police sedans, plying opposite lanes with sirens as a way of avoiding or beating traffic. They drive at high speeds and in lanes of the opposite direction without notice of any form of emergencies; they coerce other regular vehicles (the people) to allow them passage. Ironically, the traffic becomes further congested as the use of third lane stifles the movement of vehicles traveling in the opposite direction.

Leadership is like a mirror. Robert Greenleaf defines the servant leader as one who is a servant first, beginning with the natural feeling of wanting to serve first, opposing the concept of being leader first. In this vein, servant leaders demonstrate care to ensure that the highest priority needs of other people are being served.

Consequently, Article I of the Liberian Constitution provides that “all power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require.” It further indicates that “the people” can cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.

So, do we realize the authority that we “the people” command? When did we become the last? Why we are not prioritized? We wake up early to navigate through the traffic to get to work in time whereas others choose to rise a little later, because they know that they have a way of passing us by in the traffic. What’s that way? Sirens!

Leaders are supposed to be a reflection of those they lead. Our leaders are supposed to be law abiding citizens with good moral character that we can emulate. What does it say when everyday Liberians sit idly in traffic as our leaders create their own lane with sirens and pass us by? Are we to emulate the disregard for traffic rules in hopes of being called “VIP”?

In many cases, everyday citizens are told to leave the road and wait for our leaders to go by. These leaders include a range of people from president to directors of agencies I cannot even recognize.

Do we really need to leave the road because the Director of Procurement at some agency needs to be in a meeting? If they have meetings that are of importance to the work they were elected or appointed to do, there should be a respect for time. We all want to get to our destinations in time, but our “leaders” are usually in much more hurry than us. They say “hurray hurray buss trousay oooo.” So, on a daily basis I wonder what’s the rush and where are they going?

I live on Sophie Road in Congo Town, which is also where our dynamic Vice President, Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor lives. I am scheduled to begin work in Sinkor at 8:00 a.m., so I leave my house no later than 7:10 a.m. On a regular day, it should take only about 15 mins to get to my office, but I know better. I live and work in Monrovia and that means early morning traffic and the usual hustle and bustle to get to town.

When my alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., I am usually not very happy, but this is the price I have to pay to get to work in time to earn my living. As I make my way to work along with other everyday citizens, the sirens of government officials – our “leaders” – will push their way through traffic. Nissan Patrols, Land Cruisers, Range Rovers and other cars worth more than the road we drive on will pass me in a hurry. With our narrow roads and nonexistent sidewalks, I’m sometimes forced to just sit there and listen to the sirens go off until there is a narrow way off the main street. I wonder sometimes if there’s a jump button in those fancy cars because I am sure I do not have one. Although they must have more important thing to do than those of us that sit in the traffic awaiting directions from the police, the roads simply do not allow the “hurray hurray” they put us in.

Heading home on two occasions, I was stopped for 25 mins because the vice president was also heading home. The escort cars will come dashing through to give warnings of her arrival and instruct other drivers like myself to remain parked until she makes her way by.

I lived here way before it was “the vice president’s house road.” I am a contributing member of society with a wondering mind. I would like to know what purpose it serves to be held at a standstill until my leader goes by.

As a democratic nation and in keeping with our constitution, Liberians are bosses of our leaders. We elected them and they work for us. My one vote could make all the difference in the event or a tie during elections. The constitution that our dear president urged citizens to read tells me that to win a presidency, one will need 50 percent plus one. I could be that one. That makes me pretty important, if you ask.

Every Liberian is that one and should be treated as such. How can the same people we elected push us to the side and break traffic rules all in the name of heading to work for us? I find that absurd. When everyday Liberians are told to move to the side of the roads as our leaders make their way, it is a broad disrespect for our faith in their leadership.

Are we not the same ones that they begged and promised to work for a few months back when they ran campaigns? Is this not the “pro-poor government”?

Let’s recognize that the cars that leave us by the roads are owned and fueled by us. The police that slow us down and make way for them to cruise by the traffic are there to protect our lives and properties.

What a slap in our faces when our “leaders” don’t have time to follow the traffic rules because they’re now elected or appointed officials.

Now, other regular impatient Liberians have started to follow that path. This is because everyone wants to be a boss. Who is who? Nobody knows. But my admiration goes to those conscious everyday Liberians who stay put and move as they should, respecting the traffic laws of our country. I commend their tolerance and the respect for the rule of law. Until then, I’ll be sitting in my car waiting for the “VIPs” to go by. This glorious land of liberty shall long be ours.

Randell Dauda

Randell Dauda lives and works in Liberia, having relocated from the U.S. in 2015. She earned a Masters in Higher Education and Leadership from Northeastern University.

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