WEALA, Margibi – Residents in Weala are living in panic days after police began summarily arresting individuals following a violent protest initiated by commercial motorcyclists over the gruesome murder of one of their members.
The protesters vandalized and burned several private and public properties, including two police stations and a magisterial court in Weala. They set ablaze tires as roadblocks in the streets, preventing traffic flow for more than four hours and placed a house and a shop on fire that belonged to a local businessman, Steve Tokpa, who they accused of masterminding the motorcyclist’s death.
Since the incident occurred, the community has become a no-go zone, owing to the presence of state security officers, mainly armed police. This has caused the community to become edgy.
Cinta Township commissioner Roland Johnson was also arrested and has been charged with multiple criminal offenses in connection with the violent protest.
Prior to the incident, Weala was a major economic hub, with an estimated population of over 20,000 residents, mainly due to the presence of the Salala Rubber Corporation, considered to be the country’s third largest natural rubber company. But schools and businesses in the area have remained closed since Monday’s incident due to police summarily arresting people.
The dean of Student Services at the John Wesley United Methodist high school in Weala, Cuthbert Williams, expressed frustration over the tense situation that has kept students and teachers out of school. Williams said the situation was worrisome, especially for senior students who would soon be taking the West African Secondary School Certificate Exams.
The Salala Rubber Corporation management also announced an immediate temporary halt to its operations as the result of the current situation in Weala.
The company’s human resource manager, Jallah Mensah, told The Bush Chicken that the decision to halt operations was due to the failure of workers reporting to work for fear of being arrested.
“The ongoing operations of the Liberian National Police have stopped us because the workers said they don’t know what’s going on; the police are going to the camps running after them, so we can’t get them to go to work,” Mensah said.
He said Salala Rubber Corporation is only currently operating from its central office because operations on the entire plantation were currently at a standstill until total calm is restored to Weala.
A labor commissioner in Margibi who also resides in Weala condemned the violent action of the residents but stressed the need for calm to be restored. He vowed to support the rule of law and legal action against individuals found culpable of instigating the violence. He also promised to lead a community fundraiser that would generate fund to rebuild the two police stations and the court facility that was destroyed during the violence.
The county’s superintendent, Jerry Varnie, also expressed concern over the tense situation reported in Weala and nearby communities, including Baypolu. Varnie promised to work with the police in order to restore normalcy to the communities hopefully on Thursday. He assured that authorities will bring perpetrators of the violent behaviors to book.
Featured photo by Boakai Mabey