Damaging The Bridge That Crosses One: The Recent Protest In Zolowee, Nimba County

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

There is a popular idiom that says, “Don’t Forget The Bridge That Crosses You,” meaning that one should always show gratitude and concern to the little good that people do for them, or that one should never forget from whence they cometh, for which one finds himself or herself in in a position of influence and affluence.

Today because of what occurred recently in ZoloweeCommunity in Nimba County, I have decided to rephrase this to say, “Don’t Damage The Bridge That Crosses You,” meaning that one should never, no matter the situation or problems, destroy or damage anything that is useful to that individual or anything that is of importance to the person’s survival.

I decided on this to bring about the issue of self-destruction or anything that is detrimental or suicidal to a person’s existence, based on an action, act or activities a person undertakes, as in the recent protest action in that part of the country.

In that situation, as was expectedly lionized in the media, a group of residents of the Zolowee community in Nimba County, staged a protest action against the management of ArcelorMittal for that community’s failure to execute certain projects it reportedly agreed to undertake in keeping with the agreement signed to cooperate in that part of the county.

The residents, among other things in their desire to air their grievances, reportedly damaged a bridge in their community by setting fire to it. The residents also use the very bridge to commute.

As it was reported, last week some aggrieved residents under the umbrella,Tokadeh Progressive Youth Movement for Peace and Development-(TPYMPD)staged a protest in demand of better incentive from Arcelor Mittal, a mining company operating in District # 2,Nimba County. In a written letter to the County Attorney of Nimba County, the Board of Elders, officials and members of the communities, comprising members of the affected areas of Zolowee and Gbaarpar respectively requested permission to have a peace march on the 3rd of July 2014 at the Tokadeh Junction.

According to their complaint submitted, owing to the failure of ArcelorMittal to address the impact of mining operation on the local communities, and some compliance issues they resolved to peacefully express their grievances through a march. They said their action was the failure of both the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal to address their concerns after several appeals made by them.

The residents who raised several issues against the company, pointed out in a resolution that cognizant of the environmental and social impacts of mining activities experienced between 1973 and early 1990s, LAMCO and LIMINCO operations in the area, which is now been taken over by ArcelorMittal.

They said this operation also posses threats and environmental destination, deforestation, dissolution, displacement, pollution, contamination of the soil, water, increased pollution, destroy and disturb the ecosystems and habitats, and realize that if these concerns cannot be brought to the attention of Arcelor Mittal Management and the Government of Liberia for peaceful resolution, according to the citizens, it would further deteriorate.

Furthermore, they cited healthcare facilities, good educational facilities and safe drinking water are some of the major environmental issues affecting them, for which they need solution.

While this is not an investigative piece to cross check the veracity of the citizens’ claim against the company or to get the company’s “side of the story,” my basic concern relates to the action of the residents that resulted in the partly destruction or damage of the bridge in the area. It is not a debatable issue that the citizens, constitutionally, have all right to protest or express their grievances on issues that affect their lives, but my concern is the consequences of their action. Even in the case of presenting grievances, the very Constitution, which is the Organic Law of the land, stresses the issue of “ orderly and peaceably manner,” in exercising this right.

It is an indisputable fact that this country for many years went through a violent crisis that affected every fabric and citizens of the nation. And so, to see people resorting to such ugly act of partly damaging a bridge that is of benefit to them, then, there is reason for concern. No matter the problems between the company and residents, the protesters should not had resulted to violence, as we all are aware, based on the experience of the past that violence does not solve any problem, rather, it worsens a situation.

With the ugly experience of the past, we as a people and nation should always strive to pursue a peaceful path. In this matter, the residents should have continued to call on their leadership in the county, and national government or even continue to protest peacefully to generate much public concern and the attention of the authorities.

Although some of the leaders of the county, including some lawmakers, are involved in “personality war” like some of those of Sinoe County, on who is the “ “Political Godfather” or “carpenter” or the “furniture” of Nimba County, the aggrieved residents should had continued to seek peaceful path, as some other leaders of the county and others would listen to them. But to resort to violence, is what I am against.

We, as citizens of this country, in exercising some of our fundamental rights, we should equally be guided by the fact that violence does not solve any problem. Sometimes it is to our own detriment, as we did with the hydro during the civil conflict, an action that is affecting all of us today.

Today, it is Nimba, the county of my son’s grandmother, but this cannot only by circumscribed to that county, as there have been reports of similar violence in other areas. Even if our leaders drag their feet in solving whatever problem or listening to us, we should continue to mount pressure peacefully, as insistency or perseverance, always produce positive or desired results. As it is often said, “someone will listen.”

Now, with the partly destruction of the bridge, that has been useful to the residents, who have they really harmed now? Certainly they have harmed themselves, as the fire incident now affects the life span of the bridge. This is why violence is not good. We can protest, but in a peaceful and orderly manner.

Until we as a nation and people realize that violence solves no problem, as experienced in the years of civil conflict, we would continue to harm ourselves and cause our nation to retrogress, I REST MY CASE.