By Edwin G. Wandah from Zolowee, Nimba County
Some aggrieved youths and elders of Zolowee and Gbaarpar in Nimba County have burned one of the bridges linking Sanniquille with several communities in District #2, (Sanniquille Mahn).
Few days ago, 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 the request submitted by the citizens to the office of the County Attorney, the citizens stated that failure by Arcelor Mittal 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.
The residents also claimed the failure on the parts of both the Government of Liberia and Arcelor Mittal to address their concerns after several appeals made by the residents but Arcelor Mittal continue to ignore their concerns, with the Government doing nothing to also address their concerns.
Also, in a resolution by the citizens, Board of Elders and members of the Tokadeh Progressive Youth Movement for Peace and Development-TPYMPD, they stated 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 Arcelor Mittal operation, poses 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 will further deteriorate.
The citizens further stated that healthcare facilities, good educational facilities and safe drinking water are some of the major environmental issues affecting the concession areas.
The residents said article 8a of the May 7, 2007 which is the Mineral Development Agreement, the MDA, that these environmental issues be addressed and provided to the communities, has not been addressed which the residents have taken serious exception to.
Other concerns were employment and skills training which the citizens believed has also been overlooked by Arcelor Mittal and Government, including their lawmakers.
They also stated Article 10 of the same May 7, 2007 Mineral Development Agreement-MDA states also that twenty-percent and fifty percent of the recruitment of Liberian staff, has not been given preference to, and only associate companies under Arcelor Mittal are focused on by the Management of Arcelor Mittal.
When this Paper visited the affected areas; the situation appeared serious. According to elders, chiefs and youth leaders of Zolowee, most of their relatives and family members remained unknown.
Our reporter who arrived in Zolowee at 8:30 A.M. local time on a chattered commercial motorcycle encountered five of Zolowee officials, including, Zolowee Chief Elder, Peter Zuweh and Zolowee Town Chief, John Kortoe, the Youth Supervisor, Roland Dolo and Zolowee Women Wing Leader, Victoria Dolo.
Both Elder Zuweh and Chief Kortoe expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which the Government of Liberia, including the lawmakers has demeaned them.
The two chiefs said that on several occasions, they had invited Representative Prince Tokpa and the Nimba Legislative Caucus to discuss these issues and the lawmakers failed to mediate on their behalf.
It can be record that few days ago, some of the youths, including elders gathered at the entrance of Tokadeh to protest what they called peaceful march in solidarity to their plight.
Chief Kortoe said the march became violent when ERU officers who came from Monrovia to beef up the strength of the other ERU already assigned in Sanniquille to secure the premises of Arcelor Mittal when rumors filtered in said that the residents were coming in their numbers.
But according to the Youth Chair, Roland Dolo, the youths were peaceful at that moment. “My brother, the first group of ERU that came from Sanniquille met the boys cooking their food and they joined them by invitation. The boys and the ERU officers were peacefully sitting and chatting when we heard heavy gun sound from the Sanniquille direction with the understanding that it was a call made from Yekepa that the boys were looting and disturbing Arcelor Mittal Steel Compounds in Yekepa,” Dolo stated.
According to Nimba County Superintendent Fong, G. Zuagele, the protest was violent. “These guys were violent; they destroyed lots of equipment belonging to Arcelor Mittal up the Mountain,” Superintendent Zuagele stated.
“Where in the world has violence solved any problem? It can only fuel catastrophe and erupt chaos instead of peaceful resolution,” Hon. Zuagele averred.
When our reporter visited the office of Superintendent Zuagele in Sanniquille in Nimba County Friday morning, the situation in the area remained a serious issue prompting Nimba County Superintendent Fong G. Zuagele and current Nimba County Legislative Caucus Chairman, Thomas Grupee appealing on a Radio Nimba top show cautioning citizens to remain calm and avoid any form of violence.
The two officials told the citizens to remain calm as the lawmakers were doing everything possible to have the situation put under control. They said although the situation grew out of proportion, it also showed how aggrieved the citizens are currently.
However, in a separate interview, the Superintendent Zuagele said his office is doing everything possible to engage the Caucus to see how best the plight of the citizens can be addressed.
He said the citizens have expressed concerns which according to him, some of their concerns are genuine, but said other issues that have to do with violence cannot be accepted. He called on the citizens to remain patient as the county leadership is doing everything possible to meet with all parties to the crisis.
Meanwhile, about five persons have gone missing. According to the Women Wing Chair of Zolowee, Orano Korto, Oretha Gono, Saye Peter, Benjamin Wantoe and Nyan Messah are still missing.
In a related development, the residents have blamed ERU personnel for flogging Representative Prince Tokpa of District Number 2 in Nimba County. The residents said, some ERU officers illegally arrested the man and beat him for reasons best known to them.
The residents are however calling on the Nimba Legislative Caucus and the Government of Liberia to immediately launch an investigation into the matter to avoid any recurrence.