... Omega evicted victims decry neglect and abandonment
Since Yarssah Kollie witnessed her three bedroom house destroyed by the government, she has not been herself.
Yarssah , a mother of 3, took 10 years to build her house, a feat she accomplished single-handedly. But in a blink of an eye, it was damaged in her presence and, since then, she has been moving from one relative home to another.
“I was selling coal and sending my children to school at the same time building my house only for the government to bring it down in one second. I took ten years to build my house,” she added.
Upon removing petty traders from Red Light to Omega market, President George Weah constituted a committee headed by the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), with Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) serving as co-chair and the Liberia Land Authority and others as members.
With this mandate, MPW and MCC began backfilling the wetland to provide more selling space for the vendors who were then complaining about lack of sufficient selling spots, toilets and warehouse facilities at the new Omega Market. A sub-committee was set up to manage the land distribution amongst marketeers.
As if this was not enough, the committee reportedly began demolishing homes to give space to the marketeers without notifying the community members. After the demolition, the residents accused Public Works Minister Ruth Coker-Collins of destroying their properties and giving their front view lands to business owners, an accusation she denied, shifting the blame onto the Committee that was set up to manage the land distribution.
According to the Minister, the Omega Market was reserved by the government for the purpose which is actually being carried out now. “So it’s not Public Works taking the decision to break down places, it was the team that was set up,” she claimed.
“The government broke our homes and up to now nobody from the President's office or even the Ministry has come to meet with us. That's wickedness,” said Watta Johnson, who lost her two-bedroom house.
According to her, she purchased her area in 2006 and, since then, no one has made a claim until the market was relocated in the area — that was when she saw yellow machines clearing their properties. Another property owner, Augustus Sibley, whose half-lot of land was given to marketeers, alleged that some government officials have been passing through relatives, begging him to negotiate with them, but he has refused and is bent on taking the matter to court.
“It will be an uphill battle, especially with their influence in government and taking into consideration the security of our lives. We have met with some lawyers and, as soon as we get some money, the first thing is to file a lawsuit. The case can get rotten. God will help us,” Sibley added.
Sibley showed the Daily Observer a title deed that shows Augustus Sibley, along with his wife Judy Sibley, paid $1,275 in 2005 for 1.52 lots. The deed shows George Y. Barning, Sr., and Moses Gargar, administrators of the Estate of Stephen K. Barning and Saturday Gargar, signed and turned the parcel of land over to them.
The Sibleys are just two of many landowners in this area who were impacted in July this year when the government decided to relocate thousands of marketers from the long-existing Red Light market to here. The 400-acre area, known as Omega, had been designated as a market ground in 2013 when the US Coast Guard’s radio tower here was dismantled. The facility’s use of the Very Low Frequency (VLF) Navigation System known as OMEGA gave the area its name.
Then-US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield handed ownership of the land to then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In the meantime, pressure had been mounting to move the Red Light market which had sprung up on the capital’s main thoroughfare during the war and had become an impediment to the construction of the major roadway from Parker Paint to ELWA Junction. The presence of marketers at Red Light has also caused health and security problems in the area.
Sirleaf decided to solve that problem by handing the Omega site to the marketers at Red Light. When the radio tower was dismantled and the area subsequently declared a market site, there were no occupants.
President Sirleaf said in an interview following the US Coast Guard's departure, "That area will be used for market. The red Light market will be transferred to Omega and the Sirleaf Market Women Fund will begin building there soon." By then people were warned not to build on the land and or encroach on it because it was public land and is set aside by the government for a special project. There was no resettlement package promised to anyone since the government was not moving people from there to be relocated.
Victor W. Wilson, Co-Chairman for the Omega Community said those who were affected by the demolition are suffering and the government has done nothing to address the situation.
“They are sorrowful, homeless, and don’t have a place to go. They are temporarily lodging with their friends and families, praying for the government to intervene. So, since that time, we have just been talking to them to hold their hearts,” Wilson explained. “We are asking the government to rebuild their areas or compensate them.”
Hiracharies of the CDC-led government, including Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, have repeatedly said that the entire Omega Market belongs to the government and, as such, those who bought land from there did so at their own risk.
“When you find your spot, develop it. Don’t be scared and nobody should sell space to you," Mayor Koijee told the marketeers. “This entire place belongs to the government.”
When asked, Wilson said he concurred with Koijee's statement, that area belongs to the government. In a tone of frustration, Pastor Abraham Sheriff, chairman of Omega block-D, described the government as mean and wicked and it does not care for its citizens.