Liberia: Shots Fired over Alleged Cocoa Smuggling in Nimba

 The immigration officer that was attacked in Nimba County.  

.... Immigration authorities, Gborplay Townspeople blame each other

A shooting incident involving the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and people of the Gborplay community, Nimba County, has allegedly left one Immigration officer wounded.

The attack came as a result of an altercation that ensued over a truckload of cocoa said to have crossed into Liberia after the border was closed. 

Gborplay is a town, situated between Karplay and Buutuo, along the border between Liberia and La Côte d’Ivoire. At the border, there is the Cestor River, which separates the two countries.  The crossing point has no bridge. Those wishing to cross over into Liberia must do so via canoe and offload their goods onto trucks or other vehicles waiting to go through inspections by customs and immigration authorities. 

According to a December 13 press release from the LIS, a “group of community members reportedly forcefully opened the border at 11 pm, allowing a truck loaded with cocoa and other items yet to be identified to enter into Liberia, thereby undermining national security.”

As the altercation ensued over the truck of cocoa, there was the sound of gunfire, though it is unclear from which side the shooting came. Both the LIS and the Gborplay community members blame the other side for the shooting. Neither side could admit to an actual ‘exchange’ of fire. 

LIS Commissioner-General, Robert W. Budy, explained that normally, borders are closed by 6 pm and that the conduct of the men clearly undermines the function of immigration. 

Budy noted that during the incident, one of his officers, Cyrus David, was attacked with a single-barrel gun that left his right ankle dislocated in the shooting incident, in Gborplay. 

This prompted the Commissioner-General to issue a strong warning that his officers would arrest and prosecute any person who would attack or interfere with the operation of his men assigned across the country.  He added that his officers will not relent to defend themselves if they come under a similar attack such that a group of citizens discharged firearms at them while performing their official duties.

According to the Commissioner, the border operation should be left solely to the agency that has the statutory responsibility to protect the nation’s territorial boundaries.

“My officers will not relent to defend themselves if they come under similar attack where a group of citizens will discharge firearms at them, whenever they are performing their official duties,” Budy sternly warned.

“My officers, assigned at the various ports of entry, are the first line of contact. As such, no civilians whatsoever have the right to interfere with their operations,” he added. 

Interestingly, the LIS said no arrests had been made so far concerning the shooting incident. Budy added the Immigration Service is proud of the sacrifice made by the injured officer and other members of the border team. 

Meanwhile, both sides corroborated the issue of the truck of cocoa crossing the border checkpoint after official hours. However, the people of Gborplay have disclosed that the shooting came from the LIS officers, denying the LIS claim.  

According to community sources, an LIS officer discharged his firearm at the Gborplay border, disrupting the census in that part of the county, after they attempted to arrest those who allegedly smuggled the goods.

The citizens allegedly resisted the arrest because it happened under the cover of darkness, something that led the LIS to allegedly open fire to deter the citizens and anyone wishing to attack them. The Inquirer newspaper quoted Martha Yeah and Robert Taye, accusing the LIS border patrol Commander of carrying out the shooting in Gblorplay Town upon his arrival in the town with some officers.

Yeah added that the action of the Commander, coupled with the arrest of the youth leader, led to some angry youth staging a roadblock in demand of the release of their colleague.

Also, an employee from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Moses Flomo, claims that the shooting left many residents to seek refuge in the bushes and villages in other districts. Flomo also alleged the shooting claimed the attention of the government of Côte d’Ivoire, which led to the immediate deployment of soldiers to monitor the borderline on the side of that neighboring country.

He reiterated that the argument erupted between the Gborplay youth and the LIS border patrol officers over how much was to be paid by a truck that was prepared to cross with cocoa produce into Liberia.

From that point, neither side appears to be telling a straight story. 

It is the job of the Customs Division of the Liberia Revenue Authority, not the LIS, to collect payment concerning goods crossing into Liberia.  Yet, the fact that a truckload of cocoa entered Liberia from La Cote d’Ivoire after official border hours raises the question: Why could the truck not wait until the following morning to declare a load of cocoa to the relevant authorities? 

A source in the town hinted to the Daily Observer that, because cocoa prices are higher in Liberia, cocoa traders connive with immigration officers on both the Ivoirien and Liberian border crossings to smuggle the crop out of Côte d’Ivoire and into Liberia for a small fee. This allegation could not be confirmed by the immigration officials of either country.  This is the second shooting allegation that links LIS border patrol assigned in Nimba County in less than two months this year, according to residents of the bordering communities, who could not give details.

Earlier this year, a LIS Officer violently entered a home around the Guinea Community in Ganta and discharged his firearm during the night, under the pretext of pursuing criminals.   The shooting caused panic, yet what became of the case is yet to be established.

Meanwhile, the Commander refused to comment on the allegations.