Banjoo Superstore CEO Complains of Police Harassment During Delivery

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Banjoo superstore during a food distribution to vulnerable, disabled folks' homes on Friday April 24th, 2020.

— Wants Gov’t intervention

The two-week extension of measures put in place by President George M. Weah to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from April 24 to May 8, 2020; has left several Liberians stranded and confused over essential services.

The measures in place include the compulsory wearing of face masks in public, one person allowed outdoors per household, the daily curfew at 3:00 p.m., a ban on movement between counties, and the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Despite these measures, the local markets are teeming with buyers in search of daily food and household essentials, up to just minutes before the afternoon curfew. Supermarkets and grocery stores are mandated to allow between five and ten customers at a time, after the protocol of hand-washing and temperature screening.

“Da de hustle,” says a lady who identified herself only as Ma Kolu, who sells assorted food items at a market in Central Monrovia. “The people need to eat and some of them do not have the chance to go to the market until in the afternoon, when they leave from work, or when small money gets in their hands. ,” she said.

One company that is involved in such business is Banjoo superstore, which is Liberia’s largest e-Commerce platform that allows anyone inside Liberia and the Liberian diaspora to order foodstuff, household provisions, cleaning supplies, office supplies, electronics, etc.

Online items are to be delivered to the customer’s doorstep are facing serious attacks and harassment from law enforcement officers, particularly the Liberia National Police (LNP), leading to severe inconvenience in times of an unprecedented crisis.

The chief executive officer of Banjoo Superstore, Caesar Morris, who spoke to the Daily Observer via mobile recently, has called for an urgent intervention from the government.

Morris said his entity delivers across Montserrado county and offers location pick up in 9 cities across Liberia including; Kakata, Harper, Harbel, Marshall, Buchanan, Gbarnga, Ganta, Voinjama, and Zwedru.

He noted that: “About 5:02 p.m. on April 30, 2020, I was taking a customer order when I stopped at the checkpoint on Capitol Hill opposite the President’s office.

“There I met a team of joint security officers (EPS, Police, City Police) one of them asked me for my ID which I presented, he then asked who I was and what I was doing out after 3 pm and where I was going. With my ID in his hands, I had to explain myself and then show them the food in my vehicle and the order details.”

According to him, after explaining all that the officer in question said: “why should you, a whole CEO, be the one to deliver?” I replied that we are overwhelmed with orders, my entire delivery team is out doing deliveries and I making sure families get their food on time.”

After a long pause, Morris said, the officer then asked: “where is your other pass apart from this joint security general pass,”?

“I said to him, I don’t need any other pass other than this one in your hand. As it states on number 16 that food delivery company may travel after 3:00 p.m. with proper identification which you have in your hands,” he added.

“The unidentified EPS officer asked me to park off the road, which I did.

He further noted that after about 2 minutes approximately pleading with the EPS officer; then a police officer said “eh you say we can harass yor” at the point the EPS officer said “here is dey foolish man who says the police can be harassing them, but you will sleep here”

Morris stated: “After hearing these officers make such remarks; then I said, so this is what it’s about? Speaking back to the EPS officer, I said what do you call this whole drama? Does this look like you guys doing your job?  I felt unsafe and said to the officers, I’m leaving.  At this point I got back in my vehicle and drove into the checkpoint, trying to force my way through; I was determined to get out of there at all costs after hearing their remarks.”

While the altercation was ongoing, Morris said President Weah in a convoy with two black Toyota land cruisers with heavy security drove toward them as there were in the entrance of the President’s office and into the compound for about approximately 5 to 12 minutes then drove out toward Sinkor.

“I had guns drawn at me ordering me to not move a step until the (VIP) leaves.  Once the convoy left, this senior police officer, only identified as 56, came towards me and instructed that I drive my vehicle into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs compound toward the passport section (isolated area) and I refused to say “you either let me go or you guys can do whatever you planned right here in full sight of passing vehicles,” he said.

At that point, Banjoo Superstore CEO said 56 made a call to someone only identifies as 105, telling the person on the phone that “I forced my way through the checkpoint and have no pass so he needs the tow truck to come carry my vehicle.”

According to him, when the tow truck came, “I pull out my phone and started recording. This is how the senior police officer identified as 56 rushed on me trying to take away my phone, which I prevented. They took away the vehicle with the foodstuff in it as seen in the video I recorded.”

Morris recalled that earlier, one of “our hired drivers (contractors) while doing deliveries was arrested at the Zone 9 depot 1 in Paynesville city; he provided his ID, Driver’s license and copy of the police chief mandate but yet the vehicle was arrested, ticket issued and vehicle impounded with foodstuff in it on grounds that they (police officers) was ordered to issued a ticket to any vehicle plying in the street after 3 pm.”

He told the Daily Observer that during a recent radio interview on a local radio talk show on Wednesday morning where “I was talking about Banjoosuperstore.com services I mentioned the incident and used that means to appeal publicly that we are being harassed and that they should please consider us.”

“We are not enemies of the police or joint security of claimed implied by the remarks from security personnel, please. Banjoo Superstore is at full capacity and such actions by security personal hinder our operations. Banjoo Superstore is the only e-commerce platform that delivers across Montserrado and covers 9 other cities in Liberia; our delivery duties bring us and our contractors in direct contact daily with security personnel,” he said.

“At no time have I as CEO instruct any employees or contractor to disrespect the police or any security personnel in any shape or form and such behavior will never be tolerated under my watch.

“Please allow us to do our job without these intimidations and harassments. Families both in and out of Liberia depend on us to keep food on the table of loved ones in these hard times and we can’t let Liberia down,” he concluded.

In response, LNP Spokesman, Moses Carter, said Morris bought the matter to his attention “and we have been able to handle the situation so as to avoid any form of embarrassment to him and his work. So, since he left I have not heard from him any situation of complain but I will call him and find out whether he has encountered any situation like that again. The enforcement in the field is somehow difficult, especially some of our officers who are assigned in the field (some of them) I am not saying all, some of them were whelm in the wake of the enforcement but we will try as much as possible to let them know to exercise restraint in dealing with the citizens. If the person is doing anything good in the entire lockdown order, I think they need to exercise restraint and let them go. The man is not just passing around [loitering] but impacting the SOE positively. I mean, that person should be considered a partner. But, since then I have not heard anything case from him yet, but what ever the case is, I can assure you that we will do our best in terms of working with whosoever are working in the SOE. To admit, he has registered that but we have not look into his complain.

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