Residents along the Somalia Drive community woke up on Monday morning to a gruesome scene of anger and tension between commercial motorcyclists and bus drivers, when a commercial bus, popularly known as “Killer Bee”, reportedly killed a motorbike rider accidentally near the Shoe Factory Community in Gardnersville.
Motorcyclists in a contentious mood on November 23, 2020, wasted no time in setting ablaze the bus involved in the accident. They argued that bus and taxi drivers always kill motorcyclists deliberately because their vehicles they operate are bigger than the motorcycles and therefore they cannot continue to face such an action from the drivers.
“We are killed and sometimes badly injured by trucks and bus drivers intentionally all because we are cyclists whom people accuse of not being careful how we ride our bikes. We equally felt disenchanted this morning when we saw our fellow bike rider instantly killed, and we had no option but to set the bus on fire too”, says Jackson Sackor, a motorcyclist.
Initially, motorcyclists were seen as the angry group, but after a few minutes, the situation exacerbated when bus drivers galvanized themselves and set four motorbikes ablaze in retaliation for burning the bus. As the riot intensified, officers of the Liberian National Police began to fire tear gas and throw stones to disburse the melee; approaches that did not succeed as cyclists also resorted to stone-throwing at the Police.
In a counter-reaction, bus drivers themselves went on the rampage, arresting any motorcycle they came across and set it ablaze. “We will resist cyclists and burn down any motorbike we will see running on the main road today”, said Lawrence Thompson, a bus driver.
The angry bus drivers were seen on Monday morning lifting up sticks and vowing to damage any motorbike that they could see moving on the main road as four bikes were already burned destroyed. For hours, no bike could ply the main road except vehicles, and the cyclists, too, were in the communities throwing stones randomly at vehicles; a situation that resulted in damaging a bus and leaving one passenger injured.
Jallah Bundo, a cyclist whose bike was set ablaze by the bus drivers, said: “I was not among those cyclists that set the bus on fire. In fact, I was busy running my normal business in Jacob town when my brother and I heard that a bus was set on fire. While coming to see what was happening, we saw men running towards us with sticks to hit us, and that’s how we fell from the bike and started running and, in the process, they burned my bike at New Hope Junction.”
Frustrated and embarrassed, Jallah said the bike he was riding belonged to his elder brother and has been with him for only three months. “The police were right on the scene when my bike was set ablaze and they couldn’t stop the crowd, they were standing and looking at everything,” said Jallah.
“I feel very bad because the bike was my only means of survival. I was never in the know of it but was busy in Jacob Town doing my business.” However, an officer of the LNP who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were overwhelmed by the riot and armless to control the violence.
Samuel G. Deapeah, President of Liberia Motorcyclists Transport Union (LMTU), said the act by cyclists to set the bus on fire is seriously condemned, but cyclists cannot be entirely blamed for the act. “We observed that onlookers and the angry crowd came from the market places to set the bus ablaze and not just the cyclists alone.”
In his quest to defend the cyclists, Samuel said often times when such a situation occurs, people perceived the cyclists as the only instigators of violence, whereas those involved have families and friends who might feel disenchanted to take the law into their own hands.
“Few years back in Seclepea, Nimba County, an UNMIL vehicle hit a motorbike rider. Without knowledge of the government’s policy that UNMIL vehicles involved in an accident should not be impounded, family members of the rider hit by the vehicle set the police station on fire and cyclists were blamed,” he said.
According to Deapeah, he attempted making some effort to control the situation but could not, because it was overwhelming. “After that, we saw a group of bus drivers who we thought heard of the incident and had come to help calm the situation, but disappointingly for us, we only saw them setting bikes on fire.”
According to the LMTU president, cyclists may have been involved but because of the dead body and the blood that was on the ground, the angry crowd and onlookers set the bus on fire.
He pointed out that cyclists are faced with serious problems in the traffic on a daily basis. “There has always been a serious problem for cyclists, [and] we think that this has to be resolved. Whether big or small, the road belongs to everyone. Besides, when a bike rider is ahead of a taxi or bus, you see them blowing horn as though the bike rider is not supposed to be on the same road with them.”
He noted that they have met with the bus union president to see how they can resolve the situation. “The act is seriously condemned by the LMTU and we want this issue to be resolved as soon as possible because whether motorbike riders or bus drivers, we all have to respect each other to move Liberia forward.”
Meanwhile, the bus driver is currently at Zone 4 police station, while the bus is parked outside of the station. The body of the deceased cyclist will be turned over to his family.
Since commercial motorcycles were introduced in 2003 right after the Liberian civil war, the accident rate has been high all over Liberia, and the relationship between motorcyclists and drivers have not been feasible. Drivers take advantage of cyclists on the road based on the size of their vehicles, and in most instances when there is an accident involving a vehicle and a cyclist, the rest of the cyclists come in solidarity to their friend and they will set that vehicle ablaze. Along the same Somalia Drive during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration, the same type of bus was set ablaze there and cyclists attempted attacking the Deputy Police Inspector for Operations, Abraham Kromah, at the time. Just last week, bus drivers and motorcyclists went into another confrontation after a bus was involved in an accident with a motorcyclist. The bus was damaged, and drivers, in turn, set two motorcycles ablaze along the Pipeline road at Redlight.
With the increasing accidents the country was witnessing, the Liberia National Police during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration brought in place a regulation that barred cyclists from plying major roads in every city in Liberia but community roads. When the CDC-led government took power in 2018, the ban was lifted on cyclists under the Pro-Poor agenda and motorcyclists began using the main roads among vehicles.