The Nagbe Town Community opposite the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex was the scene of alleged harassment and intimidation when a scuffle erupted between residents of the town and some members of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
The officers, two of whom, the townspeople named as Lee Smith and Chris Mahn, had escorted a team of officials from the Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy (MLME), who had gone to enforce a government ban on beach sand-mining.
The MLME officials, according to them (townspeople), were on a patrol exercise along the Atlantic Ocean coast of Monrovia and its immediate surroundings, after they were tipped off about illegal beach sand-mining in the vicinity.
The scuffle occurred on Wednesday, January 8, after a MLME team backed by the LNP officers decided to seize and take away bricks belonging to residents of the community.
When the Observer team arrived on the scene, the scuffle had subsided and the MLME staffs and police officers had left. But the brick makers and townspeople were standing around and ranting insults at the police and the entire government.
According to them, the hullabaloo broke out when government enforcers decided to forcibly take their bricks after they (townspeople and brick makers) had displayed their “genuine” receipts for the sand used to make their bricks. They claimed that they usually buy truckloads of sand from legitimate sand dealers and they do not dig sand from the beach along the Atlantic Ocean, which they live very close by.
“When we decided to stop them from taking our blocks, they began to use force and started beating us. They even began destroying the blocks, we had already made. They threw stones at us, too,” Clarence Paye, a young man, who said he is the head of the block-makers in Nagbe Town, stated.
He informed the Observer that every one of them is fully aware of government’s ban on beach sand-mining and won’t dare go against the government ban; adding: “There are people who are also assigned on the beaches by the Government. They are here every day cleaning the beaches. How can we mine sand from the beach when these people are there?” he asked rhetorically.
The Nagbe Town brick-makers, all of whom are young men and women, noted that they primarily depend on brick-making for their survival, said since the government announcement of the ban, they had stopped mining sand from the beaches.
Instead they have started buying truckloads of river sand from Caldwell and RIA Highway, where the Chinese are carrying on river sand- mining.
Even though the Observer team did not get to speak with the government team, it was understood that the Ministry’s officials had taken the LNP officers along with them to ensure that the law was properly enforced by arresting anyone found in violation; they were bent on seizing everything including bricks, cornerstones—anything sand produce.
Our team toured the community and found truckloads of sand that can be clearly identified as river-sand and not sand from the Atlantic Ocean’s beach. They also saw rolls of newly made blocks, which had been destroyed allegedly by the police officers during the rigmarole.
Also speaking with the Observer, a 32-year-old victim, who said she lost more than 500 blocks – valued at nearly L$11,000 – asked the Observer team: “My brothers what does this government want us to do to survive? They stopped us from mining sand on the beach, which is good for us too. But when we go to buy our sand from the Chinese people than the police come and harass us everyday. They want us to get into prostitution like some of our friends are doing? We are trying to make our earnest living from the blocks we make; so let them stop harassing us.”
32-year-old Yoadeh Davies, who is a mother of three, said she was really surprised at the police action.
Another, Mr. Reid Cephas, a University of Liberia (UL) graduate said he had been surviving on block-making for more than 10 years. And since graduating from the UL years ago, and not finding a better job after many attempts, I resolved to remain in the block-making trade.
Cephas: “The officers were very ruthless in their action. Officers Lee Smith and Chris Mahn, who are always here asking us for small thing were, to our surprise, were the main guys destroying our properties and throwing stones in the community.”
According to him when the fracas erupted, he managed to escaped the scene but his wife, who could not get out in time, was picked up and dragged by officers, who had her naked as they led her away to the community police depot, a stone’s-throw from the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium, opposite Nagbe Town.
However, Police spokesman Samuel Collins, in a mobile phone interview Thursday, January 09, evening, told the Daily Observer that the block makers were carrying on illegal sand-mining and officers had gone in to enforce the ban.
According to him, while officers were doing their job, they came under attack from community-members and block-makers.
He said that everything that officers arrested from the scene were turned over to Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy.