Calm is said to have returned to the ArcelorMittal concession area in Nimba after the violent demonstration that led to the ransacking of the properties belonging to the iron ore company.
On Thursday, 3rd July 2014, a youth group identified as “Tokadeh Progressive Youth for a Peace and Development began what they claimed as a peaceful demonstration in the concession town of Zolowee along the Sanniquellie-Yekepa at the junction of the road leading to Mount Tokadeh.
The aggrieved youth spokesperson Sayetee Zowehyee told this paper via mobile phone on the day of the standoff that their action came due to what he called “the failure of ArcelorMittal” to adhere to their plights and demands.
He said prior to their demonstration they informed the County Attorney, LNP and UNMIL to carry on a peaceful march on 3rd June 2014 so as to claim the ArcelorMittal’s attention over petitions addressed to the company long time ago concerning the development of the areas.
He said, while they were carrying on the peaceful march at the junction leading to Mount Tokadeh, the Emergency Response Unit/ERU came in and told them under the pretext that they were there to provide protection based on their request to the LNP.
Superintendent Zuagele confirmed the request but said that the County Attorney upon receiving the letter he immediately wrote instructing them to put halt to all form of demonstration and again went on air informing the group not to demonstrate but they refused to adhere to his order.
The youth claimed they were carrying on peaceful demonstration, but the road leading up the mount was blocked with fallen tree, with cooking taking place on the main road.
He narrated that after they got through cooking around the intersection leading up the mount, the ERU seized the food and set it in their pickup and began firing discriminately, using tear gas to disperse them.
It was from the action of the ERU that led the youth to flee into the bushes which of course let things get out of hand, he said.
An eyewitness account says there was shooting of single barrel guns by the youth after they fled into the bush and they even committed extensive damage on ArcelorMittal facilities at the mines as well as on the train.
Bridges along the road leading to Yekapa were tampered with by the youth in an attempt to dismantle them at some locations of the road.
However, an Executive Mansion release says several of those involved in the disturbances were picked up and taken to Monrovia for interrogation.
Several government officials, including the Information Minister Lewis Brown; Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Patrick Sandolo and some of the Nimba Lawmakers paid a visit to the area, aimed at finding a breakthrough, but it is not yet known what level of discussion was held with the both sides.
Nimba District # 1 Representative Jeremiah Koung expressed frustration over the level of destruction ArcelorMittal sustained from the hands of the youth.
He urged the youth to be proactive in their campaign and stop the attitude of destruction of infrastructures.
It was also reported that the group went up the mount and ransacked activity there, forcing some ArcelorMittal workers to be airlifted by helicopter.
This year appears to be tough for the company since they started the operation in Liberia nearly 10 years ago.
In February this year, the citizens of the affected communities within ArcelorMittal concession blocked the roads leading up Mount Takadeh where the mining of iron ore is taking place. They claimed that the management of ArcelorMittal failed to pay damages to their properties and also refused to employ the citizens. Some of their plights were addressed where most of them received the required payment of damages.
On Tuesday 29th April 2014 a group of Nimba youth under the banner, “Concerned Nimbaians calling for Re-signing and Renegotiation of the Arcelor Mittal Mineral Development Agreement with the Government of Liberia”, seized the railroad in demand of changes in the MDA.
This issue was brought to rest after the intervention of the Nimba 53rd Legislative Caucus and some staff of the company.
One of the Concerned Nimbaian Advocates, Saye Musah, attributed the eruption of this new crisis to lack of communication from the Nimba County Authority headed by Supt. Fong Zuagele.
He said after their railroad seized in April, a meeting was called for by ArcelorMittal in May at the Royal Hotel in Monrovia, where Supt. Zuagele was instructed by the Nimba Legislative Caucus to convene a meeting with the aggrieved youth (including this group) so as to discuss some of the counts which were not discussed at Royal Hotel Meeting. “But accordingly,” Musah said, “the county superintendent hasn’t called for meeting up this the time of the crisis,” something Superintendent Zuagele outrightly denied.
The present aggrieved “Tokadeh Youth Movement” in August 2013, presented an eight counts resolution to the management of Mittal at the joint citizens meeting with CEO of Mittal in Zolowee calling for improved water system, health care facility, and employment at all levels, among others.
At present, the road between Sanniquellie and Yekapa is now calm and traffic has resumed, but there no sign of work going on at the Tokadeh Mines since the standoff.
Representative Larry Younquoi of Nimba District #8 told reporters in Ganta that almost a truckload of things looted from the ArcelorMittal camp around Mount Tokadeh had been retrieved and returned, while search is going on to get the remaining items.
In a similar development, another group calling themselves “Movement for the Defense of Downtrodden” launched their activity in Ganta on 3rd July 2014.
The group who described themselves as rights organization said they will be engaging institutions in Nimba and elsewhere in the interest of the communities, looking at the controversial Nimba Scrap deal, a purported US$4 million GOL owed Nimba from ArcelorMittal Social Development Fund, and the relocation of George Ways Hospital in Sanniquellie, among others.
Despite the company’s almost 10 years of existence and almost four years of shipment of iron ore, one-third of Yekapa still remains undeveloped with the hospital there yet to be renovated and the roads still remain unpaved despite years of promises something the citizens greatly concerned about.
Superintendent Zuagele has also confirmed the arrest of five persons in connection to the violence over the weekend and sent to Monrovia while their leaders, Sayetee and others, remain at large.
He also confirmed that some members of the group, “Concern Nimbaian for Resigning and Renegotiating of the MDA”, are undergoing interrogation at the police station in Sanniquellie into their involvement into the violence.
Earlier, one of the detainees, Ta Kruah, told this paper via mobile that they were asked by the Superintendent for a meeting early Sunday, 6th July 2014 but were immediately summoned by Police Chief of Operations, Abraham Kromah, for questioning and they are still being held with no charge(s).
Meanwhile, the Executive Mansion Release said the full extent of the damage, which is still being assessed, includes destruction to private properties, as well as injuries to six police officers and the destruction of public roads and bridges.
Information Minister Lewis Brown said, “There is no tolerance in this society for those who act outside the law by expressing grievances through violence, destroying properties, assaulting law enforcement officers, and violating the rights of others.”
He also added that “all such individuals will face the full weight of the law.”
However, Government of Liberia has assured the management of Arcelor Mittal and all private and foreign investors that no action will be spared to protect lives and properties as well as the general wellbeing of their staffs and employees.