Urgent Need for Highway Patrol to Save Lives

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Little over 11 years ago when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated President of Liberia, there was no way such an accident would have occurred at the Todee Junction. Why? Because that highway leading to Liberia’s central, northwestern and southeastern interior was so deplorable that motorists had to snail over very bad roads.

But now that the Ellen administration has finally begun paving the highways, especially from Fendall through Kakata, on to Ganta and the border with Guinea, motorists have decided to thank the government by
driving recklessly on them, at great risk to themselves, their passengers and others.

What happened at the Todee Junction on Friday, February 17, 2017 was not risky driving alone. We wish it had been. Sadly, no! It was every bit tragic driving, which resulted in the loss of six innocent lives!

Is this the way to thank a government for fixing the roads? Then it probably would have been better to have left them as they were, in deplorable condition, to save lives. But no responsible government could or should have taken that attitude. For what are governments for, except to do everything possible to improve the living conditions of citizens, including fixing the roads and highways to facilitate smooth, easy and comfortable travel throughout the country?

This newspaper, the Daily Observer, has suffered persecution for calling attention over the years to Liberia’s bad road conditions.

Remember what Justice Minister Jenkins Scott and his boss, Head of State Samuel K. Doe, did to the newspaper on August 16, 1983? We had carried a front page caption story entitled “Bad, Bad, Bad Road,” showing the photograph of two trucks stuck in the mud facing each other on the same side of the road near Kolahun, Lofa County. One was filled with farm produce headed for Kakata and Monrovia markets; while the other, empty, was en route to Foya to collect farm produce bound for Monrovia.

At 8:15 that morning, 10 strapping, red capped police officers entered the Observer office shouting, “Get out! Get out! We’re closing this damn place down! We’re tired of this newspaper always criticizing the government.”

They drove everyone out and locked the front door of the Observer office. Later that day, Justice Minister Scott held a press conference saying the caption story had provoked the GOL to take the action.

A few days later Public Works Minister William Amara Freeman called a press conference to tell the media that yes, roads throughout the country were bad because the government had given the Ministry no money to fix the roads.

But despite this confession, the Observer remained closed for a month.

One day in July 2015, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best at the opening of the new Central Bank Building and asked whether he would be coming to Greenville, Sinoe County, for the Independence celebrations. Mr. Best hesitated because he had not planned to go.

“You are coming to Greenville to see all those bad roads you’ve been writing about!” the President told the publisher.

The newspaper had indeed published a series of stories, images and editorials about the deplorable road conditions leading to Sinoe and appealed to the Minister of Public Works to invite the Defense Minister to deploy his Civil Engineering Battalion to assist in repairing the Sinoe Highway.

Mr. Best did travel to Greenville and got sick on arrival. He attended the full Independence Day program but had to be flown out that same day, Monday, and was immediately admitted to the John F. Kennedy
Medical Center. He was discharged that Friday but on orders of Dr. Vuyu Golakai, who diagnosed Mr. Best with pneumonia, he was readmitted to the JFK the next day, where pneumonia was confirmed.

See how the Observer publisher almost lost his life because of the newspaper’s relentless writing about Liberia’s bad roads.

Now that the government has finally embarked upon fixing the roads, with still a lot more to do on that same highway to the southeast, here are our drivers recklessly taking advantage of the greatly improved highway to Gbarnga, and killing people in the process.

What a tragic contradiction!

In our Editorial published after Ellen dedicated the paved Ganta Highway, we pleaded with the Liberia National Police (LNP) to maintain constant patrol of the nation’s highways to ensure that drivers responsibly use these highways to save lives and property. Alas, this advice has not been heeded, hence the Todee Junction tragedy.

LNP Inspector General Gregory Coleman, where are you? We urge you once again to take seriously this appeal for constant, effective and sustained highway patrol to curtail reckless driving and save lives and property.

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