Liberia: In Bomi County, Residents Reject ‘Strangers’ Trying to Register to Vote – And Decide Their Future

Residents in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, fed up with the invasion of truckloads of non-residential “Commercial Voters” in their political space, took matters in their own hands Tuesday, sending a clear message to money-totting candidates that their votes are not for sale. The last stand in Bomi mirrors sentiments being expressed across Liberia ahead of the December Midterm Senatorial elections, one which from all indications point to an intriguing build-up to what is no doubt one of the most important elections in Liberia’s history.

Tubmanburg –  Strange out-of-towners have been arriving in droves in Tubmanburg, Bomi County since the Voters Roll Update process commenced this week – and residents for the most part are unhappy.

In the wake of the  increase in voter trucking, residents of the county, mostly women gathered before the National Elections Commission (NEC) head offices Wednesday, to protest against voter trucking, declaring that the original citizens of the county are being denied an opportunity to register because of the influx of people trucked from Montserrado County on a daily basis.

Strangers in our town

“The trucking should stop and our children should have opportunity to register,” bemoaned Konah Kermue. “ Majority of us women are being denied the opportunity to register. Every time we go there they push us around. All those trucking we begged them to stop so that at least we the original citizens can be able to register. Let them allow our children to register.”

According to Konah, residents of the county are suffering. “Every time we go to the registration centers we see strange people there. We don’t know who doing the trucking. We have to vote for our county, we don’t want other people making that decision for us.”

Konah says most of the out-of-towners are unrecognizable. “We know and recognize citizens from Bomi County who are in Monrovia and other parts of the country who have returned to registered to vote.  As I speak to you, one of my friend son is being hurt badly. We see people we haven’t seen before, they have started stealing our phones at night, breaking our windows. Our population here is very low we know each other.”

The overwhelming number of people descending on this small county not known for drawing crowds is raising a lot of red flags.

The county located in the northwestern part of Liberia, covers 746 square miles and one of 15 counties, bordering on the northwest by Grand Gedeh, northeast by Gbarpolu and Bong Counties and on the southeast by Montserrado, has a population of of 84,119, making it the nation’s eleventh most populous county.

Turnout Ratio From 2017 Elections

In the 2017 general elections, only 15,887 voters cast their votes for District No. 1 candidates in the legislative race won by the independent candidate, Snowe. For District No. 2, 12,309 voter cast their votes that saw Bishop Manah Johnson, Jr.(CDC) emerge as the victor. In District No. 3, 15,204 voters cast their votes in a race won by the People’s Unification Party candidate, Haja Fata Siryon.

For the presidential race, the county was won by the CDC candidate George Weah, who secured 17,850 votes for 57.4 percent. Joseph Boakai of the former ruling Unity Party came second in the county with 13, 268 votes for 42.6 percent.

A total of 31,118 voters cast their votes in the county of 84,119 residents.

A FrontPageAfrica reporter who has been in the county for the past few days, reports first hand that there is serious voter trucking ongoing on a daily basis.

Buses managed by the National Transit Authority are filled with predominantly young people believe to be in their teens and mostly first-time voters. Many confirmed to our reporter that they were trucked from Montserrado County although they didn’t say who trucked them.

What is also unclear is, who is funding the trucking or whether they are being financially induced by politicians. However, a few of those trucked to the county were arrested by Police on Tuesday in the county after a violent incident occurred at the headquarters of Representative Edwin Snowe alleged that.

Others confirmed that they were trucked to the to register in the VRU process conducted by the National elections Commission across the country, influence by Former Speaker Alex Tyler the CDC candidate in Bomi.

Trucking Must Stop, Residents Lament

Some of those trucked claim that Rep. Snowe has also been trucking people to the county but his spending power is lower than Tyler. “Even Snowe is trucking but he’s complaining because he doesn’t have the amount of money being spent by Tyler,” one resident said. However, FPA has been unable to independently establish those allegation as fact.

Some of those who arrived in the county also confirmed that there are some citizens of the county residing in Montserrado County who are taking advantage of the process of registering in the ongoing Voter Roll Update to have an opportunity to vote.

Residents like Mammie Sesay is not having it. “The trucking should stop and our children should have opportunity to register. Majority of us women are being denied the opportunity to register. Every time we go there they push us around. All those trucking we begged them to stop so that at least we the original citizens can be able to register. Let them allow our children to register.”

Yamah Weagbah, another resident, lamented:  “I am a permanent daughter of this county and I have joined others to protest against us. We don’t feel the impact of our lawmakers. Nobody should come from Boys town, ELWA w to come to make a decision for us. if the politicians don’t trust us let them leave us to make the decision. These candidates want to hijack power after being in power for years have nothing to show. Our parents are not moving freely. If you are here at night you will see these guys smoking drugs in the streets.”

NEC Magistrate Acknowledges Trucking

On Monday, Mr. Luther Dean the National Elections Commission Magistrate in Bomi County   confirmed reports of ongoing voter trucking in the County but says the NEC has not been able to establish those behind the trucking of voters.

“There is serious trucking in Bomi County but we haven’t been able to establish who is doing it. People are bring truck full with people.”

The NEC Magistrate admittance comes in the wake of media reports of serious vote trucking by politicians around the country. Since the NEC commencement of the Voter Roll Update (VRU), which allows first-time voters the opportunity to register.

An NEC Magistrate is the head of the head or Representation of the electoral body in Bomi County.

The “trucking of commercial voters” is now becoming a new phenomenon in the political dispensation of Liberia due to the failure of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to take concrete actions, or give a definite position on the issue of “voters’ trucking”

Many politicians and potential electorates at times rely on the weakness or the spectator role being played by the NEC to engage in the act.

Politicians, particularly incumbent lawmakers who fear defeat as payback for their failure or inability to help improve the living conditions of their constituents are the ones mostly involved. But the financial inducement of electorates does not necessarily guarantee the chances of a candidate winning in an election as evidenced by the defeat of scores of incumbent lawmakers, including Representatives and Senators during the conduct of the 2017 elections.

Speaking in an interview with FPA via telephone, the Director of Communications at the NEC, Mr. Henry Flomo, disclosed that the trucking of financially induced voters is against the electoral laws of Liberia.

When quizzed whether the commission is aware or has received an official complaint of “commercial voters” being trucked into western Liberia, Mr. Flomo said: “nothing of such has been brought to my attention”.

He added that the commission “does not go out looking for cases”, and as such, it remains the sole prerogative of citizens to allow or reject the trucking of commercial voters into their respective districts or counties.

“Trucking is against the law, but what we can come out to say is-the people out there are the first to either allow or stop trucking. You have a right if you see someone at your polling precinct or registration center to report the matter to the Registrar”.

“You may not know every community member, but you have the right to protest; and that person can be stopped right there. If that person feels uncomfortable, then we have a case right there.

“The trucking should stop and our children should have opportunity to register. Majority of us women are being denied the opportunity to register. Every time we go there they push us around. All those trucking we begged them to stop so that at least we the original citizens can be able to register. Let them allow our children to register.”

Mammie Sesay, Resident, Bomi County

Illegal Encroachment of Strangers

The law is there but the citizens are the first line of defense when it comes to that law”.

Article 1 of the 1986 Liberian constitution states that: “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure a democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave the office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments”.

The Bomi County race for the Senate is being heavily contested for with Former House Speaker Alex Tyler and Representative Edwin Snowe working to unseat the incumbent Senator Sando Johnson. However, the incumbent and former Speaker have a herculean task of fending off the threat from Snowe, who has proven to be a formidable political figure since switching from Montserrado County to Bomi County in 2017.

It was rare political decision that some say, was intended to prepare him for the county’s senatorial seat.

Senator Johnson, a former hierarchy of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2017, is now the candidate on the Collaborating Political parties’ ticket. Senator Johnson reaffirmed his membership to the NPP after the 2017 election but has since gone renegade and has been heard lambasting the ruling party on many occasions.

In one of the most closely-contested races in the December Midterm elections, it could come down to the total votes cast. But with strangers illegally encroaching on residents in one of the smallest counties in Liberia, it appears residents here, like most other counties in Liberia, are at risk of being dealt a Senator, not from their choosing but one elected in a process, marred by a lot of unanswered questions and whether the National Elections Commission is doing enough to curb a practice dealing a massive dent in Liberia’s post-war political revival.