MONROVIA – Police in Monrovia are investigating two supporters of Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah for allegedly purchasing Biometric Voters’ Registration (BVR) cards from prospective voters to influence the outcome of the election results in favor of their political leader.
By Obediah Johnson
Liberians are expected to go to the polls on October 10 this year, to elect their new leaders, according to a timetable released by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
As part of the process, the BVR exercise commenced on Monday, March 20.
Incumbent Senator Saytumah is seeking re-election, while Tyler is contesting for the post for the second time.
Tyler was defeated in the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections by Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe.
Suspects Mercy Konneh and David M. Toe, who are supporters of Senator Saytuma were detained and charged for alleged electoral fraud at the Zone six Police Station in Brewerville, outside Monrovia based upon a complaint filed by an agent of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) identified as one Roseline B. Tarquoi. They slept behind bars and were released early Thursday morning.
The case was filed when residents of Demeh Town raised alarmed after news broke out that the suspects were allegedly buying voters’ registration cards from eligible voters for the amount of L$1500 (US$9.375) in favor of the incumbent.
The citizens blew the alarm when it was noticed that a similar act was reportedly ongoing in Yamah Town.
Three other unidentified persons believed to be supporters of Tyler were also charged for the alleged commission of the crime of disorderly conduct.
Both Saytuma and Tyler were spotted at the police station to release their various supporters up to the early morning hours of Thursday, March 30.
The case has been forwarded to the headquarters of the LNP in Monrovia.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPageAfrica via telephone, Tyler claimed that the BVR cards are being purchased from citizens in areas that he considers as his “strongholds” in Bomi.
He said since the commencement of the exercise, some supporters and workers of his political opponent, incumbent Senator Saytuma, have been influencing the process by clandestinely acquiring the cards from others.
“We got information that people were buying cards since last week when the process started. And on Monday, a fellow who works for Saytuma called David Toe, who slept in the cell last night went to a town called Yamah in Tehr District Bomi County. The information we gathered is that he bought 27 cards.”
Tyler emphasized that the Town Chief identified as one Victor Johnson raised an alarm that the move being made by some of the residents would discourage those vying for various positions from campaigning in the area.
The alarm compelled citizens of the town to request their respective BVR cards from Toe, following the intervention of the Regional Coordinator of the Community Watch Forum in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu one Aaron Boe.
According to Tyler, Boe was informed that one Tommy Quie was the one spearheading and convincing citizens of the town to trade their BVR cards to suspect Toe.
“The people started to make noise that they wanted their cards back. Apparently, Tommy had not delivered all of the cards (he collected) for the last seven persons, he gave them back to the people who were causing noise.”
The Demeh saga
Tyler claimed that residents of Demeh have been expressing concerns over the influx of their kinsmen at one of the campaign offices of Senator Saytuma located in the town.
According to him, the residents later received a tipoff that the BVR cards were being allegedly purchased and taken from eligible voters.
Following the tipoff, he added, that, supporters and residents of other aspirants trooped to the office of Senator Saytuma during the early afternoon hours of Wednesday.
“Some citizens went there and pretended to be selling their cards and they blew alarm and people who were watching started to make noise. When the noise started, she (Mercy Konneh) ran out of the office. Luckily, there was an LDEA woman there who got the information and arrested her. David Toe started running and the citizens ran after him thinking that he was an accomplice. They grabbed him and somebody from the town came and said he was an ‘operative and he was the one carrying people for the L$1,500 and you give him L$300.’”
“They were allegedly buying the cards at Saytuma’s office and she wanted to run in her car, but the citizens arrested her. The car she was trying to get into, the driver left the scene. This raised suspicion why the car she owns or was assigned with her, left her there?”
Tyler further claimed that the suspects were arrested at the time he was in Brewerville.
He alleged that following the arrest, suspect Mercy Konneh requested to be brought to him to further provide an explanation, a plea that was accepted by the LDEA officer who made the arrest.
“They came and the woman said her aunt used to work with me; apparently she wanted to appeal and I told them that they should take the matter to the police station; we are not going to condone such an act.”
Tyler pointed out that he later decided to reach at the police station after being reliably informed that Senator Saytuma was there already to secure the release of the suspects.
Claim of kidnapping
He said the incumbent lawmaker claimed that his employees were allegedly kidnapped and brought to his residence in Brewervile.
But Tyler denied having a house in Brewerville.
He wondered how employees of the Senator would be kidnapped when they were apprehended and taken away in the midst of hundreds of residents of the county who went on the scene.
Tyler claimed that prior to coming at the police station Senator Saytuma has already reported a case of kidnapping to the Inspector General of the LNP Patrick Sudue.
“I was around the police station from 4PM to 12 last night because he (Saytuma) wanted to intimidate the police officers that he is a lawyer and Senator and the people kidnapped the lady and took her to my house.”
Tyler, however, denied that the three others who were charged with disorderly conduct are his supporters.
He stressed that accusation of sexual molestation and assault made against some of us supporters were not given credence by the police and as such, they were released.
He said though he is not against the facilitation of supporters to register and vote in Bomi by any of his political opponents, the act of buying voter registration cards is unhealthy for the country’s democracy.
Buying to destroy
“The essence of buying those cards is to destroy them to ensure that I do not get votes from my strongholds. Like take for instance, if I were to buy 2000 cards from your stronghold, it means that it is minus 2000 votes for you.”
Tyler urged citizens of the county to desist from the “wrong” mentality of trading their voting cards ahead of the elections.
He said the BVR card is the national identity of citizens and as such, they should not allow their current conditions to determine their future.
He questioned the motive behind aspirants requesting their supporters to hand over their respective BVR cards to them after standing under the sun in long queues to obtain it.
For his part, Senator Saytuma disclosed that he was not on the scene when the arrest was made.
He noted that the lady who made the arrest claimed that there was suspicion of alleged buying of voter registration cards.
“I got the news that Tyler sent about 15 persons there (at my office), including the lady who they said did the arrest. She said there was suspicion of people buying voting cards. They got in my office and ransacked everything and the lady started to arrest people that work for me.”
He said instead of carrying those arrested to the police station, the suspects were allegedly taken to the residence of former Speaker Tyler.
Senator Saytumah after the suspects were taken at the police station later, Tyler and others again stormed the area.
He pointed out that a bag belonging to suspect Mercy was taken away, and another falsely presented, containing minimum amount that was not in the actual bag that was taken away.
He accused the police of doing “all kinds of things” to charge the pair.
Senator Saytuma further claimed that four of Tyler’s supporters were also charged by the police.
He denied reports that he was involved into buying voters’ registration cards and called on those making the allegation to provide the evidence.
He said “carrying my people” to register does not amount to voters trucking.
Senator Saytuma, however, admitted to be rendering help to some of his constituents to obtain their voter registration cards.
The buying of voter registration cards and voters trucking by candidates, especially those vying for the representative and senatorial positions is a new phenomenon that engulfed the Liberian electoral system during the 2017 general and presidential elections.
At first (and even no) citizens were casting their votes for candidates for the representative and senatorial positions based on what they have been given either in cash or materials, instead of looking at competence and qualifications.
Some of the candidates were reported to be in possession of thousands of voter registration cards from their supporters during past elections.
These candidates at the time justified that they were “securing” the cards of their supporters from being damaged or lost.
Days to voting, phone calls are made to the voters to pick up their cards to cast their ballots.
It has been widely reported that citizens are financially induced before and after casting their votes by some of these candidates.
Poverty and gullibility
The high rate of poverty and economic constraints continue to serve as contributing factors for the trading of voter registration cards by citizens during the electioneering period.
Citizens who trade their cards care less about the future of them and their unborn generations and the significance of casting their votes during elections.
The failure of their elected officials to live or fulfill promises made to them during the campaign period of past elections continues to discourage them from exercising their political franchise.
Politicians continue to ride on the gullibility of the Liberian society, with a high rate of unemployment to deceive electorates during elections.
As a result of this, these citizens do not have trust and confidence in the new breed of politicians running for public offices.
On the other hand, the failure of the NEC to also provide intense civic voters education, especially in the leeward areas remains a major factor of selling and buying voting cards.
A clash or chaos would erupt between rival supporters of those contesting the legislative elections if steps are not taken by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to arrest the issue of “buying voting cards”.
Citizens may take the law into their own hands by lives and properties may be lost and destroyed as a result of the noticeable silence of the commission on the matter.