Drivers Weary of Police Extortion
Drivers plying the Freetown Bo-Kenema and the Freetown-Makeni highways have expressed bitterness over the rate at which police extort money from them, saying that the situation is getting worse every day and that they are now tired of it. According to the drivers, members of the Sierra Leone police deployed at Bandama, Blama, Yamandu and Gerehun check points are now charging specific sums from drivers as fines for crimes they claim to have no idea about.
Similar reports have also been made against police personnel stationed at the Lumpa Check Point at Waterloo where each commercial driver is charged a minimum of Le20,000 for entry into the city. Drivers assert that this action by police officers is what contributes to ill happenings like overloading and overcharging on transport fares throughout the country. When once the charged fee is paid, the police don’t bother with any checking or searching SEM has been able to find out.Â
Brima Juana, Drivers Union Chairman in Kenema, said to Sierra Express Media that the police have more than six different check points en-route to Kenema from Freetown and that all commercial drivers plying the route are bound to pay at each one of them “and the fees charged keep on increasing every day.” The Chairman lamented that what “police officers collect from us at each check point everyday is able to pay some 50 police officers per month; it appears the officers are now signing their pay vouchers with us rather than the government,” Mr. Juana stated in disgust.
An apparently disgruntled Benz truck driver said “these check points are mounted specifically to harass the hell out of us and each day one should be prepared for an increment in the fee asked for by these people, it’s disgusting!” Saffa Mambu; a van driver complained that they flee from harassment in Freetown to ply the highway where they think there is less harassment, “but its like fleeing from the devil and ending up in the deep blue sea.”
At various points in Freetown, the contagion seems to be spreading fast; taxi and poda-poda drivers report that police are now asking that each poda-poda driver does booking with traffic police personnel each morning if they must avoid harassment and possible charging to court. Ali Bangura, a poda-poda driver on the Regent Road Lumley route revealed that every van plying the route has to get booking at the Congo Cross Police Station or may end up being arrested for very minor or nonexistent crimes and charged to court; “we pay Le20,000 every morning at the Congo Cross Police station if we want to drive in peace.”
A police officer caught in the act of collecting the money at Congo Cross on Tuesday morning (with no name plate and refused to identify himself) denied that the money paid to them is for booking but couldn’t tell Sierra Express why he was collecting the money from drivers and recording the number plate of the vehicles in an exercise book. When pushed, he admitted that the bosses know about the issue very well and that they are not acting on their own.Â
Information reaching SEM reveals that the traffic division at the Sierra Leone police is one of the most lucrative units and that officers bribe senior personnel in the force to be posted to the traffic division. One of the officers talked to say that constables are even said to offer their monthly salaries to senior officers so that they continue to stay on the track where extortion makes rich.
Head of the police media unit, Inspector Ibrahim Samura branded the issue as serious allegations that will subjected under intense investigation and the result of the investigations will be made known to the public as and when available.
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