A second day of okada rioting in Freetown

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 October 2014

riot in freetown - 9 oct 2014Serious violence has once again erupted in the western business district of Freetown for a second day running, as okada riders this afternoon confronted armed police officers belonging to the country’s Operational Security Division (OSD), during the funeral of one of their colleagues who was killed yesterday.

According to eyewitness report by Laj-K of AI Radio; “Kingtom Bridge, Krootown Road, Syke Street to St. John are on ‘fire’ between bike riders and the OSD again. I’ve just met an unfortunate riotous scene between the OSD and the Bike Riders Union, as they were about to go and bury their colleague who was accidentally killed by police yesterday.

“There is mounting traffic, vehicles damaged, shops closed, people running here and there, and tear gas fired.’’

“What I’ve just seen is unbelievable, in the eyes of our worrisome Ebola epidemic. As I send in this report, I’ve just seen the presence of three government ministers, civil society organisations, political parties and executives of the bike riders union trying to mediate the situation.

“We’ve just moved from Kingtom Bridge to Stadium Hostel to finally settle-out the impasse inside the hall, including the deputy minister of youths, the deputy minister of political and public affairs, the presidential youth aide, the special adviser to the president, the minister of internal affairs, chairman of the political parties committee – Mohamed Bangura, and heads of various civil society organisations.

“The Mediation meeting is now going on between the government, the bike riders, civil society groups and political parties.”

okada rioters1It is not clear what sparked today’s riot. Some observers say that yesterday’s violence was inevitable, as members of the bike riders association took to the street calling for the blood of those they suspected to have killed one of theirs – the police.

But many of those who witnessed the fracas yesterday said that the riots started after traffic police apparently chased and caused the death of the okada rider.

“Okada riders are attacking police officers and vehicles carrying police officers. They have headed for State House now carrying the body of their dead colleague. It’s a serious and volatile situation right here.

okada rioters2“Police are now firing teargas in the cotton tree area right now, and the okada riders are destroying police building at police headquarters, as well as vehicle. Riot in progress now

The rioting bikers then made their way across to State House where they met president Koroma, who managed to quell the anger by promising to look into their grievances.

The police account of what really happened yesterday appears to be at odds with many of the eye witness account.
The Director of Police Operations – Al Shek gave this statement yesterday: “According to the Director of Traffic, at about 1300 hours, an unknown okada rider met his untimely death at Kroo Town Road – Guy Street intersection, when the rider allegedly crashed under a truck.

okada rioters3“And as a result, the rear tyre crushed the rider’s head. Apparently, the said rider was being chased by a couple of Okada Task Force guys (civilians from their own Union set up to regulate themselves).

“In a bid to escape from the Task Force Team, the rider in question swerved between oncoming vehicles, and in the process crashed under the said truck.

“The truck – registration number AGZ 899, allegedly crushed the rider’s head and he died instantly.

“Soon after the incident, other okada riders collected the corpse and in their numbers attempted to head for State House. That move was robustly foiled by the Police.

“Since the Police are also busy chasing them away from the Central Business District (where they have been banned to ply) they now capitalised on this to mobilise their membership with the misinformation that it was the Police that killed their colleague.

“A riot ensued, but has now been substantially brought under control.”

But just when everyone thought the worst was over, this afternoon violence erupted again. Reports say that the riot was brought to an end when politicians and civil society groups met with the police and bikers to resolve their differences.

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