When the National Government spent Kshs.1.9 billion to construct the 824-metre-long Liwatoni Floating bridge in Likoni, Mombasa with an aim of decongesting the Likoni ferry channel thus reducing the possible stampedes at the crossing, they did not imagine that a well protected gang will soon take over the terminal.
It is estimated that over 300,000 commuters use the bridge daily and most of them arrive by matatus and bodabodas.
The floating bridge operates between 5am and 8am and from 3pm to 7pm daily.
Four months into its operations, a gang operating in six groups and answerable to an overall gang dubbed ‘Liwatoni Floating Bridge Association’, an association which is seemingly well protected by top county officials is extorting the bridge’s users.
According to Commission for Human Rights and Justice Executive officer Julius Ogogo, the gang is clearly being protected by someone senior in the county government.
“The government agencies cannot look the other way as gangs extort people openly. They even wear reflector jackets and issue receipts. If this is the way to go, then there will be chaos all over. We are a country governed by laws,” said Ogogoh.
Targeting Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) and boda boda riders dropping passengers using the floating bridge, the gang members are now using different names in their efforts to re-establish themselves in the region.
The group operates in the full glare of security agents tasked to protect pedestrians crossing between the island to Likoni mainland.
According to the copies of receipts seen by 254news.co.ke, boba boda riders dropping and picking up passengers at the bridge are forced to pay Sh100 per day. Their number plates are recorded in a book as soon as they pay.
A 14-seater matatu is charged Sh200 per day, while 32-seater buses are forced to part with Sh200 in the morning and a similar amount in the evening.
It is estimated that thousands of commuters use the bridge daily and most of them arrive by matatus and boda bodas. This means each gang collects an estimated Sh60,000 every day.
The chairman of South Coast Matatu Workers Association Abdallah Kandi said they had been forced to withdraw vehicles from the route because of the extortion.
“We withdrew our 200 PSVs from the route. We reported to the police, but nothing is being done to stop this extortion,” said Kandi.
Likoni Deputy Commissioner Francis Kazungu confirmed the presence of two factions fighting to be in charge of the bus terminus at the floating bridge.
“There are two factions fighting for the control of the terminus. The police have a full report on the matter,” said Mr Kazungu. The administrator could not however explain why the gang was still operating.
Fatuma Kadzo, a resident of Ukunda, Kwale County said most pedestrians are scared of using the floating bridge due to the manner in which boda boda riders and matatu drivers dropping them in the area are treated.
“It is scary and some of the bodaboda riders or even matatus are forced to drop passengers with their luggage far from the bridge,” she said.
Yesterday, the groups’ chairman Rashid Msomali defended their action saying they were levying motorists a fee for keeping law and order in the area claiming their business wasn’t illegal.
“We are not criminal gangs. The money we collect is legal and even the local administration officials are aware. We have been operating in this area for the last four months,” said Msomali.
According to the groups’ secretary Ms Mwanahamisi Bakari, the group has 100 registered members, and the money collected daily is used for maintenance activities such as ensuring the bridge is clean.
“Most of our youth are jobless and have to benefit from this bridge,” said Bakari, adding that the police and other security agencies were aware of their existence.
Yesterday, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), that has seconded its officers to operate the bridge, said it was not aware that motorists were being charged for using the facility.
“We aren’t aware about any group collecting levies at the bridge,’’ said KPA Corporate Affairs manager Benard Osero.
Kenya Ferry Services communications officer Francis Mugomati said he was aware of the existence of the groups but the bridge was under KPA’s management.
It’s not a rocket science that this gang is well protected when on Monday after police arrested 18 suspects, among them eight female members of the extortion gang at the bridge, they were released almost instantly after Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki visited the station.
“Yes, I bailed them out.
Email your news TIPS to email@example.com to get your article published.