Monrovia — Liberia's President George Manneh Weah has pledged his administration's commitment to improving the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and para-military organizations by providing basic social services and skills that have been lacking for years.
Addressing the AFL and the paramilitary for the first time as Commander-In- Chief (CIC) on the occasion marking the 61st AFL Day celebration on Monday, February 12, President Weah said he is convinced that the military and para-military have a major role in uniting and building a more peaceful and prosper Liberia and as well as making significant contributions to regional peace and stability.
He, however, said for this to be done the present constraints including lack of funding, training, equipment and logistics and basic social services such as education, housing and medical facilities must be addressed.
"My administration will be committed to building an army of professionally trained soldiers who are well paid, highly educated, professionally trained, comfortably housed and care medically to the highest standard.
"The new military as a professional institution should have the best doctors, pilots, engineers and specialists in training and teaching. I am committed to creating a conducive environment within the army to ensure that it will be career home for Liberian professionals," he pledged.
The CIC of the Armed Forces of Liberia expressed dismay over the lack of medical facilities for the army, something he said leaves servicemen and women that sustained injury on the line of duty as well as their families who need medical attention languishing in the barrack with no proper care.
He pledged to build the first military hospital for the AFL and other security forces.
"Our men and women in arms require medical attention after travelling outside of the barrack to seek medical care in private clinics and hospitals where they are given no priority," he said.
"And so, I say to you members of the Armed Forces, that I shall seek funds to build you hospital exclusively for the use of the army and other security forces."
"This will be the first ever military hospital built in Liberia."
"It will be equipped with the most modern facilities, and will be staffed by highly trained medical personnel. And it will also be a teaching hospital," he pledged.
On housing, the Liberian leader asserted that the soldiers and their families have outgrown the existing facilities and he promised to instruct his Minister of Defense to begin assessment of all military housing facilities and report to him within the shortest possible time to help find a lasting solution to the problem.
In addition, President Weah called for a change of attitude of Liberians on how they perceived the army who risk their lives to protect and defend our freedom.
He described the security sector as one of the main drivers of his administration's 'Change for Hope Agenda' and promised to do all in his powers to restore the dignity of the servicemen and women.
"It is common knowledge the stereotype in Liberia that the army has always been looked down upon at the bottom of our social pyramid with no respect. It has always been seen as a dumping ground for the uneducated and the poor.
"Today I want to tell you and assure you that under my command all of this will change. In the past, you were being referred to as Noko (mere security officer with no dignity) disrespectfully, under my command, you will not only be respected, but you will be one of the main drivers of our Change for Hope Agenda," he said.
Earlier in his speech, the Liberian leader paid homage to the international community and Liberia's partners including the United Nations, ECOWAS, United States, the People's Republic of China, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh for their unflinching support to building the new Armed Forces of Liberia.
He reassured them of his government's commitment to maintaining and strengthening the existing bilateral agreements.
"In this regard we will place particular emphasis on the collaboration with the UN in maintaining national and international peace and security."
He also reassured the military wives that staged protest a month ago requesting full disclosure of their husbands' welfare fund that he is working closely with the relevant authorities to finding a solution.
In brief remarks, the New Minister of Defense, Retired General Daniel Ziankahn pledged to seek the interest of the army.
"Having been in the army for twelve years, I made these decisions from army to civilian, but my commitments to the army remain unbending," he noted.
Retired General Ziankahn served as Chief of Army Staff of the Armed from 2014 and retired from the army following his appointment as Minister of Defense by President Weah.
He replaces Brownie Samukai who served for 12 years during former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's two terms.
Also, the keynote speaker of the 61st Armed Forces Day Celebration, the Chief of Defense Staff of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin who began his military career in 1973 as a boy in the Nigerian military school Zaria, Nigerian, called on the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to see itself as part of the people (society).
Having acknowledged the role the Nigerian military troop played in bringing peace and stability to Liberia after the bloody civil unrest that caused many lost of lives and damage of infrastructures, Olonisakin told the AFL: "Protect and uphold the supremacy of the constitution".
He added: "The Army is a stabilizing factor of every country; Exercise patience and civil military relationship among citizens."
The Nigerian General called on the AFL to use dialogue in whatsoever they do, adding that the army is a cornerstone in promoting peace in stability.
In order for the AFL to be a force for good, the Chief of Defense Staff of Nigeria called on the Government of Liberia to train the army to combat terrorism as it is growing rapidly in the Sub-region.
"Logistics are the essential parts of their (army) profession. The Army should not be politicized", he said.
At the celebration, six soldiers who were wounded in action while serving peace mission in Mali including the late Corporal Sheriff Ousma were decorated with medals.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated on February 11, but because this year's anniversary falls on Sunday, it was officially observed on Monday.
This year's celebration was characterized by speeches, performances and parade by the military and paramilitary forces and was attended by cross section of people including government officials and members of the diplomatic Corp as well as ordinary citizens.