Just how long such disruptions to public order, as seen in recent days, can continue is the question uppermost on the minds of the public. Once again, we find ourselves doing a lot of soul searching in quest of answers. The angry confrontation between members of the public and Police on Thursday, October 10, 2019, could have easily turned out into a riotous situation with undesirable outcomes both for the government and the protesters as well.
Thursday's ugly events grew out of a Press Union of Liberia (PUL) statement calling for sanctions against Roots FM and Freedom FM. Roots FM is, by self-admission, owned by Mr. Henry Costa currently residing in the United States of America while Freedom FM is reportedly owned by "Old Man" Sam Siryon, Deputy Director for Operations at the National Security Agency (NSA).
As if the decision of the leadership of the Press Union calling for sanctions against both media institutions was the outcome of a judicial hearing, a bevy of Police officers, along with some Court officers, on Thursday, October 10, 2019, stormed the offices of the Roots FM, breaking off door locks and carting away equipment. When confronted by an angry crowd the Police responded with teargas, a turn which led to an abrupt closure of stores and shops in the area as tension filled the air.
On the other hand, Police could be seen protecting the premises of the Freedom FM radio station. Most of them appeared to be taking orders from an ex-rebel, "General Power", whose real name is Augustine Nagbe. What does this government stand to gain from incorporating the likes of such notorious characters into the Liberia National Police Force? General Power is listed in the TRC report as a major perpetrator of human rights abuse.
During the TRC public hearings in Monrovia, a lady from West Point told the TRC how General Power, at gun point, forced her to eat a large can of human feces. Recently, he was among those ex-rebel generals who held a public press conference in Monrovia demanding that Representative Yekeh Kolubah turn himself over to them.
Just how he slipped through the cracks during vetting by UNMIL is the question being asked. But he is not alone; ex rebel "General Noriega" (Mark Guahn) is today serving as an Immigration officer. He is also listed in the TRC report as a notorious perpetrator and then there is "General Iron Jacket" (Ofori Diah) who was indicted for killing UN Peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast. Informed sources say there are many more ex rebels now in employed in state security for reasons which defy explanation.
As if to make matters worse, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has, since the ascendancy of Patrick Sudue, been involved in selective application of the law and, rather than helping to promote trust and enhance cooperation between the people and the government, Police are instead undermining trust and exacerbating the problem.
Moreover, the closure of the Roots FM appeared to be inconsistent with due process. Was there a hearing consistent with law prior to the action taken by the Police to storm the radio station? And just why was Freedom FM left undisturbed and allowed to continue their broadcasts when both radio stations were accused of peddling hate speech and messages on their airways.
The Daily Observer finds itself constrained to ask whether all this show of force and reckless disregard for the law will serve to foster public trust in our judicial and criminal justice systems and, by extension, the national leadership. In view of Thursday's developments, there are growing public concerns and fears about what appears to be a gradual breakdown of order and growing disrespect for the rule of law. The withdrawal of the United Nations Peacekeeping force has only served to heighten these concerns, particularly in the face of growing incidences of violent crime and growing levels of social inequality.
And while some suggest that these developments which, if not managed properly, could serve to reignite violent conflict, the Daily Observer is of the view that an all-out return to war is unlikely. Howbeit, pathways to conflict such as high and chronic unemployment, lack of or inadequate access to opportunities for livelihood, a general lack of or inadequate access to justice and unsettled grievances arising from the civil war, remain open.
These are all reasons, amongst others, why the Weah led government should learn to avoid crisis of the kind witnessed last Thursday which could have easily degenerated into a mass riotous situation with unforeseen consequences. As things stand, the economy is in a nosedive and there is no telling just when the nation is going to see a reversal in fortunes for the better.
The continued depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar means falling real income for most families, especially those earning the minimum wage or below. Further, the highly discriminatory and inequitable tax policy strongly biased against low income earners constitute yet another problem with the potential to stoke public protests.
Thus, the government of Liberia needs to come to actual grips with the problems affecting the nation. The use of strong-arm tactics to intimidate and force the opposition to cower in submission will certainly not work, judging from experience. Worse, still, selective application of justice as was seen on Thursday in the Police battering of the doors of the Roots FM and the confiscation of its broadcast equipment, while at the same time deploying Police to protect Freedom FM, has only served to further undermine public trust in the Police.
It all smacks of disrespect for the rule of law by those entrusted with responsibilities to enforce the law. LNP Director Patrick Sudue should, therefore, in view of all the above, do the honorable thing by stepping down since he has proved to be a wrong fit for the job.