Liberia: Students Protest in Solidarity With 'Unpaid' Teachers

Students on strike

-- Several hospitalized due to injuries, police teargas

With twenty months in the George Weah-led administration, Monrovia has witnessed series of unprecedented protests, some of which have been chaotic, ending in violence and injury.

Hundreds of students from 24 schools within the jurisdiction of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) gathered on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, requesting the Weah-led administration to pay their teachers, who the students claimed were not attending classes because government reportedly owes them for three months in salary arrears.

The students' demonstration, which began peacefully, turned violent when the President's convoy came, and the protesters demanded that the President should get down from his convoy and address their concerns, but the security did not allow the President to adhere to students' request. It was shortly afterward, when some of the protesting students turned violent, that officers of the Liberia National Police responded with teargas.

The students were chanting: "You can pay Zogos, but you can't pay teachers! So pay our teachers; we want to learn!"

At that juncture, the LNP officers started firing teargas among the protesting students, while other officers began beating on some of students, demanding that they leave the streets. But the recalcitrant students then responded by throwing stones at the police.

The exchanges between the protesting students and the LNP turned tense, thus leading to several of the students sustaining injuries. Some fell unconscious, eyewitnesses told the Daily Observer. The police, according to other accounts, were seen violently spraying teargas in the faces of the students at close range.

Protesting students move a female students who fell unconscious to a safe area.

As the chaos increased, some of the parents, who became terrified by the actions of the LNP, opened up, wailing loudly when they saw unconscious students being rushed to the SDA Cooper Hospital in Sinkor for emergency treatment.

In the free-for-all situation that characterized the protest, some of the LNP turned their anger against journalists, who were covering the protest, as the officers reportedly destroyed several gadgets including cameras, thus preventing reporters from photographing the officers who were beating and throwing teargas at the protesting students.

Kaba Sekou, a student representative from William V. S. Tubman High School, told Education Minister, Ansu D. Sonii, "that the police attack on the peaceful students was immature, and it violated the students' constitutional rights to freely assemble and express their concerns to the government, specifically when there was no teacher to teach them.

Sekou said it is unfortunate to have the MCSS Superintendent telling Minister Sonii that the students, who gathered in the streets, were misled by their instructors.

He added, "We were not misled as the MCSS Superintendent had informed Minister Sonii, because we only got in the streets to seek redress in our quest for education. But the government through it police officers, attacked the students, who are being denied good education. Some of the teachers have downed their chalks, because they complained that the government has refused to pay them their three months' salaries."

Wayah W. Kollie, one the protesters, said they got in the streets to demand the government to pay their teachers, "but the police violently attacked us and, as such, they hurt a few students."

The student protest drew a few words of advice from 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, to posted on Facebook, saying, "No amount of force can solve any problem."

She advised the government to "pay civil servants on time, cut out wasteful spending and unnecessary travels. Focus on the people's needs, and you won't have to consistently chase protesters," she said.

Education Minister

In the aftermath of the protest, Education Minister Sonii hurriedly arranged an emergency meeting with the disgruntled students, informing them that the government was working to ensure that the teachers return to classes on Monday, October 21, 2019. By this time, the Minister pleaded, the teachers would have been paid their salary arrears.

He said the government had already paid some of the teachers for the month of August, but was finding a bit difficult to pay everyone of them, because they do not have both United States Dollar and Liberian Dollars bank accounts.

Sonii however said that government would pay all the teachers' money in Liberians dollars before Monday, to enable the students write their exams.

Finance Ministry

The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), in a late afternoon statement, said the government has already paid the salaries of 15,000 non-MCSS teachers for the month of August, and is now processing their September pay cheques.

The statement said that about 2,000 non-MCSS teachers, who have problem with opening their banks' accounts, are getting their August pay through arrangements between MFDP and the Ministry of Education.

However, the MFDP said 900 MCSS teachers were paid fully for August on Monday, October 14, 2019, but they received only Liberian dollars component of their pay chques.

The release added, "About 200 MCSS teachers who are paid in both the USD and Liberian Dollars, have received their 20 percent Liberian Dollar portions, but the bank in which they have their accounts has not yet posted the 80 percent to their USD accounts."

"The Ministry of Finance wants to inform the public that government is doing its best to pay teachers, health workers and all civil servants on time," the release said.

Monrovia Protests

It can be recalled that since the Weah-led government took office about one year, six months ago, Liberia has witnessed protests over recurrent issues of poor justice system, abuse of power and increase in corruption, characterized by poor governance system.

Among the series of protests that Monrovia has witnessed, include the first major street protests involving the Campaigners and Victims for Justice, calling for the establishment of war and economic crimes court; the Bring Our Money Back protest; the District #13 electoral violence; marketers in the Goba-chop market, who called for the removal of garbage from their selling areas; the historic June 7 protest; the family of late student Odell Sherman demanding justice; the District #15 electoral violence, Women of Liberia, who called for the protection of their rights; riot at Liberty Party Headquarters; riot at the National Election Commission (NEC) that brought Jestina Taylor in the picture; the health workers protest; the pregnant women protest in Duport Road as a result of the health workers' protest; the protest at Catholic Hospital to release Jestina Taylor; as well as the one that encountered the recent closure and subsequent looting of Roots FM.

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