Monrovia — Ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections in Liberia, the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President George Manneh Weah is increasing its militancy as evidenced by the latest showcasing of scores of ably-built young men and women in Foya, Lofa County in the midst of intense political activities ongoing for the conduct of a by-election in the area.
The Lofa County by-election, which was recently postponed by the National Elections Commission (NEC) as a result of legal battles, was triggered following the denial of Mr. Brownie Samukai from taking his seat after he was declared the winner in 2020.
Sometimes ago, the Supreme Court ordered the imprisonment of Mr. Samukai and two others for their failure to meet up with the 50% payment of the US$1.1 million money of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) money which was misapplied by them.
Mr. Samukai, who is the former Minister of National Defense, Joseph Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller were found guilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy. He was ordered jailed for two years, while the co-defendants were given six months jail terms each but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.
But to prevent his incarceration, President Weah bowed to public pressure and granted clemency to Mr. Samukai in keeping with the 1986 Liberian constitution.
During the early morning hours of Monday, May 10, 2022, over 30 persons, between the ages of 25 to 35 were seen in CDC regalia in Foya.
They were dressed in Khaki suits with the inscription "CDC Militant" at the back, along with red berets displaying the party's emblem.
Sources in Foya told FrontPage Africa that the "CDC Militants" had gathered in the area to await the arrival of Montserrado County district # 5 Representative Thomas Fallah and independent candidate Counsellor Joseph Jallah.
The ruling party, which fails to field a candidate in the Lofa County senatorial by-election, has endorsed the candidacy of Cllr. Jallah.
According to reports, the regalia was made available by the CDC, through Representative Fallah, for the "militants" to provide "maximum security and protection" for the candidate endorsed by the ruling party and other executives and officials who are currently in Lofa to canvass.
Though the overall expression on their faces shows dissatisfaction, the "CDC Militants" were constrained to line the streets of Foya, under the burning sun taking instructions from their higher-ups who spoke one after another.
The militarizing of political parties is said to be on the increase in Liberia-a nation which has suffered over a decade of civil conflicts- with the ruling CDC taking the lead.
Most often, militants of political parties, particularly the CDC, are deployed at specific points or designated areas when the party's executives including Political Leader, National Chairman, Youth Chairman and other high ranking officials of their party serving key positions in government (especially the Ministers of State for Presidential Affairs and Finance and Development Planning) are attending an event or occasion.
These militants engaged into the unstoppable chanting of battle cries and in some cases prevent the movement of pedestrians and motorists from plying routes that could be used by their leaders.
At times, their zest to overly perform to please their political leaders sparks out tensions and bloody riots.
At the climaxing of political activities for the by-election in district # 15, Montserrado County in July 2019, about 14 persons sustained serious injuries when a violent clash ensued between supporters and militants of Telia Urey of the UP and CDC candidate Abu Kamara in Logan Town.
The by-election came as a result of the demise of former Representative Adolph Lawrence who died in a tragic motor accident while on his way to Monrovia from celebrating his birthday in Grand Bassa.
The commotion, according to reports, was provoked when supporters of Abu who were carrying caskets with the picture of Telia Urey, started booing at her supporters who were already in the District closing up their campaign activities.
It can be recalled that in November 2018, at least five persons were severely injured following a violent clash between supporters and militants of Cornelia Kruah-Togba of the Unity Party (UP) and the ruling CDC in district # 13 in Montserrado.
The by-election was precipitated following the ascendancy of former Representative Saah Joseph to the Liberian Senate.
According to the report gathered, CDC Youth League Chair Jefferson Koijee and Representative Solomon George led the party's militants and others in the district to launch the campaign of their party's candidate, John J. Weah, in Iron Factory, Gardnesville when the incident occurred.
The CDC militants reportedly invaded the camp of Madam Kruah in New Georgia during the launch of her political activities, thereby causing commotion and a violent clash between the two groups.
There were mounting calls, particularly from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) and others for the conduct of independent investigations into the two violent incidents.
The Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Liberia National Police (LNP) launched separate probes into the matter.
But up to present, the outcomes of the investigations remain unknown as the victims were constrained to either individually shoulder their medical bills or beg others to do so.
Ignoring a plea
The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Major General, Prince C. Johnson believes that the militarizing of young people by both the ruling and opposition political parties poses a threat to Liberia's peace and stability.
According to him, the high level of coordination and cooperation among security actors in the Mano River Union (MRU) region makes it difficult for any group to rage war or any external form of insurrection in Liberia, but the turning of young people into political parties "militants" poses the country and its people at risk.
"It's not possible for anybody to bring war in this country without the support of one of those neighboring countries because; we will always need an exit route, and a route for logistical support. So, with the cooperation that I see now, I think you will fly in (to bring war in Liberia). I am not saying that we are 100% safe; no. but we can have isolated cases maybe people can be radicalized. But the best way we can secure our borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea is the collaboration between the two countries" General Johnson stated at the Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinions (CEIO) on Carey Street in Monrovia.
He observed that the wrongful placement of names on a specific group of people in political parties by their leaders remains worrisome.
"What we should worry about is the issue of these young people that some politicians try to militarize. We saw that during the elections. You saw the way both the opposition and the ruling party people were dressing. You are not a military man and you are wearing boots and putting the beret on your head. You have to change the style of using brigade".
He continued: "We got to be careful with the names we are giving these young people because; those names are always associated with radical moves. We say militant brigade or military wing? What do you call a militant brigade? Are you an army man or soldier?"
Used and abused
Militants of all of the political parties in Liberia, including the CDC, are most often victimized by their leaders.
They usually await calls for assignment from their supervisors during the early morning or late-night hours to have something in their pockets for the day.
Militants are given "handouts" for their services rendered during political gatherings under the rain and sun. Thereafter, they are forgotten by those who hired them to chant battle cries and provide security.
At times, some of them are even made to trek long distances to get home due to the habit of some of their political leaders to jump in their vehicles after political rallies or gatherings, leaving them with nothing to take home to their respective families.
Though most of their leaders, especially those holding key positions in government, have the ability to empower them through job creation, vocational skills training programs or businesses, the efforts and sacrifices they continue to accord their leaders are not adequately recognized.
Despite being among the most committed partisans within a political institution, the living conditions of the vast majority of "militants" in both the ruling and opposition political parties are never improved.
They appear like "laughing stock" and continue to be called all sorts of names by their peers, family members, and loved ones within the communities as a result of the uncompromising, committed, and sacrificial services they continue to render to their political leaders.
What they normally benefit from their leaders is the new party's regalia ahead of political rallies or events, alcoholic beverages to stimulate their battle cries, and small "pocket change" to carry out their assigned tasks and responsibilities-ignoring the need for their leaders to guarantee the improvement of their livelihood.
The blood of peaceful and law-abiding Liberians will be wasted continuously if steps are not taken to demilitarize political parties in Liberia.
Properties worth thousands of United States dollars will also be damaged if punitive measures are compromised or swept under the carpet to please a political party or specific group of individuals.
Ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has a herculean task to ensure that all political rallies and gatherings are properly planned and scheduled to avoid clashes and violence that could claim the precious lives of citizens.
On the other hand, the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Justice also has a pivotal role to play by ensuring that regardless of political affiliation or status, perpetrators of electoral violence or riots are prosecuted in keeping with the laws of the country.