Ahead of the celebration of Liberia’s 172nd Independence Day on July 26, the Council of Patriots (COP) has set July 24, 2019 for the start of continuous protests against government in order to save the state under President George Manneh Weah.
A number of African leaders have been invited to grace the Independence Day celebrations with Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee set to be the National Orator.
But the spokesman of the COP, talk show Henry Costa has declared that since the COP presented its petition to President Weah on June 11, 2019 after the June 7 protest, nothing has been done to address the hardship facing the country.
Costa made the pronouncement Friday, July 12, 2019 at a press conference held in Monrovia.
He stated that President Weah and his government officials are insensitive to the plights of the Liberians and that the President and his ministers continue to live in luxury at the expense of the people.
He noted that Liberians are dying from all forms of killing without government’s intervention to curtail the restlessness of the Liberia National Police (LNP) officers.
Costa maintained that the July 24, 2019 protest will continue until the government can address all the demands presented.
He pointed out that President Weah does not need dialogue to dismiss his Economic Management Team (EMT) for failing to tackle serious economic problem confronting the nation.
He stressed that the COP will ensure that President Weah will do the right thing for the people and the state as well as the prevailing economic situation in the country.
Costa asserted that as Liberians are suffering serious economic hardship, President Weah intends to celebrate July 26, 2019 Independence Day with half of million United States Dollars when hospitals and clinics across the country lack basic drugs for patients.
He called on Liberians to rise up and save the state and they should not allow President Weah and his officials to depress them, noting that Liberians deserve better than this.
He said the July 24, 2019 protest will be a nationwide and intended to draw the government’s attention to the suffering of the massive which the President Weah has been neglecting.
Friday, June 7, 2019, was a fine day. The rain stopped in the early morning and the rest of the day was beautiful. At about 10 in the morning Liberian time, the protest’s point of an assembly was about packed. The crowd came in groups. Hours later all the key organizers and political supporters of the protest were present. They made speeches; spoke of bad governance, corruption, and economic hardship under the Weah led government.
As the COP and the government had agreed earlier, COP was to present its demands at 3 O’clock noon to the government, so everyone, who was listening to and monitoring the event, was looking forward to 3 PM for the petition. 3 PM passed and no presentation. Henry Costa, the main founder of COP, said in an interview that the VP, who was expected to receive the demands, had refused to receive the petition. But he said also that the group would present the petition to any high deputized government official. It was however reported that the VP was ill and therefore could not attend.
People waited until minutes after 4PM. Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, Justice Minister Musa Dean, Representative Edward Snowe, Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue, and ECOWAS Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo and others came out of the Capitol Building to meet the crowd to receive the demands. The petition was divided into two parts as announced by Wilmot Paye, Chairman of the Unity Party. Costa was to read the first and the other by another person.
But just when the petition was to be read, Paye said he had a question for Minister Dean. He asked about the release of the members arrested and jailed during the Yekeh Koluba incident. As the minister was speaking on the matter, the crowd interrupted shouting, yelling, and demanding the immediate release of the jailed colleagues before reading of the petition. “No release, no deal, no release, no deal”, the crowd cried out.
The crowd shouting was too loud. It looked that COP leadership could not control the crowd. The government officials with the ECOWAS Ambassador apparently did not know what to do and left. The crowd stayed and continued shouting and chanting. They too left shortly after a COP leader told them to. They were to return next Monday June 10. Before the government officials came out, the crowd had demanded that Weah should come to receive the petition. The protesters shouted, “Weah, Weah, Weah!”
But this came with some embarrassment to the government officials. Not only did they have to squeeze themselves through the stubborn crowd, but they were also booed at as protestors chanted “Rogue! Rogue! Y’all stole our US$25 million”.
Some observers said the officials left to consult with the president whose office is within a walking distance. It was reported that they and the ambassador left to go to the prison compound where the protesters’ colleagues were detained. It was announced later that COP was to give a press statement on Monday and then meet with the government the same day. Everything was going fine; the protest was peaceful and the police did an excellent job before the interruption.
Some people commented that COP should have controlled the crowd and let the petition be presented, that the issue of the jailed members was secondary, and that it was not an area of discussion at that time. They said COP must have obeyed the law; that the jailed colleagues go through the legal process before release. They also indicated that if the release of the jailed comrades was so important, it should have been in the petition and that the purpose of the protest was to present concerned demands to the government for action. Others commented that the government missed an opportunity to hear the demands and that President Weah should have come to receive the petition. They also stated that at the next demonstration, COP should ask for President Weah’s resignation.
Everyone congratulated the police for the matured way it handled the protest. Some observers indicated that with the tension at the end, it was best that President Weah did not come to receive the demands for security reason. The crowd was loud and it would have booed, insulted, and embarrassed him just as it did to the officials and the ECOWAS Ambassador.
At a press conference the following day, the ambassador expressed his disappointment with the outcome of the protest.
“It is disappointing to note that, with all the elaborate mediation efforts and arrangements made by the Government, local and international stakeholders, the petition that was to be delivered to the Government, could not take place.”
Abraham Darius Dillon, the spokesperson of COP, responded that the government should be blamed.
Judging the crowd size, though it was large, it was not as big as the people expected based on the publicity and the talk about the protest in Monrovia. As others observed, the crowd was far less than the crowd that Unity Party had at its final launch in 2017.
Interestingly, moreover, the protest was supported and promoted over two months ago by the four collaborating political parties; UP, LP, ANC, and ALP. Mo Ali, a key member of COP and Assistant Secretary-General of UP, had advised his colleagues of the importance of a large turnout on June 7.
The Weah government could see the “disappointing turnout” as a victory, while supporters of COP and the protest could see the demonstration as an exercise of constitutional rights to bring to national and international attention of the hardship of the Liberian people under what they call the incompetent leadership of poor governance of the Weah administration.
However, as some Liberians commented earlier, the protesters did not achieve the main purpose of the protest; that is to read and present their petition to the world and the government so they would know their concerns.
Another planned protest either on Monday, June 10 would not get the attention which June 7 had. And the turnout could be lesser.
COP may have realized this possibility. The group changed its Monday’s plan and called a press conference on Sunday, the 9th at ALP Headquarters, where the longed awaiting petition was read. The document covered a wide range of issues, including complaint for the removal of former Associate Justice Kabineh Jan’eh from the Supreme Court bench, the lack of justice, the lack of freedom of speech and press, the absence of accountability, and the existence of corruption and poor governance. COP hence made over 24 demands, including the following:
- Immediately commission an independent investigation into the hasty impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Jan’eh,
- Demonstrate respect for human rights, human dignity, and Press Freedom through the comprehensive review of our laws that restrain the exercise of basic freedoms especially the media freedoms;
- Immediately establish a Task Force with clear mandate to implement the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), particularly the recommendation for establishment of a war and an economic crimes court in Liberia without delay (The Government of Liberia should make a request to the United Nations for such a court before July 26, 2019);
- Immediately implement the comprehensive audit of all government ministries, agencies and parastatals of the period of this Administration and legally address past audits;
- Conduct a comprehensive audit of all and any of the dozens of personal infrastructure and/or building projects undertaken by President Weah at several locations in Montserrado County since he assumed office including the purchase of private jet and yacht;
- Immediately suspend all negotiations for loans and any new concessions with unrecognized lending organizations until at such time when integrity institutions and systems are restored to operate without interference and within the limits of the law;
- Immediately launch an audit of all infrastructural and ongoing road projects;
- President George Weah and his officials should immediately make public (publish) “assets” they are reported to have “declared” to the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and ensure that they are verified;
- Immediately stop funding activities of the First Lady. There is no such office legally created under our Constitution;
- Immediately conduct a comprehensive audit of the National Legislature;
- Develop, design and implement an economic reform plan to revive our declining economy;
- Immediately cease any and all actions, intentions, desire and attempts to reduce civil servants’ salaries at any time in the short-, medium- and long terms;
- Develop and implement a comprehensive program to properly fund the Education, Health, and Agriculture Sectors as a matter of priority.