Liberia: Ex-Combatants, Remnants of Former Pres. Doe SSS Surfacing in Weah’s Security Detail
Monrovia – Security and protocol arrangements for Liberian President George Manneh have been disjointed, disorganized and out of sync since the day of the new head of state’s inauguration on January 22nd.
Report by Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
“In addition to the rebels and unqualified people referred by the Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, and perhaps the President, the administration of the EPS is pilling up the payroll with others.
Where is the budget? The EPS is without doubt over staffed.
Nobody is being sent to other security institutions. Ex disqualified fighters are being integrated into the Service. This presents a serious national security threat” – An Officer of the Executive Protective Service, speaking on condition of anonymity to FrontPageAfrica
Interviews with several current and former officers of the Executive Protective Services, the agency tasked with the core mandate of protecting the President, his or family members, visiting dignitaries and other senior officials, lay the blame on a familiar refrain that continues to dog the new administration: Uncertainty and scramble over jobs.
Critics took the new administration to task over the handling of the inaugural ceremony, partly blamed on Mr. Jarvis Witherspoon, the Chief of Protocol, one of several holdovers Mr. Weah maintained from his predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government.
Former President Sirleaf and the interim arrangements prior had the luxury of having peacekeepers of the West African Peacekeeping Force or the United Nations Mission as their protectors.
Toward the end of Mr. Weah’s predecessor Sirleaf’s reign, several efforts were made to ensure that the Liberian security sector was adequately ready to take over the security of the state and the protection of the President.
Now, a FrontPageAfrica investigation has found that the current security setups protecting Mr. Weah is not only incapable but lack the expertise of those who protected his predecessors.
Complicating the dilemma engulfing the President’s security details is the resurfacing of several former fighters of former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia who are being embedded and in most cases usurping officers trained for the job of protecting the President.
FrontPageAfrica has also learned that several officers retired by Mr. Weah’s predecessor, Sirleaf are mysteriously finding their way back into the system.
At the end of the civil war, the international community spent millions of dollars to disarm more than 100,000 former combatants under a program dubbed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration(DDR) while the UN Development Program (UNDP) provided training and schooling opportunities for 75,000, 9,000 former combatants.
Critics of the program, at the time of its conclusion charged that many of those former combatants failed to benefit from skills training programs promised as part of DDRR.
Fears about security transition, toward the end of the Sirleaf’s presidency led to public anxiety about the ability of the security forces to protect the population and to maintain stability, with reassurances from the Government about the readiness of national security agencies to perform the tasks that UNMIL had previously been undertaking.
Those fears for now appear to be resurfacing with the emergency of what many see has valid issues regarding the security details around Mr. Weah.
Figures from Doe’s Notorious SSS Back
In late January, President Weah named Trokon Roberts, a former SSS officer, a high school graduate, with no management or administrative background as head of his security details.
The Special Security Service (SSS) was a security force within the government dedicated to the protection of the President. Prior to 1980, the unit was specifically designated for Presidential protection.
It was created by President Tubman and modeled on the United States Secret Service.
Over time and the arrival of Doe through a military coup, the SSS image took a hit amid allegations of abuse by officers on those seen as threat to the powers of the day.
Doe’s army and the SSS had overlapping functions amid reports of unruly behavior of the security forces.
Ezekiel Pajibo, a human rights attorney with Liberians United for Peace and Democracy explained in 2000 that after the 1980 coup, the Doe government purged most of the professionalized SSS officers and replaced them with members of his ethnic group, the Krahn and during the Doe administration, the SSS as well as several other security forces were coordinated by the Joint Security Commission.
It included the Ministers of Defense, Justice, and National Security, as well as the heads of the military and the Police.
As resistance to the Doe government grew, human rights violations became widespread.
Torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, imprisonment of opposition leaders, and restriction of freedom of expression were all commonplace violations of human rights under Doe’s government.
Fast-forward to today some officers of the EPS are growing jittery about the return of some brutal policies of the past.
Assistant Director Wolo reportedly told commanders recently that while no one will be fired from the EPS anymore, anyone who does anything wrong will be jailed for two weeks just as it was done under the old SSS of the Samuel Doe era.
Influx of new, untrained officers Pose Risks
Multiple sources now tell FrontPageAfrica that both Mr. Roberts and his assistant have brought in their own lists of people to be employed.
The pair are also said to be asking staff members to bring their lists of family members and people they know for hiring, contrary to the National Security Reform and Intelligence Act of 2011.
Section 2.1(a) of the Act states: “In order to minimize the possibility of recruiting into the service, unscrupulous individuals, the Service will not advertise recruitment vacancies. All persons wishing to serve the EPS must be sponsored by a member of the Service or recommended by a prominent citizen.”
“They must have a clear record and should not be facing any criminal charges, or subject to any investigation of war crimes against humanity that violate the International Human Rights Convention. Recruitment should be determined by the retention and retirement programs coupled with the availability of funding through the budgetary process as approved.”
One current officer told FrontPageAFrica on condition of anonymity that the moves by the new EPS heads are posing a major risk to the President and the stability of the force.
Said the source: “In addition to the rebels and unqualified people referred by the Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, and perhaps the President, the administration of the EPS is pilling up the payroll with others.
Where is the budget? The EPS is without doubt over staffed. No body is being sent to other security institutions. Ex disqualified fighters are being integrated into the Service.
This presents a serious national security threat. What is very concerning is that the VP has sent an exhaustive list of ex-NPFL fighters to be integrated in the EPS and have them assigned to her detail.
I don’t think the President is aware of it. EPS Director is supposed to get orders directly from the President, not the VP. All major decisions must be approved by the President pursuant to the act.”
The source added that the existing trained personnel, many of whom were trained in Egypt, Nigeria, China and the United States of America have been marginalized and some of them have no assignments.
“They are just lingering around headquarters, while the recruitment exercise is ongoing.”
The source added that vice President Taylor has rejected some EPS officers who were previously assigned to President Sirleaf and VP Boakai, for fear that they cannot be trusted to protect her.
“Some irregular private security officers, who have been with President Weah, have also rejected trained EPS officers who were previously assigned to the Former President Sirleaf and former VP Boakai. The EPS is in total disarray,” the source lamented.
Until now, the force of the EPS was set at around a little over 490 personnel but FrontPageAfrica has been informed that about 123 new and untrained officers are being added.
Yeaten’s Aide Among Bad Apples Resurfacing
Among them is Spencer Kollie, who was fired for an unprovoked discharge of EPS weapon at a drinking place on the 72nd Boulevard in Paynesville in 2017.
Kollie, according to an eyewitness who was present, offered drinks to people he met at a local drinking spot. During discussions over drinks, an argument ensued and the officer pulled his service weapon and started shooting.
“Everyone ran; he was so drunk that he left the weapon on the counter and left.He got in a taxi and went to Sinkor and broke into someone’s room and he had a total black-out.
He never remembered what transpired that night.
His weapon was later turned over to the EPS by the owner of the bar where the incident occurred.
He was charged to court as directed by the former Director and President Sirleaf.”
Despite the incident, Kollie has been reinstated by the new administration of the EPS. All those that were fired or reassigned for cause are also being reinstated, according to sources.
Thomas Swen, another former officer retired by Sirleaf and listed on the EPS pension payroll, has been mysteriously brought back by the new EPS administrators.
He is said to be a friend of Wolo, the Deputy EPS Chief.
The pair reportedly worked together when the EPS was SSS under the brutal regime of Samuel Doe.
Matthew Coker, another officer who was demoted due to lack of performance and involved in a gasoline scandal has now been promoted and put in an administrative role.
Seward Briggs, believed to be a former driver and right-hand man for Benjamin Yeaten, the former Presidential security commander to Taylor, has been appointed Unit 54-D which handles operational plans and movement of EPS officers.
In January 21, 2009, the government of Liberia through its Ministry of Justice ordered the arrest of Yeaten, issued an “indictment to prosecute him on charges of murder” and solicited the assistance of the world Police body Interpol to bring Yeaten to book. In 2009, Interpol issued a “Red Notice” for Yeaten.
A “Red Notice” is issued when “the persons concerned are wanted by national jurisdictions for prosecution or to serve a sentence based on an arrest warrant or court decision.
Interpol’s role is to assist the national Police forces in identifying and locating these persons with a view to their arrest and extradition or similar lawful action.” Yeaten also featured prominently in the atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone due to the spill over of the war.
The purported Taylor connection to the Weah campaign was a major concern for the international community during the heat of the Presidential campaign.
Now, many of those reportedly being sent to the EPS for jobs are said to be showing up for duty without filling out application forms but by way of word of mouth as being recommended by some higher-ups contrary to the act creating the EPS which states:
“To request, demand and collect from any person natural or legal, residing in the Republic, and from any Bureau or Agency of the Government, all information it may deem necessary to effectively carry out its functions.
Any person, employee or official of any Bureau or Agency of the Government who receives from the EPS a request for information which it is empowered to collect and fails or refuses to comply with such request shall be penalized in keeping with provisions of Section 12.1 of the Penal Law.
Appointments and Duties of the Assistant Director: The President with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint an Assistant Director of the EPS who shall be the principal assistant Director.
He or she shall perform such duties as may be assigned him from time to time b the Director.”
A major recommendation of the departing UN mission in Liberia was that in order for a transformation of the state security forces to be efficient, security officers must shift from their role as a prop of the regime in power to providing for the security of the population.
“Liberia’s history of conflict and authoritarian rule should put democratic security governance at the heart of any meaningful reform agenda.
The challenge of becoming an open society in which everyone has at least the possibility of having his or her voice heard has not yet been achieved, but this transition, which started with the end of the war in 2003, is now well and truly under way,” one of the final transition notes of UNMIL noted.
Lingering Fear; Mirrors Past
The EPS has been engulfed in numerous controversies over the years. In January 2016, a clash between members of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Executive Protective Service (EPS), the Presidential guard drew mounting criticism.
At the time, officers of the LNP assigned to the Inspector General Chris Massaquoi and EPS officers assigned to the Presidential Motorcade at the corner of Broad and Center Streets while President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other officials of government were attending a funeral service.
A Special Independent Presidential Inquiry Panel appointed by President Sirleaf attributed the fracas that saw both security agencies advancing live arms at each other to prevailing animosity between some officers of the LNP and some agents of the EPS deeply rooted in past events, which surfaced on that day as a result of lapses on both sides that culminated in the confrontation.
The Special Presidential Inquiry Panel advanced five recommendations, among them that, “the drivers of all the vehicles involved in the ramming ‘should be dismissed”; that some agents from the EPS counter assault team and some officers from the LNP backup team “be suspended and made to undergo training before returning to work.
‘People Got Involved’ in War for Various Reasons
Presidential spokesman Sam Mannah, when contacted, said the President’s office was unaware that SSS and former NPFL fighters were trolling into the EPS but Prince Toe, who worked as Director for President Weah’s personal security when he was a Senator is the current Aide de Camp to the President told FrontPageAfrica at the weekend that during the civil war people affiliated with former President Charles Taylor for several reasons.
“Some people got involved with the war because of family reasons. Maybe your mother or father were going through constraining situation because of the war, you could not even afford anything to survive. There were other people that got involved because only the people with guns could find food to eat; that are how some people got involved.
Other people got involved for revenge, but that’s not the case I’m speaking of. Those people who got involved because they wanted to create survival for their family – they wanted to be responsible for survival of their family, to create well-being for them – they became part of President Taylor rebellion. It doesn’t mean they are not Liberians.
Today, we have a change of our country after 12 years, are you saying that they have no reason to come back to society?”
Toe said even if someone attended a university and received a degree in Criminal Justice, they will still be required to be trained, dismissing suggestions that most of those being hauled into the service are high school graduates.
“The required work at the EPS is practical – that’s gun, security, service and protection. You must protect the VIP with your life. So, it’s not about taking class”.
The Aide de Camp dismissed those clamoring over reports of former NPFL fighters are being recruited for the EPS: “Now, is it because I worked with Charles Taylor makes me not qualified to work in Ambassador George Weah’s government?
No! So, I just don’t want people coming up with a hoax.
While I’m not aware, I think it’s not a fair thing to do. I want you to hold on with your publication. In my position as aide de camp to President Weah and to the Republic of Liberia, I will follow up on it.
But I am sure, even myself have EPS training, besides having military training and so on, I have EPS training because my job requires protection of the VIP”.
Aide Defends VP’s Action
Toe said he was only addressing FPA inquiry based on what he knew of the situation as the EPS Director was not in the country.I would prefer you talk to hold on while we do some investigation.
“The EPS Director is not in town, I’m only making these comments based on what I know, I’m not speaking on behalf of the EPS director because I’m very informed about what is unfolding.
There’s no way the President would allow such a thing to happen – to allow people who are not qualified to be part of his protection because it puts him at risk.” Anyone recruited to the EPS is being vetted.”
“Yes, anyone can apply for a job like you did. Even if you were recommended by a reputable person you had certain progress that qualify for the job, and based on your qualification you were accepted.”
Toe added that the EPS is a very special security apparatus that is responsible for the protection of the VIP – the President, vice President, first lady, special foreign guests coming into the country. That’s why their training is special.
“They do both Police science and VIP security protection.
“So that’s why you see the EPS training is specialized. So, if that is the case, I have no knowledge of that and I don’t think the EPS Director who was with the SSS before – it was during the Madam Sirleaf regime it changed to the EPS – would not do with his level of experience. So, people would apply to be a part, but they are vetted, they are trained – where they are not qualified, they are trained.
Addressing reports about vice President Howard-Taylor sending untrained officers to the EPS, Mr. Toe defending the vice President by stressing that security is about trust and confidence.
“Everywhere in the world, even Donald Trump recruited the people he trusts to serve as his security. Even if they were not trained or qualified, they’ll train them to make them qualified. Those are people he trusted and selected to serve as his personal security. It happens all over the world.
Security is trust and confidence. If the Vice President is not feeling comfortable, she has the right to say I 2,3,4,5 persons – I want to send for training. It’s not about just taking somebody to stand by her, she has the right to recommend.
This is a new government. She has the right to recommend 4 to 5 persons and say ‘I want you to train them and they’re my people I trust! Y’all train them and make them qualified and bring them back to me.”
Multiple sources hinted to FrontPageAfrica Sunday that the new government’s quest to find jobs for many of those who supported them during the campaign is rapidly exhausting, leaving security apparatuses like the EPS, the National Security Agency (NSA) and others vulnerable to become cluttered with untrained personnel to the detriment of the presidency.
The United Nations through its mission in Liberia has deemed security sector development as critical to sustainable development in post-conflict and fragile states like Liberia and that sustainable budgetary and predictable resource flows are critical to security.
But the recent developments regarding the resurfacing of some prominent figures of Liberia’s ugly past under the nose of the new President appears to be presenting a clear and present danger.
Such fears were tantamount to efforts by the United States and other stakeholders who insisted back in 2005 as it pledged US$35 million to train a new army, while pressing the Liberian government to pay off existing soldiers first, that anyone with a record of human rights violations will not be eligible to join the new army.
Diplomatic and political observers do not fear that the resurfacing of some old faces of Liberia’s brutal past is not only putting the President’s life at risk but also altering the gains made in the sector after millions of dollars invested by Liberia’s stakeholders to maintain the peace after an ugly period of war, chaos and uncertainty.