Liberia on The Radar As U.S. Slams Nigerians Involved Electoral Violence, Vote Rigging with Visa Restrictions

In the midst of flagrant disregard to the rule of law and election law, could Uncle Sam’s strong hand on Nigeria set the pace for checks in Liberia where signs of pre-electoral and election violence are sparklingly glaring, while authorities remain mum and allow the nation’s democracy to sit on a time bomb?

MONROVIA – America’s caveat to Nigeria could be a forewarning to Liberia where several pre-electoral violence, attacks on political actors and the trading of threats ahead of the December 8 Special Senatorial Election have gone with impunity, irrespective of the extent to which such unacceptable acts undermine the nation’s democracy.

Report By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]

The US government has placed travel restrictions on Nigerians who undermine “democratic process or organize election-related violence” during elections.

The U.S. Government’s latest move in Nigeria follows a decision in January 2019 to deny visas to individuals involved in electoral violence.

Last year travel restrictions were also placed on individuals who were involved in corruption and electoral violence during the country’s general elections in February – March 2019 in that country.

The latest visa restrictions affect “individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles,” Morgan Ortagus, a US State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement announcing the restrictions Monday.

“We condemn the acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process. As the Edo and Ondo State off-cycle elections near, we urge all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, the political parties, and the security services, to uphold the tenets of democracy and facilitate genuinely free and fair elections, conducted in an appropriately transparent and non-violent manner,” a press statement on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

In the midst of flagrant disregard to the rule of law and election law, could Uncle Sam’s strong hand on Nigeria set the pace for checks in Liberia where signs of pre-electoral and election violence are sparklingly glaring, while authorities remain mum and allow the nation’s democracy to sit on a time bomb?

Liberia has in recent time witnessed series of politically motivated violence and attacks between supporters of the ruling establishment and the opposition bloc. In many cases, impunity has been the order of the day.

Attacks with Impunity

Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon and his supporters have been victimized on several occasions – all of which stones were thrown at him and his supporters by individuals suspected to be supporters of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) leading to proportional reaction from his supporters.

The recent of such pre-electoral violence occurred last weekend when the Senator had gone to reach out to some citizens in the St. Paul community. Weeks prior to the St. Paul standoff. Sen. Dillon experienced similar attack in Clara Town, known to be a stronghold of the President George Weah. To date, no much has been heard of arrests or investigation.

But the Senator came under heavy condemnation when he threatened to retaliate by throwing stones at President Weah’s motorcade or at his home.

In a Facebook live session, Sen. Dillon said, “The next time rock is thrown or disturbance occur at any of my programs going forward, there will be no electoral program in this town held by Thomas Fallah. George Weah’s convoy – we’ll stone it… When they shoot gun, they’ll not know where gun will come from to respond. I’m going to give this matching order: all members of CPP who believe in our judgment, going forward, we’ll carry rocks anywhere we’re going. We’ll carry weapons anywhere we’re going. One rock thrown at me, going forward rocks would be thrown at George Weah’s convoy. If he’s scared to leave his house, we’ll throw stones at his house.”

He added, “George Weah thinks he has guns, watch and see.”

Dillon, however, on Monday during a press conference said he is taking back his threats against the President.

In July, the Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and the Representative of Montserrado County District 9 came under siege in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County where they had gone to meet with some officials of the CPP.

The youths who attacked the two political leaders, urging their immediate departure from the county claimed that Rep. Kolubah had often rained invectives on President Weah.

Grand Gedeh County Superintendent Kai Farley later disclosed that he was not aware that the two opposition figures were coming to the county and that they had surreptitiously entered the county.

Mr. Farley said Mr. Cummings and Representative Kolubah failed to notify his office, and security actors about their arrival in line with what leaders of other political parties normally do whenever they pay a visit to Grand Gedeh.

He, however, denied allegations that he orchestrated the attack on Mr. Cummings and Mr. Kolubah in the county.

The two victims refused to collaborate with the Liberia National Police (LNP), but expressed lack of confidence in the justice system.

Voter Trucking – A New form of Vote Rigging

In the midst of several election-related violence, the National Elections Commission is yet to publicly issue any statement of condemnation.

However, what has become of greater concern is the controversial trucking of voters, electoral and political violence, and reported registration of underage voters.

The NEC, tasked with the responsibility of managing public elections for the Liberian People in line with the laws of Liberia and international best practices as well as administering and enforcing all laws relative to the conduct of elections throughout the Republic of Liberia, has remained silent on the numerous reports of irregularities and flaws relating to the Voter roll process.

The only statement from the Commission has come from its Director of Communications, Mr. Henry Flomo, who while acknowledging that trucking of financially induced voters is against the electoral laws, was keen to state that the commission “does not go out looking for cases”, and as such, it remains the sole prerogative of citizens to allow or reject the trucking of commercial voters into their respective districts or counties. “Trucking is against the law, but what we can come out to say is-the people out there are the first to either allow or stop trucking. You have a right if you see someone at your polling precinct or registration center to report the matter to the Registrar. You may not know every community member, but you have the right to protest; and that person can be stopped right there. If that person feels uncomfortable, then we have a case right there.”

In the wake of the increase in voter trucking, residents of Bomi County mostly women on Tuesday gathered before the NEC head offices in the county, to protest against voter trucking, declaring that the original citizens of the county are being denied an opportunity to register because of the influx of people trucked from Montserrado County on a daily basis.

“The trucking should stop and our children should have opportunity to register,” bemoaned Konah Kermue. “Majority of us women are being denied the opportunity to register. Every time we go there they push us around. All those trucking we begged them to stop so that at least we the original citizens can be able to register. Let them allow our children to register.”

According to Konah, residents of the county are suffering. “Every time we go to the registration centers we see strange people there. We don’t know who doing the trucking. We have to vote for our county, we don’t want other people making that decision for us.”

The trucking of voters, some political pundits have observed has become the new quiet method to rig votes during elections. Many have advised that if the NEC does not act swiftly to curtail the violation, it could alter the true will of the people, thereby, plunging the country’s democracy.

The Call for Travel Ban

On Tuesday, the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), through its President Bishop Kortu K. Brown, called on the governments of the United States and the European Union (EU) to indiscriminately place a travel ban on leaders of political parties in Liberia who are instigating violence to destabilize the country.

The IRCL is a conglomeration of religious leaders from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), and the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL).

Speaking to Reporters at his office in Brewerville, outside Monrovia Bishop Brown said that political leaders instigating or promoting violence in the name of elections or politics in Liberia should also be placed on travel ban by not only the US and EU, but other friendly countries to Liberia.

He observed that some political actors in Liberia are using the instigation of violence as a “political strategy”.

He called on the NEC to take punitive actions against those who engage in the promotion of violent activities during this electioneering period in the nation.

“The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia urges the National Elections Commission to investigate and ban political leaders who instigate and/or promote electoral violence as a political strategy”.

“The Council also appeals to friendly nations including the United States, European Union, etc. to place a travel ban on all political leaders who promote violence in the name of elections and politics”.