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Liberia: The Front-Runner? Can Darius Dillon’s Social Media Base Lead Him to the Senate?

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Monrovia – Abraham Darius Dillon is as popular as they come. His Darius Dillon Intellectual Exchange page on the social medium, Facebook generates thousands of followers; and commenters from all sides of the political aisle have become notorious for letting him know how they feel, whether he likes it or not, most times testing his own tolerance levels and complaining of being blocked after throwing a pointed jab or two against the page’s administrator.

Getting those followers to the ballot box is a challenge Mr. Dillon, the choice of the opposition Liberty Party in the upcoming senatorial race to fill the vacancy left after the death of Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, willingly embraces.

Ironically, Mr. Dillon’s rise into politics started within the very walls he now hopes to have an office, if voters make him their choice as the next Senator of the Montserrado.

“No other candidate in the race matches my experience in legislative affairs, and none comes close to the courage, principle, and integrity I bring to the table. I am going to turn on the light against corruption and other vices at the Senate from within for the benefit of our people and country.”

– Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Candidate for Senator, Montserrado County

A Backing from Snowe

After previously working as an aide in the office of former Speaker Edwin Melvin Snowe and then Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, those under whose mantle he learned the ropes feels the candidate’s time has arrived. “I fully support Dillon and believes he will be an independent mind in the senate,” says Rep. Snowe, who is also a prominent member of the Liberian delegation to the ECOWAS parliament.

During a recent appearance on state radio, ELBC Rep. Snowe tipped Mr. Dillon as his choice for Montserrado. Says Snowe: “Dillon is hardworking and passionate about whatsoever he believes in. He’s committed and loyal and expresses himself freely. Dillon will make a good senator and would be a great help to the administration in offering constructive criticism but with suggestions for better direction. I support Dillon for the senate.”

Many of those behind the Dillon candidacy say, the race itself may be senatorial but it could prove to be more about the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and a major litmus test for a ruling party going through some tough times.

Dillon has paid his dues.

On December 8, 2010, the Senate leadership committee ordered Dillon, then chief of staff to Senator Howard-Taylor, to retract derogatory statements made earlier against a senior senator from the then ruling Unity Party within 72 hours or face further disciplinary action. Dillon defied the order, and the committee suspended him for 90 days without pay.

A year earlier, he contested but lost the senatorial by-election to fill the vacancy  necessitated by the death of Senator Hannah Brent of the Congress for Democratic Change. Ironically, that election was won by  the then CDC candidate Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, who declared at the time that the result was an indictment on the policies of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the same vein that the CDC is now being tested with the upcoming elections.

Shortly after losing, Dillon shocked many when he stepped down from his Liberty Party to take up an advisory role with then President Sirleaf, a tie he says he has no regrets over despite later falling out with the former president.

EJS Breakup ‘Says a Lot About My Principles’

“It says a lot about my principles,” Dillon asserts, while speaking over dinner on a recent weekday.

“I disagreed with Ellen on policy issues that I believed were against the country and people, ie, lack of will to fight corruption and reconcile the country. I parted company with her based on my firm principles even when I had all the opportunities being in her “kitchen cabinet.”

Never one to shy away from controversy, Dillon has made his voice heard on a number of burning issues – even during the past government, including calling on the legislature to pass the controversial Decent Work Bill, urging the Senate to seek the welfare and interest of the Liberian people, through the bill’s passage.

Taking his second bite at a seat in the Senate, Mr. Dillon, has been critical of the recent wave of violence against women, predominantly adolescent girls is outrageous, inhumane and utterly demonic. 

Says Mr. Dillon: “Two weeks ago, a Young Lady who had gone celebrating with her friends the successful completion her WASCE was reported dead allegedly as a result of sexual abuse. Prior to this incident, another teenager suffered similar fate in the New Georgia Community. Yesterday, there were media reports of a man having slaughtered his girlfriend in Bong County. Today we’re reading the story of another teenager who was allegedly drugged and sexually abused in a local hotel to the end of her life.”

The candidate laments that growing carnage against women is the fact that individuals and statutory institutional frameworks responsible to take immediate control of the situation are not responding at a proportional exigency; at least not to the knowledge of the public.

Mr. Dillon says he fears that scores of kids selling in the Streets as late as 9pm will now be at risk. “They’re most notably seen in all parts of Central Monrovia, the Vamoma area along the Tubman Boulevard, the Health Ministry area in Congo Town and probably the hottest spot being the Barnersville and New Georgia Junctions. As I drive through these places every morning and evening, I look in the faces of those kids and wonder who the next victim would be.”

It is such views that supporters like Gabriel Nimley says will push Dillon to bringing much-needed reforms to the Senate. “It’s not just a choice between parties or policies; the usual debates between opposition and ruling party. This is a more fundamental choice–about how we want our democracy to be, and whether we stay true to the fundamental tenet of democracy by maintaining the independence of the legislature or we slide into creeping dictatorship.”

Patrick Honnah, formerly of the state radio Bumper Show and now head of Punch FM says his choice of  endorsing Dillon for the Senate comes down to strength: “I am endorsing Abe Darius Dillon publicly. Whether he wins or not, my conscience is clear, which is the strength of any man! However, I will not castigate the other candidates in the race. With humility, I call on all my fans and friends to please join me.”

Even in the midst of his latest quest for the Senate, Mr. Dillon finds himself drowning in controversy. Whether he would like to believe it or not, a lot of supporters say he is the front-runner in the race for the Montserrado County senatorial seat. His detractors say, his popularity is limited to Facebook. Those in his corner point to the number of high-profile verbal assaults coming his way from the ruling party, in particular, the presidency. 

“I disagreed with Ellen on policy issues that I believed were against the country and people, ie, lack of will to fight corruption and reconcile the country. I parted company with her based on my firm principles even when I had all the opportunities being in her “kitchen cabinet.”
–        Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Candidate for Senator, Montserrado County

Trading Jabs With the President

The most recent coming last week when President Weah chose to bring up Mr. Dillon’s education as a subject matter of the campaign, charging that Dillon who once criticized him of being uneducated and incapable of leading should also be given similar fate, calling him a high school dropout. “Tell Dillon to go back to school, let justice be done to all men; what was not allowed for me should not be allowed for Dillon,” the President jabbed. 

For Dillon, the president’s attack was one below the belt even for a by-election where the stakes are particularly high.

“The only thing I can say is that President Weah is a big kid that needs to grow. At the age of 53, he still thinks and behaves like a kid,” Dillon quipped.

The candidate says by attacking him, President Weah has opened a can of worms on himself.  “My public service record, you cannot match it. Match your record as a Senator taking home almost US$15,000 every month compared to my record as a staff taking home less than US$500 every month and see that I did, drafting bills to submit them through my boss, a senator, and passed into law as a staff. What did you do as a Senator?” 

His Vision for Montserrado

For the immediate future, Mr. Dillon says his is primarily convincing voters that he is the right man for the job. “My emphasis will be on health, jobs and education. I want to work toward to formulating policies that will guarantee affordable health care for the poor, through subsidy and augmented budgetary support; I also want to work to improve existing health institutions and constructing new ones where necessary.”

Mr. Dillon says if elected, he will work with his colleagues in the legislature, to intervene in the growing wave of layoff exercises being carried out by some companies in the country. “I will be embarking on a campaign to harmonize the huge salary disparities between the highest and lowest earners in the public sector with the intent of ensuring increment in the salaries of the lowest earners and allotting more monies to other productive sectors of the economy to create labor-based medium-term jobs for the underprivileged.”

“I want to work toward to formulating policies that will guarantee affordable health care for the poor, through subsidy and augmented budgetary support; I also want to work to improve existing health institutions and constructing new ones where necessary.”
– Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Candidate for Senator, Montserrado County

Mr. Dillon says he also plans to rally legislative support for budgetary subsidy to rural farmers and small Liberian Businesses found to be credible and economically viable or helpful and advocate for the establishment of several regional Rehabilitation Hubs for the disabled, wayward youths and social outcasts or societal wards, to be placed jointly under the control of the Ministries of Gender, Health, Education and justice. “Such program will effectively take mentally ill people, underprivileged youths ( Zogoes) and persons with all forms of disabilities off the streets, rehabilitate and reintegrate  them into  society by providing life skills and employment opportunities through public service and cooperatives of trade groups.”

Mr. Dillon hopes to strengthen the education system from the grassroots level through advocacy for the Enforcement of provisions of the New Education Law of 2011 that call for the creation of District and County School Boards and Ensuring Budgetary support for said Institutions. 

Advocating for the creation of a National Education Commission, he says would primarily offer responsibilities of training, monitoring, evaluation, licensing and supervising ethical issues of teachers or educators and educational institutions. More importantly, he says, he will ensure that the Free WASCE program becomes a National Policy and not a tool for political campaigning and will also lobby for increased budgetary support to the MOE to be strictly directed towards increased salary for teachers, improving educational infrastructures such as library, laboratories and the procurement of textbooks.

The upcoming senatorial race will no doubt be a test of the ruling party’s strength in a county they have proven dominance for more than a decade. For the man, known to his supporters as ADD, the stakes are even higher. Beyond the confines of cyberspace, Mr. Dillon has been making inroads on the ground and on talk radio hoping to convince voters that he is the right man for Montserrado. Whether they buy it, remains to be seen.

“No other candidate in the race matches my experience in legislative affairs, and none comes close to the courage, principle, and integrity I bring to the table. I am going to turn on the light against corruption and other vices at the Senate from within for the benefit of our people and country,” he says.

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