MONROVIA – Police in Monrovia Monday allegedly fired teargas and rubber bullets on students of the campus-based Vanguard Students Unification Party (SUP) protesting for the cancellation of the e-learning program at the state-run University of Liberia (UL), injuring more than ten people.
The injured, two of whom had gunshot wounds to their heads, were among a crowd of students trying to break through barriers set by riot police to continue the second day of protest against the Administration’s defiance to revert to normal academic activities at the university.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that students are being treated at several hospitals in the country’s capital Monrovia for wounds suffered on Monday, with the injuries ranging from minor to serious.
What sparked the protest
The UL Administration had a few weeks ago announced an e-learning program for its the Second Semester of academic 2021, following the outbreak of the third wave of COVID-19 in the country.
The university’s president, Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, said: “The university has invested huge finances into the program and there will be no way to abruptly halt it.”
But Jusu Kamara, an elite member of SUP, said the introduction of the e-learning program was an attempt to delay the learning of students at the institution. He told FrontPageAfrica that the online platform being instituted is difficult to access, stressing that others are yet to plan their courses.
Expressing disenchantment in the manner the program is proceeding, Kamara said: “We are calling on Dr. Nelson to revert to regular academic activities or else we will remain restless until that decision can be made.”
How the riot ensued
The UL Administration’s defiance to the students’ plea sparked protest Monday as students assembled and chased out riot police who had ransacked the university’s main campus on Day One of the protest last week.
The protesting students later blocked the entrances leading to the institution’s edifice, chasing away Dr. Nelson. They chanted slogans calling on the president to immediately announce the resumption of regular classroom activities.
Riot police later regrouped and used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the students. Witnesses said officers then began attacking protesters, punching and kicking them.
Moustapha Kermal Kanneh, Secretary General of SUP who spoke to FrontPageAfrica from the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital where his colleagues were nursing wounds sustained from the protest, said the police used rubber bullets on the students who overwhelmed the police.
He, however, clarified that the party didn’t sanction the protests, but takes responsibility. He emphasized that the police did not fire live bullets, rather tear gas and rubber bullets which left some of the students injured.
Police spokesman Moses Carter declined to respond to FrontPageAfrica up to press time.
The police action Monday has drawn criticisms from Liberians both home and abroad.
Martin K. N. Kollie, former Standard Bearer and Secretary-General of the Student Unification Party, has condemned the alleged shooting of live bullet at students.
On his official Facebook page on Monday, Kollie said: “Heavily armed police officers are shooting live bullets at unarmed students on UL main campus. Conscious university students have been protesting against an ill-fated and rash E-learning system.”
“We condemn this brutal invasion of UL and we are calling for a full-scale investigation. Dr. Sarwolo Julukon Nelson Jr. needs to trek with caution. The students have every right to protest against any imposed and repressive system. Article 17 guarantees this right.
Liberia is not only the Banana Republic under ex-Soccer Star turned President George Manneh Weah, but it is also a Police State. The regime is provoking national upheaval. The reign of terror is back and the PEOPLE will rise against it.”
For his part, another concerned student of the university, Bob K. Queminee, accused the president of the university of instructing police to ransack the campus.
Queminee alleged: “The president of the University of Liberia, Dr. Nelson, instructed Police to shoot live bullets at peaceful students on UL main campus.”
“The shooting comes in when peaceful students gathered on Monday morning, August 2, demanding the president to make the faculty eLearning optional at the University. The eLearning has been found ineffective since the resumption of school three weeks ago.”
However, University of Liberia Vice President for Public Affairs, Atty. Norris Tweah, has termed the students’ accusation as untrue.
Tweah said Dr. Nelson is a student-centered president and can in no way endanger the lives of protesting students. “What do you expect the students to say, all they are saying is a non-sense and lie,” Tweah said.
He said the UL administration will not succumb to the students’ call for the cancellation of e-learning. “The university will not adhere to their mandate and we are already carrying out e-learning activities. Let the students wait for next semester.