Independent COP Wants ‘Counter-Protest’ On December 30

ICOP Head Rufus Neufville

MONROVIA – With barely three days to the much-publicized December 30 ‘Weah Step Down’ Protest, a group calling itself Independent Council of Patriots (ICOP) is calling on the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Justice, to provide security for their peaceful assemble on the same date set aside by the Council of Patriots (COP).

ICOP, which is a break away from the COP, is headed by former Montserrado County Representative Rufus Neufville, a former executive of the COP, who parted company with the group a few days before the June 7 ‘Save the State’ protest.

For some time now, the ICOP has been rallying Liberians to boycott the December 30 protest on grounds that it is being planned and staged by self-seeking individuals bent on tearing the country apart.

ICOP believed that Liberians should maintain the peace and stability of the nation and desist from acts that have the propensity to derail the current level of peace they and other foreign residents now enjoy.

In a communication dated December 26, 2019 under the signatures of Horatias A. Richards and Stephen Y. Herron, Secretary-General and Co-Chairman respectively and addressed to Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, the Independent Council of Patriots (ICOP) expressed interest to stage a ‘peaceful counter-protest’ on December 30.

The group disclosed that the decision taken to stage a ‘peaceful counter-protest’ is due to the pronouncement made by the COP urging Liberians to protest against the Weah led-government on December 30.

ICOP believed that the December 30 ‘Weah Step Down’ protest has an ulterior motive.

“We are pleased to inform the authorities of our intention to stage a peaceful counter-protest on December 30, 2019 beginning at 4 am. This decision is triggered by pronouncements from remnants of the Council of Patriots that on the above-mentioned date, they will come on the streets to thwart the Constitution and undermine the peace and stability of the country,” the communication noted.

“Sir, we would like to encourage you to please provide all necessary protection as we assemble peacefully”.

The Issues

Executives and members of COP have vowed to stage consistent protests in Monrovia and its environs beginning December 30 until President George Manneh Weah steps down.

The group disclosed that the protest is intended to draw international attention to bad governance, rampant corruption, abuse of power, delay in the payment of civil servants salaries, and the harsh economic constraints that continue to improve the already impoverished conditions of Liberians under the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government.

What is GOL saying

But the Government of Liberia (GOL), through Justice Minister-Counselor Frank Musa Dean, has rejected the request made by COP to provide security for the would-be protesters on grounds that their quest is ‘treasonable’ and it has no constitutional backing.

In a communication addressed to Mo Ali, acting Chairman of COP under the signature of Cllr. Dean, the government disclosed that planners of the protest will be held culpable personally, and collectively under the Liberian laws for consequences associated with their actions.

Speaking to the Voice of America recently, COP’s Founder, Henry Costa, disclosed that the group is not detered by ‘feeble threats’ from the Liberian Justice Minister.

According to him, organizers of the protest and less fortunate Liberians will peaceful assemble in the streets in keeping with Article 17 of the 1986 Liberian constitution, under President Weah resigns from office.

Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution states that: “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations”.

He maintained that the communication addressed to Minister Dean by the COP was only intended to request for the provision of security during the protest, but not a request for government’s approval of the peaceful protest,” he stated.

Costa added: “The COP is not bother by the Minister of Justice comments because we did not make a request to be allowed to protest; we don’t need to do that. Our constitution provides that all we need to do is to inform the government that we need to exercise our constitutional right under Article 17. We are not perturbed by the feeble threats from a weak government that cannot pay its own police and army. That threat does not scare us. We will come out on December 30 and we will stay on the streets until President Weah steps down”.

Costa added: “So it is not the Minister to determine whether or not we assemble. We will assemble, and we did not write to him to ask for a permit. We wrote asking him to provide security as we did for the June 7 protest”.

Rebuking acts of treason

Costa further refuted claims made by the Liberian Justice Minister that the pending protest seeking the resignation of President Weah is treasonous.

He maintained that Article 15 of the Liberian constitution guarantees citizens’ right to freely express themselves, void of any hindrance.

The tough-talking political commentator added that the protest can only be considered treasonable if protesters or organizers use physical force to ensure the resignation of the Liberian chief executive, but there is no plan by the organizers to do such.

“Article 15 of the same Liberian constitution states very clearly that you have the right to free speech and freedom of expression. It is my right to say I want the President to step down. There is nothing treasonous about that. If I were to use physical force with the intent to cause the President to step down, that would be treasonous. But we are not using force; we are peaceable assembling in our hundreds of thousands,” he noted.

Costa furthered: “We are very sick and tire of the President’s incompetence to govern the country. The country is sinking-hike in prices, changing of our own Liberian currency, the banks are turning away you cannot get your own money, people are dying in hospitals because they cannot withdraw money from their own bank accounts in order to be admitted. We are saying enough is enough”.

Distancing political parties from the protest

Liberia’s Minister of State for Presidential Affairs recently told the Voice of America that opposition political parties that were defeated during the 2017 general and presidential elections are the masterminds behind the December 30 ‘Weah Step Down’ protest.

According to him, President Weah will not step down and as such, those calling for his resignation should wait until 2023 to make a determination through the ballot box.

But COP Founder, Costa denied the involvement of opposition political parties in the orchestration of the December 30 protest.

He pointed out that the protesters will include marketers and civil servants who have not been paid for several months by the government.

“On June 7, it was 20,000 Liberians who turned out; the largest peaceful protest in the history of our country-it was not political parties. On December 30, it will be market women who are struggling to sell their produce to make end means to put food on their tables for their families and send their kids to school; it is civil servants who have not taken pay for months. This protest is being organized by the Council of Patriots, comprising of market women, shoeshine boys, ordinary folks, civil servants and those people like myself and not a political party,” he added. 

It remains unclear whether or not the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Justice will grant the request of the ICOP.

The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), the National Traditional Council of Liberia (NTCL) and other stakeholders are holding dialogue with officials of COP and the Liberian government ahead of the December 30 protest dubbed ‘Weah Step Down’.