Third Mass Anti-Government Protest Looms As Angry University of Liberia Students Demand Teachers’ Salary
Monrovia – A potential protest planned for Friday, October 18 by student leaders of the University of Liberia might complete a hat trick of protests that would take place in less than two weeks in Monrovia.
Two mass protests have followed another in support of Jestina Taylor-Ghartey. Jestina had claimed she was raped and drugged, but she was being subjected to investigation by the Police. That protest saw the Tubman Boulevard blocked by protesters.
Last week Thursday, October 10, sympathizers of talk show host Henry Costa protested against the shutdown of his station by government. State prosecutors have claimed he was using the airwaves to incite the public against the government and that his station was also unregistered.
This week Tuesday, October 15, angry students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) took to the streets after their teachers had drop chalk over delayed salary arrears.
Police used bruit force to disperse the students, something that is still being criticized. Meanwhile, the government claims it is acting swiftly to pay the aggrieved teachers’ salaries.
The trend of protests, some observers say, mirrors the country’s troubling past. They have increased calls for the government to avoid missteps that would further plunge the state into chaos.
As another protest seems to be in the making, there are suspicions of reoccurrence of violent scenes.
UL student leaders are now planning to shutdown major government ministries if the administration fails to pay lecturers, who have drop chalk.
Following a crucial meeting on Wednesday, October 16, the UL Faculty Association (ULFA) stopped teaching on Thursday. They made several demands including the payment of their salary arrears.
“The faculty should immediately disengage from teaching until the one month (September) arrear is paid and that hereafter, the University of Liberia administration should pay salary on or before the thirty day of each month,” ULFA said in a statement issued Thursday, October 17, in Monrovia.
48 Hours Ultimatum
The refusal of teachers of the state-run university to conduct lectures is a recipe for fear that might ignite violence and disruption of business activities on Capitol Hill, where the main campus of the University of Liberia is located.
“So we cannot be out of school and the government institutions are functioning. Government Ministries and agencies are open and some government officials’ children are going to private universities and for us, we are out of schools,” says Mohammed Deygbo, Chairman of the campus based Student Unification Party.
“So, what we have said and we maintained is if the government cannot address the immediate plight of the instructors we give the government 48 hours ultimatum and by tomorrow there will be serious strike action on the campuses of the University of Liberia.”
The students have threatened to “shut down” the Administrative building of the University, the Foreign Affair Ministry and the Capitol building, home of the Legislature.
“From capitol building, we are going to move to all of the government ministries and agencies and have them shut down. The government cannot be functioning and the state-run university is not functioning,” Deygbo said.
“Thousands of our brothers and sisters cannot be out of school and allow few groups of people to continue to loot our country resources for their personal gain at the detriment of the student’s masses.
“Our protest will continue until the government can start to remit the allowances, benefits, and salaries of our instructors. The protest will continue, we are clear on that. Until our instructors can return to classes we will continue to protest.”
These comments resemble past events that led to the conduct of mass protest that had the propensity of turning violent.
‘Protest Is Expensive’
Meanwhile, these frequent anti-government protests are drawing concerns and presenting insistent uncertainties for the Government, which is already struggling to deal with a plethora of economic issues.
These protests often disrupt the movement of vehicles and slowed economic activities.
“Protest is very expensive,” said an Economics professor of the UL, who asked for anonymity.
“Whenever, there is a protest and business activities are shut down, the government loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes because these businesses that are affected by the protest will not pay taxes.”
At the same time, there are also concerns that these protests may hurt the image of the country in the investment world. The government has also been worried about the ramifications of protest including the propensity of scaring investors.
‘Propensity to Stall Academic Activities’
At the same time, the decision by the teachers has the tendency of stalling academic progress at the University, says the administration of the UL in a statement released late Thursday evening.
The administration then called on the teachers to reconsider their decision, “while their concerns are being addressed”.
“The Administration and Board of Trustees have been, and continue to be in constant communication and engagement with the Government of Liberia, to ensure that salaries are paid, and on a timely basis,” statement added.
The UL says it has received salary payments for September, 2019, “while the payroll for October has already been submitted to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for processing and subsequent payment in the first week in November”.
In consideration of the difficult times and emotions that exist in the country, largely due to economic challenges, the Administration therefore, deems it expedient to call for an exercise of restraint, the administration.
Payment of Teachers Begins
Earlier, the University stated that it was open to dialogue and will continue to take constructive steps that will be in the interest of its members.
Jani Jallah Kolllie, Director of UL Relations, told FrontPageAfrica via mobile phone on Thursday, that the university will be paid no later than Monday, October 21.
“As we speak, payment has already begun and there was a bridge in communication between ULFA leadership and members because it was discuss and agreed and ULFA did not inform its member on an agreement that payment will begin soon,” She said.
Ms Kolliie was optimistic that the lecturers will return to the classroom when they received information that payments of salaries has begun.
Despite news of paying the UL teachers’ salary, it is stil unclear if the angry students would discontinue their protest amid concerns about Liberia turning into a protest state – where every demands is made through a protest due to alleged policy missteps by the government.
Reporters Willie Tokpa and Webster Clayeh contributed to this story