The Liberia National Police, Media And Opposition
I was petrified and near disgust at a recent headline in the Liberian Observer: “Terrorists within the National Police?” (www://liberianobserver.com/news/terrorist-within-the-national-police/). And for reason, I reside in a country where terrorism is very real; fully armed soldiers patrol the boulevards of Paris 24 hours per day to reassure the citizens. So, I am wondering how far the mainstream media will go in its partisan propaganda drive against the government that even one of Liberia’s most respectable and pioneering newspapers would flirt so lightly with the word “terrorism” to stigmatise the LNP, and in the process tearing down our national image, while at the same time undermining our national security – unknowingly.
I hesitated at first in drafting this article, but then thought it would have been a great disservice to my country, especially having served at the highest echelon of the Liberian security apparatus during one of the most tragic periods of our national history. We often ignore the monumental task of rebuilding an entire national security apparatus (Army, Police and Immigration) from scratch. The LNP today is less than 15 years old. And imagine that during these same 15 years our country has not grown in wisdom, older nor any better either. Our institutions then should be the precise image of the nation. Thus it is imperative at time for moderation, consideration, modesty and at least some encouragement to whom it is due.
The Headline In Question
Here is the communication that enraged the Liberian Observer to inject unnecessarily “terrorists” in its headline. It was due to a prompt warning from the LNP, alerting the public that “some unscrupulous individuals claiming to be Anti-Robbery Agents of the Liberia National Police are in the constant habit of going from community to community harassing, searching homes and intimidating peaceful residents thereby taking their personal belongings.” Cognizant of the gravity of the situation, the LNP – in good faith and professionalism – added five different telephone numbers to the warning alert for citizens to call in case of any suspect. Progress.
There is no “terrorism” mentioned in the passage. Further, the same journal acknowledged later that these grave criminal acts were also frequent during the regime of Madam Sirleaf. A very objective comparison, indeed; but at that time no newspaper ever suggest any semblance of “terrorists” within the LNP during the 12 years of Madame Sirleaf. However, today it would seem that all the taboos have been lifted under the Weah government; no more restraint even where is may be an imminent danger to our general national security. This is very unfortunate for our emerging democracy. Or so I profoundly think because history tells us that no one will benefit from an unstable Liberia.
From the opening paragraph of the article with the headline in question, one can clearly see how the communication from the LNP was totally deformed to suit the purpose of the journal. It reads: “The Liberia National Police (LNP), a state owned law enforcement institution, has become mixed with individual believed not to be trained and legimate members of the force but ones with goals of harassing, terrorizing (author’s not) and robbing citizens.” Superfluous and grotesque, that we must be told the LNP, Army and Immigration Service are all “state owned” entities. Or take “Has become mixed with individuals” (a part of) – is not the same as “some unscrupulous individuals claiming to be Anti-Robbery Agents of the Liberia National Police” (imposters). And why go at length to add “terrorizing” to “harassing” simply to invent a headline that never should have been .Crazy.
Do not construe my defence as a carte blanche for the LNP. No, it is not a perfect institution. But Liberia has troops in a multinational military operation in Africa. And all around us – the Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and others – the threat of terrorism is forever present, and we should not even insinuate its shadow within our national borders.
The Media and Opposition Disappointment
Clearly, the last demonstration of January 6, 2020, against the Weah government devastated the enthusiasm, hope and spirit of the media and the opposition. Let us look at the film of events. First, the entire episode was a fiasco – a flop from the beginning to the end. Second, and the worst, the self-proclaimed “Chairman Costa” turned out to be a fake, ending up as a fugitive and thus leaving behind his partners: Honourables Dillon and Kolubah. Well, they must now figure out how to reduce their hefty salaries and create jobs for the abandoned poor flock of followers. And forth, the protest certainly reinforced the resolve President Weah and public confidence in his government.
Thus the outburst of rage, anger and desperation on the part of the mainstream media and its opposition handlers. Instead of doing a deep self-examination after this huge humiliating debacle, they went viral with countless, frivolous accusations against the LNP and the government. We heard the constitutional right of protestors was violated; the police used tear-gas and water cannon against peaceful protestors; a plot to kill Costa, and all the unimaginable headlines to reflect a negative image of the government and the country.
But analysing the events in retrospect, the media was not interested in any truth that had to do with the protection of our national security. For example, with which passport(s) or document(s) (Liberian, American, Portuguese, Green Card, etc) did Mr. Costa enter the United States before and after the demonstration? Or, that an individual coming into the country to stage a major demonstration (as his constitutional right) would hide his passport and rather chose to enter with a dubious laissez-passer – is that a responsible person, a mere Robin Hood or a potential national security risk? Infact, had the Police and the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) not used extreme professionalism and detained Mr. Costa for questioning at entry then – wouldn’t this man have been the perfect victim and hero of the “George Weah dictatorship” to feed the media with all the sensational headlines? Bravo to the LNP and the LIS.
What matters now, though, is that Mr. Costa absconded from justice and thus a fugitive. His brief detention in Sierra Leone served to expose him not only to the Liberian people, but also the United States for who he really is – a reckless adventurer to keep an eye on. And for those historians who would attempt to make a parallel between another Liberian fugitive from the United States who landed in Libya and later took Liberia hostage with 250,000 innocent victims, the world of the 1990s is not the same of the 2020s.
As for the polemic on the police using of “tear-gas and water cannon”, I will briefly make a French comparison. This country has had the famous “yellow vests” on the streets every Saturday for more than a year, and added are the ongoing huge protests by the labour unions against the retirement reform. Here are the official statistics to console the media and opposition: more than 70 days of demonstrations around the country; more than 50,000 police and gendarmes mobilized for some of the demonstrations; about 318 injuries – 40 with eye damaged and 5 who lost a hand; hundreds of protestors arrested and taken to court expeditiously and more than 330 complaints against alleged police brutality. Believe me, at some point the scenes between the police and protestors were no different from an urban guerrilla warfare, though no death. But were France a poor banana republic as Liberia it would have definitely received a barrage of international condemnations and probably a coup d’état.
Despite such a huge number of injuries, repeated scenes of absolute chaos, tainting France’s international image, no one called President Macron a dictator, undemocratic or even equated the alleged police brutality to “terrorism.” The complaints were centred most on the use of certain riot weapons (LBD launchers, stun grenades, etc) that can cause serious bodily harm on protestors. But water cannon and tear gas for refreshing, chilling and rendering the atmosphere unpleasant for breathing to run the obstinate protestors off the streets peacefully – were never put in question by the public. In fact, to defend the police against the alleged brutality, the authorities came up with this new doctrine of “legitimate violence.” In other words, the police – as it deems fit – can use the force necessary (without death) to impose law and order. You can not beat that, a developed democracy defending as much this excellent performance of its security forces.
So, in Liberia we must be very thankful that President Weah has not yet requisitioned the Army in joint-security for these demonstrations as Madame Sirleaf did during the Ebola crisis. And that the LNP is fully equipped with water cannon and tear gas to disperse peaceful demonstrators peacefully must be considered an enormous progress.
The Opposition Political Parties are Essential Part of the Problem
Yes, I have this firm obsession that the real problem of Liberia’s democracy and stability comes from the inability of the defeated political parties to survive financially after general elections. And this serious handicap makes it impossible for them to properly play their role in the democratic space. I have mentioned the causes of this handicap elsewhere, but I will repeat them here once again.
First, the Liberia political system is not yet concerned in knowing how political parties are financed or the obligation to audit their campaign financing and the rest. This means that even “terrorists or mafia” groups could maintain a political party, and no one would care a dime. Second, as a result since the True Whig Party (state financed) all the successive parties have been highly personalized – individual owners. And when the owner dies, abandons or elections end then most parties would disappear instantly. And third, this has encouraged what I term the “Curriculum Vitae political parties or one-man show” – individuals forming parties in name only to get a job in the next government. A travesty of democracy.
Understandably, our protracted autocratic, dictatorial and tyranny rules blurred our brains not to know that political parties need money to survive and function. But Madame Sirleaf knew this reality perfectly well; thus we saw with what effective arm (money) politicians were relegated to mute and irrelevance under her regime. Under the same token, as the CDC was pursed to win, we saw some of them changing camps like one changing girlfriends. But most disappeared, and few awaited to be called, but no call or emissary came. Of course, we forgot too that democracy is also about changing the guards.
As a result, those left in the wilderness become angry lions. Suddenly there came an opportunity – the spontaneous birth of the “Bring Back Money” youth movement. Obligingly, the opposition political woke up and in precipitation hatched up the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) between the UP, LP, ANC and ALP. But with financial inequality and egos incompatible among its leaders, the CPP was doomed in advance. Thus came the infamous “COP”, its offshoot – a movement specialized mainly in propagating fake news, hate messages and organizing protests against the government for whatever it says or does. And while the COP’s strategies creates social tension, disrupts and paralyses the government and commercial activities, the leaders of the CPP sit back in waiting, safe, and rubbing their hands for an elected President to be brought down not by the ballot box, but by the power of masses before the end of his mandate. What a folly and fake democrats!
Astonishingly, the politicians continue to underestimated the resolve and patience of President Weah. These folks really expected the President to have submitted himself to the whims and caprices of this COP – a movement that has no legitimate or legal base as the CDC under Madam Sirleaf. And whereas, were it the principal leaders of the CPP and their supporters in the streets, requesting an audience with the President to present him their genuine national agenda with the grievances of the people, I am certain our democracy would have proven its maturity beyond any doubt.
First, I believe President Weah would have definitely accorded them that as responsible political party leaders.. Second, it would have sent a strong signal of our resolve as a people, our sovereignty and the consolidation of our democracy. Third, the foreign embassies, ECOWAS, UN, AU and others would have kept themselves far from our internal matters. And fourth, we would have saved our nation and people all the unnecessary social tension and insecurity and move forward as one and indivisible.
Unfortunately, wanting power on our famous proverb “monkey works and baboon draws”, the opposition is left in the cold with great disappointment and deepened discredit. Look, the CPP had long divorced in fracas, but attempts to keep a façade of unity. For its part, the UP is definitely suffering from advanced symptoms of senile, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic nostalgia. The LP recently lost its historic leader and standard bearer; it is now an orphan. Can it ever recover from such a lost? The ANC looks more like a very rich personalized business entity, going around solo and distributing gifts to the masses who are never privileged (or do not exist) to be in the photo ops of FPA. But who knows, perhaps an ANC government could finally give Liberia an “over-Americanized culture”, by us drinking 4.7m bottles of coca cola per day and become get obese like most Americans; then go to the Firestone plantation to play golf and loss some that weight. Liberia then could be the most secured coca cola market.
On the other hand, the ALP leader attempted to parachute his daughter to the Legislature but failed miserably. So the standard bearer has given up becoming President of Liberia; all his hope is put in former VP Joseph N. Boakai – commonly call “Sleepy Joe or Old Car in the garage.” And here comes the COP – Hon. Kolubah has taken a sabbatical leave from the movement while awaiting the return of comrade Costa. Well, it was now time too that the Honourable returns to work for the people to justify his salary from poor taxpayers’ money.
Thus is my verdict, and I stand fully by it. If President Weah can overcome the unprecedented storm of protests, social tension and massive media campaign against his first two years of rule, no one should take the man for granted. There could be our greatest surprise and more disappointment at the ballot box in 2023. It is better the “devil you know than the wolves in sheep clothing.”