The generally prevailing security situation in the country appears to be deteriorating by the day. Armed robbery and other forms of violent crime are on the rise. The erosion of respect for the rule of law has continued unabated.
Under this government, unexplained disappearances, extrajudicial killings of perceived enemies, very poor governance, and deep-rooted corruption in high places have come to be something of the norm. It does appear that officials of this government have become virtually unfazed by public criticisms of this government’s performance.
With elections due in a little over a year, there are troubling and raising concerns about what appears to be growing and pervasive insecurity nationwide. Currently, Lofa and Grand Gedeh Counties appear to be the major potential flashpoints of conflict. In Lofa for example, there is brewing conflict over pending senatorial by-elections in that county which are rooted in the decision of the Supreme Court to bar Brownie Samukai, winner of the last midterm senatorial elections, from taking his seat for Lofa.
Samukai and two co-defendants were convicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, misuse of public money, and money laundering of over US$1 million and sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to restore the money that was entrusted into their care as a pension plan for soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
That decision by the Court sparked tension that resulted in a prolonged standoff between the government and Lofa traditional leaders, which led to their temporary closure of the bridge linking Bong and Lofa Counties. With Samukai barred, the National Elections Commission (NEC) then ordered fresh elections in which Samukai was barred from taking part. Renewed tension arose later, following attempts to bar the participation of the Unity Party candidate, Galakpai Kortimai, in the elections.
That matter is still pending resolution and, as a result, the elections have been placed on hold. But simmering tensions still remain and have in the recent past been heightened by reports of an alleged recruitment and military training of CDC supporters.
One of such alleged recruiters is CDC stalwart and Representative Thomas Fallah who, according to reports, claims that the recruited individuals are intended to provide security protection for their candidates during the ensuing by elections which have since been placed on hold amid rising tension.
Meanwhile, in a related development, it can be recalled that a little over a week ago, a front page story carried in the May 16, edition of the Daily Observer headlined, “Justice is Missing in Rural Liberia”, quoted Her Honor Judge Nancy Sammy, Resident Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit in Voinjama, who declared that Justice is largely absent in rural Liberia.
She further observed that in Lofa County(pop. 276,863) where she presides over the 10th Judicial Circuit, there are only two public defenders to serve such a large population.
The situation is made worse by the acute lack of logistics to facilitate regular visits to the eight Ministerial Courts spread over the county. This situation generally holds true in most parts of the country where for most people, access to Justice remains a difficult challenge.
In many areas around the country, there is an acute lack of judicial institutions including courts, lawyers, prisons, correction officers, and police officers. The use of trial by ordeal, outlawed by the Supreme Court since the 1930s, has resurfaced and appears to be on the rise.
According to eyewitness reports, In some areas, corrupt local officials acting in concert with self-acclaimed wizards, purporting to possess virtually magical powers to detect witches, have virtually become a law unto themselves and their principal targets are the elderly who are often accused of involvement in witchcraft.
These pranksters in recently reported cases have subjected entire communities to a reign of terror and extortion. Recent developments in Lofa suggest that the outlawed practice, rather than being on the wane, is instead resurging. According to reports from Salayea District, quoting residents of the area, some local leaders and youths have hired the services of a Guinean witch doctor allegedly to hunt down those they consider witches and wizards in their respective towns.
According to local residents, the Guinean witch doctor, who is called Tuwan, meaning “deer” in the Kpelle language, is being accompanied by a group of about five attendants including some local officials. Residents of Salayea have accused the County Attorney of Lofa and other local officials of aiding and abetting the activities of this so-called witch doctor (Tuwan).
Officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from all indications, have turned a blind eye and in some instances abet the perpetrators while Justice Ministry officials have, for unexplained reasons, appeared helpless and impotent. These developments, including those surrounding the alleged kidnap and suspected murder of a local elections magistrate in Grand Gedeh County, have claimed the attention of the Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), Counsellor Dempster Brown.
According to him, recruitment of militants and ritualistic killings within the country have the propensity to create serious violence ahead of the 2023 general elections if not addressed.
He apparently had reference to statements by Representative Francis Nyumalin that, in response to the CDC, his party would also train 500 individuals in each of the six (6) districts in Lofa to protect their candidates during the 2023 elections.
“We need not to become sycophants about the current situation. This is an early warning and so we need to take action. If it is Jesus Christ who is causing the problem we must make sure to deal with him or her. Why should people want to deride peace only because of the outcome of an election without wanting to consider the legal channel?”
“I am calling the attention of the government officials that what is happening in Lofa and Grand Gedeh shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Whether INCHR Chairman Dempster Brown’s concerns will be taken seriously by this government, one cannot say. But from all indications, it appears, more likely than not, his will be treated with benign concern.