The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should not ignore what in effect are early warning signs of trouble unfolding in the Liberian political landscape as the country edges towards presidential and general elections 15 months from now.
The recent violent and bloody attack on peaceful students, by armed thugs, while exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, has raised fears that the 2023 elections may in all likelihood be marred by violence.
That those elements who violently assaulted the protesting students right before the American Embassy felt brazen enough to carry out such acts of violence right before the US Embassy suggests that the perpetrators felt convinced that they would get away scot free or at worst would receive a little slap on the wrist as reprimand.
The action was videotaped and relayed around the world and it showed who the attackers were. The main perpetrators have been identified and their photos displayed on social media.
Despite this, the Police through its spokesman Moses Carter has said no one as of yet has come forward to complain, which suggests that the case is dead on arrival. During the melee, the Police could be seen standing, just looking on with another officer giggling in amusement as the thugs mounted their bloody assault on the unarmed students.
This has prompted questions whether the Police can indeed be trusted to protect the lives and properties of Liberians, particularly those who are not members of the ruling CDC party.
The ugly incident, which unfolded before the US Embassy has also left the public wondering just what the official reaction of the US government will be, especially in view of the invitation extended to President Weah to attend an African summit in Washington?
The period between now and the October 2023 elections promises to be characterized by intense political activity. Already, some parties have held conventions to elect their standard-bearers while others have or are planning to do similarly.
Although the campaign season has not been officially declared open, yet it remains an open secret that campaign related activities are in full swing.
There will be political rallies as expected, but whether those rallies will be held peacefully or without molestation or disruptive action by thugs with impunity is the question uppermost on the minds of the public.
We recall that violence has characterized recent past legislative elections and, despite the fact that the perpetrators were identified, no action was taken by the Police.
Similarly in this recent case, no arrests have yet been announced. Such practice cannot be allowed to continue because it undermines respect for the rule of law and, more to that, it encourages lawless behavior and promotes mob justice.
What if other parties begin to organize their respective militias to counter threats posed by armed elements of the ruling CDC as once before threatened by a UP lawmaker? Then where are headed?
We must ask this question because it appears that reason is in short supply, else those promoting violence would take a step back and reflect on the nation’s bloody past.
This is because such unprovoked armed assaults against unarmed and peaceful citizens, if left unchecked, could provoke violent counter-reaction that could easily morph into widespread violence and lawlessness that could provoke military intervention.
And if the military is indeed provoked into taking action, there is no guarantee that the soldiers will under such circumstances be taking orders from the Executive Mansion.
This is a lurking and potential danger to which President Weah and his supporters should become acutely aware and take steps to stay clear of such acts of provocation.
Given current developments, it appears that there is seething public anger brewing amongst the people. This suggests that President Weah has to act quickly to restore public confidence in his government.
Condemnation in itself will not hold water. He needs to ensure that the perpetrators of that violent attack on peaceful and unarmed students are arrested and put on trial.
And if they are found guilty they must be made to face the full weight and might of the law. But the haunting question is whether the perpetrators will indeed be brought to justice.
This is in view of troubling comments by Police spokesman Carter that no one has yet filed a complaint against those suspected of involvement in the brutal and unprovoked attack on the students.
Could it be that, due to the lack of confidence in the justice system to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators, on the one hand, and fear of reprisal attacks, on the other hand, that victims and witnesses alike are reluctant to come forward? Could it be a lack of spine on the part of law enforcement authorities in the face of glaring video evidence of the attacks, that the perpetrators remain at large, freely walking the streets with impunity? The deafening silence of witnesses and victims signal a vote of no confidence in the law enforcement apparatus specifically and the justice system as a whole.
President Weah will do himself well to take strong action if indeed he does seriously intend to seek reelection in 2023. There are two possible spinoff benefits which could accrue to him should he take a hard stand against the perpetrators.
Firstly this will tend to absolve him of charges of aiding and abetting the commission of the crime.
Secondly, it will tend to reassure and restore public confidence in his government’s professed commitment to respect for the rule of law.
Anything to the contrary will certainly leave the public with a strong feeling of letdown that the government is not able to protect the lives and properties of its citizens as constitutionally sworn to do so.
Any government that loses the trust and confidence of its people is like salt that has lost its savor (saltiness).