Editorial: Listen to the Cries of Your People, President Weah!

Under President George Weah's watch, Liberia has shown a slight improvement in the Human Development Index (HDI).

The ill-fated vessel Niko Ivanka on July 17, 2021, set sail from the Free Port of Monrovia with 21 persons including 7 staff members of WAEC for Harper, Maryland County, southeast Liberia. Barely upon reaching the coast of Marshall, the vessel began to take in water rapidly and started sinking. Of the 21 persons aboard, only about 12 were reported to have been rescued while the rest perished at sea.

It has now been over a year since the vessel sank and families of those who lost their lives in the incident are yet to receive proper redress from the government. In the aftermath of the disaster, the owner of the vessel, George McCay, and a number of individuals were arrested to face prosecution. 

They included the vessel owner, George McCay, Alex Tou, Azaan Dahi, Zhong Qixiang (otherwise known as Jack), and Wesley C. G. Moore — all of whom were held and charged for illegally authorizing the departure of the vessel, Niko Ivanka, from the Free Port of Monrovia. An official investigation into the matter was promised by Maritime Commissioner Len Eugene Nagbe, with the assurance that those found liable would face prosecution.

Apparently, all such promises have come to naught although Maritime authorities had announced that the Pier Superintendent at the Free Port of Monrovia and two other individuals were being charged for illegally authorizing a decrepit and unseaworthy vessel to set sail from the Free Port of Monrovia.

But a little over sixty days following the sinking of the vessel, the Daily Observer in its September 22, 2021 editorial headlined, “Bereaved Families of Victims of Sunken Niko Ivanka Deserve Closure, Mr. President. In that editorial, the Daily Observer noted with regrets that President Weah had failed to declare a period of national mourning as a mark of respect to those who through no fault of their own perished in the disaster at sea.

The Daily Observer also pointed out that in the wake of a barrage of negative criticism from the public, directed against the government, President Weah publicly announced a contribution of US$100,000 to the bereaved families which, again, did not materialize according to the bereaved families. 

The editorial also noted that neither the Ministry of Education nor officials of the WAEC had visited the bereaved families, nor had they made any contributions towards the funeral of the victims whose bodies were recovered from the sea. One year later, with families of the victims still crying out for redress and closure, it appears that from all indications, those announcements/pronouncements by President Weah and the Maritime Commissioner were mere publicity stunts intended to appease the public opinion. 

Otherwise how can one explain the fact that families of the victims have been treated with benign concern by a government that prides itself as Pro-Poor? Clearly it is because these are poor people who have no voice and consequently no means of having their grievances addressed. 

As a result, they have been left to suffer in silence, abandoned by their President in whom they had placed very high trust and confidence. At a recent memorial ceremony in honor of the deceased, family members noted with disappointment the failure of the government to disclose to the bereaved families findings of the investigation which it had promised. 

With the findings of the investigation yet undisclosed publicly, holding those actually responsible for the disaster becomes a very tall order and challenging task. This is because without evidence establishing culpability, families of the deceased may never be able to obtain redress. 

As a result, families are still grieving and longing for closure. But this government has direct responsibility and obligation to provide redress and closure for the bereaved families.  Its failure to do so even a year after the disaster, suggests that officials of this government, including President Weah, are interested only in themselves.

And for a government seeking reelection, this is absolutely bad politics. This is because the Weah-led government is sure to be judged by its performance and how it has kept its promises to the people. 

What this simply suggests is that public trust and confidence in this government has eroded to the point where maintaining a grip on power in the 2023 elections could prove to be elusive and a mere pipe dream. And if officials of this government including President Weah are counting on might or chicanery to steal election results, it will prove to be a very great and costly mistake.

But President Weah has at least one last opportunity to shore up his image by concretely addressing the plight of those families who lost their loved ones in the Niko Ivanka sea disaster.  In addition to addressing the grievances of the bereaved families, he also has to make amends with the families of all those who lost their lives under mysterious circumstances publicly attributed to actors/agents of this government.

But from all indications according to analysts, anyone harboring such thoughts is being delusional simply because, according to them, President Weah is more likely than not to disapprove such an undertaking because his decision making process is hamstrung by the absence of his strongman, Nathaniel McGill, on whom he usually relies for such crucial decision making. 

According to informed sources in Gbarnga, there was an instant and very loud public roar of approval when the radio announced that Minister of State Nathaniel McGill had been sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury and summarily suspended from office on account of the sanction slapped on three government officials. 

Whatever the case, President Weah has the obligation to bring closure to the families of the deceased. As the Daily Observer has consistently pointed out, it is the President who is in charge of this country and not anyone else including the suspended Nathaniel McGill. It is he who will be held to blame for everything simply because he is the leader. 

This is all the reason why he must make amends now or forever lose the opportunity to do so. Listen to the cries of your people, Mr. President!