Just What Is Wrong with Liberia?

University of Liberia, students protesting against the scrapping of traditional classroom instruction in favor of online instruction have been brutally assaulted by Liberian National Police (LNP) officers

Just what is wrong with Liberia is the question now weighing heavily on the minds of the public. During the week, for example, several public protest actions in the nation’s capital, Monrovia, against perceived official policies and actions have resulted in injuries and damage to property. Outside Monrovia, similar public protests have also reportedly been staged.

And similar to the situation in Monrovia, injuries have been sustained and property damaged. From what it appears, the worsening economic situation coupled with persistent reports of Police brutality and the use of lethal force against unarmed public protesters could very well serve to trigger even more public protests with grave implications for national stability and security.

At the University of Liberia, students protesting against the scrapping of traditional classroom instruction in favor of online instruction have been brutally assaulted by Liberian National Police (LNP) officers using lethal force against unarmed students. A number of students received serious injuries as a result of the aggressive Police action.

Quite clearly, as it appears, UL authorities are completely out of step on this issue. The state-run University lacks the basic infrastructure to implement such a program in which “huge investment” has been made, according to UL President Rev. Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson.

Aside from the current rigmarole over the controversial e-learning program, the institution is faced with huge challenges. Sanitation, for example is a nightmare, according to students and instructors alike. According to them it is shameful and disgraceful that UL authorities have done little or nothing to address such concerns. 

Bathrooms/restrooms are currently out of use and students have to resort to the use of surrounding bushes to ease themselves. Faculty salaries and benefits are said to be in arrears while textbooks and other critical learning materials are either in very short supply or simply not available at all. It is against such a backdrop that UL authorities have deemed it fit to introduce such a program.

The fact that even faculty members are complaining about this e-learning program suggests that sufficient consultation was not done with the faculty, as should be the case for such a major shift from classroom instruction to e-based learning platforms, when the requisite infrastructure does not even exist.

The students have vowed to continue with their protest despite the injuries many of them sustained as a result of the Police assault. Given the history of student resistance to unpopular UL administration policies, it appears unlikely that threats of the use of such force will serve to quench future protest action.

Similar conclusions can be drawn in the case of protesters who marched to the Capitol, demanding justice for truck driver Alieu Sheriff who was brutally assaulted by four Police Officers, which led to his death.  The incident occurred over a week ago on the Japan Freeway but since then, according to angry protesters, the Police has treated their calls for justice with virtual contempt, thus prompting their public protest action.

In their numbers they marched from Gardnersville to Central Monrovia, waving placards calling for justice and an end to Police brutality. As the march progressed, thousands of others joined in and eventually made their way to Capitol Hill. For several minutes, the entire area became a no-go zone for vehicular traffic. 

The protesters were nonviolent but, true to form, the Police moved in, firing teargas and rubber bullets, resulting in several injuries. Quite clearly, such brutal Police action is serving to create a deep wellspring of public antipathy towards the Police. 

However, informed sources say the Police is being unfairly drawn into confrontation with the public by ill-advised policy actions by public officials. As a retired security official put it, government officials create the fire and it is the Police that is sent to extinguish the blaze. This, however, does not exculpate Police officers of charges of overly aggressive behavior and excessive use of force against civilians.

But as if all this is not enough, another threatened strike/protest action is looming and this time it is coming from the Patriotic Entrepreneurs Association (PATEL). The group has threatened to shut down all businesses in the country should the Liberian government fail to drop new fees exceeding US$1,100 it has imposed on businesses.

The head of the Association, Dominic Nimely, told reporters that Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) is demanding the payment of US$160 as inspection fee for a 20ft container and US$300 for a 40ft container. He said this excludes US$280 and US$480 which they (importers) are also required to pay.

“We have been crying already with BiVAC and now there is an additional US$200 increment. We have over US$1,000 increased to free a container and it’s very high for businesses now. We were paying US$250 to BIVAC but now I have a container and I’m informed that I have to pay US$450 to BIVAC”, Nimley declared. 

It can be recalled that during the Sirleaf administration, the PATEL staged a “stay home” protest action that shut down businesses and paralyzed commercial activities around the country. The strike action was however called off due to swift intervention by government that engaged the PATEL leadership and convinced them to call off the protest action.

From what it appears, this government is indeed in dire straits although its officials are quick to deny such. However, living in a state of denial has its perils. And they portend a future of a very weak second-term bid if President George Weah does not come to grips with things in the two (2) years he has left on his term of office.  

It must not be forgotten that President Weah during his campaign for office declared he had the answers. He pledged to fix Liberia’s problems. Nearly four years have elapsed since he took the reins of office.

With only two (2) years left on his term, it remains to be seen whether he can make a successful last ditch attempt to fix Liberia’s problems before the sun sets on his term. Just what is wrong with Liberia?