By William Q. Harmon and Gloria T. Tamba
Former Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks says the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is now taking a new direction — moving into a new reality — from an era numerous unfortunate episodes in the past perpetrated by people in arms.
Cllr. Banks made the statement on Monday, February 11, 2019, at a program marking the 62nd anniversary celebration of the AFL. The program was held at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in Monrovia, where he served as the keynote speaker.
“Our military in this new era cannot afford to make a mistake believing that intervention is only required in times of war or when the people are faced with a dire humanitarian crisis,” he said.
He called on AFL military personnel to be prepared, but that they must be supported by the government at all times so that they can intervene at any moment and whenever the need arises.
Cllr. Banks expressed the joy that the AFL is not just being trained in the art of warfare but is now moving into a new reality of being an instrument of humanity, of service, of peace and of humanitarianism.
Last year, the erudite jurist was opportune to witness, first hand, the groundbreaking ceremony of the construction of the #14 Military Hospital, which President George Weah has promised to the army. At that time, Banks was still a member of the Supreme Court and had gone to represent the high court at the occasion.
It was at that event that Justice Banks spoke about the transformation of the restructured army.
He said: “I attended the last event not because the Chief Justice had sent me; rather, my focus and greatest joy was what I saw in the making and was proud to be a part of that historic occasion, after seeing the turbulence of war that had for many years engulfed our nation; I saw a new direction for our military.”
Banks lauded the Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of the AFL, President Weah, for the new direction of army. The new hospital, he is convinced, will open up a new relationship of service and humanity between the military and the civilian population.
“I see the hospital as an avenue for service by the AFL not just to military personnel and their families, but in addition to the wider surroundings and far away communities. It will serve all of our people in need and will serve as a communication bridge that will not only make our nation safer but make it trusting of our military,” he said.
The security sector would need funding to ensure preparedness and readiness in keeping with constitutional mandates for homeland security and national defense.
Defense Minister Daniel Dee Ziankahn
In a special statement, Defense Minister Daniel Dee Ziankahn said the AFL is aware that the responsibilities of “our military to its citizens is paramount and is doing all in its strength to ensure that the army lives up to its standard.”
Ziankahn admitted how cognizant he is of the president’s vision of building a military that is apolitical and a respected institution, an organization welcomed as a defender of the Constitution and its citizens, and as part of his ministry’s efforts to support that vision.
He said the military has engaged in various sustained initiatives, to ensure reform and establish constructive civil-military relations.
To this end, Ziankahn indicated that the army has crafted a clear Code of Conduct, supported by a sustained effort to incorporate ethical values in the armed forces and reinforce accountability, public trust, integrity, service, and respect for human rights.
He added that training of officers has been a major priority at the ministry. “To ensure this, we have collaborated with some international partners from US Department of Defense, the Department of State and the US office of Security Cooperation in Liberia, to conduct local training for the AFL’s military and civilian staff.”
“They are being trained in various fields, including defense budgeting and legislative affairs. With the help of our partners, we have set up an Inspectorate General Department for military ombudsman outside of the chain of command, to ensure accountability for violations in the military and the civilian administration.
“In the past 12 months,” the minister noted that the military has worked with its partners to ensure that training of officers becomes a priority. Last year, a considerable number of AFL officers and enlisted men and women benefited from training opportunities offered by friendly governments, including the USA, Nigeria, Ghana, China, Egypt, and others.”
Additionally, two certified AFL pilots have returned from Nigeria where they underwent seven years of rigorous training in both military and civilian aircraft, and obtained Commercial Pilot License (CPL) from the International Aviation College in Kwara State, Nigeria.
These pilots, he said, are the first personnel trained to serve the Liberia Air Wings. The AFL, he said, espouses respect for the rule of law. As a force for good, he added that the AFL has made significant strides in building a vibrant military justice system.
Currently, two officers of the AFL have been admitted as Attorneys-at-law at the Liberian National Bar Association. These two have been appointed as Judge Advocate General and Deputy Judge Advocate General of the AFL respectively.
Defense Minister Ziankahn added that accommodations and housing continue to pose a major challenge for military personnel and their families. The few numbers of housing units in the functional barracks are inadequate to accommodate a substantial number of soldiers, especially the enlisted. This situation, the minister said, has resulted in congestion and poses a hindrance to the recruitment process in the army.
The ministry looks forward to more budgetary allocation in the next budget year, to begin renovation works at other barracks and military facilities in other parts of the country as a way of alleviating this problem.