Ruling party executive council member hails postponed protest as a success
At long last, it appears that in principle, there is some concurrence between the Government of Liberia and the Council of Patriots (CoP) concerning the new date of the planned protest that was earlier scheduled for December 30, 2019.
After several days of negotiations mediated by members of the international community as to whether or not the Government of Liberia would provide security for the Council of Patriots’ planned protest rescheduled for Monday, January 6, the Liberian Government indicated its consent in line with its state obligation and responsibility to provide security for the protesters.
In a statement on BBC Focus on Africa on Friday, January 3, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said the government will provide security for the protest, with the precondition that it is “peaceful.”
“Our precondition is that, it should be done peacefully without hindering the rights of other people. We are not stopping anybody from exercising his or her constitutional rights but it should be peaceful. On the 6th or the 7th, any group that will peacefully assemble will be protected by the government,” said Min. Nagbe.
Minister Nagbe’s statement came at a time when the Ministry of Justice had said in a written communication earlier that protesting on a working day is out of the question and that the government would not allow it.
The Justice Ministry, in a statement on December 28, 2019, said: “When the government ultimately issues its permits for the public gatherings at times alternate logistical arrangements that differ from the original request will be offered, for example when the duties of the state to balance the rights of all citizens take precedence over the preference of one group. For example, in general, mass demonstrations should not take place on weekdays on a capital city’s main roadway when to do so would cause the greatest disruption to educational, governmental and healthcare functions and commercial activities.”
COP’s expected Monday protest, which was called to be postponed the last minute during a December 29, 2019 intervention by foreign diplomats residing in Monrovia, was supposed to rescheduled for Saturday, January 4, 2020. However, following the COP’s rejection of Fridays and Sundays, citing the two days as holy days for CoP supporters who are members of the Islamic and Christian faiths, respectively, the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church in Liberia chimed in, saying that conducting the protest on a Saturday would be an affront to their faith as well.
Much to the pleasure of the CoP, the SDA’s position strengthened the protestors’ demand for January 6.
“The COP will like to state here categorically that if we were to agree on the desired date of government, the COP will be setting a bad precedent,” the group’s chairman Henry Costa further said during a press conference on Jan. 2. “It will mean that in the future and going forward, anytime any citizens wish or desire to protest, they will have to wait for the consent of the government will have to wait for the government to dictate to them when they can assemble and that will undermine our constitution. Therefore, the COP has decided to stick to the alternative date that was pronounced on December 30, which is January 6, the date that we decided to peacefully assemble.”
At this point, the GoL appears to be tempering justice with reason by conceding the January 6 date and venue as desired by the CoP, but not in so many words. In a statement released on the afternoon of Sunday, January 5, 2020, the Ministry of Justice reiterated the statement Information Minister Nagbe’s made on BBC, but with a much more open scope and a stronger caveat.
In two succinct bullet points, at the end of a 2-page press release, the MoJ noted:
- “As President Weah stated regarding the 30 December 2019 date, the Government is strongly committed to preserving security and will do so whenever and wherever the COP or any other group stages any assembly protest or demonstration of any mass size, including on January 6, 2020.
- “Individuals comprising the leadership of the COP or any other group will be held personally individually and collectively culpable and liable, under the law, for consequences associated with any violation of the laws of Liberia during any unauthorized demonstration and/or protest.”
Explaining its position, the MoJ noted that “the Government of Liberia has demonstrated flexibility with regard to venue and date, and focused on preserving peace and security for all Liberians…” However, not being able to reason with the protesters on the proposed January 4, 2020 date, the government expressed its “[disappointment] that the COP is uninterested in what was seen by many Liberians and the International Community as a reasonable compromise.”
“Peaceful assembly, petition, and expression are rights guaranteed in most democratic countries, including Liberia. However, nowhere are these rights absolute,” the MoJ statement said. “International best practices and Liberian law do not preclude restrictions on place, time, or manner of mass protests; provided the restrictions or requirements serve a legitimate public interest, such as public safety, and to guarantee that the rights of others are not infringed upon, such as the right of freedom of movement which is also guaranteed in Liberia’s Constitution. In short, the Government would not seek to restrict the right of small numbers of individuals to assemble at any time; however, ‘mass protests’ in the capital city require prior approval, as Government must provide security.”
Early victory for protesters?
In a related development, Cyril Allen, former Chairman of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) and now Chair of the Governing Council of ruling the CDC, has hailed the postponed December 30, 2019 protest as a success and the most, peaceful, non-violent, non-confrontational, and effective protest ever in the history of political protests in the country.
“We as a nation and people will be naive if we do not admit that the impact of the protest on our National patrimony is too great to be ignored. On December 30th the entire nation came to a standstill and that there was no social or economic activity,” said Chief Allen in a Facebook post.
He added that during a road trip from Monrovia to Ganta, he observed that all markets stalls on the ever busy commercial route were empty — something which he considered unusual.
“Public Transport was scarce and vehicles on the roads were few and far between. The GOL/LRA did not collect its daily tax revenue of over US$1 million. Every and all other commercial transactions and interactions were paused. Banks and other financial institutions were closed and Mobile Money transactions were stalled,” Allen noted.
These are some of the signs and symptoms of the results of an effective Peaceful, non-violent protest,” Chief Allen added. “The COP should consider this as an overwhelming victory and ensure that this occurrence will be recorded in the anal of history; whilst they move to the next level in their continued advocacy to keep the GOL’S feet to the fire to adhere to the rule of law, transparency, good governance, the improvement of the living standards and the provision of a better life for all Liberians,” he concluded.
The COP had earlier announced the theme of their protest as “Step-down” campaign message to President George Weah, as the country experiences extreme economic hardship since his (Weah) ascendancy to power for nearly two years now.
However, due to local and international pressure, the group stepped away from the ‘step-down’ mantra, but maintains issues of extreme economic hardship, bad governance and the president disregard for the rules of laws as the reason for their protest. It is not known yet, considering what the COP sees as grave concerns, whether or not when they assemble the “Step-down” inscription and slogan will be absent during the protest.