Police: ‘No one died in violent clash’
By David S. Menjor & Alvin Worzi
The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has condemned the November 17, 2018 riot in Montserrado County, District #13, in which several persons were reported wounded, and called on the government to set up an independent body to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the violence.
CENTAL is a civil society organization involved with advocacy for transparency and accountability in public and private sectors’ service in the country.
The Liberia National Police (LNP) in a release yesterday said that “no one died as a result of the violence in District #13 by-election campaign rallies on Saturday.” According to the LNP, “the situation left four persons, three males and one female injured. The injured victims were immediately rushed to the Kevin Clinic in Bassa Town, New Georgia and the John F. Kennedy Medical Hospital respectively for treatment after which they were discharged.”
It can be recalled that partisans of the former ruling Unity Party (UP) supporting the Representative bid of Mrs. Cornelia Kruah-Togba and partisans of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in support of John Weah clashed during the close of their respective political campaigns.
In its press statement released yesterday, the civil society organization expressed deep concern over reports of the violence in the New Georgia neighborhood of District #13 and said the incident, among other things, should not be taken for granted.
“CENTAL frowns on such acts of violence, as they have the propensity to derail the peace we have enjoyed in the short while, as well as to undermine the gains made in enhancing democratic participation and sustainability in Liberia,” the press statement signed by the management, said.
The release added that the Liberia National Police (LNP) should take the lead in the investigation and should give serious attention to allegations linking Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson T. Koijee to the fracas.
“And findings of such investigation must be timely published and all those implicated impartially prosecuted, in keeping with the law,” the press statement advised.
CENTAL urged all candidates, their supporters and others, directly or indirectly associated with the upcoming District #13 Elections, to remain civil, peaceful and tolerant as they engage the electoral process.
The grounds of the New Georgia road and Estate turned chaotic around 4 p.m. Saturday, November 17, when partisans of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), headed by its Youth League chair Jefferson Koijee and partisans of the opposition alliance comprising Unity Party (UP), Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC) clashed, leaving several injured and at least one allegedly killed.
The situation occurred while the two sides were simultaneously conducting their political rallies, anticipating the pending by-elections, scheduled for today, Tuesday, November 20. According to eyewitnesses, the situation became tense when Jefferson at the head of a group of men wielding machetes, according to eyewitness accounts, marched from Iron Factory to the New Georgia Housing Estate where a rally for Ms. Kruah was being held by her supporters. They allegedly disrupted the program and physically assaulted Kruah’s supporters.
The CDC was campaigning for its candidate John J. Weah, while UP, LP and ANC jointly campaigned for their endorsed candidate, Cornelia Kruah-Togba. The two candidates are among the four leading candidates that are tipped to win the by-election in District #13, Montserrado County. Another candidate, Edward Flomo, also considered a staunch member of the CDC, is contesting as an independent candidate.
Several people however sustained injuries with one death(unconfirmed) reported so far. One of the injured persons told the Daily Observer that Koijee, who is also the current Mayor of Monrovia, along with his militants, used pepper-spray on his opponents.
While these figures are yet to be confirmed, both sides have made scathing accusations against each other, with social media rife with multiple versions of what happened. This situation led to the deployment of officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) within the New Georgia area.
In a statement issued on Sunday, November 18, 2018 under the signature of acting communications director, Prince Dunbar, NEC cautioned all political parties and their supporters to conduct their political activities in a peaceful manner within the confines of the Constitution, the electoral laws, regulations and guidelines to ensure that the political campaign period ends peacefully.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) has well-established guidelines on the expected conduct of political campaigns and rallies.
Among these guidelines, NEC states that: “Political Parties shall not carry and /or display arms and offensive weapons at political and related activities and gatherings; shall not engage, recruit or deploy any individual (s) for the purpose of violence, intimidation or harassment; shall in good faith coordinate their campaign activities in such a way that no two Political Parties shall hold public meetings or rallies at the same venue and/or locality on the same day, if such meetings or rallies are likely to be at venues so close to each other that a possibility of conflict arises. Where dates, venues, and timing for any of the above activities conflict, representatives of the affected Political Parties shall, in collaboration with the local authorities, meet in a cordial manner to resolve issues without resorting to violence.”
The Daily Observer sent text messages to the Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee and Cornelia Kruah-Togba about whether either party officially informed the NEC about their campaign rally arrangements. Neither party has since responded to our inquiries.
However, Dunbar from NEC confirmed to this newspaper that each candidate (or their campaign team) was supposed to submit to the NEC their plan of action, including date and venue of their rally. However, according to him, “no one officially informed the NEC” about their rally plans for Saturday, Nov. 17.
In her personal statement posted via a Facebook Live video, however, Cornelia Kruah-Togba said her campaign team officially informed the NEC of their planned rally. But the NEC communications officer, Prince Dunbar said he could not confirm this and said the pending investigation would bring to light the real facts.
According to the NEC statement, the Commission is collaborating with State Security to ascertain full details about the violence in the Gardnesville area in district # 13, Montserrado County.
The NEC has strongly warned all political parties and their supporters that it will not hesitate to take action in keeping with the laws of Liberia to punish any political party or political supporter engaging in acts of violence during the conduct of the By-Election in district #13.
Candidate Cornelia Kruah-Togba in a statement issued after the clash said they gathered peacefully to climax her campaign for the upcoming by-election, but met their unfortunate attack by CDC, thereby leaving some of her campaigners injured.
“We were also cognizant of the possibility of other candidates climaxing their campaigns and, as per NEC’s permission, we agreed to use different fields in the District to assemble. Sadly, it turned to a bloodbath where many of my supporters were brutally wounded with machetes, stones, sticks, and other weapons and pepper-sprayed by supporters of the ruling party, the CDC,” Mrs. Kruah-Togba said.
According to candidate Kruah-Togba, the CDC group was led by its youth chair, Mr. Koijee. She said the CDC supporters left their assembly point in Iron Factory and marched into New Georgia.
Mrs. Kruah-Togba said she, along with the Liberty Party’s Political Leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, had to be whisked to safety immediately following the attack, describing it as a violation of their constitutional rights and the elections laws.
“This is worrisome because it is proving now that the elections will most likely be rigged by the ruling party (CDC) in favor of its candidate as they now seem intent on violently taking over the leadership of our District. The attack on us today is a clear case of electoral violence meant to intimidate and instill fear in our supporters,” she said.
Mrs. Kruah-Togba said “My heart goes out to those who were wounded and hurt by this brutality and assault. We are highly disappointed by today’s events. I saw firsthand the brutality against peaceful citizens and partisans of the tripartite opposition alliance led by officials of government and senior members of the ruling party.”
“My life and that of my family, as well as the lives of members of my campaign team, and supporters are at risk,” she said. “I have left my home tonight and relocated to a safe location due to the attacks on my life and threats of burning my house tonight. I am also very deeply saddened by reports of the death of two of our supporters who were stabbed today, among many others.”
Meanwhile, the LNP has launched an active investigation to ensure that perpetrators of such violence are made to face the full weight of the law. Members of the general public are urged to cooperate with the Police in ensuring that those who perpetrated such acts are penalized.
As residents of District 13 go to the polls on Tuesday, November, 20, 2018, voters are advised to comport themselves in an orderly and peaceful manner in order to avoid further violence, LNP said, promising to “deploy greater police presence in District #13 to ensure a peaceful conduct of elections.”