A number of students who demonstrated in Margibi County, vandalized properties and blocked major highways trying to claim government’s attention—all in an effort to see their teachers back in the classrooms—have definitely missed the mark.
This is because their action has caused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to order those teachers who had protested, dismissed, while she promised to deal with students who were part of the demonstrations.
An outraged President Sirleaf upon her arrival from the United States at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Margibi County yesterday, called on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to close with immediate effect, those schools that carried out the strike actions. She also said that if teachers of those schools were involved, they should be dismissed as well.
On Tuesday, protesting students in Unification Town (Smell-No-Taste) near RIA blocked the airport-Monrovia highway demanding the return of their teachers to class.
This was preceded by another strike action on Monday, when normal commercial activities and the free-flow of traffic were brought to a standstill in Kakata, Margibi County’s political capital. Those students took to the streets in solidarity with the leadership of the National
Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL) demanding the resignations of Minister Werner and MCSS Superintendent Jacobs.
The students’ actions, however, turned violent, resulting in ransacking of several public buildings in Kakata. Also, they reportedly vandalized government facilities, including the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, offices of the National Elections Commission, the county’s Service Center and part of the fence that surrounds the Ministry of Education (MOE) facilities in Kakata.
As to the fate of the striking students, President Sirleaf said the students’ actions have caused a lot of loses to the government, private citizens, companies and organizations, especially airlines and as such, the students would have to bear the consequences of their actions.
“I’m going to instruct the Ministry of Education to close those schools immediately. We are going to ask for those students who were involved in the protest and deal with them,” she declared, adding, “And if there were teachers involved, they too will be dismissed until we see them handle themselves as leaders in the classrooms.”
The President indicated that her government will begin a program of discipline in the country, noting, “I heard the news of the students’ strike action while I was in Ghana on Wednesday.”
“It was brought to my attention that on Tuesday students blocked the RIA road, our major highway. As a result of that, many people came to their flights by changing from cars to riding on motorbikes, carrying their luggage in their hands and on their heads. Some of them also ended up missing their flights,” she said.
The President was concerned because most of the airlines left RIA without taking their required passengers which was a loss to them.
Some of the schools to be affected by the President’s pronouncement are the Lango Lappaye High School, E. J. Yancy, the Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute (KRTTI) Demonstration School, all in Kakata, and the Harbel Multilateral R. S. Caulfield High School in Harbel and Smell-No-Taste.
Although the President’s decision could be referred to as generic because not all of the students in those schools went out to protest, all of them will now bear the same consequences.
The Liberia National Police attempted to calm the rising tension when the newly appointed Inspector General, Gregory Coleman, began discussions among the MOE, NTAL and the MCSS Teachers Association to end the hostilities, but the President’s pronouncement might have scuttled those talks.
Coleman, during his intervention, said the sporadic blocking of major highways in the country, including the Monrovia-Kakata highway and the RIA-Monrovia highway by protesting students was worrisome.
Coleman encouraged the belligerent parties to find ways to get the students to return to their classrooms as soon as possible.
He said finding a quick and amicable solution to the standoff was important for the country’s peace and security, and also for the benefit of the innocent students who are victims of the unfortunate situation.
Some local radio stations, including the Liberia Broadcasting System, have reported that other than Margibi, some public school students and teachers in Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, and other counties also joined in the demonstrations to demand Werner’s resignation.