By Omari Jackson & Hannah Geterminah
A group of physically challenged Liberians under the banner of Disabled Like Minds for Good Governance, led by Samuel Dean yesterday congregated on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, to present a petition to House Speaker Bhofal Chambers. Their purpose was however thwarted by scuffles with the House’s Sergeant-at-arms who hurled invectives not worthy of mention here.
At the Capitol Hill yesterday the disabled community held placards screaming “Change 3 Directors at National Council on Disabilities,” and “The Reinstatement of NCD Directors is a miscarriage of Justice,” one poignantly proclaiming, “Give Us Justice or Give Us Death.”
The gathering included the physically, visually and audibly challenged, some of who were in wheelchairs and others with crutches.
The more than 50 men and women also included children who serve as guides to their blind parents. As they chanted and sang what has become ‘battle cries’ in Liberia – Amandla, Ngawethu, among others – their leaders moved back and forth hobbling on their crutches, while those unable to see held their ground.
“Enough is enough,” Dean said when the Sergeant-at-arms from Speaker Chambers’ office, came down to speak to the group. “We want Dr. Chambers to come down to us so that we can read our petition,” he added.
The Sergeant-at-arms thought otherwise and suggested that the group should relocate to another section on Capitol Hill because vehicles were bringing in lawmakers, but the group refused.
According to eyewitness accounts, he Sergeant-at-arms refused to budge and insisted that the group relocated to another area nearby. In the shouting match that ensued, a voice was heard saying “why Taylor did not bury these people, in apparent reference to once widely bandied accounts of the alleged slaughter during the civil war in 2003, of disabled ex combatants by forces loyal to former President Taylor.
That remark, according to eyewitness accounts, was too much to bear as it stoked the anger of the protesters.
As anger flared and the disabled moved in their numbers to enter the hall of the House of Representatives, the Sergeant-at-arms made a desperate attempt to prevent them from entering.
“That was where he made a mistake,” said a police officer, who stood by and watched the show. “There was no need to stop them.”
Meanwhile by this time, the Sergeant-at-arms had been pushed through the door into what someone described as into ‘thy kingdom come.’ Being protected by onlookers and bystanders, the Sergeant-at-arms could do nothing as his opponents swept through the gate.
That was the physically challenged’s first victory. Once inside the hall, Dean led a group of four to occupy each of the two stairs, with instructions that no one should be allowed to come down or climb the stairs.
Meanwhile frantic efforts were being made to calm tempers, with assurances to the disabled group that their demands would be honored and the petition would reach Dr. Chambers.
The legislators who were able to calm the situation and restore sanity were Dowoh C. Eleekia, Chairman of the House Committee on peace and reconciliation and Josiah M. Cole, co-chair on rules and order at the House of Representatives.
They assured the group that they regretted the incident and recognized their right to come to Capitol Hill to demand an audience with the Speaker. They also told the group that they would hear from the Speaker in about five days.
Meanwhile, the petition, a copy of which is with the Daily Observer, the disabled group wrote:
“We are writing you this letter to bring to your attention the burning issue that has plunged our sphere into a cataclysmic crisis. A few months ago, President George Weah re-instated the three directors at the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), the life-blood of the disabled community.
“This decision stirred up sentiments in our arena because their reappointment did not meet the consensus of our community. Since 2005, the NCD, in this context especially section 9, has been a quasi-legislative branch in which directors are selected through a competitive vetting process headed by the Vice President’s office, which then makes a recommendation to the president for appointment.
“However, the current directors are chosen with the deliberate indifference that ignored the procedure and has found pity from the president through his Protocol Officer.
“Besides this procedural error, the current directors who were recently reinstated have not served the community well. The trio has served the community for eight years and mismanagement has brought no improvement to the lives of persons with disabilities. They have instituted no viable programs to get the disabled out of their poverty-stricken lives. They are unequal to the task and are predisposed to self-aggrandizement.
“Hon. Speaker, you need no other confirmation of their ineptitude and injury than the ones you see daily. You drive by the Nigerian House, VAMOMA House, and Crown Hill and see the blind begging for alms along with their kids who will be public charges in the future. Then there are the physically impaired in wheelchairs under the scorching sun, panhandling for their daily bread. There are the naked malnourished mental health people who sleep on the streets and eat from dumpsters and the so-called Zogos reeling from the side effect of Drug-Induced Psychosis.
“Predicated upon the above concerns, we pray that by the powers vested in you as the first and most powerful branch of government to subpoena the Executive to withdraw their reinstatement, set up a skeleton team to govern the commission, while you probe into the matter to a logical conclusion.” The statement concluded.