The voter registration (VR) center at the student palaver hut on the campus of the St. Francis High School in Jacob Town, Paynesville, has been closed since last Saturday, February 11, when an officer of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) reportedly disrupted voter registration at the center.
In the riot that ensued, a worker of the National Elections Commission (NEC) reportedly lost her personal belongings including a camera.
Ms. Amelia Mavash, a NEC assigned staff at the center, told the Daily Observer that a man, who only identified himself as a LDEA officer, demanded that NEC staff register a handful of unidentified persons he brought to the center without questioning them on their eligibility to vote in Liberia.
According to the NEC staffers, this happened while they were ‘very carefully’ trying to interrogate and ascertain the proper identities of the people the ‘LDEA officer’ wanted registered.
“The man expressed his frustration on the grounds that we were particularly critical on certain groups of people, while questioning them to at least authenticate their true citizenship,” Mavash said.
She explained that the LDEA officer blocked an interview that was being conducted with one man suspected of not being a Liberian citizen.
“We were asking our questions so that the fellow in the queue could give us the right information about his citizenship and residency in Montserrado County District #2, when the LDEA man interrupted by shouting that NEC staffers are not allowed to ask too many questions when an individual comes to register,” said Ms. Mavash.
Shortly following the altercation, the ‘LDEA officer,’ she said, “demanded that we register the people he queued, but we refused on grounds that none of them had presented a clear picture of their citizenship.”
While this fuss was about to intensify, an immigration officer suspected that one of the fellows who attempted to register needed better screening, so the immigration officer ordered him out of the line to face further questioning. This action did not go down well with the ‘LDEA officer,’ who violently prevented the person from getting out of the queue.
In the melee that ensued, some VR observers representing the Unity Party also joined the LDEA officer to disrupt the process, resulting in a free-for-all fight that ended the entire process in chaos.
“My personal camera was destroyed and we nearly lost NEC’s VR equipment in the process,” Mavash claimed.
The NEC staffers sought refuge that day in a tiny room at St. Francis High School in an attempt to safeguard themselves, as well as the VR documents and equipment.
When contacted via telephone, the principal of the school, Winston Toe, said the VR process will not continue at his school if NEC cannot provide adequate security for the location and its personnel.
“We too are afraid that the situation here may become chaotic one day if the right security measures are not put in place to curtail the improprieties,” Mr. Toe said.
He described District #2 as “highly polarized with pockets of people who are divided either on tribal or religious lines,” and as such, he said, “not too many of the residents think before they act.”
All efforts to contact the accused LDEA officer, the Immigration officer as well as the UP observers, did not materialize as they had all left the scene by the time reporters got there. No contact information was provided for them.
But the DEA’s Public Information officer James Kpadeh told the Daily Observer via mobile phone that officers assigned at the VR centers, including agents of the LDEA, were there to coordinate joint security operations.
“We are aware of our officers being assigned at the VR centers to monitor, but not interfere with or disrupt the process,” Kpadeh told the Daily Observer.
Saturday’s incident at the St. Francis VR center was the second following another tussle that erupted nearly two weeks ago, which was handled by officers of the Liberia National Police.