Hundreds Stranded, Thirsty at President’s Annual Address

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Hundreds of people who gathered on the grounds of the Capitol Building for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s final State of the Nation address on Monday, found themselves confined for more than five hours by security personnel who restricted all those who entered the grounds from going out, even to find water and food.

These people stood in the scorching sun and did not receive even water from the State. Unfortunately there were no water vendors in the entire vicinity and many blamed the lack of water for sale on the tight security measures in the area.

“Maybe this was not budgeted for that purpose,” one bystander remarked.

Drinking water and food could also not be found around the Capitol, especially at the ever busy area adjacent to the main entrance of the University of Liberia (UL).

Those affected included supporters, sympathizers and newsmen, who had gathered in their numbers to hear the President’s message.

Most of the people arrived early at the Capitol grounds and were greeted with rigorous security screening by state security before they were allowed to enter.

Thereafter, the dignitaries began to arrive. Unfortunately for the early arrivals, no one was allowed to leave the fence—unless one had “connections”. This situation was further exacerbated by the noonday heat and humidity to the extent that many in the incoming queue were observed sweating profusely.

“What kind of nonsense is this? We have no water in here to drink and the security is telling us not to go outside. This is total wickedness, because our own government cannot treat us like this,” a middle-aged man was heard shouting.

When confronted by newsmen, the man, who declined to give his name, noted that, “It is out of total insensitivity that the government would gather a huge number of people without any plan to provide them with water. I want to drink and many other people here, too, but there is no water here and security officers are stopping us from going (outside).”

Joseph Jallah, a UP partisan, who became frustrated by the tight security, expressed disappointment at having to endure such ‘inhumane conditions,’ especially at such a crowded ceremony. Jallah, who arrived on the grounds at 10 a.m., said he sent for water from central Monrovia, “because I was dying inside here. This is very unfair to us ordinary people.”

In mockery, 28 year old Jack Davies said, “Maybe the organizers did not think about the ordinary people. We all know that after the President’s speech she and her dignitaries will wine and dine while we will be heading home drained up.”

An influential staff at the Lower House, who asked not to be named, said that the situation was a shame because there should have been water for people to drink on the grounds of the Capitol, especially given the hot sun.

He blamed the situation on the leadership of new House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay and his Ways, Means and Finance committee. “During the regime of former Speaker Alex Tyler, all of these used to be here. Water was not a problem especially on such an occasion, but it is disheartening that everyone here is complaining about lack of water to drink,” he said.

The House staffer noted that the leadership of the Legislature was probably depending on President Sirleaf to do everything, which should not be the case. “These guys are now only after what they can get as their mandates are about to elapse so they have no time for the ordinary people. This is just a clear example of the wickedness of our Lawmakers,” he grumbled.

A few people who managed to get some sachets of water into the fence sold them for L$10 apiece.

Even the dignitaries, many of whom began arriving hours before the President entered the grounds of the Capitol, weren’t even served water inside the Chamber which was apparently very hot. The dignitaries were seen using anything they could find to fan themselves and many were sweating profusely.

Immediately after the address, refreshments were served in the Rotunda for only the official invitees. But many of them, exhausted and thirsty, were seen rushing away, leaving the refreshments behind. The refreshments were reportedly provided by the office of President Sirleaf.

A reliable source at the Legislature said that the President was only responsible to provide for those that she and the Legislature invited officially. “I think the organizing committee only prepared for those who were extended invitations and it was for them that the tables were laid. Other guests were there just to grace the occasion.

He further indicated that people who arrived very early at the Capitol did not need to come so soon knowing that the program was not scheduled to begin until 2 p.m. “The protocol announced the time and we all should have taken note,” he pointed out.

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