The attention of this newspaper is drawn to the front page lead story carried in its June 4th edition headlined “GoL, CoP agree on security protocol”. According to the story, the Government of Liberia has affirmed its commitment to provide security to the peaceful assembly of citizens who are expected to converge on Capitol Hill on the morning of June 7, 2019.
For the past weeks Monrovia and perhaps the country have been gripped with tension arising from the decision reached by the Council of Patriots (CoP) to stage a mass protest on June 7 against expressed opposition from GoL and its supporters. Tension is indeed in the air and it is palpable.
Just two days ago, a member of the CoP, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, was greeted with a hail of stones after he emerged from the SKY radio studios at the end of a radio talk-show with host T. Max Jlateh. The ensuing melee between supporters from both sides left several persons wounded.
Although the situation was later brought under control by the Police, no arrests were reported. This was followed the next day by a Police siege of Representative Yekeh’s compound by armed Police who, according to reports, had come to have him arrested for questioning about the alleged “attempted murder” due to merciless flogging of one Emmanuel Freeman on Kolubah’s orders.
The ensuing standoff between Police and supporters of Yekeh Kolubah led to the intervention of Bomi District #1 Representative Edwin M. Snowe and a team of ECOWAS monitors, who arrived at the home of Rep. Kolubah to escort him to the LNP headquarters.
At just about the same time, the Police was engaged in scuffles with protesting University of Liberia students opposing the arrest of the chairman of the campus-based Student Unification Party (SUP)
As it appears, these developments have not succeeded in placing a damper on the determination of the organizers to go ahead with the protest demonstration as planned. And from what is being observed, GoL is indeed in panic mode which portends trouble, plenty trouble if left unchecked.
These are all reasons why the Council of Patriots(CoP) have the obligation and duty to ensure that they issue clear instructions to their supporters to remain calm in the face of provocation.
But more to that, organizers should refrain from sending mixed and confusing messages to their supporters and avoid making statements on which they later backpedal such as the pronouncement that they would not have honored the invitation from the Supreme Court but only to later reverse their stance and honor the invitation of the Court.
The word also goes out to the GoL to lower the tempo. GoL officials should realize by now that attempts to suppress the demonstration using strong-arm tactics are laden with a potential boomerang effect. This newspaper has warned repeatedly that poor management of the crisis could trigger off violence which could spiral out of control.
As can be observed in videos capturing the incidents yesterday, the performance of the Police suggests that in event of a face-to-face encounter with the thousands the protest is expected to attract, the Police will certainly be overwhelmed.
According to an ex-military officer (name withheld), in the event where a general breakdown of law and order ensues, the military will either be provoked or goaded into interventionist mode by developments and events unfolding around them.
And if they do take the plunge, according to the officer, and enter the fray, they will certainly not be taking orders from President Weah and that may provide a signal to President Weah that his time is up.
In such a scenario, the CoP, composed of disparate interests, may not be prepared to assume the mantle of national leadership forthwith and this shortcoming could prove pivotal to the involvement of the military in national political life for the second time.
In the opinion of this newspaper, this is not the kind of situation President Weah should wish to see or invite upon himself. In order to avert such a possibility as a military takeover, President Weah and the CoP need to act in concert to prevent rabble-rousers and agent provocateurs from engaging in provocative acts and violence to which either side may feel compelled to respond in kind.
The head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Dr. Ibn Chambas, has expressed fears that the capacity of the Police may be overwhelmed should the protest last beyond a day. However, his call for protest organizers to restrict the protest to a day, for this reason, appears to have gone unheeded.
With just a day left to June 7, all sides need to exert tolerance and refrain from engaging in provocation and acts of violence which, rather than “saving the state”, could instead plunge the state into a downward spiral from which recovery could prove most daunting.
In this regard, the Daily Observer urges all sides to abide by the agreement reached between the Police and the CoP over movement and assembly areas. This is because this newspaper is troubled by reports quoting Police sources that no marches will be allowed and that Capitol Hill is off limits to all on June 7
This newspaper has urged that clear and unambiguous messages from protest organizers and the GoL must be conveyed to the public to reduce the likelihood of confrontation between opposing sides. In any case the charge to remain peaceful to safeguard the peace rests more on the shoulders of GoL since it is the GoL that enjoys a monopoly over the instruments of violence with all the coercive power they represent.
The promise of UN and ECOWAS observers to monitor events during the protest is a welcome development. In the final analysis, peaceful outcomes of the June 7 protests could assured if Liberians including actors on both sides of the divide take ownership of the process by abiding strictly by the terms of the MoU signed between the CoP and the GoL. Anything short of this could spell disaster for all.
This, a word of caution to the CoP!