Last Thursday’s Students Standoff with the President: A Gravely Dangerous Development

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What were students doing on the streets last Thursday blocking the Presidential convoy? Who sent them there and what were the issues at stake?

Are there no security measures in place to prevent the President of Liberia from being so nakedly exposed to danger?

Our Legislative Reporter Keith Morris was on the scene, which occurred between the Monrovia City Hall and the UNMIL Headquarters where hundreds of high school students—or so they said they were—blocked the road, preventing any vehicle from proceeding westward to town. That is how they were able to prevent even the President of Liberia from reaching her office at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which was only a few yards away.

But the courageous Ellen, alighted (got out of) her vehicle, approached the students, and the angry crowd accompanied her to her office, on foot. Whoever heard of such a thing happening to a Head of State anywhere in the world? Remember what happened to the Nigerian Head of State, Murtala Mohammed, in 1976? The unassuming Murtala, unlike most national leaders, refused special presidential escort, and was riding in normal traffic on February 13, 1976 when a gunman came up to his vehicle and shot him dead!

We will deal later with the issue of the students’ grievance. The most urgent question today is how were they able to block the President’s pathway so easily? With all the government security agencies—the President’s National Security Advisor, the Liberia National Police (LNP), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN), the Ministry of Justice itself, the Ministry of National Defense and the Armed Forces of Liberia and, of course, UNMIL, the Organization still chiefly in charge of our security—could NONE of these Agencies have foreseen such a thing and recommended or taken precautionary measures, at least to prevent the President of Liberia from being so brazenly exposed? Then what is the purpose of the long, speeding, siren-blasting motorcade that is intended to pave the way for the President to pass? Did they not detect the gathering storm of students either waiting on the sidewalks or already on the streets? Where were their communications equipment and cell phones?

We call on UNMIL and the President’s National Security Advisor, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh to convene an urgent National Security meeting to discuss this matter. Invited should be Police Director Chris Massaquoi, Immigration Commissioner Reeves and National Security Agency Director Fumba Sirleaf. The purpose of this meeting is to undertake an immediate investigation into why the President’s convoy was allowed to be ambushed by angry students, exposing the Liberian leader and the entire nation to grave danger.

Everyone knows that ANYTHING could have happened last Thursday. And the entire security apparatus knows that Ellen is not the kind of person to remain in her car and call out the police and soldiers and order them to disperse the crowd. Far from that, she bravely got out of her vehicle, approached and engaged the hundreds of angry students.

The Security people would be the first to tell a protected official that such a thing is NOT ADVISABLE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. So why did they allow the President of Liberia to be so exposed? Heaven knows we have just come out of a terrible and deadly Ebola crisis, and are now back in it again, given the new cases we are currently experiencing. We all know also the devastation Ebola wreaked upon our country—including the near collapse of our economy—from a growth rate of over six percent to 0.4 percent; as well as our most embarrassing international isolation. So who needs another crisis?

A senior Liberian legal practitioner who happened also to have been on the scene last Thursday told the Daily Observer, “I strongly feel that some heads should roll.”

Heads to roll or not, we hope that last Thursday’s incident has taught our security apparatus a very serious lesson that should NEVER be repeated. We have no other advice for them. They already know what should have been done, and what to do in case of another such debacle.

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