In less than a year’s time the United Nations peacekeeping force, UNMIL, is scheduled to depart Liberia at the completion of its mission here. UNMIL has already more than a year ago started scaling down its operations.
Its troops are expected to be replaced by Liberian security, led by the Liberia National Police (LNP).
This “completion” of UNMIL’s mission became highly questionable last Saturday morning, to the utter embarrassment of our President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, just as she was attending the funeral of Liberia’s Ambassador to London, Rudolf von Ballmoos.
But who cared that the President had been embarrassed and exposed? The officers of the LNP and the President’s own personal bodyguards, the Executive Protection Unit (EPU), started quarreling among themselves, even violently, at Broad Street, just a few yards from where the President and other top officials joined the bereaved family at the late Ambassador’s funeral.
President Sirleaf, upon hearing of the clash between her two closest security forces, ordered an immediate investigation. Her swift action was a clear indication that she was aware of the gravity of the incident. If the very people hired and paid to protect the President, her immediate family and the nation itself are publicly fighting among themselves, even while the President and her government are at an official function, can she rely on them to protect her?
These EPU officers—and their LNP counterparts—fail to understand that once you cut off the head of government, the rest is fair game. Is that not what happened in 1980?
The vile behavior of these two security organizations clearly demonstrates that they are NOT ready to defend either the President or even the country.
There are certain basic intangibles (things one cannot see or touch) that are prerequisite to the proper performance of any duty. The first is efficiency. One has got to know one’s job and do everything possible to perform it well and to the best of one’s ability.
The second is self-control. There may be on any job many distractions, not least among them provocations (things that make one angry) that can occur at any time on any job. The important thing here is to control oneself and one’s temper, otherwise one becomes totally distracted from what one is doing and loses control. That clearly is what happened to the EPU and the LNP last Saturday.
The third essential on duty is a high sense of responsibility. How responsible were these two top security organizations in maintaining presidential and state security last Saturday? They clearly acted in a most irresponsible manner, putting at risk the President, her official entourage and, by the same token, the state.
The heads of these two organizations, Chris Massaquoi and Frank Nyenkan, we are afraid, will have a hard time defending themselves and avoiding summary dismissals. For clearly what happened on Saturday is tantamount to a very bad reflection on the leadership and rank and file of both organizations.
Alas, these organizational heads have been let off the hook! The President has suspended not them but only their “commanders.” Does either Commissioner Massaquoi or Nyenkan have the honor to resign?
Remember what happened a few years ago when a man jumped over the White House fence in Washington, D.C.? The White House, the President and his immediate family are by law protected by the Secret Service. The Head of the Secret Service, taking full responsibility for what happened, promptly resigned.
Some time ago we published an editorial that followed remarks by the UN Secretary General’s former Special Representative, Karen Landgren. In order for the LNP and other security agencies to be ready to protect Liberia when UNMIL departs, she said, these agencies must demonstrate the highest integrity.
In our editorial that followed, we pleaded with the LNP and its Inspector General, Chris Massaquoi, to take seriously the SRSG’s advice. We suggested he first ensure that his men and women manning the traffic demonstrate the highest degree of integrity and self-respect. In other words, they should STOP demanding money from motorists, wheelbarrow boys, taxis and others.
In that editorial, we acknowledged the need to improve the salaries and working conditions of police officers; though that is never an excuse for corruption.
Last Saturday’s incident is a clear and serious indication that our security agencies are NOT ready to replace UNMIL. The government must carefully weigh its options in this 11th hour of UNMIL’s time here and take the necessary action to defend this vulnerable republic.