The recent illegal closure of the Roots FM and the vandalization of its offices by state security officials and the continued stony silence of officials of the Press Union of Liberia, especially its President, Charles Cuffy, continues to claim the attention of the Daily Observer. The Daily Observer’s interest is by no means surprising given its own history of closures, arson attacks and arrests and imprisonment of its staffs.
The Roots FM as well as the Freedom FM were singled out by the President of the Press Union as media institutions inciting and propagating “hate messages”. Rather than calling for an independent probe or even citing those institutions to a hearing into concerns about the content of their radio messages, Mr. Cuffy instead called for their closure. And as if prompted by Cuffy’s statement calling for closure of the radio stations, state security descended with full force on the Roots FM, shutting it down and vandalizing it.
The Freedom FM, said to be owned by National Security Agency Deputy Director, Sam Siryon, was left untouched and left free to continue broadcasting. Recently during a radio phone-in talk show on Freedom FM, a Liberian male called in openly boasting that activists of the CDC had recruited a 50,000 strong vigilante force to deal with what the caller referred to as threats by the opposition to overthrow the CDC government under the guise of protests.
Another caller to the show openly warned that anyone venturing into the streets to protest on December 31, will be shot and killed. The caller repeated his warning and reiterated the CDC’s intentions to make good on the threats to kill, should people venture into the streets to protest against the government. This newspaper has also received credible reports of military training exercises being conducted within the vicinity of President Weah’s home in the Rehab Community.
Just who are these individuals? Are they part of the vigilante force the talk-show caller referred to or are they official state security officers conducting otherwise routine exercises or military drills? The Public wants to know, especially in view of rants publicly made on radio, boasting of the recruitment and training of men which is suspected to be done outside of standing arrangements governing the recruitment, vetting and training of state security officers.
The Daily Observer recalls that shortly after assuming power in 1997 President Taylor ordered the expulsion of ECOMOG, which had a standing mandate from ECOWAS to restructure and retrain the nation’s security forces. Immediately after the expulsion of ECOMOG troops, Taylor began a massive recruitment of men to serve his purposes. Hundreds, if not thousands of his ex fighters were absorbed into the state security. His notorious Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) was birthed through this process.
Taylor, who had ridden roughshod over the Liberian people for years, continued with a policy of recrimination against real and perceived political enemies upon becoming president in 1997. But as sure as night follows day, the pursuit of such policies of recrimination was bound to engender resistance and, before long, the country had once again slid into a renewed cycle of full blown civil war, which only ended with the intervention of the international community and the deployment of over 10,000 UN troops to restore and keep the peace for over ten years.
But the UN Peacekeeping mission has since folded up and departed the country, leaving Liberians with the responsibility to look after their own security.
Then came the rise to power of a new elite that had been waiting in the wings since 2005 to take power under the banner of the Congress for Democratic Change. Since assuming power, it appears the new government is proving incapable of actualizing and realizing the hopes of those who voted it into power.
Under the watch of this government, the nation’s economy has taken a nosedive with chances of avoiding a crash becoming slimmer by the day. Yet it appears, government officials are completely aloof and seem to be more interested in getting and grabbing rather than serving the interests of the common man on the street. And they appear increasingly jittery and extremely nervous at any prospect or suggestion of leaving or being voted out of office in 2023.
And judging from the spate of political violence to which the nation has borne witness recently, the unabated hate speech propagated on Freedom FM, increased threats of the use of violence against public protesters and political opponents and the military training of irregular forces under the watch of this government and within the vicinity of President Weah’s residence, constitutes genuine reasons for concern.
The Daily Observer, as always, is constrained to remind President Weah that those encouraging movement in this direction will not be there for him when the crunch comes. He should not allow agent-provocateurs to take center-stage because they will be doing so at his detriment. Should, for example, threats being aired on Freedom FM to “shoot and kill protesters” in the streets in December be actualized, it may engender resistance and retaliatory violence.
The question is, will the military stand by and remain indifferent should violence overtake the streets and create a situation of general lawlessness? It remains highly doubtful that the military will choose to remain indifferent to unfolding developments.
A flip through the pages of history will show that while state security, especially the Police, ran amok in the streets, randomly shooting and killing protesters on April 14, 1979, the military was instead protecting the protesters as they angrily attacked pubic buildings and looted stores and business.
At the end of the day, over two hundred persons lay dead and hundreds were arrested and jailed in the aftermath of April 14, 1979. But that watershed development left the Tolbert administration hanging by a thread and, not surprisingly, it was overthrown just a year later.
The Daily Observer calls on President Weah to avoid the repeat of such a scenario and take charge and lead, else others will take charge and lead him to an unkind and untimely fate.