By Lawrence Dembo Sekajipo
The April 14, 1979 “Rice Riots” in Monrovia should never have occurred had President William R Tolbert, Jr. not been ill-advised to deny the protestors’ request and order the National Security Forces to fire live ammunition on the protesters. Liberia was divided – the Liberian National Police taking direct orders from the Ministry of Justice to shoot any civilian found in the streets and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) refusing to attack civilians.
President Tolbert lost confidence in the AFL and brought in Guinean Soldiers to protect Liberia. That was a little over 40 years ago (April 14, 1979 – May 22, 2019). Just imagine today’s Liberia with a huge population of our young people emotionally and physically scarred from 15 years of a brutal civil unrest. Who can predict any outcome?
So many Liberians, including me, were scarred from the April 14, 1979 “Rice Riots.” It was approximately 2:30 PM on Saturday, April 14, 1979, when I arrived on Randall Street from Harbel, Firestone, where I was then employed by Firestone Plantations Company as a Research Chemist in the Quality Assurance Department.
As I walked down Randall Street, on the opposite side of the then TRADEVCO BANK, I saw a member of the Armed Forces of Liberia, use his machine gun butt to break down the glass doors of the Marina Supermarket, with a throng of young people behind him.
The looting began on Randall Street and continued for over several hours.
I frightfully walked next door to the apartment where my friends, Sue Cummings, Katherine Harmon and Irene Nimpson resided at the time. There I tried to convince Irene and Sue to come with me to Firestone for the weekend until the dust settled in Monrovia.
However, there was no way to even get a taxicab to go back to the ELWA Junction in Paynesville where I had earlier parked my personal vehicle. After a few hours of frustration, I walked down to West Point to spend the night with my cousins, the Taplahs. It was there the next morning, Sunday, April 15, 1979, when one of the young men involved in the looting at the supermarket came and told me that one of the ladies that I was with the day before had been shot and killed, about 20 minutes after I had left, by a member of the AFL without any provocation.
I rushed back to Randal Street that Sunday morning only to find out that Irene Nimpson, my best friend, schoolmate, a senior student at the University of Liberia, had been senselessly murdered by a member of the Liberian Army.
Irene was shot in the back with the bullet penetrating her and into the concrete wall of their residence. What a senseless death for a young, vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, caring, loving and sweet friend to die. Each day I am haunted by that memory. Each year while on vacation in Monrovia, I visit Randall Street to pay homage to Ms. Irene Nimpson. I was there today, Thursday, May 23, 2019, remembering my friend and sister, Irene Nimpson.
This is the story of Irene Nimpson who was shot and killed by a government that supposedly cared for its citizens. The Nimpson brothers and family have a hole in their hearts for their beloved sister Irene. I have a hole in my heart for the loss of my best friend Irene. We do not need any more Irene Nimpson as casualties of our government.
Please, Mr. President, let the protestors demonstrate with no hindrance and avoid a counter demonstration. The leaders or organizers of the planned June 7, 2019 protest must be known and forewarned that they bear the consequences of the actions of their protesters should any violence or destruction of property occur.
We all believe in the Constitution and our FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS. However, to every FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT – THE FREEDOM TO ASSEMBLE PEACEBLY, there is corresponding accountability and responsibility. You do not take a group of emotionally charged young people in the streets to protest in the name of democracy and turn them loose.
In developed societies, you do not go into a theatre and yell “fire” and dissociate yourself from the resulting pandemonium caused by your irresponsible outburst. In Liberia, our folks say, “you don’t throw a stone and hide your hand behind your back”. Being accountable and taking responsibility for your actions are the hallmark of a wholesome leadership.
The late Albert Porte, Father of Liberia’s Human Rights Movement, eloquently detailed in “The Day Monrovia Stood Still: April 14, 1979”, the pitfalls of the self-serving advice of President Tolbert’s advisors that turned a peaceful demonstration into a brutal “Rice Riot” and the beginning of the decline of an otherwise progressive government.
President Weah, the People of Liberia elected you to protect them at all cost. Please do so to #savethestate.
Lawrence Dembo Sekajipo, CPA, CFE, CVA, D.B.A., J.S.M., MBA, MPA, BSc.
Certified Public Accountant/Certified Fraud Examiner/Certified Valuation Analyst/Forensic Accountant