Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean has assured a coalition of women advocacy groups of his commitment to protecting all candidates and their supporters in Thursday’s election in Nomadatonau, Gbarpolu County, near the Sierra Leone border.
Minister Dean gave the assurance on Tuesday when coalition members headed by former foreign Minister Olubanke King Akerele met with him to discuss security and other concerns related to Botoe Kanneh, the female candidate who barred from entering Nomadatonau on December 13, 2020 to prepare for the rescheduled election in the town.
When Liberians in all 15 counties went to the polls on December 8, 2020, citizens in Nomadatonau did not get to vote because the Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah seized the ballots and election materials.
The National Election Commission rescheduled the Nomadatonou election for December 15, 2020, to allow the town’s 2,021 registered voters to exercise their voting rights.
Two days before the election, Kanneh and some of her supporters were barred from entering the town, attacked by security forces in the area, threatened by the country devil, forcing them to run for their lives. Some of Kanneh’s supporters are in detention in Bopolu and 10 of them had their voting cards seized by immigration officials on grounds that they were Sierra Leoneans.
Kanneh, one of nine candidates, leads the Gbarpolu senatorial race by 449 votes (4722/25.68 percent); followed by Rep. Alfred Gayflor Koiwood of the ruling party, the Coalition of Democratic Change (4,273/23.24 percent). Madam Kanneh beat Koiwood and incumbent senator Armah Jallah in their own districts. Nomodatonau is Kanneh’s stronghold.
Tuesday’s meeting was a follow-up to previous discussions with Minister Dean regarding the safety of Kanneh and her supporters and investigation into the circumstances that led to the disruption of the election.
The group had asked Minister Dean for the status of the investigation and prosecution of all those who were involved in disrupting the election and attacking Madam Kanneh and her supporters; the suspension of traditional leaders accused of disrupting the election; return the voter cards belonging to Kanneh’s supporters; beef up security during the rescheduled election; and investigate the rape of one of Kanneh’s female supporters.
During the meeting, Minister Dean said a security team from Monrovia was scheduled to be deployed to Gbarpolu County on Tuesday. Minister Dean said he has had series of conversations with the Minister of Internal Affairs Varney Sirleaf. Sirleaf assured him that the Country Devil will not be involved in the election on Thursday.
“I pointed out to him that the traditional people exacerbated the situation by bringing out the Country Devil,’’ Minister Dean said. ‘’The Country Devil came out to intimidate people. I told him that was unacceptable and make us look very primitive in the 21st Century. ‘’
The women said they also wanted assurance that the Paramount Chief and other local leaders will not be involved in the election because they were the ones who threatened Kanneh’s supporters and disrupted the election.
Minister Dean told the women that Minister Sirleaf said the Paramount Chief will have limited role to play during the election. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has put safeguards in place to curb any disruption of the process, Minister Dean said. “Any administrator who interferes in the electoral process will be dealt with by our security,’’ he said.
He also promised to investigate the status of Kanneh’s supporters who are detained and the voter cards that were seized by immigration officials.
“What we are concerned about now is completing the electoral process and ensuring that everybody is protected and exercise their voting rights,’’ he said. “Let us ensure that the environment is safe.’’
Madam King Akerele and her team thanked Minister Dean for listening to their concerns and addressing them. She said the government needs to listen to citizens.“Government must listen to its people,’’ said Madam King, who represents the Angie Brooks International Center (ABIC).
Organizations representing the coalition of Liberian women include Angie Brooks International Center (ABIC), YWCA, African Women Leaders Network (AWLN), Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Young Women in Leadership and Knowledge Institute, Team for One Liberia, Forum of Liberia Women Elders, Collaborating Political Parties Women’s Movement, Coalition of Political Parties Women of Liberia, Movement for One Liberia and Liberian Women Can Lead.