“As is to be expected, the Government of Liberia will dutifully undertake a repair of the damaged roads and bridges, but the cost will be sourced from funds directly allocated for the development of Nimba County,” was the decision announced by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when she address the nation last Thursday, July 10, 2014 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which currently hosts the Presidency. Even though there’s yet to be a full-scale assessment of the damage sustained by steel giant Arcelor Mittal, President Sirleaf told the nation that the cost to repair and restore the properties destroyed by a group of violent Nimba citizens, when determined, will be a subject of discussion between the government and Arcellor Mittal.
The decision follows a week after the by violent protesters armed with guns and machetes, especially from the Zolowee communities, attacked the company (July 3 and 4, 2014), taking foreign and local staff hostage, as well as burning, looting and vandalizing facilities of Arcellor Mittal in the mining town of Yekepa, Nimba County high up in the mountains of north-eastern Liberia.
Last Thursday’s nation-wide address by the President also featured a moratorium on all clearances on mining in Nimba County with immediate effect. “With immediate effect I have directed that a moratorium be placed on the issuance and use of alluvial mining licenses and permits in Nimba County until the full effects and associated costs on Arcellor Mittal’s operations are finally determined and known,” declared Ellen Jphnson-Sirleaf in view of the serious national security implications, which should not be taken lightly, adding that people’s right to freedom did not mean violating the rights of others.
However, last Thursday’s decision by the government that Nimba County Social Development Fund would be used to address damages done to properties in the county may have provoked anger on Capitol Hill, compelling some emotionally-charged Nimba Lawmakers to expressed shock and serious disappointment in the Liberian Chief Executive, further describing the decision as “big joke.” Though the lightly Lawmakers, through District #9 Representative Richard M. Tingban, condemned the recent Nimba violence, partly responsible for the violence, they accused the President of not treating the incident and members of the caucus with respect.
“The President put up a non-compliance approach and ignored claims that Representative Prince O. S. Tokpah was manhandled by police officers in the county during the incident; the President, head of this nation, downplayed the concern of our colleague, stating; ‘I heard that some kind of representative was arrested in the process,’” Tingban said, describing what he claimed the President said during their July 8, 2014 meeting with her as provoking and a posture that had the propensity to undermine the collaboration and coordination between both branches of government (even though last Thursday’s nation-wide address was attended by Speaker Alex Tyler and President Pro-Tempore Milton Findley at the Foreign Ministry on Capitol Hill).
Another Nimba lawmaker- Representative Garrison Yealue, Jr., also blamed the President for being insensitive to the plight of the Nimba people: “We have been engaging the President on this matter many times, but nothing has been done to address it. The President is joking because she has no constitutional power to do such thing. If she does not know, the Social Development Fund is part of the National Budget and the Budget is a law. No one has the authority to singlehandedly expend any money from the budget, that’s a violation of the Public Financial Management Act (PFM) which is a crime.”
In view of the foregoing, it is unfortunate that the Nimba Lawmakers, not being cognizant of their constitutional value and power, would chose to the address the matter, through the media, as they are doing, instead of continuously constructively engaging their leaders at the Capitol, as well as the Executive to find a common ground. For the Nimba Lawmakers to even think about announcing Nimba would be prepared to break away from Liberia and stand as a country on its own in the wake of the response of the presidency, is not only the saddest comment expected of Legislators, but the most irresponsible from a group of people who should at the core of resolving and transforming conflict. Such threat is also tantamount to further inciting the people of Nimba against the state into a renewed conflict that would plunge Liberia into another devastation and calamity.
Despite President Sirleaf’s address to the nation and its contents, which may not have gone down with the Nimba legislators, the exercise of good leadership by the lawmakers, through constructive engagements, would have been the most appropriate efforts for the Executive Mansion to exercise flexibility in the decision to expend their county’s social development funds in the aftermaths of the recent Nimba violence, instead of the emotion, arrogance and threats being announced through the media- something that would not help the process. In such an intense situation, public officials who represent the interest of the their people must always exercise restraints and the highest degree of responsibility in a finding seeking redress or finding solution or other than threats of resistance and separation.
Moreover, granted the President is responsible for the situation in Nimba, considering claims by the Nimba Lawmakers of “digging hole, covering hole (borrowing the county funds), why didn’t the lawmakers make this information available to their citizens ever since until now? Many are of the fervent belief that had there been effective communication between the Nimba officials and various communities of the county on the social responsibility of companies operating in the county, including Arcelor Mittal, the riot of July 3 and 4, 2014 would have been unthinkable. Probably, the inability or failure of the Nimba officials, especially those who claim to be representing them, may have created the misunderstanding of their benefits and developments.
While an assessment of the level of destruction and associated cost and full-scale investigation are underway, it would be in the best interest of peace and national security if the Nimba Lawmakers would now redirect their qualms and ‘plans’ to a more constructive engagement with the Leadership of the Legislature and Liberian Presidency in finding an amicable solution to the current stand-off.