By Othello B. Garblah
The attack on protesting University students by an auxiliary group of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), on July 26, 2022, sends a wrong message to all well-meaning Liberians and foreign residents ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Students of the campus-based Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia had gathered early that morning in front of the United States Embassy in Monrovia to read out their petition statement as part of their protest plan announced days earlier.
The students’ protest was against the celebration of 175th Independence Day celebration. They believed that instead of celebrating, the CDC government should focus on the hardship and poverty in the country brought to bear by massive corruption in government that has deprived citizens of basic services such as health and education, among others.
Their peaceful gathering was in line with Article 17 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution which guarantees the rights of citizens to assemble at all times peacefully. However, their rights to enjoy this constitutional provision were short-lived by acts of brutalization meted out against them by a group of CDC zealots. This action by the CDC auxiliary group is undoubtedly anti-democratic, inhumane, and gross disrespect for the rule of law.
What is more despicable about this attack is the presence of police officers on the scene who watched this gruesome episode unfolding right before their eyes in amusement-they chose to do nothing but watch the brutality unfolds.
Such acts executed by an auxiliary group of the ruling CDC, a party led by former Peace Ambassador George Weah in the presence of law enforcement officers who chose to watch in amusement and do nothing speaks volumes.
Moreover, this barbaric act carried out against these peaceful students occurred at the time there have been reports of the ruling party recruiting militant brigades in parts of the country ahead of the 2023 elections-this is worrisome. Could this be their modus operandi?
These anti-democratic tenets tend to threaten the peace of the country, especially at the time the nation is headed for the much-anticipated 2023 elections where the stakes are high.
Come to think of it, if a group of peacefully assembled students can be gruesomely brutalized in the presence of uniform law enforcement officers with impunity, the outcome of similar action against bitter political opponents would be unimaginable.
Thus, let it be noted that maintaining peace is not just the absence of war but the presence of justice, tolerance, freedom from fear of violence between individuals or groups and the ability of people to express themselves freely without fear or favor. The absence of these depicts troubling signs for a country headed to a major election.
Meanwhile, it has been exactly six days since the unfortunate incident occurred right before the eyes of uniform officers, yet no arrest of the perpetrators has been made.
Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue will want the public to believe that his outfit is doing what it can to bring the perpetrators to justice when even his own men who took oaths to protect lives and properties were on the scene while life was nearly taken and did nothing.
It’s a scary signal coming from the police. This leaves many to wonder whether the police are only there to protect people acting on behalf of the ruling CDC or were the officers on the scene partisan police?
From whichever side of the political divide, one belongs, this act by axillaries of the CDC is a wrong message to all Liberians both home and abroad. That a party that protested for twelve-unbroken years during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf regime is not tolerant enough to entertain critical voices, is sad.
These anti-democratic tendencies are reminiscent of Liberia’s immediate past and have the propensity to roll back all that this nation has achieved over the past 19 years.
Although there has been a platitude of condemnations with some coming from the government itself, but in the absence of arrest and prosecution, it remains an outright endorsement by the CDC in disguise.
President Weah has continued to preach the message of peace, calling on all and sundry to keep the peace, now is the time to show this by first letting heads roll at the Liberian National Police, failing to do so will bring his reputation as a man of Peace under scrutiny.
The political atmosphere around him may say that these acts are necessary to instill fears in both citizens and political opponents to capture a second six-year term. However, should he choose the latter, this would make him a dictator rather than the Peace Ambassador he is known to be.