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Police teargas on protesting students was unnecessary

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The discharge of teargas canisters against protesting public school students by riot officers of the Liberia National Police in Monrovia on Tuesday, 15 October was excessive and unnecessary. The public school students were protesting in demand of their teachers who had laid down chalk in quest of salary arrears owed them by the government.

The protesting students had gathered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is also being used as temporary office of President George Manneh Weah in anticipation that they would have attracted the President’s attention to their plight. But the Presidential convoy carrying the President drove past the aggrieved students with less attention, something that led the students to converge on the grounds of the Capitol where lawmakers work.

Instead of some officials coming to talk to the aggrieved students, riot police unleashed teargas canisters into the crowd, leaving scores of students fallen unconscious, with many of them subsequently rushed to hospital, while others engaged their counterparts from a nearby Seventh Day Adventists-operated high school in fistfight, forcibly asking them to vacate their campus.

The police reaction exacerbated tension in the streets, with many passers-by affected by burning sensation from the teargas canisters.

The protesting students were left alone with no authority from the Ministry of Education, the police or the legislature to calm the aggrieved students and ask them to leave the streets, as government was already exerting effort to pay teachers and other members of the Civil Service.

President Weah himself missed a glorious opportunity to have stopped and spoken with the students on his way to office, which would have no doubt, calmed the situation. But the President drove by, as if the students’ reaction didn’t concern him, as leader of the State.

African leaders are noted for running away or avoiding their own responsibility, as if someone from another planet should act, instead. Our leaders should learn to muster courage to face issues that confront their leadership. Only non-innovative and insensitive leaders run away from problems.

The problem that led public school teachers abandoning classes and their students taking the streets in protest didn’t happen abruptly, as salary arrears had passed two months or more with no explanations by appropriate authorities from either the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

The government should put its house in order not just on salary payment, but other issues that affect welfare of the people to avert unpleasant scenarios like strikes by public health workers, public school teachers and subsequent protest by angry students from public schools.

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