COP Takes—and Must Bear—the Onus

AT LONG LAST the self-styled Council of Patriots has sat face to face with the President George Manneh Weah and his Government over why the planned protest by the group should or should not be held. Many well-meaning citizens had craved for such a meeting, thinking perhaps that a pre-protest dialogue would find a way to avert looming national disorder that could come about when things were not handled properly.
THE MEETING FOLLOWED a communication the President had reportedly written the “Council of Patriots” or COP, the group planning a nationwide protest, to meet with him. THE PRESIDENT’S LETTER had indicated that the meeting was meant to give audience to the planners of the controversial protest not only to hear them out on what their concerns are, but also how to explore, together, the probable solutions.
THERE WERE PUNDITS who had thought the meeting would not be held for various reasons. But the COP appeared Tuesday, May 14 at the Ministry Foreign Affairs office of the President, who took a substantial time of the meeting to dissuade the COP and its supporters from venturing into holding the protest as scheduled.
THE PRESIDENT WAS exhaustive in hammering reasons why the protest was not necessary. “The government alone cannot fix the economy. We have a lot of political actors to help. Those people who are aspiring to be leaders tomorrow, have about four or more years to come in leadership. Meanwhile, everyone will have to do anything you can do to help the country. Your ideas are welcomed. We’ll listen to your suggestions and ideas. We all have to work to bring businesspeople in. I mean that’s why we said to Liberians, ‘you will not be spectator to the economy’. So, if you have ideas to make agriculture boom, you can come on the table. We all may be willing to do so but again, it have to be done in the spirit of unity. I think the best thing to do is to think about the past – where we came from and those horrible experiences of the past so that we conduct ourselves in a peaceful manner.”
STATING THAT THE protesters did not have to go in the street to protest before their concerns can be heard, accentuating the colossal cost of providing logistics and manpower to guard the protesters, the President added however that he was not oblivious of the rights of citizens to protest. “It is our constitutional right to protest, and we as a government are under obligation to make you exercise that right. It is just that our history is not favorable when it comes to holding street protests and demonstrations. We could iron out our differences in this hall and stay peaceful.”
BUT THE COUNCIL of Patriots would not heed the dissuasion. Chief Spokesman of the group, Darius Dillon said in the full glare of the attendees who included international personalities: “The peace and stability of this country is a paramount concern to all of us. Anybody making insinuations that the exercise of a democratic right is a threat to the peace is insinuating that they don’t respect the peace because when you remind people and deprive them from the exercise of their rights, sometimes the result can be bad. We do not intend to do so.”
DILLON SAID THE Council of Patriots was attending the meeting to answer the call of the President as a matter of courtesy and respect for the Presidency. “In our tradition, when a big man or elder calls upon you, don’t refuse the call because you don’t know what is in the call. So Mr., President, we are here. All we want of you, Mr President, is to provide us protection.” Then in a press release following the meeting, the COP stated: “The UN spoke, encouraging that June 7 is not compromised and that citizens be granted their rights to protest in an orderly and peaceful manner. We spoke to the Press immediately thereafter, right in the very conference hall that we stand by our decision to hold up to June 7 and that our people cannot be let down, the release said, adding – “June7 is carved in stone!!”
FROM ALL INDICATIONS, June 7 protest is looming. And what is clear is that the planners of the protest are on the public prism to demonstrate what they say they are and will be during the protest—peaceful, orderly and lawful. The onus now rests on them. They will be hailed for acting prudently; they will be held culpable by history and law for acting otherwise. We wish them all the best.

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