What was widely feared to be a catastrophe hanging over Liberia—the June 7 street protest—turned out to be peaceful last Friday when nearly 4,000 citizens gathered to petition their Government consistent with the Constitution. The looming fears were not unjustified. Some of the proponents of the protest sounded extremely bellicose and warlike as they mobilized supporters for the event. Though the Government consistently vowed to protect both the protesters and non-protesters, some supporters of the Government also sounded belligerent and combative. Amid the hot rhetoric, many had thought June 7 was an apocalypse in the making. But the day came and gone without an incident, even unfortunately without the delivery of the much-expected grievances of the protesters. Without a petition, and with lingering conditionalities over how and when the petition would be brought to the fore, the country still remains flustered, as The Analyst’s Rancy S. Teewia & Anthony Q. Jiffan Jr. report.
The popularly publicized June 7 “Save the State” protest has ended peacefully in Monrovia, though petition that embodied the protesters’ grievances for the event was not delivered.
At the 11th minute, the Council of Patriots which organized the protest, demanded the release of five persons undergoing investigation at the National Police Headquarters for their involvement in the alleged manhandling of a citizen.
The demand was rejected by Government representatives who had gone at the Capitol Building to receive the petition. The Government representatives said they could not meet the demands of the protesters because it was a criminal case and would require processes to handle.
Some members of the government representatives were heard saying that the protesters who were professedly passionate about rule of law should not be the ones seeking the short-circuiting of the rule of law.
However, the “Save the State Protest of June 7, 2019, which brought thousands of Liberians into the streets to protest “the irking state of affairs, including biting economic conditions that have characterized poor standard of living in the country, rampant corruption and flagrant disregard to the rule of law” was held peacefully and orderly.
The protesters arrived at the protest venue, the Capitol Hill, trooping from the Somalia Drive and Bushrod Island as well as Brewersville areas. They initially converged at Henry Costa’s Root FM where they began their march along with Mr. Costa through Camp Johnson road to the Capitol Hill.
Other protesters came from the Paynesville and Sinkor areas, using 12th streets through Jallah Town to their assembling point.
The protest which was organized by the council of patriots for about three months was expected by many Liberians to have caused instability or otherwise lead to the destruction of lives and properties.
But to the contrary, the protesters conducted themselves in a peaceable and orderly manner, not talking to anyone and touching anything out of the protest.
The Liberia National Police acted professionally, ensuring that law and order was obeyed and that both protesters and non-protesters were protected.
The protesters chanted anti-Weah, anti-government and anti-corruption slogans, respecting police restrictions and “no go zone” areas enshrined into the government’s MOU with the Council of Patriots.
Many businesses in and around Monrovia were closed—apparently fearing their outbreaks of violence that could affect them.
Central Monrovia was virtually abandoned by human and vehicular traffics.
Besides, the protest which started at about 8:00AM when participants began to arrive at the scene of their assembly brought every normal activity in Monrovia and its environs to a standstill while government and private institutions including schools and businesses remain closed for the rest of the day.
The MOU also provided that the protesters would march through corridors provided by the government to peaceably assemble in the corridor between the Capitol Building and the Executive Mansion, where they were expected to present their petition to the government at 3:00PM before they are dismissed by their leaders.
Government’s designee was not available until some minutes after 4 pm.
Another pull and push debate was about who to receive the petition.
For the Council of Patriots, the President should avail himself to receive their petition. During negotiations ahead of the protest, Government rejected the proposal, citing security reasons.
Others said if the protesters were protesting against bad governance, their insistence for the President to be the only one to receive the petition was ironically a tacit support to imperial presidency.
Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor who was reportedly designated to receive the protesters’ petition put in a last minute excuse.
After a long period of waiting by the protesters when the clock had already ticked at 3:00pm, the protesters began apprehensive for the failure of the government’s designee to meet them at the appointed time.
At this time, it was announced that VP Howard Taylor wouldn’t come due to illness but that the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia and Minister of Justice Frank Musa Dean would accompany the Minister of Foreign Affairs Melvin Gbehzongai Finley to receive petition.
Following the arrival of the government’s alternative designees to receive the petition, the Council of Patriots made a demand that five of their men who were arrested on Wednesday for alleged criminal act be released by the Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean and Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue before the presentation of their petition.
It all started as it was about 5:00 pm when Cllr. Dean along with Minister Finley showed up to receive the petition. It was at this point that Unity Party Chairman Wilmot Paye reminded Cllr. Dean that some members of the COP who were arrested Wednesday were still in police Custody without charge, which he said is against their fundamental and constitutional right.
But the Justice Minister said those they wanted released were being investigated, and that the latest demand of releasing them would be addressed later. This, the protesters rejected, insisting that they should have been charged long ago because an aggravated assault case is bailable offense and therefore needed no investigation beyond 48 hours.
The back and forth trumped up demands by the protesters caused a stalemate preventing themselves from reading their own petition. The international observers, including ECOWAS, sped out of the scene. And the government representatives walked out.
With the last-minute complications marring the protest, it is not clear whether Liberians are free from the fears and anxieties of future protests and their implication for stability and peace.
Already, there are indications that the protesters haven’t given up on their plan to keep protesting until their demands are met. In fact, there are indications that they are mobilizing for another protest soon. What is not clear is whether Government will be able to foot another cost of street protest in terms of the economic loss protests of the magnitude do impose.