Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hello Christina Tah

By: ralph geeplay

Christina Tah

Introduction: As Liberians enter a crucial election year, security remains a paramount yard stick by which to gauge the Sirleaf administration’s handling of the nation’s safety since she assumed the mantle of state in 2005. A lot of pundits argue that lawlessness is pervasive: armed robbery, rape, mob justice, to name a few. The rule of law has seen undersized efforts from the Unity Party led government and much needs to be done as the country grapples with its stability in the aftermath of war. For example, is there a data base for criminals in the country and that of former combatants in the wake of a deadly uncivil war...? The high profile murder of Keith Jubah, in November 2009, a Sirleaf confidant and chief of the National Procurement Commission highlights a Liberia teeming with violence and armed banditry. Last week also witness an ugly election violence and threats on several candidates across the country, and prominently against Lenn Eugene Nagbe of the ruling Unity Party. The below piece was written in Sept. 2, 2009, highlighting these issues.

The appointment of Christina Tah to head the Liberian Justice Department, was meant to convey a renew vigor to the sore eye, to what has been Johnson Sirleaf’s effort to turn around a failed state since her investiture in 2005. At that ceremony, she vowed to give the state a fresh image both in the eyes of domestic and international observers.

So far, Sirleaf has succeeded in rebranding the country as new beacon and a place where unlike yesterday debates in the public square are free from the wanton harassment that characterized the people’s free expression.

To her credit amongst others she has set the country on a path to fiscal and economic revitalization, however in denial her critics may be, but those efforts are not enough.

The first duty of every president is the protection and security of the state and its people. It is here that the Madam President policies are wanting. While Sirleaf critics love to throw the Molotov Curtail even when arguments they reasoned are sometimes not so compelling, Johnson Sirleaf, it must be said has failed miserably in her efforts to streamline and make effective her justice department, the only place vested to bring law and order to a rudely country emerging from violent and cruel war.

Late Keith Jubah: a one time Sirleaf confidant

Comes in, Christina Tah. If the Liberian Senate rejected her nomination to the Bench of the Supreme Court, having been nominated by President Sirleaf earlier, it confirmed her without any hitches a second ‘go round’ to head what is probably the most important government parastatal in the present Liberian Government.
During her confirmation hearing she was resolute when she said, “We are concerned about armed robbery, we are concerned about corruption, we are concerned about rape, and we are concerned about any kind of violent personal crime against humans.”

She continued still, reassuring, “I think citizens have the rights to be able to sleep in peace at night, they have the rights to have their life and their properties protected and we feel responsible for that….” Where Professor Philip Banks left off, Ms. Tah promised to bring sanity.

But where is the sanity, when mob justice and armed robbery are so pervasive so that that the collective wellbeing of all including residing citizens, returning Diaspora Liberians and visiting foreign nationals must questioned the Liberian justice system and the threat to peace from violent crimes time and again.

Within a month since her confirmation a man was slaughter in the Freeport area and the New Democrat, Liberia’s premium newspaper reported, “Some jubilant residents who identified the alleged robber, known only as Dixon, tied him up and then slaughtered him, leaving him in a in a pool of blood.”
The paper then added that residents were ecstatic about what a fine job they had done with one stating “Yes, today we are happy for his death. There is time for everything.” The alleged robber, soaked in a pool of blood was being stood over by residents including little children and girls. Few days later, last week to be precised, The Informer, a local daily reported that a man described as a notorious criminal and identified as Mohammed Ali was killed and beaten to death by mob in the Madati and Lakpazee district. “Ali,” The Informer said “was tied with electric wire, burned with plastic bags, stab on his neck and hand.” The Liberian National Police went so far, verifying that Ali’s death was the cause of mob justice which it ruled a homicide. But so far no arrests have been made and no official government pronouncement condemning these acts of lawlessness.

“We all know how really big Monrovia is. Don’t we? You stand at one corner and on the other you throw a stone and you hear it falls,” says a resident. The point he is making is that when these acts of lawlessness are happening right in the capital of modern Liberia, and greeted with nonchalance where the powers that be reside, tell me what happens in the political subdivisions where human resource is limited, and no aggressive media reporting.

A victim of mob justice

The Justice Ministry own lapses coupled with the dreadful conditions of the court system, harness these facts together and you reason that evenhandedness as far as the law is concerned continues to elude ordinary citizens. This fact has not been lost on curious observers.

In her blog, “In The land of The Free: A Journey to Liberia,” Diane, a Kennedy Harvard School intern currently serving in the country is not so sure if this is "mob justice or mob violence." Still Gina Lauren observed that sustainable peace in Liberia cannot be, unless the citizens are protected, and “the informal and formal justice” systems are harmonized.

The Liberian justice system is notorious for allowing traditional wayward justice wherein sassy wood and other quasi outdated methods are used to tried crimes and alleged criminals. The justice system remains the elephant in the room analysts contend, which if tamed could rescue Liberia from a state of lawlessness to a renew hope for the future and its children, as the country struggle to put behind the war years and its attendant consequences. It has been to date, the plague that has humble everyone who watch developments in Liberia.

Tah must move quickly and apprehend those hoodlums who perpetrate mob justice and open hostility because they threatened the fragile peace.
Citizens too must be encouraged to call the police to take into custody alleged criminals, instead of chasing them down and murdering them even before they have the chance to defend themselves before the law. The rampant mob justice as is currently being seen is scary to say the least, because innocent citizens could get kill for nothing by a vigilante group all too happy to do the bidding of ridding the communities of criminals. But even where it is found that an individual is liable for a crime, he deserves his just day in court to prove his innocence. When all these years we cry for democratic ideals and governance to run the affairs of state, we must remember that citizens have responsibilities as do governments. That link must be chained and public sensitization brought to bear in the country, so that the citizens understand the importance for the respect of the rule of law.

If the prevailing concept in the minds of investors and those wanting to enter the country and bring new ideals and life to an already war wary society where its citizens live in fear, it sends the message that they and their properties and ideas are not safe. 
This conjecture to a degree speaks a lot of present day Liberia. Take for instance the ugly condition of prisons and prison breaks in Liberia, when hard core criminals are always escaping and running from jails as people live in panic: December 3, 2008 Reuters reports “The Liberian government has put the final number of prisoners who escaped in a mass jail break earlier this week at 200.” Then another 40 or more so hard core criminals escaped jail in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County in April of 2009.

Again, on May 16, 2009, 36 prisoners broke jail once more at the Central Monrovia Prison. Jail breaks has been rampant with occurring features in almost all counties with some being reported in local dailies. Some are never reported says observers.

Johnson Sirleaf who herself was a political prisoner several times and who so knows the deplorable conditions of Liberian prisons, has to date commenced no effort to construct a maximum facility, safe for the United Nation small effort to ‘improve prisons conditions around the country.’ The correctional facility in Zwedru, Grand
Gedeh County is not enough.

Senator Scott of Maryland: they want to kill me

The country needs a maximum facility with security features for hard core criminals. Some of those committing these crimes have killed thousands of people and have engaged in cannibalism and still carry no remorse. As the United Nations draw down its forces now and in the foreseeable future, all efforts must be exerted to crack down on hard core criminals, so that those who go against the civility we crave can be locked away and ponder the acts of their indiscretions. Liberians have seen so much suffering, it is time they live in peace! But least we forget though, prisoners do have rights too to be held in dignity, according to conventions signed by Liberia. This is true more so, for those who wait trials and true too for those serving longer sentences. They too must be kept safe, uniformed, fed and properly housed. The cramped prison conditions at police stations in and around the country and at the Monrovia Central Prison is a shamed on this Johnson Sirleaf administration.

Few doubt that unless the justice system in the country improves, real manifold developments will elude the country. It has been said time and again, that the rule of law has a lot to do with development than anything else. For these reasons, Liberians and observers must stop and ask: w
hat kind of society condoned mob justice where people are murdered in cold blood without any kind of government reaction? In a society that is suppose to be democratic, as it welcomes high profile dignitaries to the country?

What kind of society so glaringly raped their women folks, especially children, so pervasively, so that the trials are not even begun on time and proper persecution brought to bear on perpetrators in an age and time when a woman is a head of government in the only place in Africa?

What kind of country loses high profile corruption cases when even the preponderance of evidence is there to convict, so that the common man in the street feels that their lots hang in the balance, because the so-called big shots are taking the national pie all for themselves?

And what kind of country strives for modernity when it has no effective prison system, lobbing women and men in the same cells in some instances, while being held longer than the law requires?  "Yes this government swore and took an oath to protect its citizenry, and in times as these, the full weight of the law is needed to protect the peace as the nation gravitates towards stability,” says an activist.

Hello Ms. Christina Tah. I am sorry I could not make it to your office; I am sorry indeed. But, I am sure you will find time to read this post and I am counting on you, that you will take to heart the pledged that all “citizens have the rights to be able to sleep in peace at night…the rights to have their life and their properties protected.” To you my kindest and best regards hoping you live up to the words you spoke during your confirmation hearings. Yours truly!

First published by the Liberian Forum in Sept. of 2009

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