Liberia’s ‘Church Crusade Tragedy’: The Drugs Factor & Ruling Party’s Lies to BBC

…Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor shares ‘personal family story’ of drugs

By Samuel G. Dweh—development journalist & Human Rights Advocate—+231 (0)886618906/776583266/[email protected]

This article has six main divisions: The Church Crusade Tragedy, National Ruling Party’s lies to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the drugs factor (cause) of the armed persons’ attacks at the Church Crusade, National Security Lapses, Christian Community’s spiritual malfunctioning on national problems, and Recommendations (solution methods) on alleviating National Chaos during George Manneh Weah’s Presidency

Author’s Clarification: No money was received from any ‘enemy’ or political opponent of Head of State George Manneh Weah or his Government or from same (enemy or political opponent) of any of the top government officials featured (pictured above) for writing this ‘opinion piece’. It was produced on the writer’s patriotic volition as his way of showing “empathy” to his brutally killed compatriots as his channel (writing) of joining other Liberians continuously calling the George M. Weah-led Government’s attention to the “root causes” of some elements’ actions that are destroying lives, properties, or causing depression (hypertension) in their fellow human beings.  I will be blunt to say that none of President George Manneh Weah’s “political opponents” (focus on Leaders of Opposition Political Parties) has shown practical solution (action-based) to Liberia’s problems (security, health, education, etc.) to majority of other Liberians. The “opponents” are only “talking…talking..talking…” (theory)

George Manneh Weah’s Presidency may be toppled by a “Drug Cartel” in Liberia. My “imagination” is based on top government officials’ “business collaborations” with drugs smugglers or dealers, George M. Weah-led Government’s “laxity” or  “leniency” on preventing the flood of narcotic substances into Liberia (through land borders or Liberia’s International Airport), and the National Legislature’s continuous delay with passage of the Drug Bill into Law. (The Drug Bill has been languishing on Legislative Discussion Table over six years after submission)

THE CHURCH CRUSADE TRAGEDY

Twenty Liberians—11 children, 16 women, and two men—were crushed into death during a mass rush (stampede) of a multitude of persons on Wednesday, January 19,  2022 less than 120 minutes after end of a Church Crusade they had attended. This happened at a football field in New Kru Town, Bushrod Island, one of the criminally notorious suburbs of the Nation’s Capital—Monrovia. The number of persons present was over five thousand, according to reports from some of those who were part of the Christian intercessory meeting.  The Crusade was organized by World of Life Outreach Mission International, headed by Mr. Abraham Kromah as Senior Pastor and General Overseer. He is popular in the Christian community, and most part of the secular community, because of his “miracles” and emotion-pricking preaching. The Church is situated in New Georgia Estate, Bushrod Island.

According to eyewitnesses’ reports, many young persons—armed with knives, scissors, and other dangerous objects— started pointing weapons to the faces and necks of other participants and demanding money and mobile phones less than 60 minutes after Preacher Abraham Kromah and his retinue of followers had left the venue of the Crusade. Many were dispossessed of what the armed persons were demanding. The time was 9pm.

The commotion between the armed persons and those being robbed soon filtered to other participants and a stampede ensued. Some of the unarmed persons fell to the ground and were trampled under the feet of others running and died suddenly. Others were gripped by cardiovascular arrest—popularly known sa “heart attack” in Liberia—and perished, too.

L-R: Liberia National Police Director Patrick Sudue & Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie

The Church Crusade tragedy happened in less than 20 miles from “Kuwait”, name of a notorious ‘headquarters’ of fearsome drug addicts and armed robbers based in Duala, another part of New Kru Town. In December of the previous year (2021), a band of armed robbers (drug addicts)—with guns, knives  and cutlasses—from “Kuwait” staged a robbery operation against innocent traders in Duala (open market ground) and dispossessed marketers of monies, mobile phones, and other valued items. Officers of the Liberia National Police, from a Depot few meters from “Kuwait”, intervened and killed two of the robbers, according to reports I got the next day. However, the robbers’ headquarters’ (“Kuwait”) is still there and many of the gang members are seen there everyday.

Through its Radio Station, Vision FM, the Church registered its “regret” over the deaths of the people, said it’s “making all efforts to reach the bereaved families”, and said the Church’s Leadership is working with Authority of the Liberia National Police on investigating the main causes of the tragedy.

The Church put a hold to the following Sunday’s Service (January 23), “because “we are still mourning,” said a female member of the Church in the studio on Sunday (January 23) But the Church entertained its membership with past sermons by the General Overseer.

In a Press Conference on a day after tragedy, the Inspector General of the Liberia National Police, Patrick Sudue, said the Church had not informed the Police about the Crusade, 29 persons died,  five persons had been arrested on connection with the tragedy. He said organizers of big religious events, like Pastor Kromah Church’s, should first inform the Liberia National Police or the Ministry of Justice.

Countering the LNP Boss’s accusation of the Church on “failure” to “officially” inform the Police, another person who say organizers of the Crusade had “indirectly informed the Police” through its permission-to-use-the-field letter sent to the New Kru Town’s Commissioners’ Office working with the New Kru Town’s Detachment of the Liberia National Police (LNP) Each Community’s leadership works in collaboration on protecting lives and properties in that community during any big event like the Church Crusade held in New Kru Town on January 19, 2022. Based on my understanding, “security protection cost” is embedded in the “rental fee” for a public space under the control of leadership of that community. So, the New Kru Town Commissioner’s Office should also be held liable over the death of the 19 persons at the Crusade ground.

NATIONAL RULING PARTY’S LIES TO THE BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION (BBC)

Note: The Author used “ruling Party”—instead of “Government”—because not “everybody” in the Government supports what the “Presidential appointee” told BBC.

SOME OF THE VICTIMS (DEAD PERSONS) OF STAMPEDE – Credits of featured victims’ photos: Theophilus K.B.S. Gippley, III (+231-776545496)

In an interview with the BBC (I heard the interview on BBC’s 6am news, Friday, January 21,) on the tragic Church Crusade incidents in Liberia, Liberia’s Information Minister, Mr. Ledgerhood Rennie, said the George Manneh Weah-led Government “is trying to rehabilitate” the Country’s wayward young people, living on the street (and surviving on criminal means, but “they are refusing to be rehabilitated.” Such statement, to any intelligent person (outside of the ruling Political Party) is an ‘illogical’ one. The Government doesn’t have a “rehabilitation center”. So, how can the Government be “trying to rehabilitate” these wayward people? This is similar to a so-called teacher who doesn’t have a teaching venue or school building but is announcing to out-of-school trouble-making people, “come for teaching…come for teaching…” On this, the Information Minister—a renowned Radio Journalist, and former correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)—lied for the ruling Political Party (Coalition for Democratic Change, CDC) to other parts of the World (through the “World’s Radio”, BBC) Mr. Rennie’s presence in the politically governmental circle has pulled off his “journalism garment” of “truth telling” and “political neutrality”—each being a “journalistic ethic”. I wish he had found another job out of the Executive Branch of Government to maintain his “journalistic integrity” But, what do you—pro-media neutrality obsessed person—expect from truly professional journalists in a country such as Liberia, where “politically neutral” media practitioners are go hungry in a long time during the day or night, and may can’t provide basic needs of live for their families due to “political strangulation”? Only journalists playing “Public Relations” role (praise-singing” names of rich politicians—including corruptly rotten ones) rich are getting money everyday.

Apart from the George M. Weah-led Government not having a “rehabilitation center” for the Country’s “unemployed and trouble-making” young people, the Government doesn’t have a “functioning Welfare Program” for its ‘economically disadvantaged community’ (with persons living with disabilities—blindness, etc.) and no “National Youth Center” built by the Government. Even the ruling Party’s “Vocational Education School” building—situated in the Party’s Headquarters (now in Congo Town) has not been completed (still bare cement, no roof) over five years now (year 2022). The Party’s notable “youth project” is “militarization” (placing berets on heads of young CDCians), which began during the Party’s combined launch of the Senatorial Campaign for  Representative Thomas Fallah for Montserrado Country’s Senatorial Seat) for the Mid-Term elections (scheduled for December 8, 2020) and first-time aspirant Frank Saah Foko, Jr. for the By-Election of House of Representatives of District #9, Montserrado County. The political events were held on November 20, 2020.

HE DRUGS FACTOR (CAUSE) OF THE ARMED PERSONS’ ATTACKS AT THE CHURCH CRUSADE

In post-war Liberia, there’s a huge flood of narcotic substances (drugs) into Liberia—pumping in through all border points and the International Airport, with officers of Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) stationed at these points serving as “corridors” (for smuggling) or “escorts” (for foreign smugglers) Some Liberians are saying, the smuggling rate is high during the presidency of George Manneh Weah—unlike during the time of each of his predecessors: Charles Taylor and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and are speculating that drugs are being sold at the President’s private business center—Jamaica Resort—in his private residence along the Roberts International Highway. “Because of this, none of the customers is allowed to take camera or Smart Phone into the place,” a guy, who claimed being a football-playing mate of George Manneh Weah in West Point (Weah’s second football playing community, besides Clara Town—his childhood community), Monrovia, said to his colleagues during a chat on drug-related matters two days after the Church Crusade tragedy in New Kru Town.

In 2021, a top female officer of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) publicly complained about a member of the House of Representatives transporting drugs in his car, caught at a check point on the highway. The LDEA official was invited by the Joint Session of the Lower and Upper Chambers (Representatives and Senators) to “disclose” the name of the “Lawmaker”, but she “fainted” during the interrogation. She has not been invited by the National Legislature again!

The sale points of the drugs are “ghettoes”, scattered across each of the communities in Liberia’s 15 Counties, with the major consumers popularly known as “zogoes”—the Liberian parlance for any street-inhabitant, with dingy appearance, who survives through criminal means. However, some of the “zogoes” are surviving through “honorable means”—calling passengers for commercial vehicles’ operators, loading/offloading of load in trucks, etc.

The Monrovia City Government, working for the Central Government, left “ghettoes” during its demolition of “make-shift” structures as part of its “beautification” exercise in preparation of celebration of Liberia’s Independence Day (2021)

A former Reporter, and now News Editor of the Hott Pepper newpaper, Mr. Sheik O. Jalloh, gave me further information about Liberia’s drugs problems.

“Every community in Monrovia and other parts of Monsterrado County has a headquarters for the drugs people,” said Mr. Jalloh, and called the names of some of the “headquarters” and where each can be found. Central Monrovia’s headquarters: Pelham Building (opposite the Center Street’s Police Station); Porto Corner/Zimbabwe (West Point Township); Bushrod Island’s Headquarters: Under the Caldwell’s overhead Bridge, Caldwell Township; ”Kuwait” (Duala); Paynesville’s Headquarter: Red Hill Field.

Mr. Jalloh also narrated his personal stories of encounters with the Caldwell’s and West Point’s Headquarters. On the former, he talked about the drug addicts’ leadership demand of “passage fee” (fifty Liberian Dollars) from each pedestrian or driver of a vehicle passing under the bridge when there was vehicular traffic holdup over the bridge. Everybody “surrendered” to the hoodlums’ leadership’s demand. He was with his wife-to-be in a tricycle (popularly called “Kehkeh” in Liberia) coming from Caldwell to Duala Market in Bushrod Island. On the second experience, Mr. Jalloh said two members of the West Point’s drug gang snatched the mobile phone of his host (Mr. Abubakar Bah, Assistant Minister for Urban Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) in 2020. He told the government official to be calm and assured him the phone will return to him before evening’s time. “I went to the zogoes’ headquarters inside West Point and reported the case to their leaders. He asked me about the description and brand name of the phone, I gave the details he requested. The phone was produced in less than fifteen minutes later,” the current Hott Pepper newspaper’s News Editor narrated for this article.

Each headquarter of zogoes has its leadership that knows all its members on jerking phones, ladies’ bags, or robbing in a different part of the community. Their no-go area is where another gang of miscreants live.

Over forty percent of Liberian youths—constituting about 60% of the Country’s population—is on drugs. (The youth population percentage is taken from 2014’s Population Census by the Liberia Institute for Geo-Information Studies—LIGIS) Added to this number are people above age 35, many of whom had actively participated in the Country’s civil war and fed with narcotic substances (drugs) to make them “brave” and “pitiless” during exchange of fire against another warring faction.

The leading cause of “drug addiction” in Liberia is “mental tension” caused by severe economic disparities in the Nation. Majority of the Country’s young people have resorted to consumption of drugs as a way of easing their “mental stress” from absence of jobs in government or the private sector. Even those with genuine academic qualifications and have defended their degrees to erase any feeling of “forgery” in skeptics can’t get job. Students’ populations in the Country’s various high schools have sharply dropped because the students’ parents have lost their only ‘government’ (on “political reason”) or ‘private sector’ job on “redundancy” (because the employing company’s profits margin is dropping each day) Self-sponsored students  are the worst hit. Many of these “frustrated students” are now spending much of their daytime and evening time in drug sales places (ghettoes), calming their education-related “tensed nerves” with consumption of drugs.

Many foreigners-owned businesses with Liberians as “unskilled employees” have closed on top government officials’ corruption actions: weekly demands of big money, or inciting Liberian workers to stage protest against “bad labour practice” to be reported to the Ministry of Labour for the foreign business person to pay “bigger money” if he/she ‘refused to pay the small money demanded by the government official’. These foreign businesses are fill-in gaps for the Liberian Government’s inability to create jobs for the Country’s multitude of jobless people.

The presence of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Liberia has exacerbated the masses’ sufferings. The prices of basic food commodities has gone astronomically high—based on Government’s high export tariffs on Ships to Liberia.

Liberia’s current Vice President, Jewel Howard-Taylor, has “criticized” the current national political leadership (she’s part of)—headed by George Manneh Weah—for not tackling the “root causes” of drugs problems in Liberia.

“We are not dealing with the root causes of drugs…drugs are not sold only on the street, but in Elementary Schools…drugs dealers are now moving to hard-to-reach parts of the Country…my family has a personal story of drugs…,” parts of the Vice President’s statement on the menace went out, relayed on the morning’s Talk Show of a Liberian Radio Station (JOY FM) on Thursday, January 21, 2022. The Show was exclusively about the Crusade tragedy.

NATIONAL SECURITY LAPSES

Government’s “poor care” of members of the “emergency unit” of the Liberia National Police (LNP) causes the officers’ ignoring of emergency situations or responding to emergency situations “late”—after criminals had caused the mayhem and escaped. The “poor care” is reflected on each officers’ salary (between US$100 and 150), reflected on officers’ uniforms (old, faded, and torn at two or more parts), and reflected on majority’s physical frames (emaciated/malnourished) Majority of Police Stations do not have vehicles—cars or motorcycles—to rush to “crime spots”.

Other national security “deficiencies” are:  (some) Police officers’ “protection” of criminal gangs (supplying information about pending “Police raid”), and some Police officers’ consumption of drugs (narcotic substances) with criminals in ghettoes in corners. As my proof of the third security lapse, I saw a man in the dark blue uniform of the Police Support Unit (PSU) of the Liberia National Police (LNP)— shirt, trouser and boots—collecting powdery and grassy substances from a drugs sale point (tarpaulin) near the fish dryer mentioned earlier in this story. “PSU” was inscribed on one of the arms of the shirt. From this drug sale point he entered another drugs sale point (sea erosion-destroyed house) few meters from where he had collected the “drugs”. Twenty minutes later, I reported to LNP’s H. Moses Carter, LNP’s Spokesperson, who and what had seen. It was during my visit in West Point on the 7th day of April, 2021.

Some eyewitnesses’ reports said some members of the New Kru Town’s Detachment (Depot) of the LNP had gone at the crime spot (Crusade ground)—after the criminals had robbed and left. The late arrival might have been caused by lack of “operations vehicle”.

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY’S SPIRITUAL MALFUNCTIONING ON NATIONAL PROBLEMS

The death of the 29 Liberians during the period “spiritual cleansing” (Crusade) is a “spiritual message” to Liberia’s Christian Community about the Community’s “malfunction” on executing its spiritual obligation of “spiritual cleansing” of the Country against negative vices—narcotic sales  business, corruption in the Church, the Church’s promotion of politicians (on corruption list of the Government or Integrity Institutions), obsession with personal wealth over soul-winning for God, occultic practice (witchcraft) by Leader of the Church, and other un-Godly practices.

Many Liberian Christian leaders are more obsessed with personal wealth—collecting money for “miracles” (including sale of “holy oil”), etc.—than focusing on “moral message” (how to transform from “gangsterism”, leave alcoholism, etc.)

The Omnipotent Security Man (God) doesn’t pass through any Christian organization’s leader that hosts the “spirit” of any of the Un-Godly things mentioned above. And the Omniscient Being (Jehovah) won’t “be” at any “intercessory venue” with the “aura” of such Un-Godly person—even after he or she had left (at the end)

RECOMMENDATIONS (SOLUTION METHODS) ON ALLEVIATING NATIONAL CHAOS DURING GEORGE MANNEH WEAH’S PRESIDENCY

The ruling party (Coalition for Democratic Change) should exhibit practical (action-based) respect for the lives of “ordinary Liberians” by preventing entry of narcotic substances (drugs) reducing  the number of Liberia’s “future leaders” and increasing the number of “mentally retarded” citizens. Drug sale points across the Country should be demolished. Besides these, jobs should be created for the Country’s teeming population of employed young people to take the minds off drugs. Young people’s talents should be promoted through talents-related competition in communities and schools and participants should be motivated with financial and material prizes. The adage says, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. Last—but not the least—is construction of a rehabilitation center for “disadvantaged youths” resorting to crimes as a survival methods. Create vocational training programs at the center, which will equip them for the larger society later.

The Judiciary or Temple of Justice should exhibit impartial prosecution of arrested and guilty drugs smugglers or sellers.

Opposition political parties should create jobs for young people, in spite of their “political differences”, which will reduce unemployment-related frustrations and take the young people’s minds from drugs as last resort of “stress easer”. Add creation of “tutorial centers” for grade school students who can’t find money to go back to school. An opposition political party is a “government in waiting”; therefore, provide what the incumbent ruling political party is “failing in”.

The Christian community should convene a “National Intercessory Praying Event” against entry of drugs into Liberia, and pray for “sudden death” for smugglers and “smuggling facilitators” (Government official)

Other religious bodies (Islam, Buddhism, Traditional African Religion) should join the national anti-drug “fight”

The Journalism community should report about “attitudinal transformation”—from bad to good—of persons known as “zogoes”. This promotion will inspire those in “zogoism” to come out. We, Journalists, should come out of the “mental mold” of reporting only about the “negatives”—drugs smuggling/consumption, “tragic stampede”, etc.

With Jehovah on Liberia’s side, Africa’s oldest Republic will come out of the grips of “drugs” and “drug-related tragedy”

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