Like any other opposition political party, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) benefited from the actions of the campus-based Student Unification Party (SUP) while in opposition.
But as fate or politics would have it, the SUP has been up against the government of the day over allegations of corruption, bad governance and possible cases of abuse of office.
Since its formation, the SUP has considered itself the student group to fight against oppression by political leaders in the country.
On Monday, March 13, 2023, what the students believed to be a fight against a lawmaker they accused of being corrupt turned into violence on the campus of the University of Liberia.
How did it all start?
The chaos was triggered by the singular decision taken by Representative Acarous Moses Gray to have lunch on the campus of the University of Liberia. Moses Gray is also the Representative of Montserrado County, District #8, on which the state-owned University of Liberia is sited.
The supposed ‘lunch date’ came when students of the University had chased away some past and current officials of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) from the University premises over corruption allegations.
In what was expected to be a similar act of revolt against the lawmaker, the students took to Facebook with a statement warning the lawmaker not to step onto the compound of the University.
But the lawmaker would not budge. He said that as the District representative in which the University is situated, he had every right to visit the campus and have lunch with friends and constituents without a third party causing trouble.
Chaos in the academic city
It was no vain threat by the students. And with no sign of the lawmaker, Moses Gray holding back on his promise to have lunch on campus, the result was chaos. Clubs, sticks and stones flew in different directions in a bloody confrontation between the students and the lawmaker’s supporters. The violence led to multiple injuries on both sides. In the heat of the violence, some students of the University of Liberia, precisely members of the SUP, were chased out of their campus by supporters of a seated Representative.
As a result of the clashes, there was huge traffic for several hours, which inconvenienced other motorists.
In the end, the advertised lunch could not happen, even though the lawmaker in the company of militants invaded the campus of the university. Both the friends and foes of the lawmaker had injuries to the nurse.
This was not the first time the campus-based political party, SUP, had banned an official of the government they claim to be corrupt from accessing the premises of the University. There was no sight of the police to either arrest or maintain law and order.
History of violent demonstrations
In 2015, Alvin Wesseh, a former student, was expelled from the University for a violent demonstration that led to the removal of the then-vice president or provost. Wesseh is currently the Assistant Minister in the CDC-led government.
At some point, the current Liberian Vice President, Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, was also at some point booed and chased out of the university; Sanctioned and resigned Liberia’s Solicitor General, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, also suffered a similar fate.
However, the most recent was before the infamous lunch incident happened on March 7. The students had booed and chased out Aloysius Howe, the Administrative Aid in the office of Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah because he was corrupt.
The students’ action against Mr Howe followed a report that the Liberia Institute of Statistic and Geo-Information Service (LISGIS) had paid Mr Howe L$ 160,000. The money was supposed to be used for the sensitisation of census awareness.
As a result, the University authorities suspended one student in connection with the incident pending investigation. Public Relations, Atty Norris Toweah, confirmed it to DUWAWA in a WhatsApp chat.
Suspension of political activities on campus
The university’s authorities have suspended student politics on all of the university’s campuses across the country until otherwise stated.
According to a statement issued by the university on March 17, 2023, under the signature of its President, Julius Sarwolo Nelson, the University of Liberia indicated that no political group shall assemble or hold meetings or engage in any politics-related activities on any of the University of Liberia campuses during the suspension period.
The UL statement noted, “Students are mandated to keep in strict conformity with this pronouncement. Violators would be severely sanctioned in keeping with the UL Revised Student Handbook. The suspension affects political/solidarity marches, political gatherings, wearing of symbols and emblems depicting and promoting campus-based political groups, student protests, among others.”
What are people saying about the chaos?
There have been mixed opinions over the conduct of the students vis-a-vis that of Representative Gray. Many people do not agree with the violence and chaos perpetuated by the students despite the chaos. Also, there has been a barrage of condemnations from ordinary Liberians and members of the Liberian Senate, over the March 13, 2023, incident. Some of the critics blamed Representative Gray for the chaos that took place at the state-run University.
Senator Numenee Bartekwa of Grand Kru County disclosed that he and the Senate Pro-Tempore made frantic efforts in ensuring that the lawmaker did not show up on the campus, but he ignored them.
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County and opposition lawmaker has also condemned the incident, adding that nobody has got the right to brutalize another citizen.
“Booing is a part of democracy and a sign of displeasure by the people as the same way cheering is a sign of approval of the people’s power.”
Frank Peter, a caller on a local talk show, said, “to whom much is given, much is expected. Representative Gray has no business on the university campus when the students tell him not to. It does not mean he is weak but just to avoid violence and maintain our peace. Look now what his action has caused the country and his government.”
The Liberian National Police (LNP) has since commenced an investigation into the Monday, March 13, 2023, standoff between students of the University of Liberia and supporters of Montserrado County District #8 Representative.