Photo credit: DiasporaEngager (www.DiasporaEngager.com).

By Othello B. Garblah and Lincoln Peters

Persistent protests by spouses of officers of the Armed Offices of Liberia (AFL) have marred President Joseph N. Boakai’s first 20 days in office forcing his newly confirmed Defense Minister retired Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III., to resign.

The protest also affected the Armed Forces Day celebration, with the President and Commander-In-Chief announcing earlier that there would be no formal program as was previously announced in a Foreign Ministry Proclamation issued on Wednesday, 7 January.

Retired Maj. Gen. Johnson, III, who tendered his resignation on Monday, February 12, 2024, as Liberians observed the nation’s 67th Armed Forces Day, served as Chief of Staff of the AFL from 2018 to 2024 under the George Wean administration.

The spouses of officers of the AFL took to the streets on Saturday, the eve of Armed Forces Day erecting roadblocks on major highways while demanding that President Boakai dismiss the former Army Chief for his alleged inhumane treatment of servicemen.

It follows days of protests by the officers’ spouses from military barracks around the country accusing the former Chief of Staff of bad labor practices, and concerns over wages, benefits, and poor living conditions in the military barracks.

“We have come here today as the voices of those gallant men who by laws: the constitution, the Defense Acts, the Geneva Conventions and rendering them as duck fowl organization who cannot voice out their pains, frustrations, deprivations, marginalization, untold poverty wilfully, deliberately placed upon us and our children by the former Défense Minister retired General Daniel Ziankan and his chief architect, the modern pharaoh of our time in person of Major General Price  Charles Johnson,” the women said.

The women had earlier called on the Senate Defense Committee not to confirm Rtd Maj. Gen. Johnson, III over their concerns, but the former went ahead to confirm him.

Accepting his resignation

The Executive Mansion announced Gen. Johnson’s resignation Monday afternoon, 12 February 2024 while some major highways across Monrovia and parts of Liberia were being held hostage by the protesting women.

Since his nomination to head the Ministry of National Defense, AFL Officers’ spouses began raising contentions against the retired Army Chief of Staff for various underlying issues not previously known in the public.

There were concerns about wages and benefits, and poor living conditions in the military barracks, among others.

It became clear that the protesters, though not military personnel, did not want their spouses to work with former Minister Johnson.

However, the Liberian Senate confirmed him, probably provoking the widespread protest that led to the roadblocks for days.

The Executive Mansion says in his resignation letter, Minister Johson outlined his reasons for his action.

The Executive Mansion noted that Gen. Johnson indicated that his action was due to the current political and civil disturbances occasioned by the protest of women believed to be wives of servicemen, he has decided to resign and preserve the peace and security of the State.

The Executive Mansion said President Boakai has expressed gratitude to Minister Johnson for his invaluable service to the country and described him as a patriot.

AFL spouses cooked and slept on major roads 

The protesting AFL officers’ spouses cooked and slept in the streets at the Coast Guard and Star Bases and under the Bong Mines Bridge on Bushrod Island.

During their sustained protest, they set roadblocks and demanded the immediate resignation of former Defense Minister Prince C. Johnson, III. They were seen cleaning fish, while some were seen fetching water among others.

The protesters assembled in the street with cooking pots, buckets, and several cooking utensils and spent time cooking on the streets of Monrovia.

They sat on the main road and prepared their meals while the protest continued. They also slept on the streets at the Bong Mines Bridge along with their kids.

The protesting spouses of AFL officers were dressed in dominant black while others wore their husbands’ military outfits.

The protesters barricaded the main road leading to the commercial hub of Duala, New Kru Town, Caldwell, and Brewerville, among others.

The action caused serious traffic congestion, leaving commuters to use the community routes to get to their destinations.

Speaking in an interview with journalists, the women accused retired Major General Johnson of not initiating sound retirement policy and benefits for soldiers.

They accused General Johnson of allegedly not remitting all of the monies and benefits of AFL soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions abroad.

They alleged that the two officials under their leadership, did not put into place a sound retirement policy, and soldiers and their families live in poor housing facilities.

The Armed Forces Day Event

In a release issued by the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, February 7, it said the Commander-In-Chief by Proclamation declared Sunday, February 11, 2024, as “Armed Forces Day.” The Day will be celebrated on Monday, February 12, 2024, throughout the Republic as a National Holiday.

The Proclamation further directed all military and paramilitary organizations within the Republic to organize and execute appropriate programs including parades and other ceremonies in recognition of the Day.

According to a Foreign Ministry release, the day was planned to be celebrated at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) under the theme: “The Armed Forces Support to Democracy: The Role and Responsibility of the AFL.”

The Presidential Proclamation had informed Liberians that the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations Liberia, Madam Christine Umutoni would have served as Guest Speaker.

But days later, the Executive Mansion issued a statement indicating that there would be no formal program in observance of the Armed Forces Day at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) on Monday.

The Mansion said President Boakai was due to lead a delegation to the Edward B. Kesselly Barracks.

President Boakai had met at his Rehab Office with spouses of personnel of the AFL to hear their grievances.

During that meeting, the Mansion said the women highlighted challenges they are experiencing at the Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks in Schieffelin.

These include retirement benefits, low salary, corruption, lack of adequate insurance, education, poor housing, lack of electricity, social services, and their general welfare.

They stated that these challenges have lingered on too long enough without redress as the military leadership have remained indifferent.

But President Boakai, the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, reassured the women that their grievances would be thoroughly investigated with a view to finding redress where possible.

That said, the president promised to constitute a committee to probe into the matter and provide report in a week time.

In the interim, the Executive Mansion said the Liberia Electricity Corporation has restored electricity at the EBK Barrack, upon the orders of President Boakai.

The President has also declared the Linda Thomas Greenfield School at the EBK Barracks tuition free.

Source of original article: Liberia news The New Dawn Liberia, premier resource for latest news (thenewdawnliberia.com).
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