Medical Students Protest; Weah Orders Stipends Paid

MONROVIA, Montserrado – On Wednesday, students from the University of Liberia’s School of Pharmacy and the A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine stormed the grounds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the office of President George Weah, in protest of stipends they said had been delayed by six months.

The students were first seen peacefully protesting in front of the ministry as early as 6:30 a.m. and later moved into the compound.

Some carried signs that read, “We are future live savers pay our stipend, we want attention,” and “Treat us like professionals, we have no hope, please restore our lost hope Mr. president.”

The group’s leaders were later escorted to the C. Cecil Dennis Hall after demanding an audience with Weah, however, they returned outside shortly.

Several government officials tried to urge the students to leave the ministry’s compound because according to them, Weah had many pressing issues to attend to. However, the protesting students refused to leave, for fear that their demands would not be addressed by the president.

At about 4:30 p.m., after several hours waiting, the students were allowed to enter the C. Cecil Dennis Hall again to meet with the president.

Roosevelt Matthews, president of the Liberia Medical Students Association, told The Bush Chicken prior to his meeting with Weah that the students face several issues.

“Since eight months, students are yet to have access to the dormitory after the completion of renovation works,” he said, citing the lack of transportation and delay in stipends as other issues they faced.

“Such is impeding our learning at the university,” he added.

Roosevelt Matthews, president of the Liberia Medical Students Association. Photo: Zeze Ballah

According to him, the last time students received their stipends was in October 2017, and since students were not allowed to take on other jobs to sustain themselves, their only means of survival was the US$200 monthly stipend provided by the government.

“Students are strangulated if their stipends are not paid regularly,” he stressed.

Matthews said some government officials tried to provoke the students even though they were peacefully protesting.

“Samuel Tweah, finance minister, earlier instructed the security to kick us out and insulted me in the C. Cecil Dennis Hall while in the process of trying to meet Weah,” he noted.

Matthews’ statement was corroborated by an official of the protocol office at the Foreign Ministry, who was heard saying that Weah needs to get rid of some of his ministers who are bent on inflaming situations.

According to Matthews, Tweah accused the medical students of being politicians and said they were not truly seeking professional redress.

“I am disappointed in people [to] whom we should be channeling our grievances,” Matthews said, in response to Tweah’s comments.

But all ended well for the students, as Matthews said after the student leaders’ meeting, the president instructed Tweah to make available more than US$200,000 as payment of stipends for students.

On the issues of transportation and accessing the dormitory, Matthews said the school’s leadership was asked to meet with the relevant government officials for a discussion.

Government officials speaking with protesting medical students. Photo: Zeze Ballah

The issue of paying medical students’ stipends is a recurring one for the government. In September 2016, The Bush Chicken reported that students had gone seven months without receiving their monthly stipend. Additionally, in 2015, students were pressured into waiving nine months of their stipend out of the 15 months owed them because of a “budget shortfall.”

Even as Liberia suffers from an acute shortage of doctors and the nation’s only medical school remains one of the best tools available to the government in bridging that gap, students at the Dogliotti Medical School often find that the school is not truly free, despite the government’s guarantees.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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