MONROVIA, Montserrdo – Several students attending public schools in Monrovia were injured on Tuesday after officers of the Liberia National Police strongly responded to what was becoming a violent protest.
The students, who were mostly teenagers from the Monrovia Consolidated School System, had gone to protest for their right to education after some MCSS teachers decided to abandon classes, claiming that the government had not paid them for three months.
The students contended that this was disrupting their learning. They chanted slogans such as “We want go to school; we want learn book.”
Other slogans chanted included “You can pay zogos, but you can’t pay teachers” – a reference to President George Weah’s government providing cash to groups of disadvantaged youths and substance abusers, commonly known as zogos, during the week of the country’s 174th Independence Day celebrations. At that time, professional government workers, including teachers and health workers had not been paid.
The protest initially started peacefully but became chaotic when officers of the Police Support Unit moved in to control the protesting students, who had blocked the path of the president’s convoy and opted to go beyond a point they had been confined to.
The situation led to some of the students throwing stones at police officers on Capitol Hill and the police, in response, used pepper spray, tear gas, and other means to disperse the protesters. Some of the students were seen falling to the ground, unconscious. Others sustained minor and major injuries.
Despite the police action, some of the students were adamant and vowed protest until their demands are met.
“This will not be the end, we will continue to protest until [you] pay our teachers,” one of the protesting students said.
“Most of your children are into various private schools, and we too, need to go to school. This is not possible and it will never be possible for us to be out of school.”
A 13-year-old Helena Karkee, who attends the Lorma Quarters Elementary School, sobbed as she appealed to the president to pay their teachers to return to the classrooms.
The second-grade student, Helena added, “We don’t want to be out of school. I am calling on the government to really pay attention to our education.”
The leadership of the Liberia National Students Union has issued a statement condemning the action of the police.
LINSU stated that it condemns in the strongest term the brutal actions of police officers against ‘harmless students’ who stampeded their ways into history to call the attention of authorities in the country’s educational sector to the absence of teachers in their classrooms since the beginning of the current academic year.
“We believe the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Education, needs to concentrate on a more proactive and not reactive mean to resolve the appalling conditions confronting Liberia’s educational sector,” LINSU said in the release.
“We must, however, applaud the gallantries of the students whose actions reminded us of the students of Soweto in 1976.”
In response to the protest, the police described the student protest as a “violation of other people’s rights,” as the students had set up roadblocks and blocked the president’s convoy.
“The MCSS students became very violent, throwing stones at officers and exchanging stones with private school students resulting to the damaging of the sliding glasses at the J.J. Roberts United Methodist High School,” a police press statement said.
“Due to the violent conduct of the rampaging MCSS students, the LNP used tear gas in dispersing them, thereby restoring calm to Central Monrovia and its environs.”
Police said 13 students were “affected by tear gas” and were later released from the hospital into the care of their parents. However, there was no mention in the statement of the many students seen during the protest with deep bloody wounds.
After the protest had started, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning clarified that the government had paid the salaries of 15,000 non-MCSS teachers for the month of August, and is currently processing their pay for September.
The Finance Ministry said close to 2,000 non-MCSS teachers who have account issues were also currently getting their pay for August, through arrangements agreed upon with the Ministry of Education.
It also disclosed that it had paid 900 MCSS teachers in full for the month of August on Monday.
“These teachers received only Liberian dollars. About 200 MCSS teachers who are paid in both USD and Liberian Dollars have received their 20 percent Liberian Dollar portions, but the bank in which they have their accounts has not yet posted the 80 percent to their USD accounts,” the ministry said.
The government also notified the public that payments for September 2019 for all MCSS teachers, who are paid differently from the 17,000 public school teachers, has been sent to the bank and is expected to be credited to their accounts by close of this week.
Featured photo by Emmanuel Weedee-Conway