By C. Winnie Saywah
“Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians because you have your plans but if you incriminate the character and integrity of Liberians like myself, trust me, we will come after you,” the Director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS) Othello Warrick threatened thousands of journalists at celebrations of World Press Freedom Day.
“If you mistreat or infringe on the rights of someone, your rights will be infringed upon. Governance is everybody’s responsibility and any press member who surpasses his responsibility to get involved in testing our intelligence, trust me, the EPS will restrict you,” he apparently vented out his frustration at the celebration in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County.
It appears as if the EPS boss seized the moment to get at journalists with whom he might have had personal encounter because he was not part of the panelists but when given the floor, Director Warrick said, “We have given you absolute protection but democracy has limitation and that democracy provides for freedom of speech but not above the contents, freedom of movement, and freedom of infringing on the rights of those who serve in governments, freedom of liberty in the pursuit of happiness.”
“Let me assure the PUL and its members and register that the level of freedom you have has limitation. It does not go beyond the emblem of Liberia. You have the right to presidential freedom but if you come into the affairs of the EPS that requires information of the President’s movement, we consider that as an infringement to the safety of the President and anyone doing that will be arrested by the Executive Protection Service,” Warrick maintained.
“You are not more Liberians than the others. The EPS is to protect the Presidency, the Vice President and the first family and as indicated in the law, to protect dignitaries as directed by the President. Government is to provide civic responsibility to security and it is not the EPS responsibility to provide law and order; it is the Liberia National Police. It is not my responsibility to provide territorial integrity protection at the geographical borders; it is the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); what the EPS does is to provide protection for individuals and dignitaries; we do not provide protection for all citizens,” the EPS boss seemingly clarified.
He attributed the freedom that is enjoyed to the ascendency of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President of Liberia as well as to the many dead bodies he revealed are behind the Executive Mansion and the unknown graves noting, “Those represent the essence of the freedom we anticipate today” and said the name Special Security Service (SSS) was changed to EPS due to its history of harassment.
‘We said we will not harass; arrest and or ensure that journalists go missing but do not allow individuals to mislead you to question the integrity of those that have earned those integrities over the years. We are not saying you cannot preach freedom and transparency; the level of crucifixion must be sanctioned by yourself because as you go out and question the integrity of Liberians you should remember that you yourself will not go free. Not all of ‘us’ who are pen pushers; few of us that want to be terrorists, to turn the hands of people to be giving stories to publish things about others be reminded that the protection of the presidency remains the sole responsibility of the EPS therefore my solution is that as you go into 2014-2017, those with good intentions can get together because as we go into 2017 its going to be very critical, most UNMIL personnel will be out of Liberia by 2014.’
He said the solution to security-media relations is to begin to think about how it can be coordinated to maintain the peace and that the EPS is not against press freedom but that there are some individuals in the media who continue to go after character assignation and remembering and reading the comprehensive drawdown; there is a need for dialogue.
On the issue of taking EPS personnel to a ‘World Press Freedom Day’ program well armed, the EPS boss bragged, ‘I do not want to replicate the Benjamin Yeaten concept; these are just the Executive Protection Service and they are my private protection as we come to Grand Bassa that has nothing to do with the journalists. I have not come to harass you neither to intimidate you.’
However, the Country Director of Trust Africa, Ezekiel Pajibo said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not give Liberians any rights instead, “It was fought for and earned by the people of Liberia.”
Also serving as one of the panelists at the celebrations held in Buchanan City over the weekend, Mr. Pajibo said, “We will be steadfast in enjoying those rights. We are law abiding people; we will remain law abiding and our rights are constitutionally protected not by an individual.”
He said no amount of threats will deter Liberians because the rights enjoyed are enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia and protected and that nobody should misguide people that the rights given today are provided on a platter.
Buttressing Mr. Pajibo’s statement, the former president of the Press Union of Liberia, Abraham Massalley recalled how during his tenure as president of the Union, not a single day he went home unmolested for some reports that were unfavorable to government.
He said but he remained true to his value and what he stood for knowing that this freedom would be earned and today every journalist can see some level of freedom. “It was not given on silver platter; we paid the ultimate price. Freedom is never free, you always have to fight hard; it’s a constant struggle and your struggles have begun but know that this freedom you enjoy should be passed on to prosperity. Freedom has responsibilities and we cannot afford to continuously abuse this freedom. We have a social responsibility to ensure that our code of conduct and ethics are fully adhered to and that those who break it should pay the price for it. Freedom is never free,” Massallay averred.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson said the constitution was in existence since 1986 and that the media has been muzzled, therefore it will be unfair for someone to say that the freedom enjoyed is because of the constitution.
Mr. Jackson who was also a guest said the media is transgressing from that sad history and has been promoted because of a good leadership, a leadership that has proven democratization and is willing to adhere to the rule of law.
He wondered why the Ellen-led government cannot be appreciated for making substantial strive in creating an environment for the promotion of free press in the country without journalists arbitrarily arrested.