Celebrating Armed Forces Day With A Difference

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

My late grandmother once told me that there are certain activities that make one occasion or event different from another. She said sometimes it is because new activities or something unprecedented distinguishes one event of similar nature from the other.  Over the years, the celebration of Armed Forces Day had always produced the same kind of protocols. The out-door program, with a guest speaker, followed by the usual splendid parade by various units of the military and paramilitary units, such as the Police and Immigration of the country. In recent time, the Ministry of National Defense, as part of the reform or restructuring process of the military, has added a symposium, all geared towards the building of a processional and well-trained army, after many years of conflict.

From what my grandmother, then an octogenarian, told me many years ago, I see it taking place during this year’s celebration of Armed Forces, with the induction of the new commanders of the new army. This obviously would be a major focus of the occasion, apart from its usual activities, meaning that a new flavor has now been added, as the nation will witness the induction of the new high command of the military, after many years of its restructuring process.

Fortunately for me, I have been following the activities of the restructuring process and have even participated in some of its activities. I was among the discussants during last year’s symposium at the Monrovia City Hall. Held under the topic, “Training, Regimentation And Maintenance: Fundamental Necessities For the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) Being Operational by 2014, the   Deputy Commander of UNMIL, Brig. Gen. John A. Kwasie served as keynote speaker, while the other two discussants were former Chief of Staff  of the AFL, Gen. Henry Dubar and  Col Randolph White of the American Embassy. Dr. Thomas Jaye of the Kofi Annan Institute in Ghana moderated the symposium.

Appropriately this year, as the country takes control over the leadership of the army, the symposium which precedes the actual celebration of the day on Tuesday, February 11, the exercise was held yesterday under the theme: “Inter Agency Cooperation: Fundamental necessity for security of the Republic of  Liberia, “ and is expected to feature a keynote speaker and discussants, as it has been over the years, which has been characterized by the reform process.

The annual celebration of Armed Forces Day is in consonance with an Act of the National Legislature, declaring the 11th Day of February of each year “Armed Forces Day,” as a National holiday in recognition of the vital role of the Armed Forces of Liberia in defending and protecting Liberia’s territorial integrity. More over, the celebration is also intended to recognize the talents, services, patriotism, loyalty and gallantry for the upkeep of the Noble Heritage by those men and women who are now memorialized through the establishment of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as ordered by the Act of the National Legislature of Liberia of 22nd July 2008. More importantly, the  passage of the National Defense Act of 2008, the Armed Forces of Liberia remains in supporting the foundation for long Term Security and Economic Development in Liberia as well as fostering regional peace to consolidate emerging democracies.

Since the enactment of this Act many years ago, the government through the Ministry of National Defense continues to hold appropriate programs befitting the day. Usually, it is climaxed with the drill by various units of the military and paramilitary. Interestingly, for this year’s celebration, it would be more elaborate and historic, as the country would be inducting the first Liberian heads of the AFL after years of restructuring. In keeping with the reform process of the army, it has been headed by a Nigerian commander, until the restructuring process of the military, which reasonably has now reached an appreciable level.

The process of the restructuring of the military and other security apparatus of the country was the sequel of the outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the Liberian parties during the marathon and painstaking peace talks among stakeholders of the country held in Accra, Ghana, under the supervision of ECOWAS and others, to finding an amicable solution to the conflict facing the country at the time. It was during that meeting the parties agreed, because of the polarization of the country’s security network, as well as the unprofessional behavior exhibited by some of them during the years of conflict, to restructure all of them. It was based on this the process started during the interim government headed by Charles Gyude Bryant.

Today, after years of reforms processes, with the support of ECOWAS, the American government and others, if there is anything that this country after years of conflict can boast of is its present trained and professional army. The virtues the men and women in uniforms continue to exhibit have sent an incontestable message to the Liberian people and the outside world that much has been achieved from the restructuring exercises. Presently, the country has sent some of its soldiers for African union peace keeping mission in Mali, something that has not been done in many decades.

Because of the level of professionalism the military continue to exhibit, it has won the hearts of Liberians, as was seen last year during the recruitment exercise for additional men and women, when thousands of young men and women, gathered early in the morning in queues to be recruited in the army. Those selected after meeting the tough criteria of the recruitment exercise underwent training outside Monrovia.

Unsurprisingly, during her annual message recently, President Sirleaf, who is Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, acknowledged the achievement in the restructuring process. In her message, among other things she said, “The celebration of a Decade of Peace in 2013 was a milestone achievement for us as a nation, regardless of our individual status, ethnicity, political and religious affiliations. We are all proud of this collective achievement, recognizing that violence, which knows no boundaries or differences, shatters and destroys; while peace pools the resources of a people, leading them to greater development.”

She went on; “With the support of the international community, especially the United States and United Nations peacekeeping and peace-building efforts, Liberia has rebuilt a new, ethnically balanced and professional army; and has embarked upon a process to enhance the professional capacity of the Liberia National Police, Immigration and intelligence agencies in line with their responsibility for security within our borders. However, much work remains to be done, and so we welcome the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2116 that extends the mandate of UN peacekeepers to September 30, 2014.”

Under the leadership of the Ministry of National Defense, the President reported that ,” a 1,980-person-strong Armed Forces of Liberia continues to position itself to support a democratic environment through tactical and technical proficiencies and the development of a robust capacity to defend our territorial integrity. The Armed Forces Training Command, now headquartered at the newly renovated Todee Camp, assumed responsibility for tactical and proficiency training locally, and is presently training 140 new army recruits, which will be increased by some 400 recruits who were vetted and endorsed by the Joint Personnel Board. The AFL is also expanding its Engineering and Medical Units to assist in reconstruction projects and social service delivery. “

Similarly, she said the Coast Guard, of 82 persons, is expanding and strengthening its capabilities to patrol and protect our maritime domain, as evidenced by the arrests of several illegal fishing vessels in our waters. The UNMIL transition plan, which transfers security management of the state to the Government of Liberia, has entered its second phase, having completed phase one in the following strategic locations: Robertsport, Foya District, and the Loguatou Border, Nimba County. Plans are well under way for trained security units to fill security personnel gaps created by the UNMIL drawdown.

Inarguably, this nation has leap-frogged in its security restructuring process, especially as it relates to the military. Unlike previous recruitment exercises prior to the civil conflict, the restructuring recruitment exercises were vigorously, transparently and scrupulously done, to an extent that  members of public  were encouraged to vet the applicants and state for any reason why anyone of them, whose photos have been placed in public places should not be recruited to form part of the new army. The exercise was intended to make sure those who applied to be recruited in the new army do not have any criminal and other records that make then unsuitable for the army.

As the nation celebrates this year’s Armed Forces Day in grandeur with the induction of the High Command of the Army, it is necessary that everything be done to ensure that the military remains professional and serviceable. Let me thank the outgoing Nigerian General Suraj Abdurrahman, for a job well done, for which he has won himself in the annals of this country. Also, commendations to Defense Minister Samukai and the Ministry family for the level discipline in the new army.

While we are proud of what has been achieved thus far, it now behooves us as a government and people to make sure that nothing is done to replace professionalism with mediocrity and competence with ineptitude.

As someone who has been following the activities of the military over the years, we must take certain steps to ensure that what has been achieved, with the help of our international partners and countries are not undermined. First, is to ensure that the recruitment criteria lay down, with the help of our international partners, that have been used in the recruitment exercises are followed. I say this because one of the problems in the past that tainted the military was the way and manner in which people were recruited. People who did not have the proper credentials were recruited, thus undermining professionalism. Never again should the military be used as a dumpsite or place for flunkies and miscreants in the society.

More specifically, never again should the soldiers condescendingly and derogatorily be referred to as “NOKOs (a local parlance for idiots, insignificant person or fool). Also, never again should the military be used unnecessarily for selfish reasons against the interest of society and that never again should members of the AFL turn beggars in the streets, moving from business centers to business center for alms.

Second, promotion and preferment should be based on the merit system and not based on favoritism, family relationship, or even ethnicity. Third, to keep the present morale and reputation of the military, some of the challenges such as accommodation, as well as the welfare and well-being of the military whose members do not benefit from perquisites, should be taken care of. Let me not also forget the issue of their rations.

Because of the issue of support and care for the army, I am graciously happy for this year’s theme for the symposium held yesterday at the Monrovia City Hall. With this theme, “Inter Agency Cooperation: Fundamental Necessity For Security Of The Republic Of  Liberia, “ it is my fervent belief that those responsible for materials and support to the military will cooperate and coordinate to ensure that nothing serves as hurdles or bottlenecks in the way of catering to the army.

Many times, the issue of bureaucratic bottlenecks always caused unnecessary hitches in getting things done on time. With the discussion yesterday, I hope some of the issues and problems have been identified to avoid problem in inter agency cooperation, because without such smooth cooperation, this would lead to unnecessary delays and setback.

Again, as we celebrate this year’s Armed Forces Day in grand style, let us always remember to do everything to make the military more professional, as a professional and trained army is crucial to a better security system. Fortunately for us, the present army continues to exhibit those virtues expected of a professional and trained army. Our task now is to keep it this way, by not repeating the mistakes of the past that led to the incessant calls and demands for the restructuring of the army.

Sometimes it is said that there are two ways to doing things: The generally acceptable way, which is the universal right way and the “Liberian Way” which is synonymous with the doing the wrong thing. As the nation reaches the zenith of its security restructuring exercise, we should not treat the issue of the new army the “Liberian Way.”

To the soldiers, with the nomination of their new heads, Lt. Col. Daniel Dee Ziankahn, Chief of Staff and Gen. Eric Dennis, Deputy Chief of Staff, considering the level of local and foreign training and the amount spent, as such, much is expected of you. You have to live up to the expectation of the public. As the public continue to hold you in high esteem, you have to uphold your reputation. “DON’T BEHAVE LIKE THE WHITE CHICKEN”. A hint to the wise is quite sufficient.

Indeed, the nation will be celebrating this year’s Armed Forces Day with a great difference. Equally, let us also consider those of other security apparatus like the Police and Immigration, as well as the much talked about amalgamation of some of the security apparatus of similar functions and duties into single agency. I Rest My Case.