This Year’s Armed Forces Day: What Makes It So Unique…

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Over the years in post-war Liberia, the observance and celebration of the Armed Forces Day in the country has been celebrated with a Nigerian General as the head of the Liberian army, until the security sector of the country was completely overhauled and restructured. The restructuring exercise was in consonance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by stakeholders in Accra, Ghana, to end another round of conflict in the country in August 2003.

At the time of the marathon and painstaking peace talks, the parties’ Article VII on the issue of the security. The Parties agreed that: (a)all irregular forces shall be disbanded (b) The Armed Forces of Liberia shall be restructured and will have a new command structure. The forces may be drawn from the ranks of the present GOL forces, the Liberian United for Reconstruction (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), as well as from civilians with appropriate background and experience.

Furthermore, the parties in the accord requested that ECOWAS, the UN, AU, and the ICGL provide advisory staff, equipment, logistics and experienced trainers for the security reform effort.The Parties also requested that the United States of America play a lead role in organizing this restructuring program.

As such, the agreement outlined certain principles which should be considered in the formation of the restructured Liberian Armed Forces. It states that (a) Incoming service personnel shall be screened with respect to educational, professional, medical and fitness qualifications as well as prior history with regard to human rights abuses.

In addition, the agreement states that “the restructured force shall take into account the country’s national balance. It shall be composed without any political bias to ensure that it represents the national character of Liberia; that the Mission of the Armed Forces of Liberia shall be to defend the national sovereignty, respond to natural disasters and that all Parties shall cooperate with ECOWAS, the UN, the AU, the ICGL and the United States of America.”

In line with this and coupled with the completion of the restructuring exercise of the military, a Liberian Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen Daniel D. Ziahkhan and two others in the high command- Col. Eric Dennis, Deputy Chief of staff and Col. Prince C. Johnson, Brigade Commander for the first time in many years were appointed, following the normal formalities associated with such high positions in the military.

And so this Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of the taking over of the high command of the restructured Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) by Liberians. Gen. Ziahkhan replaced the late Maj Gen SurajA Abdurrahman, the Nigerian General who ended his duty last February at an elaborate ceremony at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia. The idea of a non-Liberian heading the military during the restructuring process was to build confidence and bring respect and credibility to the new army.

It is this aspect that I see as making this year’s Armed Forces Day “a unique one”because for many years, as a result of the restructuring process, the army was commanded by a non-Liberian. I say this celebration is unique in a sense for one year now Liberians at the high command of the military continue to show high leadership ability thus ensuring that the army commands the respect of the people.

It is an indisputable fact that the army and other security apparatus, during years of conflict made the people to lose confidence in them because of the way and manner in which some of its members behaved and conducted themselves. And so its restructuring became inevitable to give a new face, look and character, with the view of commanding the respect and confidence of the people.

Also, as the agreement said that the restructured force shall take into account the country’s national balance and that it shall be composed without any political bias to ensure that it represents the national character of Liberia, today, I believe that the new army possesses these characteristics because I am aware of the recruitment, vetting and scrutiny process that characterized the selection of men and women into the military.

Particularly, the vetting process, where members of various communities were given opportunity to report on any misconduct or unacceptable behavior on the part of any member of the recruits, significantly, played a major role in the process. This was a complete departure from the past, where in most instances recruitments were not based on these factors, rather on “connections,” such as tribal or consanguineous relationships and not on education, qualification or one’s moral deportment, as was crucial to the recruitment of this present military.

Because of this method of distasteful recruit in the past,those who found themselves in the military were considered as being at the lowest echelon of society, something for which they were popularly referred to as “NOKOS,” which in the Liberian colloquial or parlance depicts people who are insignificant, ignoramus, buffoons or people who were not relevant to society.

But today the issue of NOKOS has now been something of the past because of the professional way and manner in which members of the present force have been recruited and are conducting themselves.

As the nation observes or celebrates this “UNIQUE” Armed Forces Day, let the Force continue to act in a way and manner to continue to command the respect of the people. As the Liberian saying goes, “the army morale is too high; it can’t get low,” therefore, it should never get low or go low.

Equally, it is common sense that to have the military is capital-intensive, as such; the military should be supported and cared for,as they stand ready to perform their duty when necessary, especially as they have also been seen performing civil duties `with the present road rehabilitation in Kebbeh, Bardnersville, outside Monrovia.

Likewise, the Commanding-In-Chief, who is caricatured in this article and the Ministry of National Defense, should ensure that the mistakes of the past that reduced the military to a laughingstock are not repeated. Let the present recruitment criteria hold. Let the present recruitment criteria be vigorously enforced and enhanced. Never again should the army be a place for flunkies, miscreants and deviants in society; never again should mediocrity replace“meritism,” (just to borrow a word from Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh) in the recruitment exercises.

Also, never again should the “Chief” order the Defense Minister, the late Gray D. Allison to “MOVE or BE REMOVED,” to handle a simple matter as was mistakenly done to quell students’ protest at the University of Liberia in 1984, something that could have been handled by the police. Today that incident had gone down into Liberian history as one of the worst days in Liberia for the way students were handled, maltreated, and as well as humiliated by the military during the military regime of the late Samuel K. Doe.

It is not a hyperbole that the Americans and other partners spent too much to get the army to where it is today, therefore, nothing should be done to de-professionalize the army or revert it to its NOKOS status, something Liberians are not reared to see the restructured army being referred to.

To Brig. Gen Daniel D. Ziahkhan and members of the high command, keep up the good work, for this is the only wayto command the respect of the people and also to make themto have confidence in the force.

Observably,   since the Liberian team took over, the military continues to exhibit high degree of professionalism and generally acceptable standard, expected of the military. Noticeably, the new army was part of a peacekeeping mission in Mali, an exercise that Liberian has not participated in since the 1960’s. It is my hope that the new AFL would not behave like “WHITE CHICKEN.:”

As it is said, “to whom much is given, much is expected,” as undeniably, much has been spent to get the army to where it is today. Hence, we should not retrogress or turn the wheel to the detriment of society.

Happy Armed Forces Day! I Rest My Case.