Paynesville City – Liberia’s opposition political party, Congress for Democratic Change, has come in strong defense of occupants at the 72nd Barracks in Paynesville after the tenants were recently ordered by the Ministry of Defense to vacate the facility.
The CDC has described the MoD’s decision as a ‘sad’ moment, arguing that it may spark chaos in an election year.
Jefferson Kojee, Chairman of the CDC Youth Wing, noted that there are over 12,000 people occupying the barrack and cannot be evicted as ordered by Defense Minister Brownie Samukai.
He said the occupants comprise of families of former combatants and Armed Forces of Liberia personnel who have been living in the barrack for several years.
Recently, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told a state radio, ELBC morning show that the MoD is seriously considering the eviction of occupants at the 72nd Barracks.
Minister Samukai stressed that the occupants were given prior notice for a very long time to leave the barrack but they are not making move to adhere to the mandate.
Ahead of the MoD’s deadline, the CDC National Youth Wing Chair told a news conference on Thursday, February 16 that it will be inhumane for the Ministry of Defense to remove occupants of the Barrack without resettling them.
He claims there have been several calls by occupants of the 72nd Barracks for the CDC to make speedy intervention into the pending eviction by the Ministry of Defense.
The CDC stalwart claims the eviction will pose more hardship for them, displacing the occupants.
“It is disappointing that we have come to realize people with checkered history; and who have been in the history of ensuring that this country returns to chaos and one of those elements who have been doing it persistently is the sitting Defense Minister, Hon. Brownie Samukai."
"One of his attempts was in 2014 under his direct instruction when the late Shaki Kamara was murdered,” Koijee asserted.
He said occupants of the barrack will not be removed as ordered by the minister, raising alarm that a forceful removal might lead to disorder.
Koijee alleged that the statement made by Minister Samukai not to resettle the occupants speaks volume of the ministry’s strategy of inciting citizens to carry out mayhem in the midst of elections.
The CDC Youth Chair asserted that most of the occupants have military trainings and cannot be evicted from the barrack by forceful means.
He said the move by the minister has a political undertone and intend to undermine the pending elections.
However, Assistant Defense Minister for Public Affairs David Dahn told FrontPage Africa in a mobile phone interview that the 72nd Barrack is not being occupied by ex-AFL personnel as claimed by Koijee.
He said it was at the good will of the military that ordinary citizens have been occupying the barrack for over 12 years.
“So if the military tells you that they want their facility to use it, want to develop it that is their issue."
"They were given February 28 deadline, so they better begin to pack and find their way…just as people left for the new defense, just as people left for the Coast Guard Base, they will have to leave,” Dahn said.
Dahn described “a joke” for occupants of the Barracks to request resettlement benefit when they have stayed in the area for 12 years. “As citizens, we all should understand that when you stay somewhere for 12 years in a public building, you should know that it’s a public building and we have been issuing this warning so I think they have to go,” he stressed.
But Kojee who alleges that Minister Samukai wants to instigate chaos, also reference the secret recording saga involving Samukai and Ellen Crockum, former Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport (RIA).
“In his quest to reduce this country into chaos, his son was involved into attempted murder by attempting to take the life of young person and government tax-payer money was used to quiet the air.
"Today, we are yet to know the welfare of the young man that was attempted to be killed by the son of the sitting Defense Minister,” Koijee maintained.
Kojee said he wants the Ministry of National Defense relocate residents of the barrack as well as resettling them before any renovation work can kickoff.
“These people have live here for the longest and have borne their children and their children had been in these kinds of conditions and we are telling the Liberian government that it has reach a point that our people will stand-up against this backward and ill-fated policy that they want to inflict on our people,” he said.
“We can assure you that no one will leave this place because this place belongs to us and it is the flesh and blood of your forefathers."
"No one should infringe on your fundamental rights as a citizen of this country.”
For his part, the spokesman of the aggrieved 72nd barracks’ occupants, Simeon Mason, said removing them from the barrack is disheartening but he said they remain resolute on the process.
He said the leadership of occupants at the barrack had previously written the Ministry of Defense on the matter but to no avail, referencing the Collective Bargaining Agreement between ex-combatants and government relative to maintaining peace in Liberia but instead the ministry is taking different trend.
“I may quote, article eight section two which states that the Special Security Unit should be disarmed and restructure, resettled but to our utmost surprise, they sanction us,” Simeon said.
He said former soldiers have been quiet on the matter because of peace but said they are not afraid of statements coming from the Ministry of Defense concerning their eviction from the barrack.
Meanwhile, a resident of 72nd Community Joshua Gbor has expressed a contrary view to the CDC’s position on the matter, calling on residents to be civil in the process.
“Two days ago, our community chairman told us that Jefferson Koijee is coming to the community to get our view but when we came this morning, they were raising battle cry and criticizing the government which we don’t support,” Gbor said.
He said the status of the matter does not need criticism but rather constructive engagement with government, something he said might worsen the situation for them.
Mr. Gbor encouraged his fellow tenants to continue appealing, as the only way forward.
Meanwhile, Gbor wants the Ministry of National Defense to reconsider its decision of evicting them from the barrack at the end of February; he’s calling on the ministry to extend the deadline until the end of the 2017 elections.