President Weah Must Listen To The Plight Of The Liberian Students

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 4, 2018


President George Forky Klon Jlaleh Gbah Ku GbehTarpeh Manneh Weah

Liberia is lagging behind countries that gained their independence over 100 years after Liberia gained its independence. This is because our leaders do not pay attention to education nor have agenda that will benefit the country in the long-run. The campus of the University of Liberia which appeared to be a friendly zone for President George Manneh Weah during the presidential election, became unsympathetic and rancorous with the burning of tires, chanting battle cries and waving banners expressing their disenchantment with Dr. Ophelia Weeks, President of the University of Liberia and demanding her resignation. We witnessed similar demonstration or go-slow a few months ago at the Tubman University, another public institution of higher learning against the administration of the current president, Dr. Edward Wonkeryor.

Barely two weeks old government is currently faced with a multiplicity of challenges inherited from the past government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

As was expressed by President George Manneh Weah, in his inaugural address, the country is broke: this explains the daunting challenges ahead in responding to the basic needs of the people in the midst of unmanageable expectations.

According to reports, the protest was triggered by the refusal of Dr. Ophelia Weeks to allow students who had paid their fees into the University accounts to complete their registration and begin classes. It is estimated that around 8,000 students are affected by this decision which began three months ago. The students were seen sloganeering, burning tires and subsequently barricaded the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has served for the past twelve years as the official office of the President of the Republic of Liberia.

The protest led by the Vanguard Student Unification Party was heard through their president, Deybro, articulating that the student masses are resolved to ensuring that Dr. Weeks resign as her decision to stop 8,000 students from registering is unacceptable and immature. 

Given the tense nature of the situation, the Liberia National Police was seen intervening, ensuring that there are law and order. Also seen on the scene were scores of high profile personalities attempting to quite the tension but the students were heard rejecting their intervention and demanding that president George M. Weah (country giant) come and talk to them.

But this is not only unique to the University of Liberia: a few months ago the engineering students of Tubman University went on a go-slow against the incompetent and corrupt administration of Dr. Edward Wonkeryor.  

Following the 2005 elections in Liberia, which ushered in a democratically elected government, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made efforts to reopen the institution.  On July 30, 2009, William V. S. Tubman University was established by an Act of Legislature. Dr. Elizabeth Davis Russell was appointed as the first president of the university.  After she left, Dr. Edward Wonkeryor replaced her. But unfortunately for the educational dream of the southeast, he is said to have come with an agenda.

From the onset, he reportedly told residents that Maryland gained independence in the 1800s, whereas Nimba County became independent in 1964, implying that nonetheless the latter is more developed. He continued the rant by saying that Nimba County’s taxpayers pay the bulk of the money to keep the TU afloat, therefore preferential treatments in the form of admission and employment must be given to Nimbaians. Since his arrival, he has been operating in accordance with the agenda. He has two payrolls: one is the actual payroll and the other is the padded payroll sent to the Finance Ministry.  Some members of his inner circle receive two salaries, according to news reports.  His current salary and benefit exceed $17,000 per month. Currently, Dr. Wonkeryor is in Monrovia and has not returned since the start of the go-slow. Students from other colleges of the university have joined the go-slow and there seems to be no end in sight.

Apparently, Marylanders are caught between a rock and a hard place. From the get-go, they had opposed his appointment because he is neither a native of Maryland nor from the region. Other Marylanders countered that the actions were xenophobic, and the President of Liberia had the authority to appoint whomsoever she/he wants to head a national institution.  Dr. Wonkeryor was appointed and confirmed, but his actions since arriving at the institution have vindicated the mistrust of those who doubted his qualification and commitment to higher education in the county. Allegedly, he even enrolled a “niece” bypassing admissions requirements.  Others claim he has the board members of the University (including Dr. Kateh who serves as the chair of the board, leases his properties to the same university, and who was recently appointed by President Weah as Deputy Minister of Health) and some media outfits in his pocket. He claims that former V. P. assured him that he was to become minister of education. He now behaves like an attack dog, attacking any more qualified person that he thinks would have interest in becoming president.

Lastly, whatever the true story is, the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the Maryland County legislative caucus of the Weah administration should investigate the issues raised during that go-slow by the students in the College of Engineering and Technology during their recent demonstration last year. We cannot emphasize enough how essential effective engineering education is to sustainable development in Liberia. The college needs qualified dedicated instructors, and state of the art equipment to meet the challenges facing the nation; such as infrastructural development in roads, communication, sanitation, energy power, water resources, manufacturing, digital technology and a host of technical areas without which the country would continue to lag behind other countries in the ECOWAS sub-region.

Liberian leaders must not behave like we are still in the 1960s: when Presidents Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda and Nassar of Egypt were building dams, Liberia opted to buy Tiger Generators. This is why Liberia is still in the dark. The Weah administration ¬†MUST make better choices to move the country forward to justify the confidence reposed in him by the Liberian populace. People in his way who by “hook of crooks” became heads of the institutions of higher learning MUST go.



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