By Amos C. Nagbe
MONROVIA – The whereabouts of the tough-talking National Vice Chair for Legal Affairs of Liberia National Union (LINU), Edwin Yorvos, remains unknown after he narrowly escaped two separate life-threatening incidents involving his home and vehicle.
The two violent attacks on the home and vehicle of Yorvos are believed to be politically motivated and have led to Yorvos going into hiding in the wake of threats posed to his life amid violent incidents in the country.
Early on July 15, 2023, a property belonging to Yorvos in Congo Town, was completely burned to ashes resulting in the loss of several valuables including household items and an unspecified amount of money.
The Liberia National Fire Service (LNFS) is yet to disclose the cause of the fire, but eyewitnesses said some unknown men riding on motorcycles threw handmade bombs into the building under the cover of darkness.
Police investigating – the alleged attacks said they were also looking into the motives of the fire incident.
A police officer who spoke to this paper on the basis of anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said, they are considering facts that the alleged perpetrators whether to seek to incite fear in the tough-talking politician who has been a vocal critic of government over the last few months.
Police in Monrovia are also investigating another incident, which led to the destruction of Yorvos’ vehicle a few yards away from the Party’s Headquarters in Sinkor before the July 15, 2023 fire incident.
According to an eyewitness, two armed men wearing black jackets and jeans got off a motorcycle and were seen minutes later smashing the vehicle with other documents taken along with them.
Yorvos has been a critical voice on national security and political stabilization issues most especially the controversial salary reduction of civil servants through an unpopular government’s salary harmonization scheme which witnessed the unconstitutional drop in wages.
He has been noted for saying instead of cutting salaries, it was preferable for the government to cut taxes to improve the purchasing power of ordinary Liberians as a means of dealing with the recession faced by the country instead of increasing the hardship of Liberians.
Yorvos also recently called on Liberians not to re-elect President George Manneh Weah for several reasons including the unjust deduction of civil servants’ salaries.
Liberians are expected to participate in the runoff elections on November 14 after none of the 20 presidential candidates secured 50 percent of the votes cast in last week’s election.
The country is tense. There were violent clashes among rival political parties’ supporters with some people being killed in Lofa, Nimba, and Montserrado counties.The United Nations is concerned about the situation.
“We are concerned by reported instances of election-related violence, use of language that could amount to hate speech, and attacks on journalists in Liberia ahead of the general election on 10 October,” said UN Human Rights Office Spokesperson, Seif Magango.
Madam Magango said the UN was particularly concerned about the electoral violence in Nimba, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties.
Political pundits -believe campaign messages have deepened political divides. Tribal sentiment is high and is also brewing tension in a country that witnessed 14 years of civil upheaval.
Although the police have assured Liberians that they are committed to maintaining the peace during and after the elections, some Liberians believe that the police are overwhelmed, and some think the police are incapacitated to rapidly deal with violence.
Supporters of both main parties have accused each other of instigating the violence. Videos circulating on social media depict scenes of chaos, with rival groups engaged in altercations and hurling objects at each other, sending shockwaves through the community.
The incident in September comes just under two months after a similar outbreak of violence between rival party followers in Monrovia, which reportedly resulted in numerous injuries and widespread condemnation from both the international community and some concerned citizens.
Calls have been made for Former Vice President Joseph Boakai, representing the Unity Party, and President George Weah, leader of the Coalition for Democratic Change, to personally condemn the violence and urge restraint by their supporters, according to news reports.
Both parties have issued statements condemning the violence.
“All incidents of election-related violence must be fully and independently investigated and those found responsible held to account without undue delay,” Mr. Magango said.
September 30, 2023, three people were killed in clashes in Liberia between supporters of the country’s two main political parties ahead of next week’s elections, according to the UN and a West African regional bloc. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN said on Saturday that the violence broke out in the northwestern Lofa county leading to the “loss of three lives”.
The clashes on Friday were between the Unity Party of former vice president Joseph Boakai and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of George Weah, the ex-international football star turned politician and president since 2018.
In a statement, the UN and ECOWAS called on the leaders of the two parties “to strongly” urge their supporters to “refrain from provocation and any other acts of violence”.
Guaranteeing fair and peaceful elections is key in voting in a country ravaged by back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that left more than 250,000 people dead.
Liberia’s main political parties pledged in April 2023 to avoid violence and turn to the courts to resolve electoral conflicts that may arise before and after the polls. ECOWAS and the UN called on the country’s police to “promptly restore calm” and to “conduct speedy and impartial investigations, make public their findings, and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted. “The US embassy also condemned the violence. Both political parties blamed each other for the clashes. More than 2.4 million voters are registered for the October 10 presidential and parliamentary elections.
On the streets of Monrovia, university students chanted, “We want peace, Liberia is our only country; we want peace,” as they distributed peace-branded handbills to commuters, urging voters to desist from violence.
Grace Yeah Yeaney, a student leader at the University of Liberia, says the deaths of two people due to electoral violence in Lofa County on September 29 are alarming.
“In Lofa, there was a clash where people lost their lives; there was a trickle of violence,” she said. “You also find out that history has proven that sometimes in Liberia, our elections are very violent and so we are learning from the past and we are trying to conscientize our citizens, and the students are saying no to electoral violence.”
Liberia’s Peace Building Office, which develops policies for conflict resolution, says data collected around the country shows that campaign messaging has deepened political divides.
Edward Mulbah, the group’s executive director, says six of Liberia’s 15 counties are hot spots for potential violence.
“This election is going to be very challenging. There are going to be sporadic tensions, some sporadic violence, but we think that the violence will be intensive, but may not be widespread,” Mulbah said.
This is the first time Liberia is running a national election without the support of international partners, including the United Nations and the ECOWAS security forces, since the civil war ended in 2003. ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States.
The National Elections Commission, in its first autonomous national vote, has introduced some reforms, including a new biometric voter system. Mulbah and the Peace Building Office say there hasn’t been enough education on these new reforms.
“This is the very first time. Maybe they will make some mistakes along the road, but those mistakes are not being seen in the eyes of the citizens. They see these mistakes as deliberate on the part of the National Elections Commission to the advantage of the regime. So, we see that as potential for violence,” Mulbah said.
Oscar Bloh, chairperson for the Elections Coordinating Committee, a network of civil society organizations that observe elections in Liberia, says the absence of international security partners will put a strain on police.
“The police, the internal security, they are faced with enormous challenges from limited human resource capacity, limited logistics, uniform issues, issues of finances to deploy across the country,” Bloh said.