Relative calm has returned to the Town of Kornia, the epic center of the riots that erupted in Lofa County last week and all other cities, towns and villages affected after a weekend of head raising rioting that left several dead and thousands of dollars lost. Many of the dead have since been buried by their families and sympathizers.
According to our stringer in Lofa, several people have been arrested amidst dusk to dawn curfew imposed by authorities in an effort to arrest the situation. The February 26 riots, according to reports, stemmed from the discovery of a partially decomposed body of a school girl from Voinjama who had gone to Kornia for vacation. Authorities said the girl's body was found a few days later with parts missing. Lofa County Superintendent Galakpai Kortima and other county leaders blamed the rioting on misinformation relayed to people in Voinjama by some residents of Kornia, suggesting that a mosque was burnt. The Superintendent said those who got the message in Voinjama did not evaluate its contents, but took to the streets in violence.
In the wake of the violence, many innocent people, including the Special Assistant to the Superintendent were wounded and others killed in the process. Thousands of dollars in properties were damaged, including churches, schools, clinics, businesses and offices.
The Lofa County Legislative Caucus chaired a mass and emergency citizen meeting over the weekend to call for calm and form a fact finding committee, headed by former Lofa County Representative Phillip Tarlee. The committee, given a week to report, is expected to establish the root cause and recommend a way forward from the riots that is now being termed by others as religious or Christian-Moslem conflict.
Kornia is a predominantly Madingo enclave with a large Moslem base. The claim of a Christian-Moslem conflict is due to the fact that those who did the calling were from there, thus inciting other members of the Madingo ethnic group into attacking in Voinjama. Secondly, Christian based or religious institutions got the blunt of the destruction.
Along this line, there have been several unconfirmed reports that UNMIL officers on the scene, especially in Voinjama were bias in their treatment of those who were trying to protect themselves and their properties from “Madingo attackers who were allowed to roam free while non Madingoes were tear gassed, held and some of them turned over to the Madingo People,” said Arthur D. Farkollie, a small business man.
In Profile has gotten an unconfirmed report that a woman claimed that her 19 years old grandson was running home when he was grabbed by UNMIL soldiers and turned over to the attackers, he was later found dead with nail hammered into his skull. There are also claims that UNMIL soldiers were preoccupied with guarding mosques rather than churches. However, these claims are under detailed investigations.
Although an official cause has not been established by county and national officials, including UNMIL and the Liberia National Police (LNP), but our stringer has been talking to citizens of Lofa; in Kornia, Voinjama and Monrovia to gauge their views on the developments in the county. Borbor Guzee, a resident of Voinjama said “If this is what the UNMIL Peace Keepers are supposed to do in terms of keeping the peace, then they need to pack up and leave Lofa. I thought they were supposed to protect all citizens of all faiths and not just a few”
Siah Fayiah said “Our county officials need to be tough on those who started this chaos that has cost us all so much in lives and properties”. With these developments coming out of Lofa County, many political commentators have been wondering how strong we are relative to reliance on UNMIL for our day-to-day security.
Paul M. Momolu, a university student with roots from Lofa County warned that “Today it's Lofa, but tomorrow it may be the whole of Liberia because in the minds of many, we are still at war; Rebel War, World War 1, 2, 3, Octopus, April 6 War, Rock War, etc., we have not graduated, we want to settle everything with violence.” Many pundits agree that people resort to violence faster than turning to the law for redress. The cause of this is the lack of trust in the legal system that is so ripped with corruption and interference from both the Executive and Legislative Branches. They call on government to be vigilant in its law enforcement efforts so as to have total control over situations like the one in Lofa County before UNMIL leaves Liberia. Meanwhile, citizens of Lofa are calling on the Ministry of Justice to also investigate the claims by some people that UNMIL soldiers were bias in handling the riots.