By Samuel G. Dweh |President—Liberia Association of Writers (LAW), and Freelance Development Journalist Contacts —+231 (0)email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org |
In this article is a story of a Liberian Immigration officer who was jailed and dismissed because he opposed to connivance on drug smuggling by a team of powerful Liberian government officials.
The article ends with recommendations—solution methods.
THE “FREE WRITING SERVICE” CALL
On invitation from Mr. James Bill Crayton, Public Relations Officer of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center (Liberian Government’s #1 health institution), I attended the year 2020’s edition of the World Mental Health Day’s celebration, even though the Organizer didn’t add “media coverage fee or promotional writing fee as part of the program,” Mr. Crayton had informed me during our on-telephone discussion about the occasion on October 4.
“The reason I’m inviting you to be a part of the program is for you to produce an article about the event, similar to the descriptive article you wrote about the challenges at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center,” Mr. Crayton added. (He was referring to my feature article about patient bed shortage at the Government’s premier health facility, published in the Heritage newspaper of September 11, 2020; and on the website of some Liberian media institutions including Smart News, GNN, and News Public Trust)
Minutes after Mr. Crayton and I spoke, I decided on dishonoring his invitation on what I felt was “gross disrespect” by the Organizer for my profession (writing) I said to myself: “Why should I spend my hard-earned money for transportation and my intellect on promoting a program of a Government or Government-sponsored health institution that doesn’t respect by professional career by paying for my services?”
Other things I consider were my own money on electricity to power my computer while writing the story and internet data to send the finished article to Mr. Crayton’s e-mail box (from where he will forward it to the Hospital’s hierachy, who will forward it to the Hospital’s International sponsors)
However, the next day, I rescinded my decision of never to be a part of the program. I said to myself: “Will you allow the program Organizer’s disrespect for your profession and fail to exhibit your patriotic responsibility of informing the general society about another disadvantaged human section of the Country?”
On this patriotic thought, I toured some parts of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on 7 and 8, September, to capture, with my phone’s camera, images of street-living mentally ill Liberians—some members of the body of disadvantaged citizens to be spoken about at the World Mental Health Day’s celebration. (Some of the images are featured in this article)
On the program day (October 10), I departed my home two hours to the “10:00am” stated in Mr. Crayton’s phone-channeled message to me.
The main celebration venue was the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital, located in a community named “World Wide”, off Duport Road, in Paynesville, outside of Monrovia.
THE “SHOCKING” ACTIONS & STORY
In the Hospital’s fence, at 9:08, I saw physical human features, “actions”, and I heard stories (from persons being hosted) that shocked me, but sparked my spirit of empathy towards all the “drugged persons” inside the fence. These are what I saw: a huge number of “patients” (mentally ill persons) over 100 (between ages 13 and 70); many patients moving like “zombies” (remember characters in the video of the song, “Thriller”, by Michael Jackson); some were “swimming” on the grassy field (with no water); some were “throwing fists” at invisible persons; some were “singing” (when there was no musical sound); some were doing “ballet dance” (when there was no orchestra); some were violently pulling the their colleagues’ cloths and making demands (on reason sane people around couldn’t fathom); and some swarmed around me and began “waving”, “laughing” or “chuckling” to my face. I responded in similar gesture.
But, some were “calm”, many sitting on a long cement slab under the roof of one of many housing sections of the Hospital.
A male patient marched toward the only entry/exit point, but met a human-wall of compound security man named Adolphus Guhn.
“Go back to where you were sitting or standing!” the security man screamed at the patient whose movement appeared like that of a person on escape mission.
During my visit, the fenced compound of the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital contained three buildings, each painted blue and white): “Security Department”, “Dietary Department” (attached to the Security Department); “Dinning Hall” (attached to the Security Department and Dietary Department); “Administrative Building”, and “Hospital” (divided into two sections—“Male Wall” and “Female Wall”)
While waiting for start of the program at “12:00pm” (information relayed to me by the compound’s security officer), against the “10:00am” in Mr. Crayton’s message in my phone, I decided on “mingling” with some of the patients—to hear their stories for my feature article on the entire World Mental Health Day’s celebration. Each of them spoke like a mentally sound person during the interview.
“My name is Malue***, the owner of E.S. Grant Hospital,” the first person I interacted with responded to my first question.
“You are the owner of this big place—E.S. Grant Hospital?” I said to Malue, even though I knew that his current mental condition was telling him he was the “owner” of the place he had been brought into for his recovery.
“Yes, I’m the owner of E.S. Grant Hospital,” he repeated and grinned, exposing his yellowish teeth.
“Why are you in this compound?” I threw my second question.
“I am here because I was smoking grass on the Old Road, and they brought me here to stop smoking grass,” Malue responded. The Old Road, a community in Monrovia, has become one of the hotbeds of sale of all kinds of drugs in Monrovia.
The second person I mingled with gave “Cyrus…” as his name, responding to my first question. “I live in Gbankay Town, in Sinkor, Monrovia,” he responded to my second question. “Some people brought me here because I was smoking bren-bren with my brabie,” he replied to my third question. What he called “bren-bren” is another name for narcotic substance; the “brabie” is a Liberian parlance for “friend”
“My name is Benda Martha***,” replied the third person, in eloquent diction, I interacted with, much of her hair turned white (grey hair) She was one of the calm patients, sitting under the roof of the Administrative Building. “I am fifty six years of age,” she replied to the second question. “I was brought here because of the old folk’s blue, you know what I mean,” she smiled to my face. “What I mean is some persons brought me here because I was drinking my five-for-five.” She looked away from the interviewer after her last words. The “five-for-five” is probably another code name for any narcotic substance some persons mixed with food or drinks on sale in public places.
“My name is Marthaline***,” the fourth person I spoke with responded to my first question. “I am fifteen years old. I used to take bren-bren, grass, and liquor, so my parents brought me here, to stop taking those stuffs,” she responded to my second and third questions.
The next patient I met, after Marthaline, gave “Sampson***” as his name, his response to my first question. He was “preaching” to some of the guests sitting when I begged him to “also share the gospel with me.” He spoke eloquently like his senior mentally ill colleague—Bendu Martha Yates.
“I am an evangelist, and member of the Deliverance Church in Redlight. I graduated from Lott Carey High School, located in Brewerville,” he explained, without my request for the information. “I am twenty three years old,” he responded to my second question. “I started getting high in High school. I used to smoke grass, and later I started smoking ten packs of Empire cigarette per day,” he said with pride.
“Who brought you at the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital, and where are your parents?” I doubled questions for Sampson.
“My parents are in Nimba County. My auntie brought me here to stop smoking. She is working at Buchana’s hospital in Grand Bassa County,” he replied.
A male security officer’s announcement to me about the start of the out-door segment of the program outside of the fence prevented my movement toward another patient for her story.
***Each person’s surname left out of the article to prevent stigmatization against them in their communities
DRAMATIZATION OF THE “PROBLEM”
The out-door segment, held at the World Wide Community’s football field, three yards to the Hospital’s fence, entailed two drama performances, sponsored by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), France’s global health support Organization. MSF’s Headquarters was represented at the occasion by Justine Hollard, Mental Health Project Coordinator; Amina Belhaine, Psychiatrist; and Mariele Von Nuenen, Mental Health Activity Manager.
“The E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital is one of Medecins Sans Frontiers’ partners for our mental health programs in Liberia,” said MFS’s Mental Health Project Coordinator, responding to questions during an interview before the start of the first drama. She mentioned Star of the Sea Hospital in the Township of West Point, an over-populated community in Monrovia and other health centers in other parts of Liberia including Brewerville.
West Point, where the author of this article had spent over 17 years, from age 9, is one of the hotbeds of substance abuse by most of the community’s young people.
Only MSF’s Liberian staff featured in both drama performance.
The first act, entitled “Psychosis and the Community”, was about financial exploitation of “Lorpu” (played by Oretha Mulbah) on her desperation for healing of her mentally ill sister, “Yama”, (played by Grace W. Nyanti) by “Pastor Adolphus” (played by Carlton Logan) The “Pastor” squeezed five hundred United States dollars out of “Lorpu” as “prayer fee” to heal her sister. But the mental condition of “Yama” is still the same.
The second drama performance was entitled “Loss” and performed by the Cast in the first drama. In the drama, is alone and complaining about being abandoned after the death of her husband and the departure of her children from the house, not knowing their whereabouts. A neighbor, “Pa Flomo” (played by Edison Logan), comes to visit; she narrates her “health status” from her “loss” of her spouse and her children. “I want to leave from here,” she tells the neighbor, and she gives him a bowl for his personal use. (Yama is giving out all the things in her house)
On the other side, Yama’s sister, Lorpu, (Oretha Mulbal) is complaining about her sister’s “mental state” from her loss of her husband and children. Pa Flomo comes to visit and suggest a “medicine man” to heal the “mental illness”. Lorpu agrees, takes her sister to a “herbalist” (played by Abraham S. Kollie) who demands the following for his work: Five hundred United States dollars, one white sheep, and two packs of candles—red and white.
Desperate for her sister’s mental recovery, Lorpu gives one thousand United States dollars to the herbalist—the extra US$500 for other things he will need.
But Yama’s condition remains the same, and she attempts suicide by tying a hanging rope around her neck. A male neighbor and her sister Lorpu see her and prevent the self-murder.
A Community Health Worker (played by Rose Vokar), on her usual daily mental health sensitization tour, meets Lorpu and her mentally ill sister, explains the “causes” of mental health, and advises Lorpu to take her sister to the mental health centers licensed by the Government of Liberia. She assures of total recovery.
Lorpu expresses her doubt on healing by “medical science” where “herbalist” and “Pastor” had failed. But she later succumbs to the Community Health Worker’s persuasion and leads her mentally ill sister behind the health worker to meet a Mental Health Doctor (played by Joseph M. Dunoh) The doctor explains probable causes of mental illness (Depression, anxiety, etc.) and gives anti-depressant medications.
“Everything you saw in each of the drama performances is what happens in real-life to mentally ill people in our communities. Mental illness isn’t for a particular person or a group of persons. So, please show love to them,” explained the Acting Administrator of E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital, Davidetta A.B. Baker, to the residents of the World Wide Community that gathered and watch the drama performances.
THE SPEECHES AND PERSONAL “DRUG ABUSE” STORIES
The in-door segment of the World Mental Health Day’s celebration came immediately after the dramatization segment.
But guests were made to wait for the patients’ “lunch time”. They were served aT the “Hospital” (a Department) because the Hospital’s “Lunch Hall” for them was being used as the discussions point. They were formed into a queue, which appeared like the feature of a moving serpentine, due to the large number of patients. The food was jollof rice with fried chicken (parts) Because their official eating hall were being used as venue of the indoor program, they spread about, some standing throughout their eating period.
I asked a member of the Dietary Department, identified as Chris Doeplah, about the eating periods and the kinds of foods served to the patients.
“The patients eat three times a day,” Madam Doeplah responded to the first question. “They are given spaghetti, Quaker Oats, or creamy wheat for breakfast. For lunch, we cook rice or another solid food with vegetable or stew. We prepare soft food—creamy wheat or Quaker Oats.”
After lunchtime, the program commenced.
A female patient, Bendu Yates, gave the Welcome Remarks on behalf of the host Hospital, which preceded the Opening Prayer by Emmanuel Teah
Mr. Benjamin Ballah, head of Cultivation for Users’ Hope (a mental illness advocacy group) introduced the program. He said the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital was founded by Dr. Edward S. Grant, a Liberian Psychiatrist, on 10th of May, 1999, and he became a part of the Liberian Government’s #1 health center (John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center) in July, 2020.
Musical performance was by Miatta Kamara, popularly called “Lady Love” (artistic name) She described her piece as “Theme Song for Mentally Ill people”, followed by “I’m Grateful”, a personal song.
Next on the program sheet was “Mental Health Success Story” by Sarah Flomo and Roosevelt P. Banks, II. Each person narrated personal story of “healing” at the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital.
“After my husband’s death, my head started hurting me and I couldn’t remember where I drop anything,” Madam Flomo, an elderly woman, alluded to her mental illness before she was “healed” at the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital.
“I smoked drugs for fifteen unbroken years,” Roosevelt said. He said the popular name of the in-high-demand drug is “coco”, and revealed that his marriage with narcotic substances started in High School at the Lott Carey Mission School; continued with it at the University of Liberia, but he later decided to come to the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital on the advice of a friend (Prince A. Davies) of the Social Service Department of the Hospital. “Taking drugs destroys a person’s mental morphology and physical morphology,” he said to the audience.
He made three recommendations: Relocation of the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital; Increase in Government’s budgetary allotment to the Hospital; and separation of the set of patients with advanced mental illness (shown by violent behavior) from the set of those with slight mental problem.
There were speeches during the Fundraising segment of the program.
Introducing the fundraising segment, the Acting Administrator of the E.S. Grant Hospital, Davidetta A.B. Parker, said one of the aims of the segment was to get money for additional beds.
The roll call of invited guests and institutions was done by the Public Relations Officer of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, Mr. James Bill Crayton.
“Today the abuse of drugs and use of substance are creating a massive brain drain nationwide. The youths who are potential philosophers and scholars, engineers and the future leaders of our nation are the ones mainly affected by these drugs and substances. We should take action now to abate the situation,” said Mr. John Horace, representing the Chief Executive Officer of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), and the program’s Keynote Speaker, Attorney Salifuah-Mai Gray,
the Chief Lifter of the Fundraising segment of the program. The topic of his speech was “The Importance of Mental Health” She pledged one thousand United States dollars as her personal contribution.
During the “Special Remarks” segment, the Ministry of Health (MOH), World Health Organization (WHO), The Carter Center, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and other health institutions donated cash or made pledge. Some announced the amount; others preferred concealing.
Other Institutions whose names were not on the program sheet, like the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation, registered their financial presence.
On the list of Liberian Legislators (Representatives and Senators), only Grand Kru County’s Representative, Jonathan Fonati Koffa (of District #2) was present (through his wife) and release cash.
“Many top government officials bring their relatives here and abandon them,” announced Mr. Prince A. Davis, head of the Social Services Department of the E.S. Grant Mental Hospital, on “Presentation” about problems facing the Hospital. “Many don’t call the Hospital to check on their relatives here.”
He said some of the Hospital’s patients are Sierra Leoneans who can’t remember the part of Sierra Leone they had come from. “Some only tell us, ‘I’m from Siaka Stevens Street in Sierra Leone’, but can’t tell the particular part of the Street they had called to the Hospital.”
Severe financial constraint is hampering the Hospital’s full health service delivery, Mr. Davies added. “The Hospital has a bed capacity of eighty, but we receive at least four hundred patients on an average in a month.”
The budgetary allotment from the Liberian Government, through the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, can’t cover majority of the needed drugs for the patients, Mr. Davies disclosed.
“When we have donated drugs, patients’ relatives won’t be asked to pay for drugs,” he said.
He mentioned the Hospital’s irregular follow-up visits to discharged patients at their homes, and lack of training programs for staff as two of the problems based on financial constraints.
“The total treatment bill for abandoned patients is five hundred and sixteen thousand, four hundred and fifty Liberian dollars,” Mr. Davies read the figure on a Projector during his presentation.
The criteria for admission of a patient into the Hospital is five hundred Liberian dollars (US$2.50) for Out-Patient; and two thousand and five hundred Liberian dollars or In-Patient, he provided additional information.
For challenges facing the Hospital, the head of the Social Service Department mentioned: only 80 hospital beds for an ever-growing mentally ill patients; absent of vehicles to reach out to other mentally patients in other Counties (besides Montserrado County, where the Hospital is situated); lack of Medical Laboratory; and limited follow-up visits on discharged patients (to check on any relapse condition)
In an exclusive interview with writers and Journalists, after the in-door program, the Chief Executive Officer of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, Dr. Jerry Brown, enumerated various causes of mental illness.
“Depression is one of the causes,” he said.
I asked him about whether a Hospital’s Management keeping a patient in a chair over two days—due to bed scarcity—(as it happened at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center between 3rd and 7th of September, 2020) has the potential of sparking Depression in some patients or their relatives. I reminded him about my article about J.F.K. Medical Center’s bed scarcity, published in the September 11, 2020 edition of the Heritage newspaper.
“There are enough beds at the J.F.K. Hospital to cover the number of patients coming, but there’s no space for any of the beds. Those who built the hospital, over fifty years ago, were not envisaging the number of persons running to the hospital today. J.F.K. Hospital wasn’t built for persons with Malaria and Hypertensive patients. But persons with these health conditions are rushing to the hospital, because of it being a Government’s health center offering relatively free medical treatment, compared to private hospitals. Weeks ago we transferred some of our beds to the 14th Military Hospital, due to lack of space at the J.F.K. Hospital. More beds are in a container at the Port at the time we are interacting, but no space for them at the J.F.K. Hospital,” the J.F.K. Administrator explained, responding to my question
OMITTED “DRUG-SMUGGLING” FACTOR
Much of mental illness in Liberia is linked to consumption of narcotic substances (drugs) as implied in the speech by the Liberian celebration’s Keynote Speaker Attorney Salifuah-Mai Gray. Aware of this “lead cause”, an invited guest had expected a presentation on “How drugs enter Liberia” (imagined topic by the author of this article). The best person for this presentation is the head of Liberian Government’s Agency stationed at the border points—through which drugs enter into Liberia. The Agency could have been Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) or the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS)
But no “representative” from any of these Agencies was “present” (or made a comment) at the World Mental Health Day celebration on October 10 at the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital.
HOW DRUGS ENTER INTO LIBERIA & THEIR IMPACTS
Liberians and foreigners bring drugs into Liberia, but foreigners form the majority of smugglers of drugs into the Country.
For foreigners, the ushers are officers of the Joint Team made up of Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and Liberia Immigration Service—all placed on guard at the various entry points of Liberia.
The smugglers use huge monetary bribe to bulldoze the wall created by the barricade of the team of LDEA and LIS officers at the points of entry. As revealed by my sources on my drug-entry investigations in months past, the bribe given by the foreign drug smugglers is more than five to ten times the Liberian Government’s monthly service pay for each of the LDEA or LIS officers who had prevented the entry of the drug person into Liberia.
During one of my discourses on the impacts of substance abuse on the Liberian youth population in August, 2020, a retired Liberia Immigration Service officer told me about a special Air Plane that brings in huge consignment of drugs to Liberia each month, to be offloaded at the Liberia’s International Airport in Margibi County.
“Anytime this plane arrives, only the commanders of the team LDEA and LIS and the Airport’s boss are allowed to meet the captain of the crew of the plane to discuss how the business will be taken out of the Port, unknown to junior LDEA and LIS officers on duty. But one of my colleagues, a junior officer, had bumped into one smuggling operation in the Airport, threatened to report the culprits. But the Liberian Immigration Service authority went before him by accusing him of economic sabotage, orchestrated his incarceration for two years, and had him prematurely retired few weeks following his release from jail. Frustration from the dismissal from his only source of survival reduced him to skeleton and almost killed him,” the Immigration officer narrated.
FEW MENTALLY ILL MAGES ON LIBERIAN STREETS
There at least five mentally ill persons on each Street in Liberia, especially in the commercial part of the Nation’s capital. One of the following is the cause of each person’s mental condition: depression, civil war-related shock (caused by murder of a dearly loved relative), bewitchment, or narcotic substance abuse (drug addiction)
DRUGGED YOUTH POPULATION
Above forty five percent of Liberia’s young people’s population take in narcotic substances daily—some at least five different times in a day. Students, at the grade school level (Elementary-12th grade) are in this number. Example: Roosevelt Banks, II earlier in this article, who is now ‘reformed’ through personal decision and with the support of the E.S. Grant Mental Health Hospital. A higher percent of motorcyclists (in the youth population) are also in this number. Frustration is the major cause of substance abuse among the young population—no school fee/expulsion from classroom due to school fee problem (for the students); daily harassment by traffic police or taskforce members of motorbike unions.
ANTI-DRUG LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS AS PROMOTERS/CONNIVER: A POLICE COMMANDER’S DRUG-RELATED STORY
In 2017, I was invited to provide media coverage for a Workshop organized by a peace-promotion Liberian organization named Pen-Pen Peace Network (PPPN)—sponsored by an American University named PURDUE as part of its global peace initiative. Madam Grace Yennie was Liberia Country Representative for PURDUE University. The Workshop was for way to promote peace between operators of motorcycles (locally called “Pen-Pen”) and the Liberia National Police (LNP) through its Community Service and Traffic Departments. The Workshop was based on a finding of excessive drug addiction by majority of the commercial motorcyclists, which responsible for their violent actions (including mob violence/killing) in their respective communities and their conscious violations of traffic rule anytime they were on their bikes in traffic. Many of them were being used by politicians campaigning for the Presidential and the Legislative seats in national elections in that year.
What shocked me at during the Workshop was a comment by a Commander of a Police Depot invited to share his experience on curbing drugs infiltration or closure of drugs sale points (ghettoes) He told the gathering: “Closure of ghettoes in our communities is impossible. This is so because top police officers are involved as customers of these ghettoes or share holders in the business. At different times, the police team we sent out to ghettoes in communities arrested kids and young people caught smoking drugs, brought them to the police station. But few minutes later, the Depot’s authority received calls from a top police officer in the Police Headquarter, telling us to release the substance abusers,” the Depot Commander narrated.
In the Township of West Point (the childhood and adulthood community of the author of this article), many LDEA and LIS officers assigned in the place promote substance abuse by consuming with civilians or accepting money as “freedom fee”.
In the Capital City, Monrovia, the hotspots are: Benson Street, Buchanan Street, Old Road community. Some LDEA officers look on—amused—while the “boys” and “girls” are “sniffing” their “thing”
This is why the number of ghettoes in all communities of Liberia continued increasing during the 12-year Presidency of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And this is why the number of ghettoes can’t drop during the Presidency of George Manneh Weah.
A DRUG’S TENTACLES
Drug’s ‘feet and hands’ have touched every community in Liberia. The number in rural parts of Liberia—where the foreign drug smugglers have created new fresh market grounds—is gradually catching up with the one in the city centers.
The Author strongly believes these solution-methods will stop coming-from-outside-of-Liberia drugs across the Liberian side of a border point, or will strangulate the Liberia’s supply syndicate on the ones that had ‘slipped’ into Liberia by the side of a LDEA or LIS officer stationed at the border area or Airport.
The Government should add more LDEA and LIS officers to the number already stationed at the various entry points between Liberia and Liberia’s sister-countries whose Immigration officers had facilitated snuggling of drugs into Liberia. Some Liberian Immigration officers are complaining about several Land-border entry points with nobody, due to the shortage of manpower. In 2019, the FrontPage Africa newspaper of Liberia had run a story, quoting some Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA), backed by some Liberian Immigration sources, stating that over seventy entry points had no Immigration officer and were the major smuggle points for non-registered products from countries sharing these border areas with Liberia.
Junior LDEA or LIS officers who bust drug-smuggling gang at border points or at the International Airport should be rewarded with a raise of governmental rank and their exploits should be published in all local newspapers. This will motivate other officers to do same.
Drug trafficking should be a non-bailable offense. If it is, rich people of drug trafficking/sale will bribe their way out of the court.
If we—those with no mental illness—don’t take action to abate the drug-related situation now (as the Keynote Speaker of the 2020’s World Mental Health Day’s celebration suggested), more than half of the our Country’s population will be walking like “zombies” (as it was with some of the patients in the fence of the E.S. Grant Mental Hospital on October 10, 2020)