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From “NOKOs” To A Professional Body: The Case Of The Military In Liberia

While growing up as a child in the municipal of the Borough of New Kru Town, members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) were commonly referred to as “NOKOs,” Which at the time denoted insignificant persons, deviants or miscreants in society. Frankly, I still cannot understand while the army was characterized in such a demeaning and denigrating manner.

But for us, young people at the time, to the dislike of soldiers we used it to mock or tease some of them. Interestingly, in doing so, one must concede himself or herself because if the soldier spotted who was referring to them with such name, there could be some repercussions.

Again, I do not know how this name came about. It was only last year during the AFL symposium at the Monrovia City Hall that Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo, a former senior security officer, said it is a name from the Lorma vernacular which means “UNCLE”.

But what remains a mystery is how this name has been transformed in a negative manner to mean someone of no respect in society, a nonentity or ignoramus.

Intuitively, what I can say today is that perhaps because the military at the time did not get the needed attention and support, for which it was classified that way and manner. Some of which could be the lack of housing facilities and logistics which have now seen some improvements.

Notwithstanding, what is clear, unquestionable and indisputable today is this negative labelling of the military has dissipated. No more is the military referred to in such a demeaning and denigrating way. It has now metamorphosed to a professional body over the years. No more we see soldiers begging for alms in the streets, or engaging in “mosquito police” (night security guards at business centers) to complement their income.

More noticeably, the AFL has resumed its role in international peacekeeping with troops presently serving the peacekeeping Mission in Mali. The army was part of peacekeeping activities in the 60’s during the administration of the late President William V.S. Tubman.

As a way to recognize the importance, contributions and role of the AFL over the years, February 11 each year is set aside as Armed Forces Day with specific theme. This year’s celebration would be held under the theme: “Strategies To Incorporate More Females In The Security Sector: AFL In Perspective.” The activities begin today with the usual symposium which usually precedes the celebration.

The symposium will take place at the Monrovia City Hall this morning with senior Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie serving as keynote speaker. Other panelists are Brig. Gen. Geraldine George, Deputy Chief of Staff, AFL and Madam Faith Cooper, Country Director, Internal Red.

The Armed Forces Day historically came into existence on February 11, 1957 through a legislation with the aim of paying homage to the gallant men and women who were making tireless sacrifices to maintain the security in the country as well as those who sacrificed their lives for the country and its people in the line of duties.

As the nation celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Armed Forces , which was originally referred to as Liberian Frontier Force, there are reasons to pat ourselves on the back for having a professional army for which we can vaingloriously brag about for being a professional force.

Yes, there might be some “bad apples,” but on the aggregate, as we say in economics, the army is living up to expectation. ‘It is no more NOKOs, but a professional force.

While thanking the Liberian government for the military, my prayer for this year’s celebration, as I have always said during the Armed Forces Day Symposium, is for the leadership to keep intact the recruitment procedures in keeping the army as a professional body.

Let me say that one of the reasons for which the military remains professional is the way and manner in which people are now recruited into the force. This was one of the mistakes in pre-war Liberia where the military was seen as a place of flunkies, deviants and miscreants in society. Never again should we resort to the ugly past in recruiting people into the military.

Thankfully today, the situation has drastically changed for the better. No more rooms to fraught the army with incompetent and unqualified relatives and friends.

In keeping with this year’s theme, efforts are on to encourage more females into the force; let the present recruitment procedures remain uncompromising. Those responsible for this should not bend the rules or abrogate the procedures for certain reasons, thereby blaspheming the image of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

As we celebrate, let us not forget to always look into issues concerning the welfare and wellbeing of men and women of the military for it to remain a professional body. I recall last year, the Chief of Staff Gen. Prince C. Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to building the AFL to meet national and international standards.

In a statement at the time, the AFL boss said, they can achieve their goal by improving the living conditions of their troops and their families and upgrade the AFL training to meet the present precarious situations. “Providing and supporting technical training for members of the AFL and augmenting medical services are also priorities,” he noted. He then stressed the need to building an AFL that will not only be capable of protecting the territorial integrity of the state but also be an asset to regional and international efforts.

Once more, the recruitment exercise and procedures should be adhered to so as to avoid undermining the integrity of the military.

Let me end by these words of the Chief of Staff last year, “Providing and supporting technical training for members of the AFL and augmenting medical services are also priorities”.

Indeed, the welfare and wellbeing of the men and women in arms be of paramount concern, as empty bag cannot stand and that a carpenter cannot work without tools.

I Rest My Case

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