By Eric S. Kaba
February 10, 2011
Honorable Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr. (the very eloquent and fearless late father of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s current National Security Advisor, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.) was serving as the Liberian ambassador to East Africa, when in 1968, he was arrested, tried and convicted on a trumped-up treason charge in which the government of President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman sponsored county-by-county demonstrations and newspapers editorials that condemned him. President Tubman died in a London clinic on July 23, 1971 and his then Vice President, William Richard Tolbert, immediately succeeded him. One of President Tolbert’s first acts in office was to grant Ambassador Fahnbulleh executive clemency in 1971.
Well before Ambassador Fahnbulleh, Sr. was arrested (in 1968) and for many years thereafter, the most famous Liberian freedom fighter, Albert Porte, whose political activism began in the 1920s when he handed out pamphlets that took the True Whig Party single-party-state government to task for “alleged unconstitutional use of presidential power”, was arrested and thrown in jail on numerous occasions on cacamimi charges only to be subsequently “pardoned” by “executive order of clemency” from Liberian Presidents. In the 1970s, Mr. Porte took aim at then Finance Minister Stephen Allen Tolbert, the brother of President William R. Tolbert and co-founder of the first Liberian-owned multimillion-dollar conglomerate, the Mesurado Group of Companies. Mr. Porte accused Minister Tolbert of using his public office stature to advance his business interests; he wrote and distributed a pamphlet called "Liberianization or Gobbling Business?". Minister Tolbert filed a libel lawsuit and won a US$250,000 judgment against Mr. Albert Porte. The case was presided over by Supreme Court Justice James A.A. Pierre, whose daughter was married to Minister Tolbert at the time. No conflict of interest there, right?
In the late 1970s, President Tolbert reverted to the same age-old and time-tried and tested practice of arresting and putting false charges on those who challenged or criticized his administration. Those people would then be found guilty and thrown into jail only to be later released as a result of “presidential clemency”. Some individuals currently serving in the Liberian Legislature and in President Sirleaf’s administration were victims of this practice. I know of one Unity Party legislator and a prominent member of the National Election Commission who were arrested along with others on more than one occasion during the reign of President Tolbert and PRC Chairman and Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.
As a matter of fact, the PRC government under the chairmanship of Master Sergeant Doe imposed death sentences on those two current members of the Sirleaf administration as well as others, sometime between 1981 and 1983 for what the nation was told was an attempt to “subvert and overthrow the military government”. In a senseless show of force, the PRC government dispatched a contingent of troops to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border under the guise of “forestalling any foreign intervention in Liberia’s internal affairs”. On their way to the border, between seven and nine soldiers were killed on the Cape Mount-Bo highway when their truck ran off the dirt road and flipped over.
I remember the day when those “convicted” political prisoners were scheduled to be executed by firing squad. I lived on Center Street at the time - right near the Benson and Center Street intersection (directly across from the offices of what was at the time the Liberia Iron and Steel Company (LISCO). There was a Shell gas station adjacent to the small two-storey LISCO office building. All along I had thought that the PRC government was simply doing a show of power and would not carry out an execution of the convicted individuals. But as the day of the scheduled execution drew closer I started to believe, with a very uncanny feeling, that the PRC boys were serious. And you know what? I was not alone in this. The entire population of the country, including even some members of the diplomatic corps, felt the same way. Then less than 24 hours before the date of the execution (which my recollection tells me probably fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday), it all of the sudden got extremely cloudy and the wind started to blow violently all over the City of Monrovia. And would you know it…the PRC Chairman Doe went on ELBC and announced that the Council had granted the prisoners scheduled for execution in the early morning hours of the next day “executive clemency. Mrs. Sirleaf herself was a victim of this practice later on during the so-called civilian administration of Mr. Doe. She was arrested on false charges and thrown in jail (allegedly with a bunch of male inmates) at the National Police headquarters on Capitol Hill, Monrovia.
During the reign of Charles Taylor, the Barbarian, the same practice continued but in a more sinister way. His Anti-Terrorist Unit (better referred to as the Actual Terrorists’ Unit) arrested opponents of the regime on false, made-up charges, tortured and killed them. In some instances people just disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. One person who lived to tell the story of false imprisonment and torture under the Taylor regime is Counselor Taiwan Gongloe, President Sirleaf’s one time Solicitor General and Minister of Labor.
With the foregoing information in mind, fast forward to today and one soon understands why some people continue to say that things really do not change in any fundamental way in Liberia they either basically stay the same or they actually just get worse. It behooves anyone with half a roach’s brain that the Liberian Supreme Court would even think about summoning Mr. Rodney Sieh, Editor-in-Chief of Front Page Africa (FPA), to appear before it for a Letter to the Editor written by one of FPA’s readers. A quick disclaimer is appropriate right now. I do not know if cockroaches have brains but I do know that they do not have lungs. And I suppose you are now wondering how cockroaches breathe? Well, some people also wonder how some individuals get to serve on the highest court of the land and how they manage to stay there for long. And if you understand why people drive on parkways and park in driveways then you understand why someone who is known to be a drunk can serve as Chief Justice of a nation. Ok! Ok! I know that the whole parkway and driveway thing is just a misnomer. But the phraseological names or titles “Justice of the Supreme Court” and “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court” are no misnomers. They confer (or should confer) on those who hold them a sacred responsibility to carry out the laws of the nation in the most unbiased and democratic way humanly possible. They also confer the implicit responsibility to conduct and carry oneself in the most professional way there can be.
And how about the issue of whether an editor-in-chief is under obligation to reject a reader’s letter in which said reader expresses his or her opinion against actions exhibited or decisions made by a member or members of a supreme court? The Liberian Court’s decision to summon Editor Sieh and its subsequent act of imprisoning him on a completely baseless, show-of-pure-power charge suggests that he was required to refuse to publish the letter in which an FPA reader criticized one of the justices and raised questions about that justice’s possible partiality in the Angel Togba appeal case. One wonders whether members of the Supreme Court are infallible and beyond reproach in the discharge of their public duties and whether they are accountable (if ever) to anyone, especially to the citizenry whose tax dollars pay their salaries and fund their health care, retirement, travel, and other benefits. Perhaps to the members of the Liberian Supreme Court the word “supreme” connotes a special sense of absolute and unquestioned power. However, such privilege, if it ever exists, is in contravention with democratic principles and practices. Even the justices of the Supreme Court of the great United States of America have seen some of their decisions come under heavy and at times very negative public reactions and broadcast, blog and print media criticisms. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the New York Times wrote a strongly worded editorial against the Court for allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in U.S. election campaigns. That editorial was published on January 21, 2010 under the caption “The Court’s Blow to Democracy”. Here are a few excerpts from the editorial:
“With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.
This issue should never have been before the court. The justices overreached and seized on a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Rodham Clintonduring the 2008 campaign. The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., no doubt aware of how sharply these actions clash with his confirmation-time vow to be judicially modest and simply “call balls and strikes,” wrote a separate opinion trying to excuse the shameless judicial overreaching.
The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.
The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.
After the court heard the case, Senator John McCain told reporters that he was troubled by the “extreme naïveté” some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.”
What do you think would happen if this kind of scathing editorial was written by a Liberian newspaper in reaction to a decision by the Liberian Supreme Court, especially the one over which the current justices preside? A line in the editorial above says “Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr…….wrote a separate opinion trying to excuse the shameless judicial overreaching”. Imagine that! Trying saying that to the Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia and you will find yourself loaded into a 1,000-foot long cannon ready to be launched into the Atlantic Ocean straight from the roof of the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill. And what do you think would happen to a Liberian legislator if he or she said the justices showed “extreme naiveté”, as Senator John McCain did? I will let you answer this last question by yourself and to yourself. Just be careful and don’t let anyone hear your answer.
It was and still is a sad and sickening travesty that Liberian leaders in the past used the nation’s system of justice to intimidate their perceived enemies and to score public relations point. It is an abomination today for anyone, including President Sirleaf, to cunningly deploy the same old tired-out tactic. Liberia lost more than 200,000 of its gallant sons and daughters to 14 years of a very barbaric civil war - to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who were rudely and violently dispersed throughout the West African sub-region and to other parts of the world. When President Sirleaf was elected in December 2005, the hopes of all Liberians were raised and their aspirations became nearly boundless. The hope was that she would, at the barest minimum, lay the foundation for a totally new and different society one in which the evil practices of the past would be banished for good and the pillars for a new and promising system erected. Sadly enough, President Sirleaf has decided to revert to the antics of yester years by not only appointing seemingly corrupt and sometimes incompetent individuals to high offices but by (1) condoning corruption and sheltering those who engage in it and (2) by now seemingly using presidential intervention to “rescue” individuals who are the victims of baseless judicial decisions and actions, in a bid to reap favorable public relations returns - just like her predecessors did.
Eric S. Kaba, CPA
Triangle, VA 22172
United States of America
Eric S. Kaba
Certified Public Accountant
18301 Nob Hill Drive
Triangle, VA 22172
Cell: (703) 868-4461