The Immorality, Unethicality and Unconstitutionality of Nepotism: An Open Letter to Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon

By: Alfred Jah Johnson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 19, 2012

Dear Mr. Dillon:

The French Enlightenment writer, François-Marie Arouet (pen name, Voltaire) said, "By appreciation, we make excellent in others our own property." In view of said, it is necessaryto begin this communication with a sincere recognition of your contribution to the socio-political landscape of Liberia. Your participation in the democratic process at the level of running for senator of the nation's most populated county deserves some appreciation. As superficial as it was (in terms of belief and given your close association with shady state actors), it is an encouraging sign that in the absence of tyranny and rampant cronyism, favoritism and nepotism, you can be nurtured to symbolically and practically embrace the tenets of democracy and the rule of law.

Still in the spirit of appreciation, it is necessary to commend you on your bold step to pursue formal education. While many may not want to say it, you have inspired your compatriots to believe in the possibility of acquiring higher education beyond the traditional age. Your action, to some extent, enkindled many, both young and old, and illustrates the importance of education. It humanizes the possibility of adult education, the commitment to personal empowerment and helps strengthen the argument that education is the pathway to genuine enlightenment. It is necessary to halt the praises now because from all indications, these recent dose of praises and the relevance you have gained over the years, have clearly (with all due respect) clouded your judgment and have caused you to approach critical national discussions, perfunctorily. In addition, it has contributed to your recent arguments that are inconsistent with ethical and constitutional facts and sometimes “in short supply of the truth.”

You once argued that Maryland county senator John Ballout, is not qualified to run for president of Liberia because he is not a “naturalborn” citizen, an argument that is inconsistent with the constitution. You also once argued that the constitution does not recognize dual citizenship in any way, an argument that is also inconsistent with the explicit and implicit constitutional recognition of dual citizenship for children born to Liberian parents.When these arguments were being made, many who opposed them calculated that people were smart enough to look beyond the formalities and see their lack of substance. While the calculation was on point for the targeted audience, it was obvious that at some point, gullibility became the order of the day.Given the understandable relevance you have in the Liberian society and communities and the credulous tendency of many readers, it is necessary to do justice to your constant misinformation and disinformation, the most recent of which has to do with Nepotism.

More than a week ago, you argued that, “until a law is enacted that implicitly and legal says what ‘Nepotism’ is, it is NOT illegal to appoint a family or friend.” You even questioned the morality of lawmakers when you said, “they lack the moral rectitude…to enact such law” since, in fact, the constitution calls for “appropriate legislation and executive orders.” Now, given the performance of our lawmakers, one will clearly agree with your message that they indeed lack the “moral rectitude.”However, it is hard to fathom your seeming lack of understanding that NEPOTISM in Liberia is not only illegal, but alsoimmoral and unethical, the last two ofwhichwereimplicitly argued in your defense of such cancer. Now, because we understand the intellectual fortitude of readers, we are going to resist the temptation of defining nepotism, ethicality and morality. To do such will not only constitute an insult to the readers, but also aviolation of the very essence of intellectualism, which is the need to objectively employ the intellect for the purpose ofexploring various sources in an attempt to reach a rational conclusion. More besides, the contextual argument that will necessitate the definition of these words is visible, i.e. the illegality of nepotism in Liberia.

In his first formulation of the Categorical Imperative in moral philosophy, Immanuel Kant said, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time WILL that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

The simplest interpretation of Kant’s first formulation is that if it cannot become a mainstream idea/law do not engage in it. The question then is, can you “WILL” nepotism as a national policy? In other word, can there be a law that allows one to appoint his/her entire family, regardless of qualification, while at the same time being in harmony with the constitution of Liberia? Can that law be compatible withArticle 5, precisely, 5b, which partly states, “…ensuring that traditional values which are compatible with public policy and national progress are adopted and developed as an integral part of the growing needs of the Liberian society”? Can nepotism become a public policy through legislation? Is it ‘integral” to the “growing needs of the Liberian society”?Clearly, the answer to all those questions is “NO.” One cannot make appointment of relatives (regardless of qualifications) a national policy; hence, the act of appointing the Sirleaf Brothers to government positions is an inherent moral failing. In addition to the immoral nature of the practice, is the unethicality of their employment.

When (then) MinisterSirleaf criticized her boss for practicing nepotism, she did not have the law on her side. The constitution of the First Republic did not, for obvious reasons, address nepotism or conflict of interest, two issues that were addressed in the Second Republic’s constitution. However, the Minister still made the case against the practice because she had the moral and ethical arguments on her side.As it is today, it was not the qualification of Stephen Tolbert or others that was under scrutiny, but the intrinsically unethical nature of his appointment to a position of public trust given his relationship tohis brother President Tolbert. These actions undermine the citizens’ trust in their government because the government, from the citizens’ vantage point, took/takes on the image of a family-run business given the patronage, lack of accountability and the low morale that define these kinds of leadership. The unethicality of nepotism is also evident in the contrasting differences between the constitutions of the First and Second Republics.

A microscopic examination of the 1847 and 1986 constitutions revealed that the provisions of Articles 3, 5b&c, 7, 8, 18 and 90 of the 1986constitution (to be discussed further down)are not found in the 1847 constitution. Now, why are these provisions critical? The reason is simple: they do not only make the case against nepotism and cronyism, they reflect a clean (theoretical) break away from the unethicality of the First Republic. This action on the part of Dr. Amos Sawyer, Rebecca Wilson, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr.and others, shows that they understood the impact of nepotism on the nation and its contribution to the exploitation of national resources by a few family members. As glaringly apparent in the definition you used and almost every definition out there, the issue of qualification has no place in a nepotistic equation. However, that has not stopped individuals like you from using qualification as a yardstick in determining if the appointment of the Sirleaf Brothers amounts to nepotism or not. This desperation has led you to venture into an unfamiliar territory: the American system of governance and legislation.

Now, it is conventional wisdom that when knowledge-driven Liberians come to the United States, the wealth of information they encounter stimulates their desire to learn. However, they do so with an understanding of their limitations.This enables them to approach class and public discussions with set learning objectives until they can become substantively capable of engaging in these debates as students and colleagues. Sadly, this has not been and is not the case with you. Instead of staying in your lane, you have become an overnight “expert” on American legislative history. How can you justify the LEGALITY of NEPOTISM in Liberia by citing an American law (the one you claimed was passed as a result of President Kennedy’s appointment of his brother) that ILLEGALIZES NEPOTISM? This is the ultimate apples to oranges comparison.Even saddening is the fact that while you want to employ the constitution to outlaw nepotism, Americans, through their representatives and senators, outlawed the practice by simply looking at its immorality, unethicality and the “evolving standard of decency.” While their constitution supports an anti-nepotism law, there was no need to engage in an extensive constitutional debate over the issue because the inherent wrongness of the practice was enough to make it illegal. Speaking of constitution, do you know that the Second Republic’s constitution outlawed nepotism? Well, apparently not, hence, we must now begin the constitutional argument against the practice.

When one looks at the American constitution, they find no explicit “Right to Privacy”, however, the United States Supreme Court has recognized the Right to Privacy as a constitutional right; this is how it was done. The court used the following provisions of the Bill of Rights: The First Amendment guaranteed religious privacy; the Third and Fourth Amendments, which protect the privacy of the home and possession and the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination, among others. In addition, the Due Process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment also formed part of the equation that the Supreme Court used (and still do today) to guarantee Americans right to privacy. The United States Congress uses the Interstate Commerce Clause of the American constitution to justify their involvement in certain state matters including the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Do you know how it became standard practice for indigents to be afforded legal representation in American courts? It was the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which was decided upon (won) using the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the American constitution.

While there was no explicit mention of indigents being accorded legal representation in the United States constitution and the Bill of Right, the United States Supreme Court used the Due Process Clause and the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel to decide the case thereby according indigents the guaranteed right of legal representation. All these interpretational actions prove that constitutions are indeed living and breathing documents; the constitution of Liberia is no exception.Therefore, it is only wise for us to employ the same method in highlighting the unconstitutionality/illegality of nepotism. Before going any further, it is worth noting that the reference to American legal system is not intended to compare the two systems, but to highlight a standard procedure in arguing constitutional issues and to serve as a segue into the constitutional case against nepotism.

Article 90A of the current constitution of Liberia states, “No person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest.”

Now, given your definition of nepotism and every definition out there, it is clear that nepotism constitutes conflict of interest and this is how. As per your definition, nepotism, among other things, involves the show of favoritism to family members in job opportunities and, as we know, the Sirleaf brothers are the sons of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This relationship has the possibility of undermining the president and her sons’ impartiality, a key component of conflict of interest. The Sirleaf brothers’ ability to present objective reports and findings to the Liberian people directly and indirectly (as in press releases and legislative hearings, respectively), will be hampered by their desire to project a positive image of their mother and her administration to the Liberian people and the international community. On the other end of the interest spectrum, the fact that they are the president’s sons is enough force to handicap her ability to take the necessary action(s) in demanding the best out of them. These actions are “against public policy” and “constitutes conflict of interest”, activities that are unconstitutional as evident in the article above. In essence, they are synonymous because nepotism leads to conflict of interest and conflict of interest islargely in part, a result of nepotistic practices. Sadly, this alone will not make sense to you given the fact that you are one of those obdurate supporters who seem to see nothing wrong with nepotism as committed by the President but have a lot of resentment to nepotism as practiced by the Legislators. However, since this letter is enlightenment, not conviction driven, it is necessary to move to the next constitutional argument against the act: Article 5c, which, by the way, is your most cited article.

According to Article 5c, the Republic shall, “take steps, by appropriate legislation and executive orders, to eliminate sectionalism and tribalism, and such abuses of power as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices.”

Now, on the surface, all one sees is a call for action on the issue, and rightfully so because that is part of what the above article is about. However, a further analysis reveals that nepotism has actually been illegalized because the “appropriate legislation and executive orders” have been signed into law. Ok, let us backtrack for a minute to explain what we mean. The statement, “…abuses of power as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices” means that nepotism is corruption because it is one of those “corrupt practices” by virtue of the phrase, “nepotism and all other corrupt practices.” This phrase is like citing a research work by three or more authors. Instead of listing all their names in the citation, students are instructed to just list the first author and follow it with “et al.” (e.g., Brown, J. et al.). What this means is that John Brown is one of the authors just as nepotism is one of those ‘corrupt practices.” With such established fact, one can confidently conclude that nepotism is illegal because the laws of Liberia, including the relatively recent act of the National Legislature establishing the Anti-Corruption Commission, made corruption illegal. Let us put it another way using Deductive reasoning: Premise 1. Corruption is illegal in Liberia. Premise 2. Nepotism is corruption. Conclusion: Nepotism is therefore illegal. We can go on highlighting areas (like Articles 5c and 90b) in which the constitution explicitly and implicitly frown on nepotism, however, we will return to the moral and ethical arguments against the issue of nepotism as we make our closing argument against such threat to national security.

Mr. Dillon, it is interesting how a major argument in your opposition to Dual Citizenship is that it threatens national security, yet, you defend the practice of nepotism, an evidently deadly threat to national security, all because you claimed it is not “illegal.” What an unfortunate irony/hypocrisy (depending on where one stands). Articles sevenand eight of the constitution call for national government to ensure equality,with the former (article) specifically instructing government to:

“…manage the national economy and the natural resources of Liberia in such manner as shall ensure the maximum feasible participation of Liberian citizens under conditions of equality as to advance the general welfare of the Liberian people and the economic development of Liberia.”

In addition to the above, Article eighteen of the constitution states that, “All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work.” The perceptual and actual lack of opportunity for young people in Liberia, the nepotistic practices of the president, including the appointment of her son, Robert, to two positions, which, by the way, is a violation of Article three of the constitution are all threats to national security. It is clear that nepotism is being practiced at essentially every level of government. However, the focus on the president is not because one has personal issues with her or the Sirleaf Brothers. Rather, it is because she is the leader and must lead by example. Furthermore, as a product of the Western society and once astaunch opponent of nepotism, she should provide leadership on dealing with such form of corruption. Mama Liberia has experienced her share of sufferings due to mismanagement of national resources. Her children have a painfully practical understanding of what nepotism, cronyism, favoritism, sectionalism and a host of other practices of bad governance can do to a nation and its people. Given such history, it becomes incumbent upon every well-meaning Liberian, regardless of political affiliation, to speak out when there is a slight indication that Liberia is returning to those practices that destroy generations.

Only a cave dweller will argue that the president inherited a paradise or that she has done nothing to lift Liberia out of the desolate valley of failed states to a nation pregnant with opportunities, potentials, and one that has become a regional power. While it is true to note that only a blind loyalist will think that some of the strategically unnecessary and wasteful spending do not not have the potential of sending us back into debt with nothing to show, it is equally true that only a cynic will think it takes talking alone to get a national debt cleared. The point is, we have come a long way from the bewildering uncertainties of 2003 and the hope-crashing leadership of Gyude Bryant. The president has done extremely well. Sadly, her achievements and legacy are under attack not from outsiders, but individuals like you, who see black and say it is white.

Wish you a wonderful first Christmas in the land of unparalleled opportunities! Stay safe and be blessed!


Alfred J. Johnson

About the author: Alfred J. Johnson is a 2003/2004 graduate of E.J. Goodridge Memorial High School in Barnersville, Liberia. He immigrated to the United States in July 2006. He received his Associate Degree in Criminal Justice from Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; his Bachelors in Criminal Justice from West Chester University of Pennsylvania and is currently a graduate student of Criminal Justice at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. His email address is

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