The Liberia’s Culture of Unlawful Practices Continues Under New Officials
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
Liberian history is replete with the country’s elites and government officials “taking the laws into their own hands” (dispensing justice outside the law). The recent arrest of Belleview Airlines’ Manager, Mr. Michael Embiemu, and two of his staff members is another example of Liberia’s culture of unlawful practice. This was done on the orders of Chief Justice Johnny Lewis of the Supreme Court without serving a formal warrant of arrest. It should not come as a surprise. It is a practice that has been going on for such a long time in Liberia.
As a youth growing up in Monrovia, it was a common practice for a ward (mostly African Liberians) to be incarcerated (jailed) for several days for not performing their household chores. One incident of this nature took place on the campus of the University of Liberia (LU), which at the time involved the University president. It was reported that the president tied his driver to the pole and gave him 25 lashes for violation of an alleged rule. In this matter, he served as the judge and the jury. In fact, some members of the Judicial as well as the Legislature were engaged in this practice. As the result, laws that were supposed to protect individuals against such abuses were never followed.
Most Liberians, including the international community, were hopeful that the culture of unlawful practices would end since Liberia had its national elections on October 11, 2005. The President took her oath of office. Most of her cabinet positions and appointments were filled. The Legislative and Judicial also occupied their respective seats. Instead, it is business as usual.
The newly elected Legislators exercised what many Liberians referred to as “raw power” -- summoning of newspapers’ editors and reporters to appear before them for articles they published. To climax this newly found power, Chief Justice Lewis of the nation followed suit by having a scores of uniformed court officers and Marshals sent to arrest an airline manager without serving him with a formal writ of arrest.
These were similar practices my grandparents, uncles and aunts narrated to us. It was a common practice for District Commissioners (DC) and members of the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF) to engage in when they traveled in the hinterland (now counties) to collect taxes and recruit laborers for government projects, etc.; such behavior was not unusual.
Initially, the Armed Forces, known then as the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF) collected Hut taxes, and enforced labor policies against the “native” (indigenous) masses. On many occasions, these African Liberians were forced to carry loads for government officials for days, while their farms were left unattended and their livestock used to feed the soldiers, their wives and female daughters used as sex objects for the pleasure of these officials and soldiers.
The novel, Red Dust on the Green Leaves by John Gay, epitomizes this reality:
“The soldiers had come again every year to get taxes and men to work at Firestone. Flumo still was not sure what Firestone was, even though he knew that men who went there had to clear the ground and plant rubber trees. He also knew that when Saki went to Firestone, he did not make farm but would come back after six months or a year with little other than new clothes and gifts from the coast”.
President Arthur Barclay alluded to this culture of impunity in his Inaugural Address of 1904:
“…The militia, largely lower-class Americo-Liberians and tribal people drawn from areas other than those in which they were serving was ‘tending to become a greater danger to the loyal citizens, and his property, which it ought to protect”.
Henry Fenwick Reeve captured similar culture of unlawful practice as far back as 1923 in his book titled: The Black Republic – Liberia: Its Political and Social Condition To-Day. Reeve mentioned a District Commissioner who rendered the following decision in a court case:
“A. you are in the right to a certain degree, but you are in the wrong also because you took up arms without authority of the Government, you are therefore fined two hundred dollars. B. you were wrong in attacking A. without first reporting the matter to the Government, so you must fine the same amount as A.”
Reeve cited another case in which he said:
“One man spoke out and the Government put him in jail without bail, and a woman was held without bail for ‘talking too much.’ In each case it was an ‘ally’ who got caught”.
In the book, Journey Without Map, written by Graham
Greene, he too cited a case that took place during the
Sasstown War. Greene wrote:
“A case was also reported to me from several sources of a man who had been wounded close to Sasstown and wished to surrender. Although unarmed and pleading for mercy he was shot down in cold blood by soldiers in the presence of Captain Cole”.
He went on to add:
“The soldiers crept into the banana plantations, which surround all native villages, and poured volleys into huts. One woman who had that day been delivered of twins was shot in bed, and the infants perished in the flames when the village was fired by the troops. In one village the charred remains of six children were found after the departure of the troops. In this connection, it may be mentioned that a man who had been a political prisoner at New Sasstown stated that he heard soldiers boasting of having cut children down with cutlasses and thrown them into the burning huts."
As a matter of fact, similar incidents of impunity occurred in 1916 in which the Klao (Kru) leader known as Juah Nimene (Juah Nimene Seyon – 1869 – 1937) wrote to Lord Cecil of the League of Nations’ Liberia Committee regarding Liberia’s culture of violence that was directed at his people. Excerpts from the letter read:
“It is most certain that we will be arrested like Nana Kru Chiefs who are now in custody at Sinoe, and in the end we may be killed like the seventy-five chiefs who were invited to a ‘peace conference’ at Sinoe but who were seized and executed (hung) in 1916”.
In addition, Stephen Ellis, the author of The Mask Of Anarchy provides another example of the historical, political and cultural factors of Liberia’s brutal unlawful practices. According to him:
"In the many parts of the country, throughout its history the Liberian system of indirect rule bore the stamp of military means used to establish it in the early twentieth century. It was first established in the Liberian Army, which had a reputation of brutality and for looting, since troops largely lived off the land. In 1910 some chiefs (King Gyude and other Grebo chiefs), in the south-east of the country complained of the activities of the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF), which they termed 'this execrable force', and was 'entirely mobilized,' and wherever they had been sent throughout the country - whether to Rivercess or in the hinterland - their custom has been to plunder the towns through which they pass and rape the women."
This was the same culture of unlawful practice that Taylor’s NPFL and the various rebel factions displayed during the Liberian civil wars and after.
Suppression of the Exercise of Free Speech: Written and Spoken Words
Liberian history is replete with shared censorship and abuse of individual citizens, journalists and the media’s rights to free speech. “Leave the people’s thing alone” became the common advice.
By way of history, the first printing press was brought to the colony of Liberia in 1826. The first publication was a four-page monthly known as the Liberia Herald. Thereafter, a number of papers got started but closed down, perhaps due to the interference of the government into how and what news they should report or publish. For example, the Liberian Age, which got stated in 1946 as a privately owned newspaper, was taken over by the True Whig Party (TWP), and later bought by the government. It received its funding from the central government, who appointed its editor.
For instance during President Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ Administration, freedom of speech was closely monitored; communication (letters) going and coming into the country was interfered with. A case in point involved August W. Hanson, a British official of African descent who at the time represented the British government in Liberia as Consul. Upon his arrival in Liberia, he became involved in the affairs of the settlers. Hanson wrote a confidential letter to a friend in England; the letter was intercepted by the Liberian authorities. In the letter, Hanson stated, “The prevailing principal (sic) in every dealing of man with his fellow man here, especially with foreigners, chiefly perhaps with an Englishman, seems to be to get every thing, if possible, and give nothing in return”. (Tom W. Shick, Behold the Promise Land, 1977, pp. 104-106)
The government had the letter published in the Liberia Herald. After it was published, President Roberts met with the Legislature in a joint session on December 23, 1851 to discuss the “offensive letter”. A resolution was passed at the meeting calling upon the British government to remove Hanson as consul. Faced with hostility from the citizens and government officials, Hanson did not wait to be recalled, he fled from Liberia the same year and returned to England. (Ibid, p. 106)
In a private correspondence written by John N. Lewis (one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence from Montserrado County) to William McLain of the American Colonization Society regarding the Hanson affair, Lewis expressed the sentiments of the Liberian government in this manner:
“Now, the fact is, that Hanson has not been molested
-- we did not know until today, that he had been insulted,
or that he thought he had been -- Hanson you know was
born at Cape Coast of African parents, and we thought
he would more likely side with us than with the low
bred whitemen -- we honor him for attending to his duties;
but we never supposed that he would so forget his race,
as to try to injure them without a provocation. In a
few words, at this present time, we are surrounded with
difficulties: and some plan must be adopted to insure
a true representation of matters at the Court of St.
James”. (Ibid, p. 106)
The practice of government officials or so-called “Big Shots” suppression of free speech was elevated to a higher lever during the administration of William V.S. Tubman. During this era, journalists were not only assaulted and intimidated; supporters of the government took the law into their hands -- they dispensed justice outside of the law.
Tubman did not like to be criticized. Criticism to him meant you were against his government. If there was something said about him in the press, he would respond personally. During this period, the media served at the mercy and pleasure of the President. He and the elites dealt with those they did not favor, as wiping boards. Recently, I found two such cases in my archive that highlight this problem; one is a speech President Tubman delivered in 1970 at the dedicatory ceremonies of the City Hall in Harper, Maryland County. It is provided below; the other is an exchange between Tubman and Albert Porte; it is attached to this article as an appendix.
The Title of Tubman’s Speech is: Liberia-US Relations. It reads:
“…Those who had scandalized and criticized us for not having buildings said we wasted money on public buildings. They were as vicious and wicked as to write that enough fufu could be cooked in the kitchen of the Executive Mansion to feed all of Africa. Well, that is what we eat, fufu - some of you like to eat potatoes. Then, the next public building to go up was the Temple of Justice the Supreme Court.
"If our Detractors do not like it...
“I am very happy about what has been done. There is nothing they can say that will change me. I am very happy to know that the Executive Mansion, the Capitol building and the Temple of Justice are as good as any such buildings anywhere in the world. And if our detractors do not like it, if they are jealous, or if they hate us because we are black people, let them tear themselves to pieces and go to pot. More than that, there are some nations in the world who believe that their system of government, or whatever they do, is correct and everything else is wrong.
“They talk about the one-party system of government, saying it is iniquitous and it is corrupt. Hm….! I have visited their countries. I remember once visiting one of these countries that believe in the two-party system of government; the former President whom I knew very well - I stayed at the Presidential Mansion with him and his wife when I was there--- had died. They asked me to say what places I wanted to visit.
“Among the places I mentioned was this former President's tomb. And this was written in the program. But at the official dinner, given by the President, the Secretary of State came over to me when they were about to serve liqueur and said, ‘We don't want you to go to this tomb.’
“I said, ‘How can I not go? You have agreed and have written it into the program and the widow of the former President and her children are there waiting for me--- I know them!’
"Well,’ he said, ‘You can't go there because an election is to be held in such and such a place the very day that you are to go there, and one of the sons is running for Attorney General for that State. And if you go there, you'll encourage colored voters to vote for him.’
“Now, a one-party system of government is much better than that kind of corruption!
“‘They cannot change our Minds’.
“There is another thing in which they don't believe. They do not believe in one man being President more than twice and they think the whole world must follow them in saying that they are right! Where do they get their righteousness and their perfection? And they will undertake to interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations.
“Now, an NBC team came here the other day and reported all kinds of nonsense. You know what the object of that was? They believe in but two terms and they had heard that the President of Liberia had had six terms and that the people were asking him to take the seventh. They felt that by their propaganda they could change the people's mind. They can write anything they like; they can do anything they like! But they cannot change the opinions and desires and will of the people of Liberia!
“There is but one thing that they can do to stop it, and that is to use the bullet. They have done it in other places; and in those places where they did it there is now plenty of trouble, like in Indochina. Now let me stop quarreling.
“…The only thing that I want to ask these foreign friends is to leave us alone. They have enough corruption, wickedness, and viciousness in their own kitchen and right at their front doors. Lawlessness! There is no law, there is no order! Anarchy prevails! And they talk one thing and do another. That's why our brothers in Sierra Leone say: ‘You make one side of the mouth call the other side liar.’ They made one side of the mouth call the other side liar! I am proud of Liberia; I am proud of the people of Liberia!”
During the 27 years reign of President Tubman, newspapers were closed down and their editors jailed for criticizing him or his government. According to Fred van der Kraaij, “authors such as Robert A. Smith, A. Doris Banks Henries and Lawrence A. Marinelli ‘devoted eulogies’ to him, while others such as Albert Porte, Tuan Wreh, Robert W. Clower and Gus J. Liebenow did not attempt to hide their criticism and, in some cases, their disgust at his policies and practices”.
Tubman set the norm that was to be followed by succeeding government and elites. Albert Porte and a countless individuals were the victims of the President’s policy regarding the opposition. Porte was a one-man crusader who took the Americo-Liberian oligarchy and the True Whig Party government to task for what he called the “unconstitutional arrogation of power to the presidency”. By the 1970s, Porte’s one-man crusade for accountability accused President Tolbert’s brother, Stephen Allen Tolbert, who at the time was the Finance Minister and co-founder of the first Liberian-owned multimillion-dollar conglomerate, the Mesurado Group of Companies, with interests in fishing, frozen food, detergent, animal feed, and commercial agriculture. In response to Finance Minister Tolbert’s use of public office to advance his business interests, Porte wrote a pamphlet entitled, “Liberianization or Gobbling Business”. The publishing of the pamphlet led to a lawsuit brought against Porte by Stephen Tolbert for alleged libel. The case was presided over by the plaintiff’s father-in-law, Supreme Court Justice James A.A. Pierre, who should have excused himself from presiding due to his relationship to the plaintiff. Yet, he presided and awarded his son-in-law $250,000 in the libel case.
This decision brought an outpouring of public support for Albert Porte. As a result, a citizen group called Citizens of Liberia in Defense of Albert Porte (COLIDAP) was established. The lawsuit was never finalized due to the death of Stephen Tolbert, who died in an airplane crash in 1975.
Article I, Section 5 of the Liberian Constitution (before it was amended in 1985) gives the people of Liberia the right at all times, in an orderly and peaceful manner to assemble and conduct upon the Common good; to instruct their respective representatives, and petition the government or any public functionaries for the redress of grievances. Yet, on April 14, 1979, Tolbert’s government violated this very constitutional provision:
• On April 14, 1979, Mr. Tolbert ordered his
Secret Police Force to shoot and kill unarmed, peaceful
and law abiding citizens who were demonstrating against
a proposed increase in the price of rice.
• Rev. Tolbert’s Secret Police and Guinean Soldiers shot and killed more than three hundred demonstrators, and wounding six hundred, who died daily due to the refusal of the government to administer medical treatment.
• A market woman (peddler) with her six-month old baby on her back was shot. The child died instantly, while the mother died a day later due to poor attention.
• In another development, fifteen your old Elizabeth Itoka, a Junior High School student was shot in the head by a Guinean soldier, killing her instantly.
• Rev. Tolbert’s Secret Police and Guinean Soldiers killed one hundred and twenty-nine unarmed University and high school students.
• Dictator Tolbert, an ordained Baptist Minister, invited Guinean Troops into the internal conflict, which is in violation of the Charter of the Organization of Africa Unity.
• The Government of William Tolbert unjustly closed down all higher institutions of learning, fearing that students are beginning to educate the masses politically, socially and economically, an idea the government finds difficult to deal with.
• In Liberia, the major rice dealer is President Tolbert. He uses the taxpayers’ money to monopolize his tax-free rice market, which in itself is a gross conflict of interest.
• Economically, Liberia is very rich, but the masses are still living in poverty because of the uneven distribution of wealth among the haves and have-nots. Yet, the Tolbert Government is spending $300 million dollars to give Monrovia, the Capital, a face-lift for the up-coming conference of the Organization of African Unity even though the government knows that Liberia is not safe under the Tolbert Presidency.
• The Tolbert Government has suspended the right of habeas corpus for one calendar year – a violation of civil and human rights in Liberia.
The above is an excerpt taken from the statement issued
by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas
in response to the April 14, 1979 Rice Massacre, commonly
referred to as “Rice Riot”. The statement
(Titled: “Mass Killing in Liberia” was dated,
May 6, 1979).
Doe on the other hand took up where Tolbert Administration ended. For example on November 23, 1984, an article appeared in the Daily Observer under the headline, “Justice Minister Suspended from Legal Practice: Adjudged Guilty by Supreme Court of ‘Criminal Contempt’ – New Liberian Editor Convicted”.
The article reads: “…The Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court Bar, Counsellor Jenkins K.Z.B. Scott, was yesterday suspended by the Supreme Court from practicing law ‘directly and indirectly’ within the country for two years.
“The Editor-in-Chief of the government-owned New Liberian newspaper, Miss Aletha J. Roberts, was also fined $500.00 by the Supreme Court.
“The actions came after the two government officials were adjudged guilty of ‘criminal contempt’ by the Court after they had made ‘inglorious charges’ against the Judiciary.
“Minister Scott was said to have launched a very critical attack on the Liberian Judiciary when ‘he accused judges and lawyers of receiving bribes’ and attributed ‘rampant jury tempering’ to the courts and lawyers. He also referred to the judges as ‘unprofessional’. Thus placing the entire Judiciary at its lowest ebb.
“The criticism was exclusively published in the September 21, 1984 edition of the New Liberian.
“The Minister’s remarks grew out of his unsuccessful attempts to prosecute the Commissioner of Insurance, Mr. Benjamin I. Collins, who had been acquitted of criminal charges and reinstated.
“Following his statement, the Supreme Court cited the Minister and the Editor for contempt proceedings to count for what the Court described as their ‘derogatory, defamatory and impugning remarks…uttered, published and circulated’ about the Liberian judicial system”, the Daily Observer wrote.
On November 26, 1984, Head of State Doe ordered Chief Justice Emmanuel Gbalazeh to take back the decision of the Court against the Minister of Justice, Jenkins Scott, and to “immediately restore”, to the Justice Minister the rights and privileges to practice law in the Republic of Liberia.
It is worth to note here that, a requirement to become Minister of Justice was circumvented in making Attorney Jenkins Scott Minister of Justice. Based on the requirement, an individual had to be a Counselor-at-Law prior to becoming a Minister of Justice; but when Attorney Scott was appointed by Head of State Doe to succeed Minister Winston Tubman, the Head of State by passed the normal procedure, ordered that a special ceremony be held at the Temple of Justice, at which Attorney Scott was made Counselor-at-Law and he inherited the title of Dean of the National Bar Association, making him the first person to do so in the history of the Ministry.
As for Charles Taylor, in order to silence his opponents
he established a network of securities, one of which
is the so-called Anti Terrorist Unit (ATUs). They were
given uniforms and arms by the government to abuse and
“erase” those they were told to get rid
of. “Another Terrorist Unit”, so named by
the Liberian people, were former combatants who were
paid to stage pro government demonstrations, while the
government’s hired pens prepare their victims
for the kill - calling them “anti government”
in order for the ATUs and the entire security network
to go after they, their family, including their dogs,
cats, and other household items.
The following individuals, Nowah Flomo, Edward White, James Bestman and countless others, paid the ultimate price for interfering with President Taylor’s "Pepper Bush" – the country. Sam Dokie, his wife and two relatives were arrested by the former President’s bodyguards, slaughtered, dissected, and burnt. As for the Market Women’s activist, Madam Nowah Flomo, she simply vanished after presidential security visited her home under darkness. Angry over protests of the woman's death, Charles Taylor rebuked his critics, warning them to keep quiet over "every chicken that gets missing." This “chicken” and countless others are unaccounted for! Moreover, you could not have been caught overtaking a Henric Cassell on the public street; if you did, you could have ended up dead like Papa George, a taxi driver that was shot to death by Taylor’s brother-in-law for passing him on the public highway.
Sadly, both sides in the recent civil conflict - Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and later his government, the various rebel factions, intimidated, harassed, and abused Liberian journalists to prevent them from reporting about their activities. This practice was carried out with the approval and blessings of Charles Taylor, the leaders of both the government and the rebel factions. It was a common occurrence for local journalists including those that were working as stringers for international news organizations to be chased into hiding or exile due to threats, assaults or the possibility of being abducted and “erased” (killed).
On many occasions the government security network, rebel factions and their supporters succeeded in having their arsonists torch and loot the editorial offices of independent newspapers, i.e., The Inquirer, Daily News, New Democrat, Daily Observer, and The News. Offices of these media institutions were at one time or the other ransacked; the transmitters of the independent radio stations, including those operated by religious organizations were taken or burned. The offices of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) were not spared either; it too was looted and riddled with bullets. During the same time, the privately owned Sabanoh Printing Press, the largest and most reliable printer in the nation at the time, offices were attacked by arson. The attack achieved its intended objective, which was to force the owner of the printing press into exile and to halt the publishing of these newspapers.
Immediately after the assault on these media facilitates, equipment looted from these privately owned media resurfaced and were operating KISS-FM and The Patriot newspaper of Master Charlie. The two other media facilities that were allowed to operate at the time were, the allaboutliberia.com web newsmagazine and MICAT (Ministry of Information and Tourism), paid propaganda arms of the government. Find below a partial list of some of their unlawful and unconstitutional practices of government officials and these individuals:
• In October 2003, Gyude Bryant who declared that, “This government will encourage and exercise the freedom of speech and the press, which constitutes one of the basic tenets of good governance”, advisor, Fred Bass Golokeh, Chief Executive Officer of Ducor Broadcasting Corporation (DC) suspended DC News Director, Raymond Zarbay due to a report that Bryant, head of the Transitional government was booed by citizens during his trip to Buchanan. Zarbay later resigned, but characterized his suspension as "illegal and only intended to deny the public needed information for their survival and to suppress press freedom."
• In January 2004, four journalists and a former business manager from the weekly Telegraph were accused of “criminal malevolence“. The charges resulted from an article alleging that National Security Minister Losay Kendor had embezzled public funds.
• In February 2004, a member of the former rebel group LURD assaulted Mike Jabeteh, a reporter for The Analyst in Tubmanburg; he was accused of "reporting bad things" about LURD's civilian leader when he covered LURD's ongoing voluntary disarmament.
• In July 2004, “criminal malevolence“ charges were brought against Editor Crispin Tulay and Associate Editor Cheechiay Jablasone of the weekly Vanguard by the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) for publishing an article accusing the LPRC of using an illegal oil deal with the West Oil Company to finance “Taylor’s terror machine”.
• In August 2004, a reporter of The Analyst, J. Nathaniel Daygbor was beaten by a police officer when he tried to report on a scuffle between a resident of his neighborhood in Monrovia and a U.N. soldier.
• In March 2006, armed and masked men assaulted and threatened Peter Nimely Toby, sports editor for the The Analyst in Monrovia. According to reliable sources, the men jumped out of a black jeep, beat Toby with guns, and threatened him with death. The assailants accused Toby of “taking sides” in two elections involving Liberian soccer associations. Toby received medical treatment from the assault.
• On April 19, 2006, the Liberian Senate summoned Deputy Finance Minister for Administration, Francis Karpeh and the Minister of State for Economic Affairs and Legal Advisor to the President, Morris Saytumah, and the Director General of the Budget, Augustine Ngafuan to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for their failure to pay their (Senators’) allowances, for insisting on taxing their allowances, and for refusing to pay the salaries of their staff members. They were adjudged guilty of contempt charges and the two ministers were jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison. Upon the orders of the Justice in Chambers of the Supreme Court, Cllr. Emmanuel Wureh and Justice Minister Frances Johnson-Morris to release the two jailed ministers of government, the Senate threatened to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for “allowing his colleague in chambers” to order the release of the ministers, and the media was charged with contempt for reporting the “contempt charge and its outcome”.
According to reports by the National Chronicle newspaper, the leadership of the Senate received a communication requesting a conference related to the release of the two cabinet ministers, the Senate seems poised to launch impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Johnny Lewis.
The paper quoted Senate President Pro Tempore Isaac
Nyenabo of Grand Gedeh County as saying that last Friday's
special session mandated the Senate Judiciary Committee
to conduct a vigorous investigation with regards to
the release from detention of the two men and under
which legal boundaries such a decision was taken.
I went through this exercise to list these violations for the sole purpose of the Liberian people and the international community to condemn the assault on free speech in Liberia, and to bring to justice the violators of the human, civil and constitutional rights of Liberians and individuals doing business in the country.
The rate at which this culture of impunity is being resuscitated is alarming. The newly elected Legislatures and the security forces of the Johnson-Sirleaf Administration have targeted journalists and private citizens for harassment and intimidation. On April 25, 2006, three newspaper executives, Stanley Seakor of The Analyst, Kenneth Best of the Daily Observer, and Tom Kamara of the New Democrat appeared before the Senate Committee on Information for publishing “false and misleading stories about the Senate and writing in favor of the Executive branch of government”.
• On April 24, 2006, The Analyst was cited because of a headline story entitled, “Contempt Epidemic”, following the brief incarceration of two cabinet ministers on contempt chargers by the Senate. The newspaper’s management was summoned by the Senate to explain what the headline meant. According to The Analyst, the lawmakers wanted a working definition for the headline. They argued that there is “nothing epidemic” about its action since the body has only taken such action once, and warned The Analyst to be cautious in headlining news stories.
• The New Democrat was summoned to clarify the article the paper published, which stated; Senators were receiving US$3,000 each in salary, which the body says is false. The Senators claimed they receive only 3,000 Liberian dollars (approx. US$61).
• The Daily Observer was summoned for publishing an article that said; the people of Nimba have “always made bad decisions”. The statement annoyed Senator Taylor A. Dolo of Nimba County.
• The Press Release of April 26, 2006 issued by the Center For Media Studies and Peace Building (Monrovia), reported that some ex-Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers arrested journalists Romeo Togba of Sky FM and Emmanuel Sayon of the newspaper New Vision for lack of valid identification while covering a riot. The soldiers destroyed a tape recorder belonging to Sayon in the process. They were released hours later, following the intervention of some colleagues who were also at the scene.
It was reported also that, during the hearing, some Senators viewed the delay in payment of their “allowances” by Finance Ministry and the Budget Bureau as the works of the Executive branch of the government to ridicule them before their constituencies. Chairman Cllr. Frederick Cherue of the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary, accused The Analyst and the Daily Observer of being partisan papers sponsored by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for propaganda purposes as well as to tarnish the image of the first branch of government, the National Legislature. If the Executive wants to follow the precedent set by the Senate, the President too, could charge Chairman Cherue with “making false statement” against the President that he cannot prove.
According to a Liberian journalist in Monrovia, Senator Franklin Siakor, the Senator from Bong County was the only Senator on the Committee who during the hearing talked “with some sense”. Based on news reports, Senator Siakor was the sole objector among the lawmakers on the Committee. The Analyst reported that he said, “What his colleagues considered as disgrace being melted out against them was their own creation…” and to not put “personal interest above national interest”.
I talked to a Liberian businessman who followed the proceedings. He said to me, “The entire episode resembles scripts from comic (cartoon) scenes. For a Senator to argue that there is ‘nothing epidemic’ about their action since ‘the body has only taken such action once’, is preposterous, these so-called lawmakers should be conducting serious business for the Liberian people instead of clowning around”.
In point of fact, freedom of press and expression are two fundamental rights endowed Liberians by the Constitution. According to Article 15 of the Constitution, "Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available".
Based on the 1986 Constitution, the House of Representatives and the Senate may punish for contempt “after a hearing consistent with “due process of law” is held. To do otherwise, violates the rights of the individual. The Legislature cannot hold an individual in contempt and send that person straight to jail, rather is required by law to refer the matter to the Justice Ministry to proceed to trial; otherwise, it will be considered an abused of their powers.
The same Constitution grants the Senate the powers to hold in contempt individuals that willfully impede its functions and impose "reasons sanctions", but it has to be consistent with law – and after "due process" has been exercised, which is consistent with the protection of the fundamental rights of the accused. This power does not apply outside the due process provided by Constitution.
Based on my layman perspective of the Liberian Constitution, I believe the Legislative branch is charged with making the laws; the Executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws, while the Judicial branch – the Courts decide arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether they violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court serves as the highest court in the country and vested with the judicial powers of the government. (See Joseph Saye Guannu, An Introduction to Liberian Government: The First Republic and the People’s Redemption Council)
Yet, when these officials failed to follow the Constitution, circumvent the rules and the laws of the country, which creates an atmosphere of insecurity and potential for violence, and the U.S. State Department urge its citizens “…to consider carefully the risks of travel to Liberia… Owing to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, street demonstrations, and any gathering of security forces… Foreigners, including Americans, are high-profile targets for robbery… U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution in traveling. Traveling alone or after dark is strongly discouraged…” Liberian officials go into uproar because of the U.S. State Department issued Travel Advisory to its citizens.
The fact of the matter is, it is about time the Liberian people protest, denounce and even call for the resignation of those leaders and officials who have and continue to dispense justice outside the law. This practice should not be tolerated anymore! The Liberian people have suffered too long for this kind of behavior to continue. Liberia and her neighbors want peace, security, respect for human rights, genuine reconstruction, sound economic and responsible fiscal policies and not a dictatorial system in which government officials are placed above the law.
And there is no lawful or reasonable justification that Chief Justice Lewis can give for taking such an unlawful approach to obtain his $500.00 for an unused airline ticket. Since the Chief Justice failed to uphold the law, it will be in the best interest of the Liberian people for him to voluntarily resign or be impeached if he refuses to resign. As for those Legislators who have engaged in the exercise of “raw power”, they should stop and go about doing the “People’s Business” for which they were elected, instead of putting “personal interest above national interest”.
APPENDIX: Albert Porte’s Letter to President
William V.S. Tubman
and Tubman’s Reply to him.
Albert Porte’s Letter to President Tubman:
Dear Mr. President:
Ever since I read a copy of the Listener in which you published your message to the Legislature convoking the special session, I have been thinking and trying not to think, and feel urged to let you know some of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, sincerely hoping and believing that it will be taken in the real democratic spirit, realizing fully, as I know you do, that ultimate success or failure in a democracy rests not only upon the President, but upon each citizen as well.
Liberia is classified among the undeveloped countries
of the world. She lacks some of the basic minimum requirements,
and needs much more than she can muster at the present
time for her internal development. And although this
is so, we are undertaking to spend $150,000 for the
purchase of a yacht for the use of the President. In
addition to this, it will require a tidy sum for its
upkeep. It is my humble opinion that at the present
stage of the country’s development, this amount
could be more profitably used towards real development
with more permanent results. Yes, other countries have
these things and in time as our country is developed
we too will have some of them, but I think we should
concentrate upon fundamentals.
Unfortunately, the citizens of this country do not feel free to express themselves upon vital questions affecting them, but sit by and grumble “the people don’t mean anything”. I am afraid that even in the Legislature there is a great reluctance if not the absence of the free expression of thoughts and opinion, especially where the President is concerned. To tell the truth, it has required a huge effort on my part to have expressed my thought here. So I have no justification in condemning the reluctance in others.
This only brings to face to face with great responsibility weighing so heavily upon the President, which could be lightened if the people felt free to express themselves and their views were taken in the right spirit.
Very sincerely your,
President Tubman's response to Albert Porte:
Dear Mr. Porte,
Your letter of August 25th in which you informed me that you have been worried since you read the copy of the Listener which carried my Special Message to the Legislature and my reference to the purchase of a Yacht for the President of Liberia have been received.
You state in your letter that One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars should be utilized for some other more beneficial purpose and not for the purchase of a yacht for the President of Liberia, and that some people are grumbling but that they do not come forward and state their dissatisfaction, even some Member of the Legislature you state.
I appreciate you candor in the matter, but I am in total disagreement with your views expressed and method of thinking on the subject.
I take the liberty to tell you an experience that I had in 1939 at which I was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Legislature and the Supreme Court were to be opened and for two weeks they could not get a quorum. An American ship came in the Captain name was Mr. Bogden. He knew me personally and therefore agreed to bring me to Monrovia, but refused to take any other Member of the Legislature or Member of the Supreme Court. I pleaded with him to take the other Members but he insisted that he would not.
Finally, he asked me the following question: “Justice Tubman, do you mean to tell me that your Government has no means to by which she can get Members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court to the Seats of the Legislature and the Supreme Court except they are transported there by our ships or some foreign ships?” Although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then asked another question: “If your President desire to come to Cape Palmas, you mean to tell me that he could not come unless our ship or ships of some other line brought him?” Again, although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then came forth with the last question: “Then Justice Tubman, do you think you should have a President, a Legislature, or a Supreme Court if the Members of these bodies have had to be transported to the seats of the Legislature and the Court by foreign craft?” This question baffled me and I could not answer it.
I narrate this experience of mine to show you the difference in the thinking of civilized people about the type of thing that you are objecting to.
On the other hand, you and the rest of the grumblers, although I do not know who they are but they seem to be known to you, make no contribution or make so little contribution to the resources of the country that you should be ashamed to talk about the public expenditure.
How much taxes have you or any of the grumblers paid into the public treasury from 1944, when I took office and met the net revenues at One Million Dollars, to the present? By recommendation to the Legislature of measures to increase the revenues which they approved, within seven years it is expected that revenues will reach eight to ten million dollars at the end of the year. How much taxes of any kind or financial contribution have you or the grumblers put into the revenue to cause this increase? Have you or any of you contributed towards the Income Tax, the Ticket Tax, the Injury Tax, the Sales Tax or the Profit tax? Have you paid your Real estate Taxes; if so in what amount?
It might interest you to know that I paid Income tax of more than Two Thousand Dollars for the last year alone. Firestone paid nearly Three Million Dollars Income Tax.
The people who pay taxes in the country and would be entitled to interpose objections are those up country, the foreigners and few of your element who really do pay taxes. The grumblers are the set who contribute nothing for the protection, right and benefit of citizenship which they enjoy.
Now you just sit down and forget that it is you and begin to think what financial contribution do you or have you made to your country.
Your spirit appears to me to be anarchical. I remember during the last Administration, you were critical and censorious of it. When it comes to the present Administration, you are occasionally censorious and critical of it. I have never known you to compliment any administration, but you always look for what you think to be weak spots in it. I think this is an evil spirit and an evil eye which will not do you or the country any good. Supposed every or most persons had the same spirit, what would happen to the country!
It may be necessary to inform you that in 1949, without consultation with me, the Legislature voted One Hundred Thousand Dollars to purchase a yacht for the President. I did not do so but delay it because I felt the revenue had not reached where I wanted them; now the revenue justify it. I made contacts to get one but found that the One Hundred Thousand Dollars could not purchase it. I therefore requested the additional Fifty Thousand Dollars and the same has been approved, and I will but the yacht.
During the early days when the founding fathers first came here, they had ships, which were not owned by Government but by private citizens and companies. That industry was permitted to die out and for more than sixty to seventy years there was not a solitary means of transport from one point to another until recently when I succeeded in procuring two airplanes for Government since private citizens could not do it. And now we have an Airline in the country and the planes land airstrips built by Government.
I will but the yacht without regard to the grumbling of you grumblers. That yacht will be used for the recreation of the President from his onerous duties that have been increased by more than one thousand percent since 1944, and may invite you to accompany me on one of my cruises that you might get a benefit of some rest from your onerous duty as a school teacher and which may possibly broaden your vision.
W. V. S. Tubman
The veteran Liberian journalist Albert Porte’s letter dated August 25, 1951 to President Tubman on the use of Liberia's Treasury to purchase the first luxury presidential yacht (463-ton vessel with a passenger capacity of thirty-six – which required an international crew, a separate bureau within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an annual of $125,000.00), and Tubman’s reply. Both letters were published in "Thinking about the Unthinkable things the Democratic Way”, Monrovia 1967, pp. 22-23.
Some Useful and Significant Information:
March-December 1930: A League of Nations report exposing forced-labor practices in Liberia leads to the president's resignation.
The Liberian government comes under international censure for allowing a system of forced labor "hardly distinguishable from slavery." Implicated in the scandal, President Charles D.B. King resigns on December 3 after pressure from the Liberian legislature.
1936: Forced-labor practices are abolished.
January 3, 1944: William V.S. Tubman is inaugurated as president.
June 27, 1955: A former member of the Grand Old True Whig Party turned-political opponent of Tubman, S. David Coleman and his son John were hunted down and killed by Liberian soldiers for allegedly plotting to overthrow Tubman.
The Coleman funeral is meagerly attended, as people were afraid of being considered Coleman’s sympathizers.
1955: The constitution was amended to allow President Tubman to remain in office well beyond the two-term limit.
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