A Rebuttal To Theodore Hodge’s: Presidential
Minister Willis Knuckles: Villain or Victim?
By Isaac Vah Tukpah, Jr.
Similarly, I expressed to him that I am not politically aligned and I am not anti-Ellen or an EJS administration basher. I am a Liberian patriot and will applaud where necessary and criticize when necessary. I am passionate about things Liberia and will not hesitate to communicate my thoughts on issues that impact the nation and affect its road to recovery. I honestly want this government to be very successful because all the initatives being pursued will be the launching pad for continuoss progress and total recovery.
Based on my discussion and the sincerity with which Theodore expressed himself, I am inclined to take the brother at face value. However, given his recent article on the Knuckles debacle (or debauchery if you will), I can’t help but wonder if that face value was superficial or true. I am however impressed that Mr. Hodge admits that the photo was embarrassing but to whom, he doesn’t really say. I will emphatically say here that the photo was and still is extremely embarrassing to not only Mr. Knuckles and his family members, the women in the picture, the position of Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, but specifically to the President of the Republic of Liberia and the Republic of Liberia. The issue is not even debatable that Mr. Knuckles should have immediately resigned his position. It is an obvious strategic political alternative to avoid the pressure and negative press that will subsequently be heaved on his benefactor and boss, President Johnson and the “onus” he has put on her to do something or appear feeble in her handling of those in her inner circle.
Mr. Hodge argues that folk’s reaction to this issue is “rather too simplistic”, however, he brings no depth or profoundness to the discussion but diverts the core issue from the national embarrassment created by Mr. Knuckles’ irresponsible behavior to one of placing blame (villain or victim) and limiting it to an issue of infidelity. It is obvious that Mr. Knuckles was unfaithful and I will be the last person to throw stones at Mr. Knuckles for his infidelity when our entire patriarchal culture is based on the ability of men to calibrate our manhood by the extent of our promiscuity, i.e. how many women can we pull or control at any point in time. This issue is not about infidelity because over the “37 years” of his marriage, Mr. Knuckles will be my singular role model if the issue of infidelity has never surfaced. So let’s not play the “until death do us part” card and pretend as if this issue is limited to Mrs. Knuckles’ proprietary affront (as much as I feel her pain for this colossal embarrassment) and not that of the Liberian people.
It is very interesting that our Minister of State for
Presidential Affairs who has brought international shame
and embarrassment upon us owes us no apologies according
to Mr. Hodge. The impunity of the statement is so offensive
given previous writings of Mr. Hodge in which he has
delved into the responsibility of public officials to
the domain they serve. In support of his “rather
too simplistic” argument, Mr. Hodge introduces
the overly simplistic rationalization that Mr. Knuckles
“job evaluation should not be based on his extra-marital
affairs; that is a moral matter. His job evaluation
should be based on his job performance.”
JOB PERFORMANCE? We are not talking about job performance, we are far removed from that issue. We are discussing perception and agenda! What is the public’s perception of a president whose next door confidante is so indiscriminate as to be indecently frolicking with multiple women without the common sense of NOT allowing his picture to be taken. Note that in Mr. Knuckles pseudo “apology” or rather blame game that Mr. Hodge has gullibly swallowed, there is no mention of the genesis of the picture and the fact that he seems very compliant and cooperatively posing for the photo. NO! Instead, the blame is on “The perpetrators of this act” for distributing “copies of this photograph with the intent of embarrassing me socially and inflicting political damage to the government given my current political position.” NO MR. KNUCKLES, YOU HAVE EMBARRASSED YOURSELF SOCIALLY, EMBARRASSED YOUR POSITION POLITICALLY, AND EMBARRASSED OUR NATION AND PRESIDENT INTERNATIONALLY! I have continuously propounded that the embarrassment of Ellen’s lieutenants should not necessarily be projected on to her or be construed as “political damage to the government.” I believe that each of her appointees should bear the responsibility of their actions. However, in the absence of any disciplinary action (disapproval, suspension, dismissal, etc.) towards those who serve at her will and pleasure, then it is reasonable to place the blame at her feet.
I totally agree with Mr. Hodge that the women are victims. Not just the women in that picture but the numerous women who because of our vanity as Liberian men and our insatiable desire to feed our egos have over the years videotaped and photographed OUR Liberian women in very, very compromising situations. This is an opportunity for our President, our legislators, and our justice system to take a comprehensive approach to the cancerous issue of pornography that most of us have been exposed to at an early age and continue to indulge in “till death do us part.” However, the pressing issue is not about battling the issue of pornography or the dissemination of nude photos but of dealing with a very embarrassing situation that affects the Office of the President and the Republic of Liberia.
Mr. Hodge should be given a gold medal (no not the gin in Liberia, an Olympic gold medal) for his Herculean effort to justify Mr. Knuckles’ indiscretion by saying he “was caught up in a personal affair.” What “caught up” means was not elaborated on or defined by the author but he further transfers the “burden” to the “accuser, not the accused.” I am not sure what the “burden” is here because no one is trying to prove anything. The only proof is in the pudding (Mr. Knuckles’ graphic sexual interaction with two women). Can anyone tell me who the accuser is? Nobody is “accusing” Mr. Knuckles of anything. Based on his press conference, one would think Mr. Knuckles is the accuser. The photo speaks for itself and Mr. Hodge accentuated the key impact of the picture, the “embarrassment” it has caused a president who advocates women rights, and abhors the exploitation, rape, abuse, denigration, and use of women everywhere. How can a president who frowns on the overexposure of young Liberian women protect, condone, support, or work with a man who is shown in such a comprising situation with “two” women? How can a president whose administration seeks to empower women and actively pursues that agenda stand on the sideline and simply observe this embarrassing spectacle play out without any comment or intervention? How can she work with her Minister of State for Presidential Affairs on the very real issue of women rights and equality in Liberia? Can the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs be trusted to capably represent and communicate the President’s agenda/message to any women’s group or female students in the nation? How would his credibility be perceived?
There is no question that this situation may have legal
ramifications on all sides. Mr. Knuckles has accused
his cousin, Mardea White Snowe, and her husband, Edwin
Snowe, former Speaker of the House, of attempted blackmail
(isn’t it interesting that he never came out with
a press conference or reported the initial contact to
the police for immediate investigation). He additional
accuses the Snowe’s and a certain female legislator
as the key perpertrators in the “illegal”
distribution of the nude photos. As pointed out by Mr.
Hodge, the invasion of privacy could also be a legal
issue at hand here.
Also, according to a Justice Ministry release, “publication and distribution of such nude photo is in gross violation of the Penal Code of Liberia.” Additionally, it is being reported that the Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Division, Steven Zargo claims that the Publisher of the Independent Newspaper Mr. Sam Dean is wanted by police “because his paper violated Section 18.1 of the Penal Code of Liberia” which “prohibits the dissemination of obscene materials without minimizing the risk of exposure to children under sixteen.”
All of the above are definitely potential legal issues surrounding this incident but our Ministry of Justice may also want to visit the action taking place in the photos, which according to the new Liberian Penal Code, Section 14.74, ‘VOLUNTARY SODOMY’ of the Penal Law provides that a person who engages in deviate sexual intercourse under circumstances not stated in Section 14.72 or 14.73 has committed a first degree misdemeanor. Since I am not legally qualified to comment on the validity of any of these aspects of the photo or its distribution, I submit it to my legal brethren for due commentary.
I reference the above to reiterate that this issue
is compounded with moral, ethical, and legal dimensions
but there are institutions to handle those aspects of
this case. Our religious leaders and Mrs. Knuckles can
wax poetic about the morality and our Ministry of Justice
and courts can handle the legal aspect within their
respective subdivisions. Mr. Knuckles right to privacy
and his accusation of blackmail can be addressed in
another forum. It is not about Mr. Knuckles as a victim
or villain! This is not a greek tragedy! This is a Liberian
crossroad! This is not about the dispensation of justice
or the rule of law or our fledgling democracy. In my
opinion, it is all about PERCEPTION & AGENDA! Is
this the image that Madame President wants to portray
to the young & old Liberian females, to our partners
in recovery, or to the international stage? Is the action
of the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs in
concert with her agenda for the empowerment of women?
I think not!
Therefore, I believe that since Mr. Knuckles is forcing the President’s hand, Madam President must act immediately. Granted some critics may say that it is undue pressure that is forcing the president to act but her inaction will resonate and echo so much louder than any action she will take. Will the modus operandi of this administration be the tendency to shy away from the embarrassing moments and ignore them until they go away? Will the Iron Lady not be strong enough to objectively manage her inner circle? The legacy of the Iron Lady will be based on the actions she takes both internationally and domestically, not only in terms of the national report card but also in terms of how she manages her subordinates and stays true to her agenda.