G. Baccus Matthews
There are those who think Baccus Matthews is a devil incarnate, a man who stirred up the Liberian utopia and turned it into an inferno from which it is yet to recover. On the flip side, there are those who see him as a saint who resurrected Liberia from the iron grips of the Gestapo-like True Whig Party --- the little David who brought down the mighty Goliath.
So who is Gabriel Matthews, saint or angel of death? Neither. Gabriel Matthews is a political opportunist, a self-aggrandized, vainglorious and incompetent and corrupt fellow. Since the 1970’s when Mr. Matthews entered the Liberian political scene, he has demonstrated that he wants a piece of the Liberian pie, no matter how he gets it, and he has usually gotten it. But when it comes to demonstrating competence, he has always miserably failed and fails again by calling for a “class action case” and “reparations for the families of victims”…
One has to wonder, does Mr. Matthews understand the scope of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Does this commission have jurisdiction to dwell into matters that happened in 1979? Does Mr. Matthews not understand that a “class action case” is supposed to be tried in a court of competent jurisdiction? Does the TRC have the legal capacity or authority to award these reparations Mr. Matthews seeks? No, but Mr. Matthews had a microphone and had to say something and so he did, giving credence to the old saying: Garbage in, garbage out.
After Mr. Matthews led the demonstration that has become the most infamous uprising in Liberia, the government was overthrown within a year. Mr. Matthews was awarded for his part. He was named Foreign Minister in the ensuing government and had a brief stint; he served from 1980 to 1981. He served again as Foreign Minister from 1990 to 1993. The wounds and scars of April 1979 were fresh then and the families of the victims, as well as survivors of the incident, were hoping Mr. Matthews would use his high offices to re-visit this case and seek redress. Did he do that? No. Mr. Matthews went on enjoying himself, playing the role of the insider instead of the agitator he had been.
Mr. Matthews went on to enjoy the confidence of Master-Sergeant Doe, who officially later became President Doe. He was a high-profiled personality both in official and unofficial circles, enjoying the confidence of the president.
President Doe was overthrown and after an intractable period of mutiny, carnage and petty civil wars, Charles Taylor arose to become Liberia’s president. Mr. Matthews, being the chameleon he is, put on a new coat and enjoyed the confidence of the new president who eventually became a dictator.
It should also be herein noted that Mr. Matthews ran for the presidency in 1997 under the banner of the United People’s Party and lost. This pivotal moment in his political career should not have been lost on him. Did he call for such a class action case during his campaign? Would it not have made the most sense to promise the families of victims and survivors some reparation had he succeeded in becoming president? No, that was the farthest thing from his mind and now that he has lost the spotlight, he calls for drama again.
Mr. Matthews began his career by carrying a banner for the oppressed masses. Many were fooled by his many utterances that he was concerned about their fate. But the legitimate question now becomes: How could he care so much for the masses and yet remain so silent and comfortable within the embrace of dictators? Again the question is, why did he not raise the issue of redressing the victims’ plight when he had an official capacity within government to give such call credence? Why did he wait so long? Is it because he only intends to use this story to bring glory to himself and not the victims?
As a political organization that advocated agitation, does Mr. Matthews’ PAL have any records to verify how many citizens lost their lives during this demonstration or how many suffered otherwise? Does he have the list of surviving family members? The point is, for whom is Mr. Matthews filing this “class action case” and how does he intend to divvy up this “reparation” he seeks? Are these “victims” and “survivors” on whose behalf Mr. Matthews claims to be acting know anything about his plans? Did they authorize him to undertake this “class action case” in their behalf?
I invite Mr. Matthews and other members of the organizing committee of PAL, that were instrumental in planning and leading this public demonstration that led to the “rice riots”, to answer the questions herein posed as earnestly as possible. This is a chapter that plays a significant part in our nation’s history. It must neither be swept under the carpet nor used for political aggrandizement. The time has come to treat our history with reverence and not as political trivial. It would have been more appropriate for Mr. Matthews and others to observe the anniversary of this sad day in silence and reflection than to turn it into another circus of empty words.
Enough is enough. The people have suffered enough, Mr. Matthews. You should have the decency to leave the suffering people to their fate and allow the dead to rest peacefully. To invoke their names in this useless cause is an abomination; nothing less.
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