Lawyers With A Cause - A Wake Up Call!
By: James W. Harris
February 8, 2002
It all started as a bitter feud between two lawmakers of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) government. For weeks, both men, then House Majority leader, Abel Momolu Massaley and House Speaker, Nyundueh Monkornomana, traded insults as well as charges and counter-charges at each other. In the end, one of them, Speaker Monkornomana, was suspended by the House Plenary on allegations of corruption and perjury (lying).
He (Monkornomana) was now destined to face an investigating committee from the House to clear his name, and more importantly, defend numerous charges that he had forged his academic degree. Some people had stubbornly accused the Speaker of not graduating from the academically prestigious American university, the Columbia University in New York, as they said, he had claimed.
Entered Cllr. J. Emmanuel. Wureh, President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) in his capacity as Legal Counsel to Speaker Monkornomana. While representing his client before a House Committee that was investigating the accusations and charges against Mr. Monkornomana, Mr. Wureh was himself charged with insulting the lawmakers for allegedly making the following remarks: “These are the kind of men that are representing us.” And for this, he was immediately sent to jail in President Taylor’s dungeons for four whole months.
Coming quickly to the aid of their jailed President (as they should) for a rather simple matter, which they believed, should have been settled amicably in a more “civil” manner, the Bar, led by its then Vice President, Cllr. Marcus Jones, and Montserrado County Chapter President, Cllr. Ishmael Campbell, called for a boycott. They urged their members to boycott all courts in the country in protest against the Legislators’ hasty and wrongful action against their then President (Wureh). The lawyers’ action, of course, came only as the last resort after their pleas to the House to set their President free fell on absolutely deaf ears.
“The Bar and all local bars have resolved to boycott [all] courts today (September 26, 2001) until our President (J. Emmanuel Wureh) is released from further detention”, a statement that was issued by the Montserrado County Chapter said.
But this was just the beginning of what later turned out to be a very embarrassing situation for the Taylor government as all courts in the country remained closed for several days, thereby effectively paralyzing the entire legal system (if we can even call it that) in Liberia.
And in its true nature of acting senselessly before even thinking through a particular problem such as this one (which was clearly a legal issue), the Taylor-led NPP government issued its own press release through it mouthpiece, the Ministry of Information, basically expressing disappointment for the Bar’s action (as in calling for the boycott).
The release said: “The Government of Liberia has expressed surprise and disappointment over the stance taken by the National Bar Association in issuing an ultimatum to the National Legislature over the detention of Counselor Emmanuel Wureh.”
Immediately falling in line with the Executive branch’s position on the shameful crisis, the House then summoned the two prominent LNBA officers, Cllrs. Jones and Campbell, to show cause why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for, what they (lawmakers) called, calling on the body to “unconditionally release” their (lawyers’) President (Wureh) from unjustified detention. Not surprisingly, it was now Cllrs. Jones’s and Campbell’s turn to meet the lawmakers face to face.
Following that meeting, they both (Jones and Campbell) were said to have flatly refused to cooperate with the Legislators in regard to their Bar’s earlier position on the issue. And for their refusal, they too were “unjustly” remanded into custody. It is also worth noting that more than two dozens of their colleagues accompanied them to meet the Legislators in what was later described as a very unfriendly and threatening atmosphere.
In an apparent twist of fate, the same House Speaker whose defense had prompted all of this commotion was himself reinstated after he had abruptly resigned earlier when the crisis first broke.
Meanwhile, Cllrs. Jones and Campbell continued to be locked up in Liberia’s dreaded prisons (dungeons) for their deliberate refusal to apologize to the lawmakers, or even worse, retract their alleged statements. But they were said to have paid the fines imposed on them, though, to the tune of roughly LD$4,999.99 each.
As the lawyers’ boycott continued, the Liberian Supreme Court was also drawn into the fray when the NPP government filed a “Writ of Mandamus” [Latin, meaning, “we order”] and asked it (Court) to intervene by forcing the lawyers to go back to performing their respective duties. In reply, the Bar informed the Court that the problem at hand was purely a “CONSTITUTIONAL” issue and a matter of “due process” under the laws of the Republic.
But later, the Supreme Court did prevail and the Bar called off its boycott, somewhat ending the crisis. On the other hand, some Liberians truly believe that by siding with the government [again], the nation’s highest Court squandered yet another golden opportunity to redeem itself. And to this very day, it is viewed in many circles simply as a “tool” under the tight control of the besieged President.
After weeks of public outcry (locally and internationally) for their undeserved detention, the two prominent Liberian lawyers were finally released from incarceration in December 2001. Of course, without apologizing to the lawmakers, as they had wanted. As for Cllr. Wureh, he too was released earlier and was said to have fled the country almost immediately (probably to the United States) for obvious reasons.
But while they were still in detention, Cllrs. Jones and Campbell were both “elected” overwhelmingly by their peers as President and Vice President respectively of the LNBA. Many Liberians see their election as a further indication that Liberian lawyers had grown tired of constant harassment and were in no mood to succumb to continuing pressure from the NPP government.
What is crystal clear in this entire episode is that Liberia still has a few “decent and good” people who will stand up and fight for whatever they strongly believe in despite all odds. In trying times like these when the country is facing a serious LEADERSHIP DROUGHT - one that is more acute than we could ever imagine - the popular election of these two men to the Bar’s top posts is a fitting tribute to their strong leadership qualities. They believed in the Liberian Constitution and they garnered enough courage to fight for it, even at the displeasure of one of Africa’s and possibly the world’s most brutal dictators. Least of all, their action could have easily ruined their law practices in Liberia since Mr. Taylor and his cronies control almost everything in the war-ravaged country. There’s hardly any doubt that a simple call from the President to several big clients that the lawyers may already be representing could be all that’s needed to completely ruin their otherwise successful law practices there. Don’t you think?
That’s why I’m compelled to say with some degree of pride that both Cllrs. Jones and Campbell are truly “Lawyers with a Cause” - that of finally awakening Liberians about their sacred obligation to defend their constitution and stand up for their rights at all costs, serving as “guardians of the civil [Liberian] society and perfectors of [Liberian] democracy,” as recently mentioned in an exceptional speech by none other than Cllr. Campbell.
As Liberians and moreover proponents of democracy (even though the system itself is far from being perfect), we should take our hats off to these two brave men for taking a bold stance in favor of the rule of law. In the same light, I would honestly urge other Liberians to ‘step up to the plate’ and become more visible to help save our thoroughly ruined nation from its deathbed.
Liberians at home and in the Diaspora MUST indeed begin to “Wake Up to the challenges of the day [today], take the Front Seat and let us guide our society [Liberia], perfect democracy and move our country to nobler heights”, to borrow a few lines from Cllr. Campbell. It is only then that we can be confident and hopeful of a better future for our once enviable nation.
But sincerely, I’m really not too sure how much Liberians generally are optimistic about their country’s future or destiny, because, personally, I’m very pessimistic for several very good reasons. Given the following facts: (1) An utterly egotistic, corrupt and inefficient “sitting” government that would not give up power voluntarily; (2) A so-called dissident movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), with no clear plan of action or leadership structure, coupled with its dismal human rights record on par with the ruthless Taylor government; and (3) A “very weak and impotent” opposition, whose major players are lacking in “credibility” as the result of their complicity and/or association with previously corrupt governments (starting with the True Whig Party), I just can’t see how in the world Liberia could pull this one off.
Given the above, I’m almost convinced that the country is doomed and finds itself in a hopeless situation, unless something happens there pretty soon and somebody “sober” steps forward with the requisite “credibility, experience and moral authority”, among other attributes, to stop the on going carnage. In addition, this person should have a “ready” plan of action based on today’s realities, not yesterday’s rhetoric or platitudes.
Our only hope for full recovery, therefore, lie in the goodwill, patriotism and nationalism of men like Cllrs. Jones and Campbell, as well as, countless other Liberians that have given up their precious lives for the sake of their beloved country. Their sacrifices should not go unnoticed as they’ve done their part to save the “Lone Star” that once was a beacon of light for the whole of Africa and far beyond.
Folks, these are troubling times for our country, and as such, we no longer have the luxury of throwing our support “blindly” behind people that we know deep down in our hearts are grossly incapable, in one way or the other, of finally uniting our peoples and moving the nation forward.
After all these years of death, destruction, plundering and looting, etc., Liberians should know by now exactly who their “real leaders” are, because they sure aren’t the ones that we all have in mind. And if they (Liberians) haven’t figured this out yet then therein lies our dilemma! This also means that they really haven’t learned anything from our immediate past history.
What’s even more unfortunate is that the rather small segment of our population that are “supposed” to be educated (as in being able to reason logically and settle their differences in a respectful way as the result of their acquired knowledge) too haven’t changed a bit.
To verify what I’m talking about, all you have to do is visit one of the few Liberian chat-rooms on the World Wide Web (www), because there’s where you’ll find the supposedly technologically sophisticated and savvy amongst us. There, you’ll also find something else - how some Liberians really do hate each other or so it seems as expressed in their own written words.
Indeed, if we were to take into account everything that’s being said in those chat-rooms as a yardstick for measuring our level of maturity as a people up to this point as well as our preparedness to rescue Liberia, we would quickly come to the conclusion that we really have nothing much to brag about. In fact, the language that’s currently being used on one of the most popular chat-rooms amongst Liberians - AfricaOnline.com - has become so foul, abusive and irresponsible that the editor recently threatened to shut it down temporarily unless they (Liberians) straighten out their acts. Is that shameful or what? I’m very sure that we can do much better than that.
Yet still, we’re all looking forward to the 2003 elections as if to say it’ll resolve all of our differences permanently and enable us to plan for an inevitable post Taylor/NPP government. The plain truth is (and I’ve said this a zillion times) that unless we radically change the way we think as a people, particularly, in relating to each other, we’ll definitely continue to make the same “old silly mistakes” that have gotten us into trouble in the first place. It seems like we just haven’t learned much in the last hundred years or so of our existence as a distinct people and nation-state.
For example, if Liberians were to consciously change the way they think, we would all agree without much argument that the biggest problem presently facing Liberia is not necessarily “ethnicity” per se (although admittedly, the so-called Americo-Liberians that “founded” the nation were dead wrong for oppressing the indigenous people for so long), but the reasonable distribution [redistribution] of the country’s vast natural resources and wealth amongst all its peoples. What this means is that if Liberians were to change their way of thinking right now, they would begin to focus on the real issue confronting the country - that of putting a government into place that would be very responsive to all its citizens, irrespective of clans, tribes, etc. And this has nothing to do with ethnicity, but “sound leadership”.
The mere fact that the late Master/Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe [an indigenous son] proved over time to have been no better than the so-called Americo-Liberians he had violently replaced, has immediately put to rest the thought held by some that the indigenous people were better leaders than their settler counterparts. As the matter of fact, and as far as I’m concerned, it surely doesn’t matter who brings good sanitation, electricity, safe drinking water, among other basic necessities, to majority of the “suffering” Liberian masses. Whoever provides the people’s basic needs then becomes the subject - not ethnicity, status or anything of that sort.
In this context, Liberians should be weary and suspicious of persons that are presently seeking public offices, based primarily on ethnicity or their previous societal “statuses”. They should be especially critical of those that are eyeing the nation’s highest office, the Presidency. Most of all, they should engage each potential candidate with “fairness, equality and respect” and base their judgments solely on the basis of his or her (candidate’s) public records.
I’m very sure that the question of ethnicity and many of our other petty differences could be easily settled, provided we promote the kind of leadership that would introduce some form of nationalism in Liberians that has never been seen ever before. The kind of nationalism that would compel Liberians to do things to help the country, not to break it down. The kind of nationalism that would force them to say NO to foreign interests that only want to rape the country literally, not to help it develop roads, health clinics or schools in areas where they’re actually needed as opposed to building infrastructures in places that only cater to a few wealthy people. This is the kind of leadership that I’m talking about!
Significantly also, we should immediately desist from supporting people blindly simply because they are charismatic, personal friends, relatives or whatever. Again, these are not ordinary times for our country - a harsh reality that we must grasp if we are to make a difference this time around!
Like many Liberians, I too had a brother (my older and only brother on my mother’s side), who abandoned his well-paying job with LAMCO just to enter politics, eventually, becoming a senator in the Liberian Senate [he’s since deceased may his soul rest in perfect peace]. We cared for and loved each other very dearly as siblings, but when it came to politics and the burning issues facing Liberia, we were always at odds. You see, he was one of those Liberians who felt that in order to be successful in business in the country, one had to actively get involved in local and/or national politics. As such, the person’s motivation really isn’t to serve the people who elected him or her, but personal business interests. Period! I totally disagreed with him on this point. Anyway, some Liberians still feel this way (even today) however wrong it may sound! But I did make it my duty to let him know exactly how I felt about an issue as serious as this. As the result, he could never count on me for any kind of political support - NONE!
The only point that I’m trying to drive home here is that each of us should always be mindful about the choices and decisions we make, especially as they regard putting Liberia back on the correct track. More importantly, we should always be cognizant of the fact that whatever decisions or actions we take today, individually or collectively, would forever impact the “quality of leadership” that our dear country would get in the not too distant future - for good or bad. Like Cllrs. Jones and Campbell, the choice is exclusively ours to make, but we must first WAKE UP and smell the proverbial coffee!