Resuscitating Tubman's PRO Network

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective

January 29, 2002

What does PRO mean? Or who exactly is a PRO? First of all, it was wrongly named - Public Relations Officers, which the Liberian people correctly named - PEOPLE REPORTING OTHERS. These so-called PRO officers performed the duties of what Liberians referred to as "busybody" or "besah." These are individuals whose preoccupation is to tell lies or "tote" (carry) news on perceived enemies of the state or individuals they personally have had issues with.

PRO was similar to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Un-American Committee of the 1950's. In his effort to investigate Communists and their sympathizers, Senator McCarthy's Committee denied witnesses their constitutional rights by forcing them to testify against themselves. Individuals were falsely accused, lies fabricated against witnesses' reputations, which destroyed and jeopardized their livelihoods. Eventually, the Americans found him out, and he was expelled from the Senate.

During this period in Liberia, PRO officers were everywhere - they could be found in almost every family. These PRO officers were like a Gestapo. Some of them held the position for the monthly salary they received, and others for the "power" and prestige the position gave them. As for the majority, they did so out of pure ignorance and "misguided patriotism."

Most of the traditional leadership at the time, especially, tribal chiefs were on President Tubman's PRO payroll. In their comparison of President Edwin James Barclay to President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman, "Tubman is the Man we Want". To them, he was humane, kind and generous. Furthermore, he was viewed as the first President who appointed "Country people" to high positions in the Liberian government - even if it meant that it was to his advantage. One of Tubman's achievements they used to talk about was the construction of compound for traditional leaders. The compound was located at the corner of Warren Street and Camp Johnson Road. At the compound, there was a big house that was referred to as "Native Mansion." I don't know whether that was the original name, but that's how it was called. Tubman's relationship with the indigenous people, along with his leadership style, won him many admirers. One such admirer was a paramount chief that went on to say:

"President Tubman really turned this country around. We tribesmen can now mix up with the civilized people freely and nobody is looking down on us. We can now eat at the same table, shake hands and dance with the civilized men and women. God will bless him to live long. We want you to be President until you die" (Area Handbook for Liberia, 1972, p. 196).

President Tubman did just that - he died in office after 27 years in power.

I had an uncle called "Chache" who was a PRO officer. This uncle was a thorn in the flesh of the people in his township. Whenever he got ready to attend their bi-annual or annual meeting in Monrovia, the people in the township would bring him goat, chicken, rice - you name it; either to have him put in "good words" for them to the President or not to "run politics" (report) on them to the President. He was an eloquent and convincing speaker; as a result, he was feared. He used his position to intimidate others.

Other incidents involved Tubman's protégé, Jacob Cummings, commonly known as "Cummings Seyon", and Didwho (pronounced as DEEWOO) Welleh Twe. In 1951, Mr. Twe challenged President Tubman for the presidency. Tubman's security network was in the habit of harassing Twe's family, relatives, friends and associates.

Jacob Cummings was related to Oldman Teah Jlay Tor, a cousin-in-law of Twe. Tor was married to Mama Blede, Twe's cousin. It was alleged that whenever Tubman's securities were looking for Twe to arrest him, he used to hide at Tor's Coffee Farm (the present location of the Club Beer Factory).

The late Cllr. Tuan Wreh wrote:

"In the course of his flight, Twe barricaded himself on his rubber estate as Tubman's security forces combed the territory. The Krus (Klaos) in Monrovia, Twe's staunch supporters, circulated the tale that during the period when he was being sought, he magically transformed himself into a white cat at his farmhouse and serenely looked on while the security forces searched in vain. After his escape, Twe told the American press that he had literally taken to the woods and remained there for four months, his protectors being 'two beautiful and trustworthy maidens, whom the friendly African chiefs had provided for me'. The final stage of his flight into British territory was by canoe (Tuan Wreh, The Love of Liberty: The Rule of President William V.S. Tubman in Liberia, pp. 56-57).

As one of Tubman's chief informer, Jacob Cummings, and a Deputy Police Director named William Tecumbla Thompson used to conduct searches without warrants, whenever they felt like it. In the process, they would harass, physically and psychologically intimidate and abuse family members, relatives and friends of Twe and Tor, which at times resulted into imprisonment. Victims of Tubman's Gestapo tactics were, Edwin J. Barclay, S. David Coleman, Paul Dunbar, S. Raymond Horace, Nete-Sie Brownell; J. Gbaflen Davies, Booker T. Bracewell, Thomas Nimene Botoe, S. Othello Coleman, etc. Later on in the 1960's, former Army Chief of Staff, General George Toe Washington, a law student named Frederick Gibson, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr., and scores of others were the new victims.

Such Gestapo tactics along with the PRO network was Liberia's McCarthyism. It was used to destroy the reputations, livelihoods of prominent Liberians such as Didwho Twe, Nete Sie Brownell, Tuan Wreh, S. Raymond Horace, and Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr.

Similar practice exists today in Liberia. Since Taylor became President, scores of individuals have been accused, charged, some imprisoned for treason, sedition charges that have never been proven.

A recent victim of this practice is the former Auditor General Raleigh F. Seekie. Mr. Seekie was released from prison on New Year's Day, after serving almost a year, based on allegations that he (Seekie) plotted along with dissidents fighting to topple the Taylor Government. Since the government could not substantiate their allegations, the treason charges were dropped.

According to The News magazine (Monrovia), Mr. Seeking made the following remarks when he spoke at a Thanksgiving Service (Sunday, January 13, 2002) at the Guiding Star Temple in New Kru Town:

"Most great men in Liberia speak twice before they think. Their lies either suffer or kill innocent people… They say things they have no business saying". To them, lies are honorable things for their livelihood. They swear on the Bible and . . . lie because they have no remorse of conscience".

Seekie went on to say,

"The Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart...

"Most great people are not recognized by their appearances but for their courageous stance in resolving issues of national concerns... Therefore, we need men who uphold the values of remarkable patience, determination, ...thoughtfulness and selflessness, which inner qualities make men great or honorable.

"Therefore I wish to tell all of you that murderers or thieves are better than those make lies as their profession to gain favor from those who listen to them... Those who will inherit destruction, considering that lie is a dishonorable habit in any civilized society... Lies are as dangerous as the AK-47s or the RPG rockets.

"I thank God for his tender mercy; the devil meant my imprisonment for evil but God meant it for good. ...To err is human; to forgive is divine. Jesus taught in the Lord's Prayer to forgive so that our trespasses may also be forgiven".

Another tactic Tubman used was - he would give the impression that he did not want to seek re-election; he would then dispatch his supporters, which included the PROs to the various political subdivisions to manipulate the electorates into submitting resolutions to both the House and Senate for him to succeed himself. A classic example is Tubman's acceptance speech for his party's nomination in 1954:

"As intimated to a few friends, I had decided to retire at the end of my second term. It was my firm intention to hand over the grave responsibilities of government to other hands; to sit on the side lines, helping when I could, giving support to my successor, and contending myself with my retirement as I watched the further growth and progress which our nation is bound to make.

"But as time went on, it soon became evident that my personal desires were clashing with the wishes of the majority, and my patriotic responsibilities. A decision had to be reached. Realizing that in a democracy the will of the individual should be guarded by and subjected to the will of the majority, I decided in favour of the majority - to serve the nation.

"And so, thinking solely of national good and of international scene, and guided by the constant solicitations of the people, I was constrained to place my country and the will of the people first and foremost".

Since "...Taylor wants to be like Tubman that bad," and even surpass his 27 years record, it is likely that he and some of his party members wrote the scripts performed by the three National Patriotic Party (NPP) lawmakers turned actors (Sen. Mohammed Dukuly of Bomi County, Sen. Thomas Nimely of Grand Kru County and Rep. Sando Johnson of Bomi County) in their declaration that Cllr. Brumskine and others were ineligible to contest for the presidency on the grounds that are stipulated below, and the subsequent rebuttal by the National Patriotic Party chief, Cyril Allen.

Firstly, according to The Inquirer Newspaper (Monrovia) - January 15, 2002 Edition:

1. He (Cllr. Brumskine) is not a patriotic Liberian and has recently acquired US citizenship.

2. He (Cllr. Brumskine) has betrayed the confidence reposed in him, therefore, cannot be trusted by anybody to contest the presidency.

3. There is nowhere in the world that a political party is formed out of the country.

4. Cllr. Brumskine and others (Presidential candidates) will not even win a 'village' in Liberia that is why they are talking about dialogue before elections.

5. They have (Joe Wylie, Alhaji Kromah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Charles Bennie) other collaborators in town and we will expose them, even if they are from the NPP or any other party. We will go to court.

6. We will fight if the need arises, for we are all trained commandos and not only legislators.

7. Cllr. Brumskine is not qualified to contest the 2003 elections because he has 'dual citizenship' and lack of 'real estate property'.

8. Anyone (Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe and Cllr. Benedict Sannoh) who defends a criminal is also a criminal.

This is the wisdom of our legislators! How can any person in their right mind make such unsound and unsubstantiated statements? This is the exact thing the PRO's did under Tubman, only this time they do not need to hide even if they are legislators. They remind me of the characters from the "Three Stooges." Perhaps, they are Liberia's Three Stooges talking about things, they have the slightest idea about.

Secondly, the threats to quit the NPP by Party Chief Cyril Allen, is one of their shams to have the Liberian people fooled in believing that "The whole question of the prevention of 'dual citizens from the 2003 election is an old fashion political tactics promulgated by people who have no confidence in their ability to win elections". Those who are familiar with both men say, Chief Allen is too loyal to publicly disagree with Taylor, and that the whole thing was a "Stage Show" whose scripts were written by the "Showman" himself - Taylor. Allen's rebuttal in this case, is "damage control". It is intended to save his boss and the party the embarrassment it has already caused them.

As for those three "Jokers" - if I may borrow Brother HB's reference to individuals of such characters, I doubt that they would be qualified for a position as "messenger" in a serious Liberian government, because they lack the prerequisite to participate in a democratic or civil society that is governed by LAW and ORDER. Instead, they want to return us to Thomas Hobbs' State of Nature" - in which "man is as greedy as animals and will steal whatever he can"; as opposed to John Locke's State of nature, in which "all humans have the right to what they can use, and may protect themselves from the encroachments of others".

Precisely, it is this misunderstanding of natural law that makes these Three Stooges dangerous for civil society. And at this critical point of the transition that our country is going through, it is individuals like these that must be rehabilitated before they become part of civil society; because in their present state of coarse flippancy, their frivolous engagement in political cynicism and character assassination, will do us no good. Moreover, their ignorance of the standards required of individuals in civil society, illustrates that they will naïvely attempt to drag all of us back to Hobbs' "State of Nature" - in which man engages in stealing, lying, violence, and displays stupidity. Therefore, we must avoid these kinds of people who will exchange one extreme for another, because their cynicisms are mere reflections of their lack of vision for our country. Unless, they wish to behave like civilized people, we must make every efforts not to pay them any attention.

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