Monday February 20,  2006

Whatever  else anybody might think, what happens in neighbouring Liberia will always concern some of us Sierra Leoneans. When  life  became dangerous and difficult for some of us in Sierra Leone, it was Liberia that opened her generous doors to us and hosted us until we found ourselves in the United States.   This is apart from the fact that Liberia is a country some of us really love. And even if I had not taken Liberian citizenship, there is one way that my destiny is forever tied up with that country which is why I will always be concerned about what happened there . Some of my children were born in Liberia and by definition, they are Liberian citizens .

My children, after pursuing their education in the U.S.  might decide to return home to Liberia and contribute their quota to the development of their country . Only God knows  where they will chose to live . Though I am  be more inclined to spend the rest of my life in Sierra Leone after retiring in the U.S, I will not dictate   to my children  which of the two counrtries –Liberia or Sierra Leone–they decide to stay. The choice is entirely their’s.

Given this scenerio in my family dynamics, there is no way that I would not be concerned about what happens in Liberia . Every parent wants a better future for  his children and thus I am concerned about the Liberia that my children would love to live. .I am not the only one in these straits.

There were bona fide Liberian citizens who became Sierra Leoneans as a result of similar circumstances and they played a leading role in the governance of the country. The one-time Commissioner of Police of Sierra Leone, Mr. Kaetu Smith was a Kru from Liberia . The head of the Sierra Leone Prisons Department  in the 1970s , Mr. Theophilus Nimneh , was also a Kru from Liberia. The famous Bassa Chief who weilded so much power in Sierra Leone , popular Pa. “Bassa”  Reffel  was a Liberian and he was the father of the famous Liberian broadcasters Jonathan and Victoria Reffel.The wars in the two countries have infact created many, many more people who can now claim to be a part of the respective countries. Liberians have married and settled in Freetown and would no longer  be willing to give up their fufu and bitter leaves for the domboi and palm butter  soup of Liberia.  Similarly , some  Sierra Leoneans have now become Liberians by marriage and they would now prefer only to cheer for Mighty Barrolle or IE  instead of Mighty Blackpool and East End Lions.The recent lawsuit filed by newly-elected President  Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf against a private citizen, Mr. Thomas Woewiyou should concern anyone who loves Liberia because it will not augur well for the country if not handled well. While it is true that Mrs. Sirleaf has the right to defend her reputation and character , it must be taken into consideration  that  she and her government could revive one of the evils that destroyed Liberia–The cult of the big man with the big stick. –if they proceed with this lawsuit.If he suffers any economic loss  as a result of the lawsuit, it is not only Woewiyou who will become scared of the Big Woman with the Big Stick.

While I regret any distortions of the truth  that may be contained in  the Open Letter Woewiyou wrote  Mrs .Sirleaf  , which she found offensive , if at all, and  I also sympathize with Ellen for any slur these might have brought to her character , if at all, I sincerely believe that in the interest of national reconciliation and in the interest of the nation, she has to drop the suit unconditionally and move on with her more tedious and noble task of rebuilding the nation.

When I use the term UNCONDITIONALLY, I am using it in its most lexical and  direct  sense. Woewiyou must not be made to suffer any loss of pride or credibility or self-respect before the suit is withdrawn.  Therefore , the news report in the DAILY INQUIRER  newspaper of Liberia that Woewiyou has been taken to the Executive Mansion by the discredited newly-elected Speaker of the House , Mr. Edwin Snowe where Woewiyou was asked to  apologise to the President,  is disturbing. If true, why should  Woewiyou apologise ? What damaging things did he say that should warrant an apology  ?  Except there are wilful distortions in the letter deliberately designed to damage Ellen’s name, Woewiyou does not have to apologise before the suit is dropped.

The Letter Woewiyou wrote to Mrs. Sirleaf was not personal. It had to do with the national interest. Woewiyou was trying to demonstrate that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf contributed to  the disastrous invasion of Liberia by the then rebel leader, Charles Taylor  in 1989 and that she too is culpable for the deadly consequences of Taylor’s act. Woewiyou demonstrated in the letter how Mrs. Sirleaf consorted even with Woewiyou himself  during the process of the invasion. Secondly, the letter was written under a particular context–An electioneering campaign was going on and Woewiyou  was campaigning for his favoured candidate. In that respect, Woewiyou , by political convention, enjoyed some immunity  from being penalized by state mechanism for statements made in the said  electioneering campaign.  For him to be taken to the mansion to apologise to Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is an undemocratic act that will create another leader with the big stick in Liberia. Does this mean that any citizen who now blows his mind against Mrs. Sirleaf will have to apologise or face a lawsuit ? Is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf a sacred cow that should not be criticised ?

If this is the precedent we want to set again in Liberia, it shows how much we have failed to learn from the past. Liberia was sunk by Big Men with the Big Stick operating from the Executive Mansion. President William R. Tolbert blundered fatally when he weilded his big stick against Gabriel Bacchus Matthews and other leaders of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia ( PAL) , Movement for Justice in Africa ( MOJA ) ,  the students and other radical members. .  Military dictator Samuel K. Doe brought on his own downfall by weilding the big stick against anyone who criticised or opposed him. This plunged the country into the unfortunate war that has left Liberia in ruins. Rebel President Charles Taylor worsened the country’s human rights situation and socio-economic plight by weilding the big stick in every endeavor of his unfortunate rule. After all we have suffered, are we now trying to create a Big woman with the Big Stick in the mansion ?

\Citizens have the inalienable right to speak out their minds against candidates during electioneering campaigns. They also enjoy the constitutional liberty to criticise the President when he or she comes to power. The President too, if he/she is serious about democratic and transparent governance , must place no hinderances before citizens in the unfettered exercise of their rights to free speech . For a citizen to be taken to the mansion to apologise to the President for statements made in an electioneering campaign is an indication of the fact that some people want to reinstitute the cult of the Big Man with the Big Stick once again in Liberia.

It is hoped that Edwin Snowe and other opportunists who have been extremely lucky to find themselves in the new government will spare us another Big Man with the Big Stick in the Executive Mansion.  Woewiyou has no business apologising unless he wrote wilful lies that were designed to ruin the character of Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf.


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