Avoiding Mistakes Of The Past: The Case Of Cyril Allen And The Essence Of Freedom Of Speech

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

While Liberians were on Monday, August 18, (the day the Peace Accord was signed in Accra, Ghana) celebrating the “Decade of Peace” throughout the country, there was report that the Liberia National police had invited the former Chairman of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr. Cyril Allen for consultation on a recent statement he made.

Even though the report, which was published in some newspapers yesterday, did not say what state, it was apparently based on his recent utterances, calling on the President of Liberia, Madam Sirleaf to resign and give way to Vice President Ambassador Joseph Boakai to complete her second term because she“failed” the Liberian people. Additionally, Mr. Allen, reportedly threatened that if she does not resign, he would be constrained to achieve his goal.

Initially, I got to know about Mr. Allen’s utterances when I listened to the Truth Breakfast Show that the former NPP Chairman  Mr. Allen, who sometimes is referred to as “’Chief Allen,” called on President Sirleaf to resign, and allow Vice President Joseph Boakai to end her term as President.  What was more disturbing was his reported comment that he called on all “former combatants” and political parties to join him in his effort.

Shortly upon hearing about this, I wrote an article, mainly differing with the former party chairman for threatening to use ex-combatants because of the security implication. In fact, his party’s Chairman Cllr. T. C. Gould, who was contacted by the main host of the program, Mamade Diakite, distanced the party from its former chairman’s utterances.

In that article, I noted that Mr. Allen was not the first person calling for the resignation of President Sirleaf.  But my main concern as is stated then, was the call by the former chairman to former combatants to join him in his efforts to have the President to resign because I saw that as an attempt to take us back to the ugly past, where lawlessness was the order of the day.

At the time, I wondered why someone like Allen would want to get these former combatants in such a matter, when the Liberian Constitution is succinctly clear on such a matter. I said by threatening to call former combatants, is tantamount to doing things outside the law and I maintained that if Allen feels that the President has done something unconstitutionally, why not revert to the very constitution; or if he feels that she has not lived to expectation, why doesn’t he wait for elections to make a decision?

As expected, there were mixed reactions to his utterances. Some citizens took the former party leader to task, while others supported his call for similar reasons he stated. A senator who differed with him said he has no moral ground to make such a call, something the former chairman responded to.

This piece is not intended to repeat what was written in my precious article, but to comment on the report that the Liberian national police invited this man for consultation. What really got me concerned was an interview with the Director of Police, Col. Chris Massaquoi by the Super Morning Show of the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBA) yesterday morning on the issue. The Director confirmed the report that the police invited Mr. Allen for “consultation,” all relative to his recent statement. Although he said Mr. Allen was neither arrested nor detained, the police was consulting him on the issue.

What was more scaring was the statement of the Director that such utterance is treasonable. Shortly after his interview, LBS Super Morning Show News Brief, reported how Mr. Allen might be charged with treason, based on comments from the Director.

For me, I see this as troubling at this time when we are trying to avoid some of the mistakes of the past that contributed to years of conflict. One of the stupid (sorry for the use of this adjective) mistakes past leaders, especially the late Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor made in this country was to arrest, detain and to put people on trial for statements made.

This serious mistake by these past leaders created unnecessary heroes, heroines and politicians. Besides these arrests and detentions, as well as trials, gave unnecessary, undue and undeserving publicity and popularity to individuals, institutions and groups.

More importantly, these kinds of actions also cause these individuals involved in such situation to benefit from what is known in mass communication, as “Status Conferral,” which refers to constant reporting on individuals involved in some issues always give them a special place in the mind of the people. In other words, it makes people to treat these kinds of people differently, sometimes with high respect and regard because of the constant publicity.

Irrefutably, this has been seen in the Liberian society because of this stupid mistake (sorry again for this word) by some of our past leaders. Today, the issue of freedom of the press and freedom of speech are two of the important things that Liberians can brag about under this regime. Therefore, any attempt to engage in any act such as treason, would undermine this and project a negative image of this country to the outside world.

In the case of Mr. Allen who called for the resignation of the President and reportedly threatened to use former combatants to achieve his goal, the best the government can do if it so desires, is to react, rather than seeking to charge him with treason, something we condemned in the past.

In all sincerity, this government, whose leader, President Sirleaf,  once suffered from some of these stupid (sorry again for the word) mistakes, cannot be seen making the same mistakes because someone said something that we disagree with. In the exercise of freedom of speech we do not necessarily have to agree with what people say, but must respect their rights to speak out. Sometimes we have to swallow the bitter pills. Even if it is nonsense or irrationality, as we may see it, we have to swallow these pills to move forward and for freedom of speech to flourish.

While I do not agree with Mr. Allen’s reported threat to use former fighters, I respect his right to speak out. Once again, we must not repeat mistakes of the past such as charging people unnecessarily with treason. Let the government leave Cyril Allen alone. Again I say in the Liberian way; leave Cyril Allen alone yah! A hint to the wise is quite sufficient. I Rest my Case.