By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
In September this year, I wrote an article, entitled: ‘Reflecting On My Interaction with Past Liberian Students’ Leaders/Activists,” in which I recounted my interaction with former student leaders and student activists. In that piece, I said that, while working with the Daily Observer one of the groups over the years that I interacted with as a reporter and editor in the 80’s and also after the civil conflict in the 90’s onward, was the student populace, especially those who were in charge of students’ leadership and others who were responsible to speak on behalf of students. Some of the students fell in trouble with the military regime for this advocacy and activism.
My admiration for the students was not only based on the issue of news reporting, but because of the level of academic excellence, research on topical issues and reasoning whenever there were discussions, as most of them were oratory and even good at rhetorics, to an extent that wherever any of them appeared, they attracted many persons to listen. They attracted many persons, at the circular palaver hut on the main campus of the University of Liberia. Besides, another important aspect of this group, especially those from the Student Unification Party (SUP), was the camaraderie that existed among them for which they developed a common identity of referring to themselves as “Bo” (a Sierra Leonean slang which means, friend) whenever they met.
The first group of students came from the SUP, followed by those from the Student Integration Movement (SIM), which was organized to break the oligarchy of the SUP that had been in power for years, except for one defeat from an independent camp led in the early 80’s. As I said earlier, the party only suffered one defeat since then from an independent campaign in 1981 led by former broadcast-journalist, Kwame Clement, now a lawyer in the United States. Mr. Clement’s vice standard bearer was the former Muslim scholar Abdullah Tunis, founder of the Repentant Muslim Group in Liberia. During that election, which was the first after the 1980 military coup, SUP featured one Emmanuel N’ Singbe as its standard bearer and Tiawon S. Gongloe as vice standard bearer.
I recall that some of the many students that I interacted with or others whose activities I followed as student leaders and activists during and after the military regime, as well as the civil conflict were the late Wuo Tappia, Pewu Zubah, Samuel Kofi Woods, Alaric Tokpa, Gardiminar Flomo, Lavala Momolu, Benedict Garlawolo, Dugbe Nyan, the late Tarnue Mawolo, now the Theo Bettie, Edward Farley, Sando Wayne, Tiepo Nah Tiepoh, the late Augustine Nyeswa and Mabutu Nyenpan.
Others were Oblayon Nyemah, Richard Panton, Milton Garbe, Peter Kieh Doe, Elijah Sieh, Tiklo Konton, Abraham Massalley, Eric Morlu, the late Teah Farcathy, Harris Tekeh, Augustine K. Ngafuan, Boima Metzegar, Christine Baker (now a prophet in the United States) Christine Herbert, Thomas Nah Doe, A.B. Kromah, Jenebah Kamara, Varfley Dorley, Kiatama, Nagbalee Warner, Jallah Dorbor, Thomas Duo, Socrates Nimely, the late Karku Sampson, Urias Teh Pour and Samuel Tweh. Let me also say that there is one who I only know by the name, Kokolo, a very argumentative and loquacious fellow. I really don’t know whether he is still around.
As stated before, because I built strong ties with this group of people in my news gathering and reporting activities, we developed a strong bond of friendship and were so intertwined, to an extent that they relied on me whenever they wanted something published in the DAILY OBSERVER, which was the leading independent newspaper in the country. Interestingly, at that time, I was older than some of these student leaders and activists, for which they referred to me as “big brother,” or “senior brother.” Even today, some of them still felicitously refer to me that way.
As I reminiscent about my activities as a cub reporter, later a senior reporter and now an editor for the past 30 years, this interaction with students and student politics was not only circumscribed to Monrovia because I still remember that during one of the electoral processes at the then Cuttington College, now Cuttington University I covered that election in 1986. During that time, the now Dean of the Trinity Cathedral on Broad Street, Herman Brown and one S. J. Korbah contested, following which Korbah emerged victorious.
Today, I try to reiterate what I said in September because of the home-going of scholar Theo Bettie, one of the many student leaders I interacted with in the 80’s. On many occasions, “Theo,” as I affectionately referred to him visited the offices of the Daily Observer on Crown Hill to discuss some student politics on the campus of the University of Liberia.
Theo Bettie, now deceased, ran on the ticket of the Student Integration Movement (SIM), as its first standard bearer in the 1986 historic election, after a protracted ban on student politics by the then military government of the late Samuel K. Doe. At the time, Samuel Kofi Woods of SUP emerged victorious, with Larry Younquoi, (now a Representative for Nimba County) as his vice standard bearer. Theo Bettie, a graduate of Monrovia College (MC), known as the “Monkeys” was defeated in that process. Cllr. Boima Kontoe, now of the Civil Law Court, was Theo’s vice standard bearer.
During my interaction with this fallen young man, l found him to be a studious and a determined person. Predictably, from my interaction and with this then young student, I knew that after his first degree he would pursue further studies. This is why I was not surprised when I heard that he had been awarded a scholarship to go abroad to do his masters. When I speak of scholarship, it is not the mockery and mediocrity that we are doing here today by awarding every Dick, Tom and Harris scholarships. I am talking about those scholarships, and not student aid, that were based on competence and qualification. Today, it is shameful that we do not know the difference between scholarships and students’ aid.
Several years later, I met Theo in Ecobank. He was the one that recognized me and introduced himself to me and said that he was back home doing some work at the Central Bank of Liberia. Years later, I heard that he has been promoted as Deputy Governor of the bank. This, I was so happy about because I felt that this would send a positive signal to present student leaders that one can do the activism, and at the same time prepare himself or herself for future challenges.
Again, let me say that those days, these students’ leaders and activists also socialized and intellectualized, yet one thing they did not take for joke was their studies. Today, if these present young people want to be useful and productive future leaders, they must learn from the examples of those who once served in those positions. Should one do an assessment of those past leaders, as some of the names have been mentioned in this piece, it would become “unequivocally” clear that they are in high positions in both the public and private sectors. I use the word “unequivocally” because it was commonly used in some of their press releases and statements those days.
As we mourn the home going of this young man, let us be reminded that it is not how long you live, but what you were about to achieve while alive. Today, his schoolmates, classmates at both MC and the University of Liberia can attest to the fact that he was a smart, studious and serious-minded person who took his studies seriously, for which he excelled in life. As a young person to get the position of Deputy Governor of the country’s Central Bank, this is a great preferment and honor.
Theo has left his footprints on the sand of time. Let us all now remember that while we are alive, let us advance ourselves and work while it is day because no one knows when night (death) cometh. With heavy heart, I say to this junior brother, REST IN PEACE. YOU HAVE PLAYED YOUR PART WELL IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. I Rest My Case.