Taking A Reflection Of The Political Issues At The Recent Bar Association Election

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Perhaps because of my earlier assignments as a reporter assigned at the Legislature and Executive Mansion, along with student activities in the 80’s, I have developed a deeper interest and love in political activities over the years. Obviously, these beats (places of assignment) afforded me the opportunity to know the working of both branches of government, especially the Legislature and made me to be acquainted with many student leaders, or students who were in advocacy and others who were involved in student politics.

The coverage of student politics at one point led me to cover the student council election of the CuttingtonUniversity College (now CuttingtonUniversity) in Suakoko, Bong County in the 80’s. That process was so unique for some reasons with one Samuel Korvah and Herman Browne, whose father was then Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Liberia. After days of politicking and campaigning, Korvah emerged victorious over Herman Browne, now Rev. Dr. Harman Browne, Dean of the Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church on Broad Street. Korvah is said to be in the United States.

At the National Legislature, I learnt a lot from legislative proceedings, especially that which related to confirmation hearings. The one I admired most at the time was the late Tuan Wreh of Grand Krucounty who was feared during confirmation hearings because he did research on the nominees and at some point many where shocked to learn of some of the issues that they raised against some of the nominees. Cllr. Robert Tubman Finance Minister and one Elijah Taylor who was nominated as Planning Minister are living witnesses of this.

At theUniversity of Liberia, which was the nucleus of student politics with the grand-old Student Unification Party (SUP), followed by the Student Integration Movement (SIM) and lastly Student Democratic Alliance (STUDA), I made lots of friends and acquaintances within the student populace, to an extent that some even considered me as a partisan.

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 WuoTappia, PewuZubah, Samuel Kofi Woods, Alaric Tokpa, GardiminarFlomo, LavalaMomolu, Benedict Garlawolo, DugbeNyan, the late TarnueMawolo, Theo Bettie, Edward Farley, Sando Wayne, Tiepo Nah Tiepoh, the late Augustine Nyeswa and MabutuNyenpan.

Others were Edward WessehSavice, Nimely Dennis, OblayonNyemah, Richard Panton, Milton Garbe, Peter Kieh Doe, Elijah Sieh, TikloKonton, Abraham Massalley, Eric Morlu, the late TeahFarcathy, Harris Tekeh, Augustine K. Ngafuan, Christine Baker (now a prophet in the United States) the late Christine Herbert, Thomas Nah Doe, A.B. Kromah, JenebahKamara, Negbalee Warner, JallahDorbor, Thomas Du, Socrates Nimely, the late Karku Sampson, UriasTeh Pour and Samuel Tweh. Let me also say that there is one who I only know by the name, Kokolo, a very argumentative fellow. I really don’t know whether he is still around.

SUP, which has been in leadership for years, only suffered one defeat since then from an independent campaign led by former broadcaster journalist, Kwame Clement, now a lawyer in the United States in 1981. 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. Gongloewhose issue formed part of this piece, as vice standard bearer at the time.

Another historic election was held in 1986 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, as his vice standard bearer. They defeated Mr. Theo Bettie of SIM. Mr. Bettie is now an executive at the Central Bank of Liberia.

Itry to recount some of those I interacted with while reporting on student politics which was very crucial at the time. Besides, during the time of the 1985 general and presidential election, I again followed top political actors, including the late “Teacher” Gabriel William Kpolleh of the Liberia Unification Party (LUP), the late Jackson Doe of the Liberia Action Party (LAP) and the late Dr. Edward Kesselly then of Unity Party (UP). Let me say that at that time, I was then with the DAILY STAR because the Doe governmentclosed down the DAILY OBSERVER prior to the 1985 elections.

Noticeably, that period saw the formation of what was known and styled as the GRAND COALITION, for short, “GRANDCO” that brought those three parties together to protest the results of the elections. It was generally believed that the late Jackson F. Doe of LAP and then a former Senator of Nimba County, won the process, but was robbed of the results that were manipulated by the late Doe who ran on the ticket of the former National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL).

At the time the unfairness was egregiously so glaring that at one point a special committee was named to count the results, sidelining the statutory mandate of the Special Elections Commission (SECOM) then headed by the late Emmett Harmon, who in announcing the results said, they were “Destined by God,”meaning that the Liberian people should accept the results.

I am aware that every time there was an election, there would be certain issues that would crop up to serve as a guide for or against a particular candidate, coalition,camp, or a political party. That was what I observed recently in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County during the special convention of the Liberia National Bar Association, which saw the election of new officers.

Like many other elections, the major concern was the person who will be at the pinnacle of the association which is the presidency of the association. This position saw three persons-TiawonSayeGongloe (138 votes), Koboi Johnson (38 votes) and G. Moses Paegar (144 votes), who defeated his colleagues, in what was described as a highly competitive process.

Indeed, the elections have come and gone. But what were some of the issues that cropped up during the campaigning process? Even with the process being characterized as free, fair and transparent, with the losers conceding, one is still left to wonder what some of the issues raised during the process were.

Let me say that the three candidates were much matured in their two-minute campaign message. But as I listened to campaign managers or supporters in andoutside the Fair Groundwhere the elections took place, two main issues, relating to tribalbackgrounds and regional balance became paramount against Gongloe and Paegar.

Some argued that because the Chief Justice, His Honor Francis SayeKorkpor and the most Senior Associate Justice KabinehJe’neh, both hail from Nimba County, it would not be prudent for the president of the bar to also come from that county. They contended that to have the heads of the top entities of the legal profession- the Supreme Court of Liberia and the National Bar Association of Liberia that encompasses all Liberians in the country, from the “same county,” will not augur well.

The other issue raised at the convention was that the tribal background of candidate Moses Paegar, is a memberof the Bassaethnic group. Some saidthat because the then president of the bar, Cllr. T.C. Gould is a member of the same tribal background as Cllr. Paegar, it would be unwise to elect another Bassa person. I heard someone saying ‘it can be from, Bassa to Bassa.” However, Cllr. Paegar survived that argument, as he was elected.

Conversely, others disagreed with that, citing example on the national scene. They argued that the President and the Speaker, Alex Tyler, hail from the same County- Bomi and that there was nothing wrong with the Chief Justice and Cllr. Gongloe from the same county because President Sirleaf was there when the members of the House of Representatives, knowing that, elected the Speaker and as such, this kind of point against the two counselors was unpersuasive.

For me, I have a different view on these matters because the Bar and the Supreme Court, though comprising lawyers, are two distinct institutions. Appointments to the SupremeCourt are done by the President, in keeping withArticle 54 ( c) which states:”the President shall nominate and, with the consent of the senate appoint the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of subordinate courts.”In the country’s new dispensation about inclusion and collaboration, the Bar has been asked in many instances to recommend individuals. But it is not mandatory and has no legal binding. It is only done based on expediency.

Like the Supreme Court, the Bar is not a court deciding on judicial matters. The main objectives of the Bar, among other things are to promote the science of jurisprudence, advance the cause of legal education, and help maintain the independence of the judiciary; to further secure the passage of legislation that will, from time to time, improve the judicial system and the proper administration for justice in the Republic; to promote fraternal feelings and good fellowship among the members of the Association, and between them and members of Bar Association of foreign countries; to ensure that the ethics of the Legal Profession are strictly observed and adhered to.” It is “to assist in the selection of those to be appointed as judges. The Bar has nothing to do with the President’s decision on the appointment of justices or judges.

Today, I am raising these arguments so that we would be able to distinguish between the functions and objectives of professional bodies and those of the government. I am concerned about this because it has contributed to our national leaders being constrained to act in accordance with this, thereby making certain positions to for certain tribal groups. If a Kru man was heading a ministry of agency and that person leaves, it means another Kru man occupies that post.

Likewise, if a Lorma person was heading an institution and left, another Lorma person should be appointed. At one point the Justice Ministry became a place for Lofa County. Perhaps, if Cllr. Jerome Korkoya of the National Elections Commission (NEC) leaves tomorrow; our leader would be constrained to appoint another person from his county.

Frankly, I support regional-balance, but sometimes the way and manner in which at times bring tribes and regions into politics is not fair. We should consider the individual’s ability, competence and experience for the job. I Rest My Case.