Liberia: Chay-deh dey tok or say Tomondeh! “Book Sense is Not the Only Sense” from the Bassa language

Chief Zanzan Karwor, Head, National Traditional Council of Liberia.

The Samukai affair has played out in the media throughout the year with no seeming end in sight, at least until the intervention of the Zoes of Lofa demanding reasons why their elected senator could not be seated.

They effectively shut down the bridge linking Lofa to Bong County, preventing commuters, logging trucks, and vehicles laden with agricultural produce from leaving Lofa. Clearly, the measure taken by the traditional Zoes/Poro masters caught the government off guard. Denunciations of their action soon followed and flowed freely from officials of this government, particularly from Minister of State Nathaniel McGill.

The Minister questioned and sought reasons or explanations for their intervention in matters considered political. But apparently, Minister McGill forgot to remember that he was at the center of complaints from contestant Botoe Kanneh and her supporters. They alleged that, on the instruction of Minister McGill during the December 2020 midterm senatorial election in Gbarpolu County, the Poro master was called out to intimidate candidate Botoe Kanneh and her supporters, many of whom were non-members of the Poro. 

So, as can be seen, the action of the traditional Zoes in Lofa was not unprecedented. What was unprecedented was the unanimous participation of male and female Zoes from across Lofa County and they appeared united in their demand to have Brownie Samukai, their elected representative, take his seat in the Senate.

By all accounts, the action of the traditional Zoes from Lofa cast the government in a negative light but, more than that, it exposed the weakness of this government.  And officials of this government, starting from what was clearly an embarrassing situation and in an attempt to save face, continued to insist that the matter was in the purview of the Courts and that there was nothing that President Weah could do.

The Courts, by their handling of the matter, served to convey a distinct impression that it was biased and bending to pressure from the Executive. The public held such an impression largely because, in their view, Samukai had fulfilled conditions required of him to make restitution. The people of Lofa rallied to his cause and pledged to raise money to pay on his behalf.

As the record shows, Samukai did pay his portion of the money but his ambition was once again thwarted by a Court decision claiming that he and others were jointly tried and found guilty. But because his co-accused had not paid their portion of the money, the Supreme Court ruled that he could not be seated, meaning he had neither met nor fully satisfied the terms and conditions spelled out by the Court.

According to observers, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The people of Lofa, apparently deciding they had enough of the hauling and pulling, which they believed was politically motivated, decided to act in an unprecedented fashion.

According to a traditional elder (name withheld), a burnt palm leaf, signifying a declaration of war, had been passed from one tribal clan to the other, according to Poro tradition. Further, according to the elder, this was evidenced by the fact that both male and female Zoes from across Lofa had assembled at the bridge in one accord.

In its November 30, 2021 editorial, headlined, “On the Situation in Lofa, the Ball is Now in President Weah’s Court!”, the Daily Observer called on President Weah to address the situation, pointing out that the people of Lofa feel they are being unfairly targeted and that such a perception has roots in the 2017 elections.

Apparently such admonitions were of little import to this government and the standoff continued, with the Government appearing even weaker by the day in the face of an ultimatum demanding an end to the situation by or before the New Year.

Meanwhile, on the heel of media reports suggesting an easing of the standoff came reports of a request by the Traditional Council urging President Weah to grant Brownie Samukai an executive pardon in keeping with powers ascribed to him under Article 59 of the Constitution of Liberia, which reads as follows:

“The President may remit any public forfeitures and penalties suspend and fines and sentences, grant reprieves and pardons, and restore civil rights after conviction for all public offenses, except impeachment.”

From all indications, the Traditional Council, led by its head, Zanzan Karwor, has clearly outfoxed the government catching off guard those officials who have stoutly maintained that President Weah could do nothing to interfere with a matter that is before the Court. Samukai was clearly not impeached. He has already been tried and convicted and, in keeping with Article 59 of the Constitution, the President can exercise this option and have all Samukai’s civil rights restored unto him.

And this is exactly what the Traditional Council of Chiefs through its head, Zanzan Karwor, has called for. Traditional chiefs may not possess the sophistication of our so-called ‘elites’, but this does not mean that they lack intelligence or do not have sense.

As a traditional saying goes, “Book sense is not the only sense”. A traditional chief, speaking to this newspaper in his own words, declared, “it is sense that make book,” meaning that what is written was first conceived in the mind.

What this suggests is that, with all the educated (book) people around President Weah, none of them appears to have read or have strong familiarity with the Constitution in general and in particular, Article 59.

In the opinion of the Daily Observer, Chief Zanzan Karwor has demonstrated an act of statesmanship by offering President Weah a very viable alternative to bring the crisis to an end.

Wise words indeed from the Traditional Council, underscoring the point that “Book Sense is not the only sense”. “Chay-deh de tok or say tomondeh” Book sense is not the only sense”. From the Bassa language.