…. Offering tuition to impoverished communities in exchange for getting Weah re-elected while laundering his sanctioned image
By Claudia Smith
“When I had the opportunity to get into government, I knew that poor parents needed help. And since my office had the ability to help, I used my office to help people.”
These are the words of former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, at the launch of his Margibi Scholarship Program last weekend, through which he paid for the public school tuition of about 20,000 Liberian students across the county, especially in Kakata.
Speaking at the Rock International Church of Jesus Christ, located in Duazohn, McGill clarified that the initiative is not of personal interest or desire, but alleged that, given his background as a student who once had to struggle to attend public school, he is driven to be compassionate towards mothers who struggle to afford an education for their children.
“What we are doing is not for ourselves or to get rich. But we do it for the country’s humanity and the fact that we want to serve you,” he said.
According to McGill, it was his mother who transformed his life. Adding that she had to do everything to make sure that he succeeded in school after his father passed away in 1980.
“I lived with my mom until I was 50 years old. So I take women's interest very seriously,” he claimed.
McGill has been on this ‘scholarship donation’ drive for several months now, offering to pay tuition for impoverished school kids and refurbish schools across the country, albeit with a caveat — that those families and communities benefiting from his benevolence do everything in their power to elect President George M. Weah to a second term in 2023.
It would have appeared that his wings got clipped in August this year, when the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated McGill and two other senior Liberian government officials, Sayma Syrenius Cephus and Bill Twehway, for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.
McGill was designated for being a foreign person and, at the time, a current Liberian government official who was responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Since the sanctions were announced on August 15, McGill has insisted on his innocence, claiming that he has never been involved in corruption, nor can his accusers prove corruption allegations against him.
In fact, he claims that detractors have been committing acts of corruption in his name, which has landed him in the unfortunate situation he finds himself — designated for sanction under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act.
But barely a week before the sanctions designations were announced against him and his two colleagues, McGill told a group of people in Bong County that stealing money and spending it on the Liberian people, instead of spending it abroad “is a good thing”.
“... Even if I was stealing the money and giving it to the Liberian people, that is a good thing I was doing,” he boasted. “Because at least I’m not stealing it and carrying it in Europe. Some people in this country here, all the government [from] Ellen Johnson Sirleaf time, they can’t say they did not make money. But we take our own of money — the small money we make — we go to our people in the county and build houses, some of them vex… So I’m supposed to take the money and carry it to Ghana, correct?"
The crowd answers, a hapless “No." He also claimed that one of the reasons why he was sanctioned by the US Treasury as it relates to the corruption of public funds, is because of his need to want to help ‘poor parents' and send their children to school. Misappropriation, that is.
‘Doing good no matter what’
But McGill appears unfazed by the sanctions, continuing to spend loads of cash wherever he can pull a crowd — and as long as he keeps spending, they keep coming. McGill said he believes that Liberians deserve help. And that the government has the power to provide help for them. “The government is big, but because of politics, anything you do people will criticize. You have to be determined to do good things no matter what,” he added.
He alleged that he does not give money to people that he knows personally, but was giving money to the system. McGill over the weekend disclosed that the Liberian government has decided to make second-semester education for public students free.
“Because the President knows our parents can’t afford to send kids to a school, the government has decided to make this next budget, second-semester education, free,” he assured.
It’s a classic Robin Hood effect — owning up to misappropriating government funds to help poor people. And they praise him for it, to the point of wanting to elevate him to a new position of power.
Since it is McGill himself who has been moving about middle-Liberia, bearing gifts and tidings, the prospect of him being petitioned for elective office is not far-fetched. In fact, people across a number of counties, including Gbarpolu, Bong, and Margibi counties, have pledged to give him their massive support if he would run in either county in the senatorial election.
Since Margibians by the thousands has petitioned Nathaniel McGill to partake in the 2023 senatorial elections, ‘Team McGill 2023’ an exploratory committee looking into his elective office prospects, has had enormous engagements. Mainly supporters from the first, third, fourth, and fifth electoral districts of Margibi County have handed pledges to McGill, who they say is fit to bring on the development changes that they said their county needs.
Citizens have complained that they are tired of their county being in darkness and, with an undeveloped school system, these are areas of need that Nathaniel McGill has already begun focusing on, among other things — hence the Margibi Scholarship Program, having already paid school admission fees for 20,000 children.
Women in Margibi County have started putting themselves together in groups, saying that they decided to “stand in the gap amid the corruption allegations against McGill” and pray for development and empowerment.
“We need development, empowerment and our conditions improved,” the women said. “We want our kids in school so we petitioned him here, rather than in Bong or Gbarpolu,” they shared.
One of the women group leaders, known as Miatta, of the R2 community, said Margibians are desperate for leadership. Never mind the fact that McGill is not even domiciled in Margibi and should not be eligible to run in that county. However, as far as the Margibi women are concerned, his residence, which is actually in Paynesville, is located just near the edge of Montserrado County, before entering Margibi. And for them, that’s about good enough, though it does not work that way.
McGill, who appears to be basking in such tremendous support by women, hails originally from Lofa county, a piece of which was later carved away to become Gbarpolu County. But he said he migrated to Monrovia in 1980, after his father’s death.
“For eight years we have not been [under] good leadership. We cried for his seat and he listened to us and committed to us. This will lead him to be senator,” said Miatta, speaking of McGill.
Another group of over 500 members, calling themselves Redemption Women, said they have given him all of their support.
“If we show our support for you, we are for you; and there’s no turning back,” they said. “We assure you we are not betrayers. When we stand for something, we stand for it. We are your women and pray you will work along with us,” they said.
McGill said he has no intention of running for senator, although his donations in Bong and Margibi counties give Liberians the stark impression that his appearance on the ballot cannot be ruled out. He insists he has absolutely no desire to contest, then leaves a clue that he just might: “I have faith in what we are about to do, but we have to be united into it. For us to win, we have to work full-time. I truly believe we can do it. I believe you are genuine in your support, and I thank you,” McGill added.
Only time will tell.