Archie Ponpon: “I Wanted to Die”

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Archie Leproy Ponpon at his residence in West Point

Leroy Archie Ponpon, the activist and employee of the Temple of Justice who set himself ablaze last year over claims of ill-treatment of judicial staffers, has disclosed that he regrets surviving his self-immolation instead of dying as his plan was to set a precedent against bad labor practice.  

Ponpon explained that the idea to self-immolate came about due to the writ of arrest issued against him by the attorney general of Montserrado County and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia due to his role to lead his colleagues to protest against unpaid salary arrears.

 “My only regret is why I am still alive. My plan was to kill myself, but when my friends came to my rescue, I knew there was a bigger picture for me. But for me, I wanted to die. If that had happened, I would have not seen trouble again. My plan was to die and I regret that did not happen,” Archie added.

It can be recalled that Archie on November 2, 2020, immolated himself after months of leading protests against the Judiciary for owing staffers 12 months of the Liberian Dollar component of their salaries. However, things turned sour for him once an arrest warrant was issued for him, due to claims that he insulted the judicial leadership during the course of the protest and was threatened with termination of employment.

Prior to setting himself ablaze, Ponpon complained that lawyers refused to represent him, owing to fear of retaliation by the Chief Justice against those who dared represent him. At one point during the protest, Ponpon laid flat under the back tire of Chief Justice Korkpor’s vehicle a few days after him, along with other workers who had staged a protest in which the Liberia National Police brutalized some of them.

According to Ponpon, after so many months of protest, he came to the realization that it was not going to call attention and therefore he needed to do something different that would prompt the government to act swiftly.

“I wasn’t afraid of going to jail, but I wanted to do something that will make this government do something urgently. Moreover, going to jail would not have caused much attention. But if I had died, then the government could have given much attention to staffers’ situation,” Ponpon noted.

Ponpon, who was discharged from the John F. Kennedy Hospital months back, credits the hospital’s senior staff, including Dr. Jerry Brown, for saving his life.  He disclosed that Dr. Brown rescued him from imminent danger by performing a lifesaving surgery on his neck which allows him to breathe as his neck was clogging.

“But the hospital is challenged. They do not have the necessary equipment to continue my treatment,” Ponpon added. “This is frustrating but the government will not act to solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, Ponpon has expressed his disappointment in the government for promising to take care of his medical bills—a promise he claims they have failed to fulfill, despite numerous appeals to do so.

 “The government had no business to say what they had to say,” Ponpon added. “Their promise stopped others from coming in to help me after I burnt myself. After being hospitalized, my father was asked to have a press conference to call the attention of the government to intervene, but since then, they have not come to his aid. So others who wanted to help stayed away on grounds that the government will give all necessary supports,” he said.

According to the Ponpon family, Archie’s bills at JFK over the last two weeks during the course of his treatment was something that the family could not afford.

“When we asked for the bill, they told us that the President has already taken care of it. However, while the total figure has not yet been given us, we have been told that it is something huge,” Ponpon’s father added.

Ponpon further said that Dr. Brown has promised him that by the end of this month, a surgeon will come to Liberia to perform his surgery, but he is afraid that the government might renege on the promise.

He added that the government also promised to put his children on scholarship as well as take care of his medical bills, a statement that prompted him to get an express passport with the hope that he would have been sent out of the country for advanced medical attention.

Ponpon added that his father received US$2,000 from Chief Justice Francis Korkpor as his contribution towards his treatment, which he said he appreciated but that the amount was not enough to underwrite the cost of plastic surgery.

“We received US$2,000 for the plastic surgery after the government has promised to handle the situation along with my children, but only to hide behind US$2,000 dollars. The fire damaged my entire system; so every time the sore heals, my mouth closes. As the sore gets to heal, the muscle contracts and JFK does not have the medical equipment to restore me back to normality, “ he said.

 “I am unable to pass food through my mouth to eat. Even a teaspoon cannot enter my mouth. Doctors have advised that if the surgery is not done, I will not be able to talk again,” Ponpon explained. “I set myself ablaze after being notified that I was going to jail. If I was going to go jail, I stand a chance of losing my pay and other benefits. They wanted me arrested simply because the judiciary feels I have caused a riot.”

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