By Kenyahk Best
Chea Cheapoo, who was appointed the first Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the government of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) immediately following the April 12 coup d’etat in 1980, turned out to be one of that government’s most vicious officials and the lead persecutor of the Daily Observer newspaper.
Now he has gone the way of all men—he died in Monrovia on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
We say lead persecutor of the Daily Observer because within scarcely two and a half months after the launching of this first Liberian independent daily, Cheapoo, as the PRC’s first Justice Minister and Attorney General, one morning in April 1981, summoned the newspaper’s publisher and managing director to the Justice Ministry and blasted him for one and a half hours as Mr. Best was seated in the Minister’s office, entirely surrounded by soldiers with guns.
This vicious attack occurred following an article we had published that day entitled, “Justice Minister to Face Law Suits?,” written by one of the newspaper’s young reporters, K. Neville A. Best.
K. Neville had found his way into the Central Prison at Center Street, South Beach and interviewed several individuals whom the Justice Minister had imprisoned for several months without charge or trial in connection with some dubious land issue.
The imprisoned individuals told Reporter Best that they had been illegally imprisoned by the Justice Minister without charge or trial, which was unconstitutional. They, therefore, told the reporter they would sue the Justice Minister immediately following their release from prison.
The Daily Observer’s headline on Wednesday morning, April 1, 1981, ran: “Justice Minister to Face Lawsuits?”
That Wednesday morning Justice Minister Cheapoo summoned the Daily Observer publisher to his office and not only blasted the publisher for an hour and a half, but ended with this threat: “The next time you publish an article like that about me, I will hunt you down from door to door and shoot you!”
The Justice Minister demanded that the entire incident, which took place before television cameras, be televised that night. And the Minister of Information, a spineless man named Peter Naigow, could not tell the Justice Minister it would be unwise to air on television his threat to shoot a journalist. The episode was indeed televised that same week and it terrified the Liberian people. Many people later told us they were leaving the country because they feared living in a place where a journalist could be threatened with murder by the Minister of Justice himself.
But what pleased the television audience that night of the broadcast was that Kenneth Y. Best, whose life had been threatened, remained silent and smiling throughout Minister Cheapoo’s harangue (rant, tirade).
Mrs. Gertylue Brewer later told Mr. Best that she and her eighty- year-old mother, Mrs. Marco Prout,were seated at home and the old lady sat through Minister Cheapoo’s blast terrified. Gertulue said her mother kept praying that Mr. Best would not open his mouth to say anything, and she was very pleased and relieved that the journalist said not a word, but just sat there smiling.
But Minister Cheapoo was not yet finished with the Observer. The following day he again summoned Mr. Best and ordered him to bring immediately to the Justice Ministry “all those foreigners you got working there.”
That same day Mr. Best returned with the three foreigners, a Ghanaian layout editor and his compatriot, a reporter, and a Nigerian proofreader.
Utterly without due process of law, Justice Minister Cheapoo ordered them immediately imprisoned, and demanded that the Observer newspaper feed them three meals a day while in prison. In addition, the newspaper was to pay a fine of US$500 each for the three gentlemen for working without work permits—which the management was still working on. But that was not all: Cheapoo also demanded the Observer management arrange immediately for air tickets for the three men to be deported back to Ghana and Nigeria, respectively.
On Friday evening of that same week, at around five o’clock, when all the banks were now closed, the Justice Minister sent Immigration Officers to the Observer office with orders that Mr. Best pay immediately the money for the three men’s fines—US$1,500, as well as the US$2,000 for their air tickets. The immigration officers had orders to hold Mr. Best until every cent of that money was paid!
Unfortunately for Mr. Cheapoo, he could not fulfill his burning desire to imprison Kenneth Y. Best.
Cheapoo did not know that he was dealing with a child of God who was loved dearly and protected by his Maker.
Mr. Best’s brother-in-law, Mr. J. Mamadee Dorbor, husband of Mr. Best’s younger sister Genevieve Best Dorbor, was in the Observer yard on Broad Street, Crown Hill to pick up his wife, who he thought was there waiting for him after work. In the boot of Mr. Dorbor’s car was over US$3,000 which he had just withdrawn from the bank to purchase building materials the following morning, Saturday, to continue work on their home they were building.
Mr. Dorbor asked the immigration officers whether they would issue the Observer management an official flag receipt upon payment of the money they were demanding. They replied yes.
Mr. Dorbor told them the money would be immediately paid and the immigration officers led us to the Immigration Bureau on Center Street. There, Mamadee Dorbor went to the boot of his car and took out all the money the immigration officers were demanding!
And guess what: Justice Minister Cheapoo was still in his office when the transaction was completed at around six forty five Friday evening. The immigration officers called to inform him that the Observer had paid all the money and he told them to let Mr. Best go.
A few days later the Justice Ministry deported the two Ghanaians and the Nigerian back to their countries.
Cheapoo did not limit his viciousness to the Observer. Long before then, indeed shortly after the 1980 coup, he one day visited the Post Stockade where most of the officials of the deposed Tolbert government were imprisoned, all of them half naked and on the prison floor. As the erratic and cruel Justice Minister walked through this maximum security prison, where all these once-honorable men were seated, he remarked, “Now it’s we who are f**king the cat.”
Cheapoo was still enjoying his perceived sense of invincibility when, one early September morning (1981), he ordered to the Justice Ministry the Director General of the National Security Agency, Mr. Sylvester Moses. The Justice Minister ordered Mr. Moses stripped to his briefs and imprisoned.
When the Head of State, Doe, heard what had happened to Director General Moses, he immediately sent for Minister Cheapoo.
The Minister could not wait for his chauffeur to return from a call of nature. Cheapoo drove himself to the Executive Mansion. People saw him speeding to the Mansion in his Mercedes, with siren on. When he got there, he was not even favored with meeting the Head of State. He was informed in the corridors of the Executive Mansion of his immediate dismissal.
The Daily Observer’s headline the following morning was the biggest we had ever carried—72 points font size. It ran, ‘CHEAPOO FIRED’.
Not long after that, Chea Cheapoo left the country for the United States, the country from which his wife hailed. No one heard of him for over a year until one day he sent a letter to the Daily Observer, which we published under the headline, “Chea Cheapoo Breaks Silence”.
Sometime later he returned to the country and, for reasons known only to Samuel Doe himself, he appointed Cheapoo Chief Justice of Liberia. He was scarcely six months on this great new job when Cheapoo accused Head of State Doe of bribery. So angry was Doe that he ordered that Cheapoo be impeached.
The same evening of Doe’s announcement, guess who appeared at the Daily Observer front window begging us to publish his resignation letter as Chief Justice—you guessed it—Chea Cheapoo.
The intent of the resignation letter was to forestall impeachment. But Samuel Doe was unmoved. He went ahead with his plea with the Legislature to impeach Chief Justice Chea Cheapoo.
After sometime Doe got his wish. The Legislature impeached Chea Cheapoo as Chief Justice.
Sometime later Counsellor Chea Cheapoo decided to open a law firm. And to whom did he come pleading for coverage for the opening of the law firm? The Daily Observer.
Of course we obliged and promised to send our court reporter to cover the opening of the Cheapoo law firm. But that did not satisfy Mr. Cheapoo. He pleaded with me to attend the opening in person.
I begged out of it because I had other engagements that Friday evening. But Cheapoo pleaded with me to be present for the opening of his law firm. So I went to the Johnson Street office at five o’clock that evening.
We waited and waited, but no lawyer showed up. Counsellor Cheapoo then told me he could not understand why his colleagues were not there yet; he said that by six thirty all court matters should have long ended. “So where are the lawyers, Mr. Best?”
I told the counsellor I thought he knew his colleagues better than I did.
We waited until 8 p.m. and no lawyer showed up. There were only four of us in the entire office—Counsellor Chea Cheapoo, his wife, Mrs. Chea Cheapoo, my reporter and I.
We leave it to the reader to determine for himself and herself what had really happened—why Counsellor Chea Cheapoo’s colleagues did not honor his invitation to the opening of his law firm.