Even though the commemoration of President Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ birthday as a holiday was observed with all business places closed, little is known of the importance of the occasion in Nimba County.
On local radio talk shows, many citizens advised the government to abolish the celebration of this holiday, because they said it lacks importance to society as J. J. Roberts did not do anything that can be talked about.
There were no special events held in his memory in towns and villages around Nimba County. Business places were partially open during the morning hours, but by afternoon, Gompa City Inspectors were seen going around closing the partially opened businesses.
Some of the callers said the government should not celebrate the birthdays of the individual presidents (J. J. Roberts and William V. S. Tubman) separately, but instead create one memorial day for all the presidents of Liberia.
“I am not interested in any of these celebrations, especially like J. J. Roberts or William V. S. Tubman, because they hinder the movement of business,” Saye Lakpor, a caller said on Radio Saclepea.
“Why are we celebrating J. J. Roberts’ birthday?” inquired Paul, a businessman. “What really did he do that’s worth remembering?”
Every business activity in the county was stalled, with even commercial motorcycle riders complaining of lack of passengers. As one rider put it, “this holiday is too hard compared to other holidays. People are not moving like on other holidays when people go around visiting friends and loved ones, so then why are we celebrating it?” he asked.
Despite the complaints, in Saclepea, the Old Timers of Saclapea held a friendly soccer encounter with officers of the Liberia National Police to commemorate the birthday of Liberia’s first President, who was also the first President of an African nation.
The key reason for people downplaying the celebration of this day is because the government failed to organize a national occasion that could be symbolically celebrated in every provincial capital, one of the callers said.
“Our people are not informed about the important role our first president played; even who he really was; what he did during and after the declaration of independence in 1847,”the caller added.
President Joseph Jenkins Roberts was born in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, in 1809. He came to Liberia at the age of 20 in 1829, along with his mother and brothers.
Before becoming a politician, upon their arrival in Liberia he became a merchant, involved in exporting ivory, palm products and camwood. In 1838, he became a sheriff in charge of the militia to collect taxes from the indigenous people and to resist the rebellion that originated from that exercise.
He was later appointed as deputy governor to Governor Thomas Buchanan, who was then governor of the American Colonization Society (ACS), and upon his death, Roberts succeeded him as Governor of Buchanan.
Roberts advocated intensely for Liberia’s independence, and in 1847 Liberia gained her independence. On October 5, 1847, Governor Roberts was elected the first President of Liberia and was sworn into office on January 3, 1848.
President Joseph Jenkins Roberts was again elected as President, when Edwin James Roye was deposed from office, owing to cancelation of elections and during this time also Liberia was facing a financial crisis.
Prior to his death on February 24, 1876, President Roberts turned over US$10,000 and an estate to the Liberia Education System for the education of the poor.