“Educated people and intellectuals did not fail Liberia; greedy and selfish individuals did.”
Renowned Liberian Human Rights Activist and former Minister of Labor, Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, has said that Liberia’s democracy is still vulnerable and constantly threatened by leadership deficits which have plagued the nation. In spite of criticisms of this view, Woods said, “I held that to be true (in the past) and do so now.”
The Judiciary As a Beacon of Hope
With the growing tension and discontent provoked by the electoral impasse emanating from the recent October 10 presidential and legislative elections currently before the Supreme Court, Atty. Woods declared that the only hope for the country now lies with the highest court.
“Our hope ultimately lies in our judiciary, which must now redeem our country. God give us men and women whose integrity will be unblemished, whose love for the nation will be tested and whose faith in you will lead them to give purpose and meaning of their existence,” he implored.
He urged Liberians to respect the rule of law. The pursuit of no man’s ambition is worth a drop of human blood,” he cautioned.
Speaking at the induction ceremony for officers of the Liberia Federation of Labor Unions yesterday in Monrovia, Atty. Woods said, “After years of elusive peace, tenuous transitional justice (the Truth and Reconciliation process) and cosmetic national reconciliation, our attempt to consolidate our democratic credentials is under threat because we failed to properly reform our institutions.”
“Educated people and intellectuals did not fail Liberia. It is greedy and selfish individuals who did. Educated or not, if you have no values, no integrity and no love for country, it will make no difference, Woods declared. “The value we place on materialism and wealth corrupts us and denies our nation of what it deserves,” he pointed out apparently making the case against ascribing blame along tribal and other divisions in the Liberian society.
Woods warned that Liberia cannot continue to be a problem child in the ECOWAS region and on the African continent. “We must grow up and become responsible adults taking care of each other and building our nation,” he counseled.
“No leader however patriotic will save our country individually. It will be our collective will to reform, love for one another and love for country,” Woods admonished.
He observed that “We undermine our institutions and compromise them. We use them for personal rather than collective ends,” urging, “We must serve our government because in service to government we perform the highest moral responsibility. However, this must be done with the highest degree of commitment and integrity. Government is often seen as the center for exploitation and ill-gotten wealth.”
“People’s desperation is not to serve but to acquire wealth at the sufferings and agony of our people. This is also true for our various organizations. Our reference to leadership deficit is not limited to the Presidency but at all levels of society: our family, religious institutions, professional bodies, etc.,” Woods stated.
“My fellow compatriots, the complexities our nation face will not require cosmetic solutions,” he said, noting that it requires radical and deliberate attempts to fulfill the ideals of nationhood. “It will lie in a responsible leadership not led by those in the shadows.
He said Liberians have failed to build strong and viable institutions because “we continue to glorify personalities. Our political, social and economic institutions have become small cartels of motley individuals whose sole purpose is to exploit our people and abuse their innocence.”
Woods boasted that he left government unblemished. “I served in two capacities in government and I challenge all and sundry about my stewardship. I am on record as the only living Minister whose term at the Ministry of Public Works was audited twice and yet stand tall without any scar of abuse of the public trust.”
He said, “I have the patience and time not to be confronted by gossips and rumors but facts and evidence that can be contested in the proper forum deemed by law.”
Liberia’s problem, he said, is being compounded by new elements of tribal and group affiliations rather than the quality and value of the character. “Honest men and women have become enemies of the state. Here lies the Liberian Problem and here lies the problem of organized labor in Liberia.
On The Economic Front
On the economic front, Woods said people depend on work to fulfill their need for income to better their lives and the lives of their families, to escape poverty, ignorance, and disease, enjoy recreation and achieve status. Work also involves the production or creation of things that make life better and more fulfilling.
“This is why we insisted on the need to review our labor laws and provide decency in the workplace. This is why social dialogue among workers, government, and employers remain a viable vehicle for progress.
“It is my thesis that workers in Liberia continue to suffer the wrath of poverty and treated with a large measure of disdain because we have failed to organize because we have refused to come together into strong labor movements rather than small, briefcase labor organizations. We cannot have the force and effect necessary to transform the sector and make workers proud if we do not unite and organize.”
Directing attention to the new officials of the Liberia Federation of Labor Union, Woods told them that no government however responsive, no minister however patriotic can offer them the dignity they deserve. “It is by organizing and building institutions larger than yourself and your ego that will provide you the freedom and dignity you deserve.”
He gave a brief history of the formation of Labor Unions in the United States, Nigeria, and others and encouraged the new leaders to avoid petty jealousies, infighting, and internal conflict, to realize their potential as an economic force to make a difference in political issues in the future.
Woods said “When we organize, we build power and we put ourselves in a better position to get what we want. A renowned union organizer once defined a union as a group of workers coming together to use their power in numbers to make their employers do what the employer would otherwise not do. If we agree that organizing gives us power then it is a no-brainer that WE MUST ORGANIZE, for our economic survival, the preservation of our dignity as human beings, our health, and safety on the job. Our future depends on organizing.”
Inducting the officers, Mr. Emmett Crayton, assistant minister for the Trade Union & Social Dialogue at the Ministry of Labor, called for working relations with the government to ensure substantive success for the Union. He encouraged them to work together to realize their objectives.
President Alfred B. Z. Summerville pledged his administration’s preparedness to work harder to ensure that the objectives of the Union are realized. He called on members to live up to their commitments to the Union and warned that there will be no handbag unions as members. He spoke briefly about his interactions across West Africa with Labor Unions in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and warned that his administration will do things differently to bring progress.