By Abednego Davis
The decision by Leroy Archie Ponpon to set himself ablaze before the office of Chief Justice Francis Korkpor on November 2 has generated mixed reactions with some blaming the Chief Justice while others are shifting the blame on security officers at the Temple of Justice, for allowing the impasse to escalate to the point it did.
Some views suggest that when Ponpon was on the grounds of the Temple of Justice, it was time that the officers serve him his writ of arrest and have him arrested, which accordingly would have prevented him from setting himself ablaze; instead, everyone stood by witnessing only an elderly man serving Ponpon the writ of arrest as he (Ponpon) appeared determined to set himself ablaze.
There are about four different security groups assigned at the Temple of Justice including the Liberian National Police, the Monrovia City Police, the Judicial Security and Bailiff (court officers).
Ponpon lit himself after being charged by the Judicial Branch of the Government where he has worked for 10 years for leading a series of protests against the Chief Justice and other Associate Justices over pay delay.
While the complaint was pending before the Ministry of Justice for criminal investigation, the Supreme Court Administrator, Cllr. Elizabeth B. Nelson, wrote an indefinite suspension letter for Ponpon with advice that he should keep away from the premises of the Temple of Justice building and at the same time ordering his arrest.
Ponpon, in defiance of the order to keep him off the premises of the Temple of Justice, entered the grounds in multiple layers of clothing, under which he hid a bottle of gasoline, which he eventually doused on the front of clothes and set himself on fire.
While on the grounds of the Temple of Justice, an alarm was raised calling officers to arrest Ponpon to turn him over to the Monrovia City Court for prosecution on the complaint of the Chief Justice.
With the order being passed already, officers of the Judiciary were expected to effect the arrest order and to prevent any further protest by judicial workers, but not much effort was exerted to execute the order.
There were also people who, instead of helping to prevent the situation, were encouraging Archie Ponpon to set himself on fire. Some people believed to be aggrieved workers were heard telling Ponpon to set himself ablaze while others were trying to reason with him to stand down.
Another segment of views has cast the blame on the head of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice, for not paying the workers for 12 months which sparked up the protest and resulted to a worker setting himself ablaze. Following a security meeting with Justice Minister Musah Dean and Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue on Tuesday, November 3, journalists attempted speaking to the Chief Justice but could not materialize as he refrained from speaking to the media.
The President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, says there has never been a record of such in the history of the Judicial Branch of the Liberian Government.
Though he did not cast blame on anyone, Cllr. Gongloe said the action by Ponpon is a serious warning to everyone and Liberians should take it seriously.
Not much was heard about the health of Ponpon yesterday relating to his condition at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center where he was rushed for medication after burning.
Having sustained severe burns on his face, hands and other parts of his body, Ponpon’s critical health condition is now of public concern.
Regular court activities could not take place at the Temple of Justice yesterday as security was tightened with all the entrances barricaded.