‘Time to Build National Monument to Honor Tolbert,’ Says former VP

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Dr. Tolbert, former VP Warner and Mrs. Cassell at the Palm Grove Cemetery last Friday

Former Vice President of Liberia, Bishop Bernie D. Warner, believes that it is about time the Government of Liberia accepts his recommendation to build a national monument to honor the memory of President William R. Tolbert.

He was vice president to President Tolbert (1977 to April 1980), until the military coup de’tat of the People’s Redemption Council.

Speaking to the Daily Observer on Friday, March 17, 2019, at the Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia where the remains of the 13 former True Whig Party (TWP) government officials, were buried after their execution by the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) military junta, Bishop Warner said “Tolbert was a friend and a good man but the soldiers killed him along with his officials, for nothing.”

This portion of the Palm Grove Cemetery remained undecorated and overgrown with weeds

Bishop Warner, who left the country five days before his colleagues were summarily executed by firing squad by the PRC junta, said he survived to declare to the Liberian people that the Tolbert Administration was working in the best interest of the country.

“I have said it again and again that we need a National Monument and an annual honoring celebration nationwide to memorialize President Tolbert, who was elected by the people but was murdered, along with his friends on April 11, 1980,” he said.

The second Wednesday of March every year is Decoration Day in Liberia, a day Liberians memorialize their dead by decorating their graves. Decoration Day was made an official national holiday on 24 October 1916 through an Act of the National Legislature. On Decoration Day, March 13, Liberians turned out in their numbers to decorate the graves of their deceased relatives with flowers or wreaths and trimmed overgrown grass or plants near the grave. The Liberian flag was flown at half-mast to mourn for the nation’s fallen heroes, and those who employed had a day off.

According to reports, after the execution of the 13 former government officials, the government allowed their families to collect their remains and give a decent burial where every year, the family, including Dr. Richard Tolbert, son of Frank Tolbert (brother of President Tolbert), gathered with families and friends, to remember their relatives. At the same time, Dr. Tolbert and other family members provide lectures on nationalism and good citizenship that their forebear, (President Tolbert) promoted as President of Liberia.

One of the graves at Palm Grove Cemetery, overflowing with garbage.

So, as thousands last Friday converged at the Palm Grove Cemetery and other cemeteries, across the country, to renew the memories of their dead, Dr. Tolbert’s family members and others surrounded him, as Bishop Warner, 83, said he survived the tragedy of April 12, to tell the story. Looking at the tragic consequences of Liberia’s political history and the death that had reaped a terrible harvest since 1980, along with the revolutionaries and those who supported it, the question that came to his lips was: “Where are those who caused the tragedy in Liberia in 1980?”

The tragedy of Bishop Warner’s question was too telling to be ignored because such PRC members like Thomas Weh Syen, Thomas Quiwonkpa, Fallah G. Varney, Abraham D. Kollie, Nelson Toe, Larry Borteh, Harrison Pennoh, Albert Toe, Robert Zuo, William Gould, Robert Nuwoku, Jerry Friday, J. Nicholas Podier, Joseph V. Tubman and Kortonseh Gonyon are all dead, answering his question. So, he said, while he escaped the execution because he left the country five days before the 1980 Revolution, difficulties that have assailed the country suggest without much brain-searching that the struggle of the people is yet far from over.

“We should not lose the sight of all Liberians’ ability to exercise our political franchise,” a second-year student at the University of Liberia said. Whatever the conclusion of the argument, the student admitted the tragic history of Liberia which Liberians need to recognize to transform the country.

Some of the at-risk-youth engaged to clean some graves at the Du Port Road Cemetery in Monrovia

Though there were a sizable number of people at the Palm Grove Cemetery it was apparent that for any of the many obvious reasons, the spirit of the event is losing steam and others have lost the interest to participate in the clean-up campaign that is cardinal to the exercise, a middle-aged woman who was there to clean his father’s grave said.

“Look over there,” she pointed finger at a large bush on the side of the cemetery on Gurley Street that no one cleaned at the end of the exercise, “Who’s supposed to clean those graves?” There was also a large body of garbage at the cemetery, obviously dumped by residents near Gurley and Center streets and even beyond. There was a pungent odor of human feces from the cemetery, indicating the continuous abuse of the cemetery.

What was also observed was the presence of a large body of young men and women, known as ‘zogos’ who were engaged by others to clean their loved ones graves for a fee. At the same time, there were also those who were prepared to weep along with anyone for a fee.

“The graves are built without lanes and therefore it is even difficult to go areas where some relatives were buried,” she said. Additionally, hundreds of graves are broken into or have broken down and do not befit the memorial of loved ones anymore, she added.

This building, is known as Pelham House, is abandoned by the owners and inhabited by at-risk-youth or ‘zogos’ and it is near Palm Grove cemetery on Center Street

While there is a contrast between where former President Tolbert and his cabinet are buried and the rest of the cemetery, there is an element of togetherness where the remains of the former government officials are buried. The 13 officials, their names inscribed on a low monument, include Frank Tolbert, brother of President Tolbert and President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate; Cyril Bright, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs; C. Cecil Dennis, Jr., Minister of Foreign Affairs; James A. A. Pierre, Chief Justice of Liberia; Richard A. Henries, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Frank Stewart, Director of the Budget, John Sherman Minister of Commerce; Clarence Parker, Chairman of the National Investment Council and J. T. Phillips.

As the day wore on, and many of the people returned to their various homes, the sun lowered its swelter and, as the ‘zogos’ or at-risk-youths chased after each other and jumping over one grave after another in the Palm Grove cemetery, they would all return next year to once again give the cemetery a facelift to remember their respective loved ones long gone.

Pictures of former government officials executed by the PRC junta in 1980

But for former vice president Bennie Dee Warner (born 30 April 1935), he continues to plead with the Liberian government to build National Monument to honor President William R. Tolbert. Bishop Warner succeeded vice president Greene. He named his father as Charlie Zeonbartaye, a member of the Bassa tribe and his mother was Eli Nboramba, a Namibian woman, that his father brought from Windhoek, Namibia. He was 42 when he was selected as Vice President of Liberia.

11 COMMENTS

  1. The late president William R. Tolbert jr. deserves to be honored. In fact, not just Tolbert, but all former Liberian presidents, whether they were competent or incompetent, dimwitted or not, they truly deserve to be honored. The lawmakers of Liberia should declare a holiday for all presidents. That’ll be a good place to start.

    Mr. Tolbert was ahead of his time. He seemed to be a little different than his predecessors. An Americo-Liberian, Tolbert spoke Kpelle. It’s been rumored that his kids speak Kpelle up to this day. The speaking of Kpelle was a good way of identifying with the Liberian majority who are and were not Americo-Liberians. Tolbert was vision-oriented Tolbert’s policy agenda of “Total Involvement” was a clarion call for Liberians of all backgrounds to get involved in the development process of our country. Had he not been assassinated, Tolbert would have left Liberia in a stronger economic and political position.

  2. F.S.Hney, Tolbert was never assasinated in in his first year, second year, third year, fourth year, fifth year, 6th year, 7th year, or eigth year in power!

    All these years, only the rich settler elite had the right to democratic power as the economy receeded with the Tolbert monopolizing the economy from rice to petroleum.

    Liberia´´s liberal foreign policy got personal with Liberia´s key allies – the U.S. Israel, etc. becoming enemies, with dictatorship Soviet Union becoming the good for nothing friends.

    So what are you talking about. F.S. Hney????

    Yes, we could honor E.J. Roye, but NOT ANY other member of the TWP. They perpetuated a semi-apartheid tyranny in Liberia – a menace they fled from after been set freed. They were hypocrites. They said in their motto: ” Deeds and not words” BUT THEY DEMONSTRATED THE OPPOSITE! So what are you talking about. F.S. Hney????

    Rather, we shall honor those 17 men who put their lives on the line and broke the tyranny of the wicked TWP! PERIOD!

  3. Come on Zoedjallah,
    I agree with you most of the time. This time, it seems that we’re at odds. Of course, it’s not wrong for friends, associates, acquaintances or siblings to disagree sometimes.

    Tolbert was not a perfect guy. He made a number of mistakes. His detente with the Soviet bloc states wasn’t smart. He seemed not to have learned that Nkrumah failed because of his alliance with the East bloc nations. But still, Tolbert was a different president in so many ways than his predecessors. He deserves to be honored.

    Zoedjallah, do you think Tolbert shouldn’t be given any credit at all? Why is it logical to honor E. J. Roye and not Tolbert? It’s been said that E.J. Roye was a derivative of the Eboe tribe of Nigeria and a former thief. (I have to check my sources regarding E. J. Roye) Still, as a former president of Liberia. E. J. Roye and all former presidents in my view deserve one national holiday, regardless.

    I know exactly where you are coming from. Let’s learn to move on. Our country has had a terrible past. I am aware of that. However, we don’t need single holidays or monuments for each president.

    • E.J. Roye was no thief. A successful lawyer, he was of a darker complexion, popular amongst the majority – the darker complexion as opposed to the mulatto complexion of the JJ Roberts group of faction. Hence, he was hated by the elite, just as President George Weah (hailing directly from the majority – the poor the masses) is hated by the elite.

      Tolbert was no democrat. No democrat would change the presidential term of office from four years to eight years after serving the four years of his predecessor Tubman. Tolbert and his gang vehemently refused to allow even a two party system until we forced them and they reluctantly bowed in bad faith.

      And the Progressive Peoples Party was registered on December 24, 1979 after nearly a decade struggling to be the opposition to the TWP Congau SETTLER tyranny.

      During Tolbert’s presidency, nearly every social capital from roads to cities to schools and markets, were named after the Tolbert family. Enough is enough. We have had enough of these Congau SETTLER elite. Their time has gone into oblivion. It will remain that way. Any honouring shall be for those 17 men who put their lives on the line and redeemed the country from the shackles and chains, and oppression, of the TWP CONGAU APARTHEID REGIME.

      How on earth a majority should honour a minority who preferred not to marry any native but amongst themselves Congau???!!! Forget about those people. The very fact they are only talking about honouring themselves should tell you what they think of themselves, and what they think of the natives. No honouring for them. Period!

  4. Omari Jackson, Y’all please stop calling Richard Tolbert Dr. Tolbert. He does not have a Ph.D degree. The man has a JD (Juris Doctorate) which is a first degree like the LLB in any Common Law country.

  5. Zoedjallah,
    The going back and forth between us in my view is interminable. You’re entitled to your views and I am entitled to mine as well. At some point, we have to agree to disagree.

    I strongly believe that all former presidents of Liberia should be honored with a single holiday. I also strongly disagree with the former VP, Mr. Warner regarding the issue of a Tolbert monument. In my view, if one monument is erected for one president, families of Doe, Johnson-Sirleaf and others will request monuments.

  6. Okay, F.S. Hney, should we build a monument honouring all “former Presidents “, as you have proposed, so what do we do after the administrations of immediate future President’s ,(say after 10 or 20 of them) BUILD ANOTHER MONUMENT honouring a group of former Presidents??? Our focus should be improving the lives of the masses – THE POOR – by and through THE PRO – POOR AGENDA ! That monument or holiday for a group of politicians the people will eat, or improve their living standards?? Come on, FS Hney!

  7. Zoedjallah,

    I have never said that a monument should be built, champ! Please re-read.

    I did say that it’s in the nation’s best interest for a single day to be set aside for all presidents to be celebrated. Like Presidents Holiday.

    I also said that I am opposed to the building of a monument for President Tolbert.

    Reason: Building a monument for Tolbert by the government of Liberia will trigger the families of nearly all Liberian Presidents to come forward and demand monuments to be built. Besides, there’s nothing to be gained.

    Zoedjallah, you and I need to propose ways in which Weah’s pro-poor policy agenda (which I support) will be advanced. The issue of building monuments is insignificant.

  8. Okay, F.S.Hney, the same question for “holidays”. So after ten or 20 future presidents, we set aside another “Holiday” for such would be future presidents?

    All the same I agree in totality with this assertion of yours: ” Zoedjallah, you and I need to propose ways in which Weah’s pro-poor policy agenda (which I support) will be advanced. The issue of building monuments is insignificant.” You good to go! I am confident, when the roll is call up yonder, you will be there!

  9. Nope. After 10 or 20 years, there will be no need to set aside any holiday for presidents.

    In the US, there’s a holiday that’s celebrated by all of us. It’s a national holiday for all US presidents, deceased or not. We need a similar situation in Liberia.

    Tubman’s birthday is in November. Instead of celebrating Tubman’s birthday solo, my proposal states that all presidents should be honored on Tubman’s birthday.

    We’ve got too many holidays in Liberia. We don’t need a monument or a single holiday for one particular person.

  10. tolbert supressed the indigenous people and exploited them. he had babies by poor tribal women. tolbert gets no monument . i will spit on his grave if he had one.

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