The Last Words
It was raining cats and dogs outside the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill. On this Wednesday, September 16, 2015, no umbrella could protect anyone from the heavy downpour. You would get soaking wet! Everyone, including me, was stranded for hours. I had completed my task there, but could not leave. I followed journalist Tamba Johnnie into the basement of the Temple of Justice so that we could select the best photos of alleged “revenue criminals” we had respectively snapped in front of the City Court. They had been arraigned before the court, as the Liberia Revenue Authority was pressing criminal charges against them.
So, Tamba opened the door, and ahead of me I saw his boss, a slim, smartly dressed man in an African shirt, sitting behind a desk inundated with documents and files as well as a laptop. The very familiar man immediately recognized me and said in a welcoming soft and polite voice:
“SG, welcome! I am very proud of you and the progress you have made in the media…it’s all about hard work and professionalism, and I hope you will keep it up.”
“Thank you, but you can say former SG as I am no longer at the Press Union of Liberia,” I informed him. “Why? Where are you? Why did you leave?” he inquired with interest. From the tone of his voice and facial expression one could tell that he wanted all the answers at once. When I told him that I was now serving as Media Affairs Officer at the Liberia Revenue Authority, he replied: “I trust your abilities….and you can match the tasks with your strong media background.”
I nodded in affirmation with pride and dignity.
At the end of our conversation, as I left his office, he wished me all the best on my new career path. “Always strive to do the best in all you do and you will be recognized—be professional. An SG is always an SG. You are still our SG.”
Folks, little did I know that this would be the last ever conversation between one of Liberia’s respected journalists, Mr. Singbe Gerald Flomo Johnson — “SG” in his own right — and me. On Saturday morning, November 28, 2015, no news shocked me like that of his death. And I am still shockingly shaken like many other Liberian journalists and a good number of people in the public.
The Bad News
I had joined dozens of journalists in the bustling sea-shore capital of Grand Bassa County, Buchanan City, for the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Annual Mini Congress which included a by-election to replace me as Secretary General after I resigned from the post back in July for personal career expansion and development reasons.
As the ground of the Congress became tense (a common practice associated with PUL election-related activities) I and a couple of journalists walked into the heart of Buchanan to cool off for a moment, with the hope of returning to cast votes for our respective candidates.
Then, the bombshell of Singbe’s death landed when a facebook notification led me to reading the following saddest news, posted by PUL Vice President Jallah Emmanuel Grayfield: “Bad news for the Liberian media…The Press Union of Liberia Congress has been disrupted after receiving the death news of veteran journalist Singbe Johnson. Information gathered says he went to sleep and did not get up this morning….”
Of course, it was bad news for the Liberian media, especially the PUL congress. Journalists were shocked. Several of them, males and females, began weeping. Others fought hard to hold back their tears to console their colleagues. The hall of the congress (which was threatened by huge disagreements on voting list) got near-empty. Singbe was due to attend the congress but he never came. Instead, it was his striking death news. No, congress could not go on in the midst of weeping and sorrow. The congress was dead. PUL President K. Abdullai Kamara announced the congress’ death. Singbe’s shocking death had killed a boisterous PUL congress and a media jolly-jolly in Buchanan, and all roads led back to Monrovia.
The Little I Knew About Singbe
Except for the young generation of journalists, Singbe Johnson was a reputed name in the Liberian media. He worked for a couple of media institutions in the country when he actively practiced journalism. At the top of his career, Singbe served as Director General of the state broadcast entity (ELBC), the Reissuance Communications Incorporated (Truth FM/Real TV), reportedly Power FM/TV, as well as the defunct Liberian Communications Network (Kiss FM). Besides, Singbe also served the state as Assistant Director for Public Affairs at the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration’s Communications Bureau and lately the Supreme Court of Liberia as Communications Director. He was a communicator!
As a young journalist more than a dozen years back, I met and interacted with Singbe for the first time when I had the opportunity to interview him in his office at the LNP headquarters on Capitol Hill. I had gone to interview him about the increasing incidents of armed robbery and the pronouncement of his boss, former Police Director Joe Tate (also deceased) on making Monrovia “uncomfortable” for armed robbers.
Sengbe was professional. He welcomed me and spoke gently to ensure that I got all the information correctly, especially after he sensed that I was a Johnnie-just-come journalist (fresh from journalism school).
Though he was not a very close friend of mine, I must admit here that he was one of those who commanded huge respect from me. I also realized that he, too, was following my progress as he always encouraged me when we met at functions/events. When I served as Assistant Secretary General and later Secretary General of the PUL, Singbe was one of those who supported me.
Mistaken Nomenclature Identity
Both Singbe and I have Liberian names that are spelt differently (mine being Sengbeh) but pronounced the same way. Being in the media made it appear as though we were brothers, while at other times I was mistaken for him. Many times when I introduce myself as Sengbeh, I am asked whether I am Singbe Johnson. I have on several occasions faced questions like “Oh, are you Singbe Johnson?” Others have asked whether I am related to him or not. “Yes, we are professional brothers in the media,” I would sometimes respond, “but he’s from Bong and I am from Lofa.” When I told him the story once, he smiled and said: “I will call that mistaken nomenclature Identity.”
Farewell Well, Big Brother
Singbe’s death is hard to believe. He went to bed after speaking with his wife—after telling her he would head to Buchanan the next morning to attend the PUL Congress—but he would never speak to her and to all of us again. His wife called several times in the morning to wake him up from sleep, to go to the bank and to Buchanan. His phone rang endlessly, but he could not wake up. He had left the sweet words with his wife behind; he had left his phone behind; he had left the office in which I last met him—he was gone. Gone for good!
Singbe takes his final journey Saturday, December 12, 2015. We will see him no more, hear him no more. Yes, we will miss his gentle voice and fascinating smiles. Yes, only his remains and the memories of him are left.
According to the Johnson family, his remains will be removed from the Samuel Stryker Funeral Home at 4pm on Friday, December 11 and taken to “The Lord Strong Tower Ministries, Inc.” at Cowfield Junction, Duport Road, where wake keeping will commence at 6PM.
Funeral service will be heard at the same church on Saturday, December 12, 2015, where journalists, family members, friends and well-wishers will pay their last respects as he goes home to meet other fallen journalists and family members who had gone before him.
I have never held back my supposition for anybody, not even him: “As long as we were born someday, we will all die one day. To me, it doesn’t matter where we die, when we die and how we die, but what matters most is what people say after us when we die, and that’s our legacy.”
Surely, you’ve left back a legacy. Fare you well big brother—quiet, easy-going, professional and smiling.
The author, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, is former Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia and bags at least 15 years of experience as a practicing journalist. He is currently Media Affaires Officer at the Liberian Revenue Authority and can be reached via phone: 0886/0777586531; email: [email protected]