By Arthur B. Ballah
The speech of Dr. J. Mills Jones has provoked reactions from many quarters in and out of Liberia. However, it is apparent that most of the commentators either did not listen to the speech or are reacting on the basis of second-hand reporting. It is important that we take time to read or listen to what people say before making comments.
Dr. Jones has been repeatedly misrepresented by some media personnel and commentators who have misinformed the public that Dr. Jones insulted the Legislature and the Supreme Court in his speech. This does not do service to the public discourse on an important national issue, no matter which side we fall on.
It was clear from the speech that the context in which it was written was what Dr. Jones perceived to be a deliberate effort by some officials to misinform the public that the decision of the Supreme Court that the Code of Conduct is constitutional has barred him (Dr. Jones) from contesting in the 2017 election. Our research showed that, indeed, some members of the House of Representatives have mentioned Dr. Jones’ name on radio talk shows, even trying to interpret the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision. The fact is that nowhere in the Court’s ruling is Dr. Jones’ name mentioned and attempts to misinform the public to the contrary was irresponsible politics, which any reasonable leader of a political party would respond to.
Some commentators resorted to criticizing what they called “the tone” of the speech. Some even criticized further that Dr. Jones delivered the speech in a mood they referred to as “angry”. For heaven’s sake, let’s be serious! The supporters of Dr. Jones and some others outside of his support base that we talked to thought that it was a brilliant speech, forcefully delivered as the occasion demanded. And to hear an official of the Unity Party on the radio owned by the government–the people’s radio—trying to play speech expert is laughable.
What are the MOVEE partisans to make of the speeches of the Unity Party Standard Bearer-speeches dull both in substance and delivery? If Dr. Jones’ delivery showed he was angry, according to the Unity Party official, does VP Boakai’s repeatedly dull delivery and substance-less speeches show that he was always not fully awake, or not fully aware of what had been put before him for delivery? You see the meaning of “when you haul rope, rope hauls bush?” The point is that when we engage in public dialogue, let us be analytical and stay with the issues.
Dr. Jones’ speech did not focus on the decision of the Supreme Court, but on the misinformation campaign against him by some politicians and their cronies. Anyone facing such circumstances has the right to respond, and to do so vigorously, so that those supporting and spreading the misinformation know that it will not be taken lightly. Clear and vigorous speech in defense of one’s right in the face of a concerted effort to misinform the public about that individual is not an attack on anyone or anything except those engaged in trying to bring that person to disrepute.
Having said that, it is important to stress that every citizen has the right to disagree with the judgment of the Supreme Court, or any court, because this is a democracy. The Liberian constitution provides for freedom of thought.
What Dr. Jones said was that in his personal opinion he thought that the law was a bad law on the issue of resignation and intent to participate in elections. It should be pointed out that two justices of the Supreme Court issued a more stinging attack, going back to the ruling on the case brought by the Citizens Solidarity Council. Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, former Minister of Justice, former Chair of the National Elections Commission and former Head of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission publicly stated in a newspaper article that the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong, that in her view the Code of Conduct is unconstitutional. We have not seen any commentaries or heard any analyses that Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison insulted the Supreme Court. But some are going out of their way to show that Dr. Jones insulted the court, a point which is completely false and misleading. Here is also what the Daily Observer had to say in its April 3, editorial: first, it referred to the Code as a “so-called Code of Conduct a travesty (mockery, sham) of justice.” It went on to implicitly contrast the learning of one of the Justices, Cllr. Phillip Banks, to that of the others who made the majority decision. The Daily Observer’s editorial also talked about the Executive and the Legislature telling “innocent, qualified, Liberian-born citizens who have absolutely no criminal record whatsoever that they cannot run for public office because of a contrived (artificial, manufactured) law” which the Supreme Court says is constitutional. Are these statements an incitement to provoke violence? One would think that they are expressions of concern that without careful thinking we could be setting up the nation to walk over a cliff, without knowing our destination. Is this the country we want?
Some newspapers are saying that Dr. Jones insulted the court by calling it a court of Pontius Pilate, something that he did not say. The first point to note in this regard is that Dr. Jones was countering the argument made by some people that “the law is the law.” Yes, “the law is the law,” but in real life–certainly not in the area of controversial political issues– the matter is not so simple. Dr. Jones tried to make the point, and quite strongly, as it should be, that while it is true that the law is the law, some laws are morally wrong and as we have seen in history, have had to be resisted. This is not an irresponsible statement, particularly when dealing with controversial laws that tend to sharply divide the society that is in dire need of being reconciled.
After mentioning laws relating to slavery, apartheid, which sent Nelson Mandela to jail for twenty-seven (27) years, and colonialism, Dr. Jones made the point that the rule of law is not the rule of injustice or the rule of tyranny in the name of the rule of law. Is that wrong, or are these utterances of a thinking person? He then went on to argue that although democracy is the rule of the majority, but fifty-one people out of a hundred cannot expect that if they passed a law that the other forty nine should be starved in order to solve a food shortage problem, that that law would not be resisted. He then tried to re-emphasize his point by saying such a law would be resisted, whether it was approved in the court of Pontius Pilate. People do write like this, to stress a point. Where does this sound like Dr. Jones calling the Supreme Court, a court of Pontius Pilate?
Dr. Jones then went on to say, “and to those who say “the law is the law, there is another precept that says one has the right to disobey morally repugnant laws. It is time for common sense to prevail.” Is the call for common sense to prevail not the mark of a sensible and responsible person? Are those who go from radio station to radio station saying “the law is the law” on contentious policy issues more responsible? Should a soldier shoot down a village of defenseless women and children, simply because he has been ordered by his commanding general to do so? But it is clear that when detractors cannot defeat an argument, they turn to sweeping and incorrect statements to muddy the water. When the public is correctly informed, they will come to reasonable conclusions.
Lastly, it was observed that certain newspapers were using quotes attributed to Dr. Jones that cannot be found anywhere in his speech. And some have chosen to make comments based on false and misleading second-hand information. The press should be responsible. One such wrong quote has Dr. Jones saying, “We will resist that law, we don’t care whether it was approved by the court of Pontius Pilate.” Another such quote has him saying, “I will contest and nothing can stop me from being a candidate in the elections come 2017.” These false and misleading quotes come from the editorial of the FrontPage newspaper of April 3, 2017. How is it that writers for FrontPage always come up with quotes from Dr. Jones that are not real? This is about the fourth time, and we know that the leadership of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) has complained to FrontPage about this on several occasions. And the fact that such made-up quotes are found in other newspapers, or used by other media personalities, can only lead to the conclusion that this is a contrived attempt to make Dr. Jones look bad, or some media personalities are not doing their own work properly.
The people know better; they heard the speech for themselves; and most are pleased by it. The silent majority knows what they want in this country, and will not be stopped by the “political geniuses” who think they know what they are doing. We are dealing with a serious issue, and this is an affront not just to Dr. Jones, but also those who hold him in high esteem. Such attempts can do nothing, but widen the political divide, where there are strong feelings on both sides. This is not good for the country. And those who see room to get into the country/congo issue are so far off the mark that they should just keep quiet; only a few–a very few– are listening.
Liberians know that all Liberians are equal, and they are looking for true patriots, not failed politicians hiding behind the mask of being indigenous Liberians.
What Dr. Jones said is this: “Leadership goes with responsibility, although some politicians, including some in the Legislature, have forgotten this basic lesson in civics. These politicians continue to make irresponsible statements, especially on radio talk shows trying to suggest to the public that the Code of Conduct has stopped me, the elected Standard Bearer of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), from participating in the up-coming election. I call on these irresponsible politicians and their cronies to save their breath, because I, Joseph Mills Jones, have broken no law and, therefore, will contest for President of Liberia in October 2017.
What is wrong with such a statement? Some looking to make news have used the false reporting and the piecing together of Dr. Jones’ words to convey a different meaning from what he was actually saying. It is these reporters and individuals who are threatening the peace, by spreading false and misleading information. Their behavior has caused insulting comments to be made against Dr. Jones. This will cause neither Dr. Jones nor his supporters to be deterred; and we all know they are capable of giving tit for tat. Just as leadership goes with responsibility, being a media practitioner also goes with responsibility.