Thousands of Liberians from all walks of life converged on various cemeteries around the country to pay homage and respect to the dead. It was the occasion of Decoration Day and it is observed as a national holiday on the second Wednesday in March every year.
Over the last few years there has been a growing tide of public opinion calling for the day to be renamed as National Memorial Day to remember the nation’s dead especially those who lost their lives during the civil conflict and most of whom lie buried in unmarked graves around the country.
Proponents of this argument maintain that the renaming of the day will also serve to include those citizens from other West African nations particularly those who lost their lives while on peacekeeping duties here in Liberia.
The argument has also been advanced in support of the official closure of the cemetery and its designation as a national cemetery for all Liberians.
Going back into history, the Palm Grove was the first cemetery established by the then colonial settlement at Monrovia which had by then moved on to the mainland from Providence Island.
But what gives this cemetery a national character is the fact that it is only at Palm Grove where so many prominent Liberians are interred. It is also host to the remains of thousands of commoners, ordinary people.
It is at Palm Grove that the first mass burial of Liberians took place. They were the bodies of ordinary people killed by government security forces during the 1979 April 14 “Rice Riots in Monrovia. At least a 150 persons were reportedly killed during the fray.
By strange coincidence, that mass grave also became the final resting place of the 13 (thirteen) former officials publicly executed by the military only a year later following the “Rice Riots”.
That little burial space, which also holds the remains of President Tolbert, is a shared space where commoners, including villains and the nation’s dead elite, rest together in perhaps uneasy peace.
More to that, the Palm Grove Cemetery is also the burial ground of Liberia’s first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, and others including Presidents Arthur Barclay and Daniel E. Howard, Liberia’s first Secretary of State, Hilary Teage, Liberian business tycoon W. Thomas Bernard, popularly called Tommy Bernard, Liberia’s renowned footballer Wanibo Toe, and many others.
These are, amongst other reasons, why this newspaper, the Daily Observer holds the view that the Palm Grove Cemetery should be accorded the national significance it deserves.
Some historians have observed that in earlier times, the Palm Grove Cemetery occupied a much larger area than what it covers today.
During those days, according to some historical accounts, the Death Penalty was still on the books and the Palm Grove Cemetery, named for its thick groves of palm fronds and trees, is where death sentences were carried out by hanging.
But as the population of Monrovia grew and virtually exploded, encroachments on the cemetery increased.
Further, the lack of public toilets and waste disposal facilities in the areas surrounding the Cemetery has lent the burial facility open to extreme abuse.
Today , the Palm Grove cemetery has become home to social derelicts, commonly called “zogos”. It has become a crime and drug den and a virtual safe haven for dangerous criminals who often repair to the area to store their loot.
For nearly all year round, the Palm Grove Cemetery is a no-go zone, except for Decoration Day, when thousands of people usually swarm the area to clean the graves of their departed ones.
This year, however, was an exception. Unlike the thousands who usually throng the cemetery every year, just a few hundred persons turned out.
More besides, the over-growth of weeds was left virtually untouched while mounds of garbage flowed on to the street. And of course the ubiquitous presence of dozens of zogos was not to be missed.
Amid the filth and stench, they seemed perfectly at home. Afterall, this was home in essence where graves and tombs have now been converted into dwelling places for zogos and others of similar ilk.
It is as if there is no rest for the dead and their resting places, now taken over by this wretched lot, beckons for God-sent relief of some sorts.
And it is indeed a national shame and disgrace that the Palm Grove Cemetery is left in such derelict conditions by the authorities at the Monrovia City Hall.
Does the head of the municipality, Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, need to be told that the derelict condition of the Palm Grove Cemetery beggars belief? Can he not do better than this?
In case he does not realize it, the upkeep and maintenance of Palm Grove Cemetery is indeed the responsibility of the Monrovia City Hall/Corporation and has been so for decades.
Although it is a public facility that can no longer accommodate burials, it remains the keep of the Monrovia City Hall. And from all indications, Monrovia City appears to have forgotten his “Weah for Clean City” slogan, which should include the periodic cleaning of the cemetery.
Admittedly, it is tall order replete with difficult challenges. However, those challenges can indeed be overcome only if the Mayor of the City of Monrovia can wake-up to the challenges and get his act together. Yet, Mary Broh, when she was Mayor, did not shy away from this responsibility.
Lest we forget the highly unsanitary Palm Grove Cemetery, if left unattended could serve as a breeding ground for a host of diseases, some of which could possibly rival the COVID-19 in terms of their killer potentials.
Remember the adage, “a stitch in time saves nine”. This is a wake-up call for Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee.