Let us start this Editorial by calling a spade a spade. Benoni Urey is unquestionably one of the best known names in Liberia.
A Cuttington graduate who later traveled to the United States for further studies, he returned home and worked for many years with the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), especially in the 1980s. But Benoni Urey came to public attention when he joined the ranks of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) not too long after it started the Liberian civil war in December 1989, led by Charles G. Taylor.
Benoni and Taylor got close and soon he became one of the warlord’s closest and most trusted associates—an accolade that was later to cost him dearly.
The two men became so close that Taylor soon appointed him to one of the most lucrative positions in government—Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime (now Maritime Authority). It was there that Benoni made his first break. Most people believe that it was the Maritime job that first made him rich.
It was also alleged that some of that Maritime money was used by him and Charles Taylor to import arms into the country to further fuel the Liberian civil war and, true or false, even the war in Sierra Leone. It was this perception—true or untrue—that helped place Benoni on the United Nations’ blacklist, preventing him for a long time from being able to travel abroad. Some Liberians may never forgive him for what he did at Maritime—why? Because he was dealing with some of the country’s raw cash—millions of it—while ordinary people, the hapless, poverty-stricken Liberians, lived in squalor throughout the country, and displaced also by war. Many have never forgiven Benoni for that.
Yet we are compelled to give the public another side of Benoni Urey—the thing that made him far richer than he became at Maritime.
One day while visiting Lebanon, he heard people talking about wanting to start a GSM company in Liberia, but not knowing how to get their company established there. Benoni overheard them and told them he may be able to help them. They immediately jumped at the opportunity!
When, thanks to Benoni’s connections and closeness to Charles Taylor, all was done and the GSM company, Liberia’s first, was established, they offered their esteemed mediator several million dollars as gratuity.
But the visionary and business-minded Benoni politely declined the offer. He rather told the GSM business friends, “I would prefer a share in the business.”
That is how he was offered a substantial percentage in what became Lonestar Cell MTN, Liberia’s first and leading GSM company. Thus came the turning point in his life.
Let us pause here to reemphasize, for the benefit of all young Liberians, the importance of Benoni’s historic and visionary decision not to accept the gratuity but rather to demand a share in Lone Star Cell MTN. We hope that our young people would learn to look more toward the future, not just the present. Our young people should never be too quick to accept an offer—any offer. They should rather cast a long shadow, in other words, think about tomorrow and what should be that thing that would bring them greater benefit in the future.
And Benoni was kind enough to share this major newly acquired asset with his fellow Cuttingtonian, Emmanuel Shaw, another prominent Liberian businessman. Perhaps Benoni brought Emmanuel in because of his business acumen and vast experience in negotiating, believing that he could help him (Benoni) keep ahead of the game in this new, revolutionary business environment he was entering.
Here is another valuable lesson our young people should learn—sharing, especially with a fellow compatriot, and refraining from grabbing all for oneself.
That is how these two young Liberians became major shareholders in Lone Star Cell.
Because of Benoni’s vision, that led him to forego a handsome one-time gift and go on to participate more substantially in the pie, two young Liberians became major shareholdersin one of the nation’s biggest and most successful companies and, in the process, become very rich.
And that is why we call Benoni a visionary.
Now that he wants to move on into politics, aiming even for the jackpot—the Liberian presidency—we commend him for his daring ambition, though we do not yet know which constituencies he intends to depend upon to usher him to that lofty height.
We also await his platform, which we would gladly publish to share with the Liberian people his vision for the beloved country.
We extend this courtesy to every presidential aspirant.