On July 13, following the announcement by Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai that Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay would be his running mate in the October election, a recorded voice of Nuquay was played on a local radio station in Monrovia in which he threatened those who, while exercising their right to free speech, will ‘bring their rudeness’ to the government he anticipates serving as Vice President. According to the recorded remarks, excerpts of which are published in the Daily Observer, Speaker Nuquay among other things said people who badmouth the government must know that they will pay for what they had to say.
Nuquay’s selection by VP Boakai had earlier sparked contention among some members of the Unity Party and the VP’s other supporters for his alleged corrupt practices and selfishness, with some saying this recording has added weight to reasons for which the Unity Party ticket should be rejected on election day.
There is no evidence yet to substantiate corruption allegations levied against Nuquay. However, this recorded threat against people who may insult leaders is widely seen as undermining the gains the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration has made in defending free speech, characterized over the years by many opposition voices using the opportunity to insult the President and other leaders of the country. The statement poses a threat to the media and especially the talk show host, Henry Costa, who played it. Costa is widely known in Liberia for being vocal and in most instances unorthodox in making use of the very free speech the Constitution provides for, and which the Sirleaf Administration defends.
Now that the political season is heating up, Liberians expect to hear platforms and visions politicians have for the country so they can evaluate them and choose the one they will deem expedient to vote for. But as the vice running mate of the Unity Party makes such a statement, it rings bell in the ears of people who know the days of the tyrannical regimes of Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe. During these regimes, the Liberian Constitution whose article 15(a) gives every Liberian the right to freedom of expression, was here; and yet, no one could criticize these leaders. Could Nuquay’s statement mean a repeat of history?
There is another side to this statement by the UP vice running mate to consider.
The Liberian Constitution provides that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof.” If this portion could be applied to Speaker Nuquay’s comment, how then is his government going to hold people responsible for abuse of free speech? What means will that government be using to apply this constitutional provision?
Nuquay’s statement also brings to mind concerns about his submission and dedication to his boss in case they are victorious in the pending election. In the two successive elections and administrations of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, no ear has recorded any statement unbecoming of Vice President Joseph Boakai.
We cannot exactly state from whence Boakai’s silence comes, but our Constitution provided some conditions that could restrict the Vice President not to say or do what he would want to do or say. Article 51 of the Liberian Constitution provides that “There shall be a Vice President who shall assist the President in the discharge of his/her functions. The Vice President shall be elected on the same political ticket and shall serve the same term as the President. The Vice President shall be President of the Senate and preside over its deliberations without the right to vote, except in the case of a tie vote. He/she shall attend meetings of the cabinet and other governmental meetings and shall perform such functions as the President shall delegate or deem appropriate; provided that no powers specifically vested in the President by the provisions of this Constitution shall be delegated to the Vice President.” With this provision, one could conclude the Vice President acts as is delegated to him/her by the President and will in no way exercise power of his/her own. But such a statement by Nuquay makes one to wonder how dedicated and committed he will be if he becomes Vice President of Liberia.
In spite of the high wave of corruption and some disdainful situations by this government, Vice President Joseph Boakai is on record for not making any public statement that will undermine his boss, President Sirleaf, neither to exalt himself, but will always say: “On behalf of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the government and people of Liberia…”
What will Nuquay say if he becomes Vice President, as he starts his vice running mate journey with such a threat that his presidential candidate would never utter?
We note with interest that Vice President Boakai, as standard bearer of the UP, has not come out to reject the remarks made by Nuquay. Perhaps the VP is giving his running mate the opportunity to address his own troubling remarks.
These questions reflecting public concerns can only be clarified by the UP vice standard bearer, Emmanuel Nuquay; and he and his party should make up their minds to clarify and disclose their platforms and visions for Liberia.