Many journalists who attended President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Annual Message at the Capitol Building on Monday were shocked at the behavior of Information Minister Eugene Nagbe as he viciously (cruelly) interacted with two key media personnel, a male and a female reporter.
It is a given that the President’s Minister of Information should be the closest Cabinet Minister to the media, for it is he who should maintain such excellent rapport with journalists that would cause and encourage them to look favorably on the Presidency or have a cordial and positive disposition toward the Chief Executive.
Let us jump quickly across the Atlantic Ocean and recall the great respect and deference which President Barrack Obama—no, not the new President, Donald Trump!—and his Press Secretary accorded the Washington Press Corps. Throughout his two terms, Obama enjoyed a cordial and wholesome relationship with the American and world media; so while the Republican-dominated Congress was shooting down almost everything President Obama proposed or did, the media was almost consistently on his side, partly out of patriotism and partly in reciprocity to the way he treated them.
It was astonishing to have seen, as many did on Monday, the President’s Minister of Information, Eugene Nagbe, using profanity and shouting to the pitch of his voice as he addressed a reporter of the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), in the middle of the state reception that was held in the Capitol Rotunda following the President’s Annual Message.
But that was not all. Something far more serious occurred. The Minister went further to deal a cruel and legally risky insult to a female journalist who is married.
Madam Estelle Liberty Kemoh, a broadcaster and presenter at one of Liberia’s leading television stations, Power FM, when she heard the Minister’s outburst, approached him and asked, “Minister, why are you creating a scene? What is happening between you and the Representative?” “Go ask your boyfriend,” he shouted several times, referring to Representative Moses Kollie of Lofa County.
The commotion arose because LBS reporter Emmanuel Capehart was conducting an interviewing with Representative Kollie who is a member of former Speaker Alex Tyler’s political party, the Liberia People’s Democratic Party (LPDP). Minister Nagbe took serious exception to the interview and blasted Capehart for interviewing “a member of the opposition.”
Reporter Liberty first enquired from the Representative what had happened between him and the Minister. After he explained, she went over to Minister Nagbe to get his side of the story.
But in a state of rage, Minister Nagbe snapped back at Madam Kemoh, “Go ask your boyfriend.” And who was the supposed “boyfriend” of this married woman Minister Nagbe was referring to? Representative Moses Kollie.
The Minister’s outburst caused a stir (commotion, disturbance) in the open and crowded state reception, to which the President had invited top officials of the three branches of government, the diplomatic corps, top business executives and leading personalities in society.
It was in the midst of all this that this young, conscientious television reporter, Kemoh, had approached Information Minister Nagbe, to enquire as to what was going on and why had he caused a scene at the state reception. It was at that point that Minister Nagbe lashed out at her, telling her, “Go ask your boyfriend,” in reference to Capehart’s interviewee, Rep. Kollie.
Kemoh then asked Mr. Nagbe if he was telling the world that she was having an affair with Rep. Kollie. The Minister said “Yes,” Estelle told the Daily Observer yesterday. “Minister Nagbe said it four times,” she told the newspaper.
We wonder what happened to Minister Eugene Nagbe that led him to lose his cool at the President’s official reception, even to the extent of using profanity.
As though that was not enough, he risked legal trouble by accusing a married woman of having a “boyfriend” in the House of Representatives.
But in addition to all that, he openly and egregiously embarrassed President Sirleaf who, in her very Annual Message, boasted of her government’s strict adherence to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press, and her personal tolerance of widespread media criticism of her and her government.
How now, in the midst of all this, does Information Minister Nagbe take exception to the state broadcasting station interviewing a member of the opposition? The state radio in a democracy is there for everyone—whether he is working for government or otherwise.
Now here we are, approaching a presidential election, when the whole population is expected and encouraged to engage in free and open discussion and the Minister of Information, above all persons, attempts to stifle free and open discussion.
We think the Information Minister has seriously embarrassed the President and she should make him realize that his behavior will not be tolerated or condoned.
Besides, he should be made to apologize to both reporters Capehart and, more especially to Madam Kemoh for the insults and threats leveled at them by him.
Oh power! Why would people, “dressed in a little brief authority,” think they can do anything and get away with it? Here again, we quote Edwin Barclay:
“O History! Upon thy glowing page,
Time writes her Judgments, but she writes in vain.
Her symbols, man misreads in every age,
And garners thence but legacies of pain . . .”