On April 12 1980, Liberians awoke to a new but sobering reality — the yoke of the century-old ruling True Whig Party had been broken by a group of enlisted men of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The euphoria unleashed by this development lasted for weeks on end as groups of women, mostly market women danced in the streets of Monrovia to chants of “Native Woman Born Soldier”.
To many, the popular slogan, “the time of the people has come” epitomized the moment long hoped for by the ordinary man on the street. Now, going forward, it will be all bright and rosy — or so they thought.
Hardly had anyone imagined then that the seeds of conflict were already being sown, first by summary executions of members of the military for armed robbery followed by the arbitrary public execution of former officials to a roar of popular applause from a watching crowd.
But the reality was to dawn only a year later when by then mounting public criticisms of the behavior of the new government officials especially members of the ruling People’s Redemption Council (PRC) began drawing the ire of military strongman Samuel Kanyon Doe.
The arrest and imprisonment of 6 student leaders on charges of treason amid threats of execution only a year later, in 1981, placed the country on a seemingly irreversible pathway to violent civil conflict. We recall the then powerful Minister of State of Presidential Affairs, John Rancy, whose advice to Doe on how to manage his uneasy relationship with then Army Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa eventually proved to be Doe’s undoing.
Then enter Charles Taylor, whose phenomenal rise to power on a wave of popularity — the ”you kill my ma you kill my pa I will vote for you” mantra, unseen since 1980, apparently imbued him with a false sense of grandeur that led to his undoing as he recklessly disregarded and infringed the rights of so many people, Liberians and foreigners alike.
And much like his predecessors, Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, George Weah also had a phenomenal rise to power on the mantra — “you know book, you na know book I will vote for you” — which again unleashed a euphoria similar to those of his predecessors Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.
And like them also, worrying signs of arbitrariness and creeping tyranny are beginning to appear so early in the life of this new government that came to power on a crest wave of popular support.
The first sign was the illegal arrest and detention of Dionysius Sebwe, former Lone Star player and teammate of President George Weah, on orders of Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, who according to media reports had ordered his detention on trumped up charges of misapplication of entrusted property.
As it turned out, the Police had arrested Sebwe on orders of the Minister of State Nathaniel McGill. Sebwe was later released but without having his day in court to face his accusers, whoever they may have been. And now more recently, according to accounts carried on social media, an individual, Alfred Cheeks has been under Police detention for more than 48 hours, having been accused of leaking so-called sensitive documents to social media.
And the documents in question relate to travel allowances for members of President Weah’s delegation to foreign parts, including France, where he is now expected to round up his foreign tour. We recall that supporters and officials of this government had gone at lengths to assure the Liberian people that President Weah’s visit abroad was at no cost to the public treasury.
This was apparently intended to assuage public concerns about the size of President Weah’s delegation and the cost of travel especially against the background of the country’s dire economic straits and rising public anxiety about unpaid civil servants salaries.
The arrest, therefore, of an individual for bringing to public attention the spending of public funds by a government sworn and committed to a pro poor policy bent, must be condemned by all well-meaning Liberians. A pro poor government policy stance presupposes a commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights including economic rights.
It is indeed a violation of the economic rights of the people when at a time of great suffering and deprivation, government officials will comport themselves in ways that convey an impression of superciliousness on their part.
Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill should never lose sight of the fact that in just a little over 25 years, the Liberian people have shaken off a century-old True Whig Party oligarchy, a corrupt and bloody military fascist dictatorship, a fascist and corrupt civilian dictatorship and endured a very corrupt, cronyish, neoconservative regime.
For now, the honeymoon is still on and the romance and allure, although not yet faded, is certain to dim along the way. And when it eventually does, questions will arise and they will be hard questions to which President Weah will have to answer.
In the realm of our experience we know that jailing and perhaps even torturing people will never succeed in closing the lid on free expression. And the sooner Minister McGill can realize this, the better it will be for his political future.
If this government believes it has a case against Mr. Cheeks, then it must do the obvious and seek recourse in a court of law, of competent jurisdiction. According to information, Mr. Cheeks has been held in detention for more than 48 hours which is clearly against the law.
Therefore we call on Minister McGill to immediately order the release of Mr. Cheeks without delay.