President J.J. Roberts’ Exemplary Legacy


Two young Liberians, Torli H. Krua and Joe Luamba, Jr., of the Association for Civic Education, did Liberians a great service last week in publishing in the Daily Observer newspaper their piece, “Liberia Since President J.J. Roberts.”

Before getting into what they said about our First President, let us digress for a brief moment to suggest to the authors that they should prepare and present to the Ministry of Education a comprehensive and serious proposal for the re-introduction of CIVICS in the national school curriculum.

Their J.J. Roberts piece was a compelling lesson in Civics, and a good start.  Their proposal to the Education Ministry should call for a retrospective view of Liberia before 1822, and reflections on the structure and administrative practices of Liberian traditional society–the role of the Town, Clan and Paramount Chiefs, the various Councils and how they maintained peace and order at the various levels.

The most important point the young authors made about the First President was to recall his love for Liberian children. Yes, in his will, President Roberts bequeathed, for the establishment of “a perpetual foundation,” a US$10,000 Bond and the 102 acres of land bearing his Coffee Farm, to educate Liberian Children after his death in 1876.

These assets attest that President Roberts was a hard working man, an entrepreneur and a visionary who looked down the corridor of time and knew that the nation’s future lay in the hands of its youth.

Since President Roberts was a Methodist, he placed the Foundation in the hands of the Methodist Church (now United Methodist Church (UMC). The church set up a Board of Governors, which administers the Foundation and its scholarship program.   One of the eminent J.J. Roberts scholarship recipients is Kolahun, Lofa County-born Augustine Ngafuan, former Finance Minister, now   Minister of Foreign Affairs, R.L.

It has been 136 years since the First Liberian President set  that wonderful example of love and commitment to the future of Liberia.  We have since had 22 former Presidents, several of whom, beginning with William V.S. Tubman, and continuing with William R. Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor, had much, much more money to play with personally.  It is sad to say that none of them–not even Tubman who was also a Methodist and who died in office leaving a will–thought to emulate President Roberts’ personal example.

The two authors have lamented the lack of transparency in the handling of the First President’s will and called on government to institute a “commission of inquiry” into the will and its administration.  We think, however, that it is the UMC bishop whose   responsibility it is to open up the wil–not  to government scrutiny, because President

Roberts did not leave it in the hands of government.  He must have reckoned–and correctly–that had he done that, the government officials might have grabbed up the land for themselves, just as leading Episcopalians  did to church property  in Mamba Point.  The Methodist bishop should first, open up the will to the view of Methodists, and ensure that its administration is inclusive.

The authors, Kruah and Luamba, in their piece, also lamented the continued concentration of power in the hands of the Liberian presidency, especially in her appointment of local officials–county superintendents, city mayors, etc.

The Daily Observer  has written many editorials calling for the Governance Commission’s recommendations on the devolution of power to be enacted into law.  This would, at long last, put into effect the decentralization of government and empower the people to make decisions at the local level.

On this question, however, both the presidency and the Legislature, for reasons no one can understand, are dragging their feet.
We appeal, once again, to the Executive and Legislative branches of government to act expeditiously on this matter, which is critical to good governance and peace.


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