The essence of law is to serve as a regulator to control people’s behavior, maintain order and give an authority the power to act. Laws, customary, civil, constitutional and otherwise are formulated predicated on the assumption that they would be respected to maintain order which is a basic precondition for the rule of law to thrive and flourish.
In spite of the existence of these laws, there are individuals who deliberately infringe on the rights of others regardless of the consequences of their actions. The basic law of the land, the Constitution of the Republic for instance clearly guarantees amongst others, the right of the people to change their leaders should they desire to do so through free and fair elections of course and to freely and peacefully assemble to consult upon the common good.
This provision of the Constitution, Article 1, like others, has been violated with impunity in recent history beginning with the 1980 military coup which overthrew, by force of arms, the government of President William R. Tolbert. This was followed by the 1985 abortive Quiwonkpa armed invasion and subsequently, the invasion in 1990 by armed elements of the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front.
And then again in 2003 with another armed invasion of the country by elements belonging to the Liberians United for Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). All these acts have been accompanied by impunity, thus undermining respect for the rule of law. A major legacy of the prolonged civil conflict is disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.
Such blatant disregard and disrespect for the rule of law permeates the entire machinery of government and indeed the entire country. Several examples can be cited in this regard. The attention of the Daily Observer is however drawn to a particular incident which has implications for the rule of law in Liberia and by extension sustainable peace and security in the country.
Our Nimba County Correspondent, Ishmael F. Menkor reported on August 14, 2018 that one Joseph Saye had returned from their farm in heavy downpour of rain when members of the Poro group seized him and against his will initiated him into the Poro Society. Initiation in the Poro society, in the old days was compulsory for all male members of society.
The Poro provided appropriate and relevant education to initiates and prepared them for life as functional and productive adults in traditional society. Any male not subscribing to Poro membership was considered useless, unfit and unprepared to assume duties and responsibilities as required of male members of society.
Eventually, the adoption and embrace of Western type education was to push Poro education to the fringes where a male no longer needed to acquire the knowledge and skills relevant to life in a traditional setting. This divide was heightened when the government of Liberia made Western education, not Poro, Sande or traditional education, compulsory for all members of society.
Under the basic law of the land (the Constitution), all citizens are guaranteed the right to freely associate or to join or refuse to join political parties or any organization. This right is guaranteed in Article 17 of the Constitution. The unfortunate developments in Kpaikpoa Town, Nimba County, while highlighting the violation of the rights of Joseph Saye by his forced initiation brings to the fore the clash between traditional and modern society in Liberia.
The existence of a dual system of laws, traditional and statutory, only complicates the matter further. And modern society appears to have the upper hand in this long running battle. In this instance, our reporter noted that Poro adherents had long planned to initiate Joseph Saye who professes to belong to a fundamentalist Christian sect, The United Liberia Inland Church.
This is the second time members of the Poro in that part of Nimba have forcefully initiated a member of the Inland Church. It may be recalled that in 2001 members of the Poro Society launched an attack on sect members in Leesonnon, abducted some and allegedly maltreated them in their shrine for days until fighters of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) went in to rescue the victims.
This encounter, coupled with other experiences in the past, necessitated the adoption of mutually agreed upon rules binding on Poro and non-Poro members. Under the rules, the Poro Grand Master can only appear in town during the night hours when local residents have returned from their farms and retired for the night.
Also, under the rules, Sundays are set aside for Christian worshippers during which time the Poro Grand Master cannot interfere except in case of an emergency affecting the general security and wellbeing of the community. Even then, a consensus has to be reached. The rules require that Christian men who are no longer associating with the Poro stay away from any of its activities to avoid conflict.
Since this traditional regulation came into force there has not been any occasion on which the Poro Society has complained against sect members for infringement of the rules. We note in history that Presidents William V.S. Tubman, Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor joined the Poro society and became chief Zoes.
This, however, did not subject everyone to compulsory membership of the society. In an effort to ensure that this law is upheld and enforced, Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf, a few months ago, cautioned traditional leaders to avoid forceful initiation in the Poro and Sande societies.
We hope the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other stakeholders investigating the problem in Nimba County will be meticulous and unbiased to establish the facts, bearing in mind that impunity will not be countenanced.