He was unquestionably one of our great Presidents. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a visionary patriot, did not only dream of an independent Republic called Liberia that would save the beleaguered Colony from extinction by imperial encroachment, he also established the procedures for the convening, in January, 1847, of the Constitutional Convention, presided over by S. Benedict in Monrovia that led to the Declaration of Independence on July 26, 1847, creating Africa’s first Independent Republic.
After defeating his only contestant, S. Benedict, for the presidency, President Roberts, following his inauguration in 1848, made his first priorities the acquisition of additional territory and the securing of international recognition for the new Republic.
Accordingly, that same year he paid a state visit to Queen Victoria of Great Britain, whose government immediately recognized Liberia. During that visit, he also secured the purchase of Cape Mount, in order to deny its access to slave traders.
President Roberts also visited Belgium, France and Prussia, the leading Germanic state, and obtained their recognition of Liberia.
Leaving office in 1856, President Roberts led a military expedition to Harper, Cape Palmas to quell a Grebo rebellion against the settlers, who had there established the independent “State of Maryland in Africa.” It was following that successful intervention by President Roberts that led to the incorporation of Maryland as Liberia’s fourth county (after Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Sinoe. Grand Cape Mount became the fifth in 1924.
In 1862 J.J. Roberts became the first President of Liberia College (LC), the young nation’s first institution of higher learning. In 1951, during the administration of President William V.S. Tubman, LC became the University of Liberia (UL).
Following the incident with President E. J. Roye in 1869, J.J. Roberts again served as President of Liberia from 1872 to 1876.
Before he died on February 24, 1876, at the age of 66, this great son of Liberia, in his last Will and Testament, bequeathed all of his property, including his coffee farm at Mamba Point, to be used for “supporting school facilities and providing salaries for teachers.” The properties included the area on which the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel, the Masonic Temple and several foreign embassies are located.
So far as we know, President Roberts is the only Liberian President who left all he had to the education of Liberian youth.
What a noble and exemplary legacy! There have been many Liberian Presidents who in their lifetime handled and left far more property and financial resources than President Roberts did, but not a single one of them did as he did.
How many of those running for president today have reached out to our youth and educational institutions in demonstration of their commitment to the education and training of Liberia’s young people?
We are aware that former Central Bank Governor J. Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) has issued scholarships and other support to students and their organizations in some universities. A few months ago Mr. Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) donated a 350 KVA generator to the Booker Washington Institute (BWI).
Why are we asking of commitments on the part of presidential candidates to education and Liberian youth? The simple reason is that education is the first among Liberia’s first three principal national priorities—the others being agriculture and health. We want to know in advance where these candidates stand on education. The trouble is that education is not only the top national priority; but also because the coming new President of Liberia will find that his most immediate challenge is to fix the country’s education system, which everyone agrees is in shambles.
Education must, therefore, be first among the major issues in the ensuing campaign season.
The people must, therefore, demand from each presidential candidate what his plan is to address decisively and in the shortest possible time the nation’s educational challenges.