PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON-Sirleaf has made yet another statement, renewing her vow to continue to respect the rights while holding on to her “characteristics of tolerance and understanding people’s attitudes”.
WE HEARD IT before in January 2006 when she declared in her inaugural address: “My Administration therefore commits itself to the creation of a democracy in which the constitutional and civil liberties and rights of all our people will be advanced - and safeguarded. While ensuring the security of our nation and people, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the writ of democracy is expanded, not constricted in our land.”
AND WE’RE HEARING it again.
THE PRESIDENT, according to the Executive Mansion made her latest vow last Friday at the end of a prayer service for the country at the Dominion Christian Fellowship Center on Tubman Boulevard.
THE PRESIDENT reportedly has promised to remain engaged with all those who mean well for the country and no amount of disrespect to the presidency will deter her from performing her constitutional duties. “You can be assured that whatever we do, we do it for the good of this country and my own tolerance, understanding, and respect for the rights of others will never change,” the President is quoted as saying.
THE PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS came on the same day that members of the lower house of the National Legislature threw into the dustbin, her request seeking a suspension of portion of the constitution, limit on religious gathering and free speech.
THE PRESIDENT, in her request, sought emergency powers to suspend articles 1, 12, 13, 15 and other provisions of the Liberian constitution that relates to the fundamental rights of the citizenry, including the rights to freedom of expression, speech, protection against force labor, the right to elect officials, amongst other inalienable human rights.
THE PRESIDENT was seeking to alter Article 1 which would give her the power by proclamation, to alter the period and manner provided for under the constitution for elections, by which the people cause their public servants to leave office or to fill vacancies provided, however, that no deviation from the constitutionally prescribed period shall cause the extension or reduction of any term of office therein prescribed.
ARTICLE 13 if altered, would give the president the power to limit the movement of certain individuals, group, or communities, a provision the President is seeking to use to prevent the further spread of the Ebola virus by proclamation.
THE PRESIDENT is also seeking power from the legislature to restrict certain religious practices, generally or specifically, if he/she finds that such practice further endangers the public health and contributes to the spread of the virus which will be an alteration of article 14 of the Liberian constitution. Like the other provisions, President Sirleaf also wants emergency power to restrict speech, which according to article 15 of the constitution is a right of all citizens.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, the president sought the power by proclamation to prevent citizens or a group of any entity protected under Article 15 of the constitution from making any public speech which, according to her, may have the tendency to undermine the state of emergency and restrict assemblies for any reason.
WE FIND IT TROUBLING that a sitting president, who has gone through similar trials in previous regime would stoop to the level of former presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, two rulers she is noted for criticizing to drum up emergency powers she once fought against, some of which landed her in jail and on the wrong side of both former heads of state.
SHE EVEN documented them in her book, “This Child Will be Great” when she slammed Tubman’s 27-year iron hand rule described as a political largesse and patronage, she claims was no longer sufficient to keep people from being dissatisfied with the social order and its impact on their lives.
SHE SLAMMED Tolbert’s 9 year reign (1971-1980), when the center could no longer hold, when she writes: "The nation stood at the verge of crisis, a crisis over which we might have no control. Tensions were mounting--economically, socially and politically. They had not extended the liberties they sought for themselves to indigenous people, to all ethnic groups, and to women. But what was sad was that 125 years later we seemed unable or unwilling to change what was slowly pulling us apart. Those who now make empty, sanctimonious claims about rights are worthy of only our deep contempt."
SHE WROTE of Samuel K. Doe's tumultuous 10-year rule (1980-1990), as one marred by greed: Doe got greedy and the people around him got greedy too, and collectively they began to feed off the state's largess like a pack of hyenas. Money poured out of the government's coffers at an astonishing rate. Any attempt to formulate a vision for moving the country forward was soon abandoned; what rose in its place was a kind of copycatting of the past.”
SHE WENT the distant, writing of Charles Taylor’s “murderous regime”: "This ragtag band of (NPFL) rebels, who called themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, drew increasing support from a nationwide population that neither knew nor necessarily trusted Charles Taylor, but that desperately hoped the end of Doe's ten-year reign of terror was finally at hand.
THIS IS WHY we find it difficult to believe the president when she renews a pledge to uphold that which her friends and close family and friends keep pressing her to implement, when her close aides and circle of friends continue to make public statements about going after journalists who are perceived to be critical of the government, when the president continues to accuse the media and opposition of playing politics with the Ebola crisis and when those in the halls of justice make reckless statements in defense of such overzealous emergency powers most likely to be used as weapons against members of the press. When so-called “men of God” take to the pulpit and declare that young Liberians were now using the various radio talk shows to abuse free speech, calling on them to have a change in attitude and declaring: “If you wish to be a national leader tomorrow, it’s time now that you gain respect from the people by equally addressing the presidency and other national leaders with respect and dignity,” according to Bishop Isaac Winker, of the Dominion Christian Fellowship Center on Tubman Boulevard, who perhaps has forgotten to know that the sitting President once treaded a similar path en route to the status she enjoys today.
LIBERIA IS AT a crossroads with sycophancy at an all-time high. It saddens us that many have forgotten how Liberia became a post-war country, how Liberia arrived at labels such as a failed and fragile state; how Liberia became a nation now entrenched in a major Ebola outbreak because its leaders have failed to come to terms with the realities of yesterday’s mistakes now hurting our post-war resurrection.
MADAM PRESIDENT must realize that none of her predecessors survived trying to inflict harm on Liberians, the media or activists, using those powers, and neither would she or whoever comes after her. Liberia has come too far and too many have lost their lives in the struggle to attain freedom at the hands of dictatorship, to allow an ugly past to creep on us again.
HOW SOON DO leaders forget the errors of their frailties; how soon they forget the trappings of power that failed their predecessors. The writings on the wall have been interpreted many times and in many different ways. We hope for Liberia’s survival and post-war resurgence’s sake, this leader will get it before those enjoying her access and benefits, end up driving a willing horse to death.