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Liberia: Code of Conduct setting the stage for conflict

Written on:March 11, 2017
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The Francis Kporkpor Bench

We believe many people have seen or heard of the letter written by Albert Porte, the veteran writer and constitutional analyst, to Head of State Samuel K. Doe in 1983. In that letter, Mr. Porte told the Master Sergeant, who had led the bloody military coup d’état overthrowing the Tolbert government in April 1980, that it was becoming increasingly clear to most people that Doe intended to run for president in 1985.

The brave and fearless Mr. Porte, who had not been afraid of President C.D.B. King’s whiskers, President Tubman’s eyes nor President Tolbert’s smiles, was most certainly NOT afraid of Head of State Doe’s guns. In his letter to the Liberian military dictator and Head of State, Mr. Porte warned Samuel Doe NOT to run for president because it would lead the country to national disaster.

Doe got very angry with Mr. Porte, the man whom Doe and his People’s Redemption Council (PRC) had hailed as the “Father of the Revolution.” Indeed, by the time the coup took place in April, 1980, Mr. Porte had been over the past 50 years the lone voice in the wilderness of Liberian politics, pleading with the Liberian people and government to run a better, more inclusive and more democratic government. But the leaders of the ruling True Whig Party that had run the country for over a century, from 1878, had grown too comfortable with power and were determined NOT to change. Alas! Change, the inevitable creature, did come on the fateful morning of April 12, 1980.

But ah, power! Samuel Doe, too, in barely three short years in office, became comfortable with power and did not want to let it go. Upon receiving Mr. Porte’s letter, the Master Sergeant and Head of State immediately summoned Albert Porte to the Executive Mansion and sternly warned: “The next time you write a letter like that to me, I will have you locked up in the Post Stockade.” The Post Stockade is the maximum security prison located at the Barclay Training Center.

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“You can harm the body, but not the soul,” Mr. Porte told the Head of State.  “Don’t preach to me,” Doe angrily retorted, then ordered Albert Porte out of the office.

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So determined was Samuel Doe to run for and become president of Liberia that he not only manipulated the Constitutional Advisory Assembly, held in Gbarnga, Bong County, to put into the draft Constitution what he wanted, he also demanded that the Constitutional Advisory Assembly insert the following clause in the Constitution: “No person shall be eligible to hold the office of President or Vice President unless that person is resident in the Republic 10 years prior to his election.”

That stipulation automatically excluded anyone who had premonitions of running for president who had not lived in Liberia for that period. Doe was afraid of any serious competition from powerful, influential or well-to-do people who had lived abroad for an extended period and had now returned to seek the presidency.

Now today, just 30 years later, some of those who were victims of that same trick in 1985 want to repeat history. But no—not 30; just 10 years ago: for in 2005 that same notorious “10-year clause” was operative. But everyone, including National Elections Commission (NEC) Chair Frances Johnson Morris (now Allison) and her fellow Commissioners realized that the time for that had long past, with all its progenitors long gone and almost forgotten. So the clause had no effect on anyone—not George Oppong Weah, Winston Tubman, Charles Brumskine, and certainly not – guess who – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf!

So how now do these same people want to impose a very similar restriction on others? They have rushed through the Legislature a law stating that anyone who wishes to seek the presidency in the 2017 elections should first resign “two years prior to the elections.” The question is: does this law have constitutional merit? Can anyone born in Liberia of Liberian parentage be barred from seeking election for any office?

Do those behind this law have no conscience? Or have they so soon forgotten? Remember what our Poet-President, Edwin J. Barclay, said in his immortal poem “Human Greatness.”

“O History!” Barclay wrote,

“Upon thy glowing page,

Time writes her judgments, but she writes in vain.

Her symbols man misreads in every age

And garners thence but legacies of pain.

So why, O man, lift up your head in pride?

You are but dust, and even Caesar died.”

—-A Liberian Observer/editorial, previously titled: The Code Of Conduct: Oh History! Have They So Soon Forgotten? | The Liberian Observer

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