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The Volcano Behind The Myth: The Case of Tipoteh versus Korkoya

Veteran Liberian Politician, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh (far right) with President Sirleaf in photo on right, and with another Liberian leader on the left

In his first major address to the United Nations, Pope Francis said: “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.” In all fairness, the case Tipoteh Versus Korkoya in the court of law in Liberia can be contextualized and reflected in what the Holy Father said.

While I am no aficionada of Jerome Korkoya, chairman of the National Election Commission of Liberia, I am justly constrained to defend him in the court of public opinion against the lawsuit filed by Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh’s and others, claiming that he (Chairman Korkoya) is not a Liberian citizen. Apart from the fact that the lawsuit shows every sign of being a political ploy; it is also a glaring and unfortunate misuse of Liberia’s resources, and an exclusionary attack on a man who Dr. Tipoteh and others perceive as weak and disadvantaged because of his background.

In the complainers’ legal brief or submission, there is a valid contention that Chairman Korkoya allegedly broke Liberian law by not stating that he has American citizenship while seeking employment in the government. That said, we can all establish the fact that laws are to be obeyed and laws are good to restrain human actions. Equally, laws are useless, meaningless and unacceptable when they are selective and are imposed on a few rather than all. This is precisely why Dr. Tipoteh’s and others’ so-called lawsuit against Chairman Korkoya is categorically a witch-hunt.

Instead of wasting the time and resources of the Liberian judiciary on an imaginary driven scenario that is based purely on personal and venal political motives that are grounded in an unending desire for state power, the complainers of this lawsuit need to focus on and address the ethical questions and human challenges facing the country and Liberians, especially the majority of our people who face economic and social exclusion that Pope Francis described as a “complete denial of human fraternity and a very grave offence against human rights and the environment.”

There are many serious problems in Liberia that the Liberian judicial system needs to focus on and deal with. Besides, the country is becoming a narco-trafficking hub between South America and Europe. Physical abuse and rape against women and girls are widespread; theft of public resources and corruption are in the roof; ritualistic killings and social exclusion are indescribable; access to meaningful preventive healthcare and basic education are virtually lacking, and unemployment has become an economic culture and a social reality. And, as Pope Francis also said during his speech at the United Nations, “The poorest [in Liberia] are the ones who suffer the most… They are cast off by [the Liberian] society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the consequences of the abuse of the environment [and our government’s failure in Liberia].”

Jerome Korkoya, Chairman of the National Election Commission of Liberia

I have always respected and held in high esteem Dr. Tipoteh and many of his allies who contend that Chairman Korkoya is not a Liberian citizen because he lived and worked in the United States. Assuming Korkoya is a naturalized US citizen, what is even wrong with that when, in fact, he was born in Liberia and belongs to one of the major local ethnic groups [the Kpelle tribe]? As Robert Ferguson, a former defense attaché at the United States Embassy in Monrovia once said, “Everybody in Liberia has skeletons,” including the people filing the self-interest lawsuit against Chairman Korkoya.

The simple fact is, the Tipoteh-led lawsuit is not altruistic, fair, and just, and for many reasons, it presents the highest measure of hypocrisy. First and foremost, there are many Liberians [including his best friend President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and most members of her family and friends] in the country and in senior government positions who are citizens of the US and other Western nations.

Secondly, the filers of the lawsuit failed to recognize that many Liberians [including Chairman Jerome Korkoya] fled the country involuntarily to school, live and work in Western and other nations because of the 14-years civil war which was engineered by many of the associates of Dr. Tipoteh and some of his fellow complainers. Moreover, the central duplicity of the lawsuit clearly shows in the fact that exceptions were and continue to be granted to certain types of Liberians while others are denied. One such exception was the relaxation or suspension of the “Residency Clause” during the 2005 and 2011 presidential and legislative elections, as well as the appointments of some affluent persons in government, i.e. Dr. Ophelia Weeks––the recently appointed President of the University of Liberia, a public institution.

If Dr. Tipoteh and his associates who are now clamoring for the exclusivity and prioritization of Liberian citizenship were serious, why is it that they did not question or file lawsuits against the entire Weeks family [for citizenship verification] who are in lucrative positions in Liberia? Why didn’t they question some of the people that ran our economy from the finance ministry to the Central Bank of Liberia, or those that led our national security system for decades, as well as the past and present leaders of our nation’s maritime authority?

It wouldn’t even be a bad idea to ask “Civilian General’ Mary Broh about the whole citizenship matters as she flies from one government’s agency to the next, doing a good job. After all, she lived and worked in the U.S. too. Or, maybe Robert Sirleaf should not have been CEO of NOCAL, and Frank Tolbert should not have been Chairman of the National Investment Commission because they too fall in the same shoes with Korkoya. The only difference is, the others were or are not in positions that could possibly impede or grant Dr. Tipoteh’s ambition for the presidency.

If Dr. Tipoteh truly believes in this so-called Liberianization concept, why hasn’t he frown on the fact that we had and continue to have natives of neighboring West African countries in our foreign service at ambassadorial level? Why didn’t he sue when his friend President Sirleaf appointed Dr. Abdulai Dukuly to represent Liberia at a key U.N.’s function despite being an Ivorian citizen, as admitted by Dr. Dukuly himself?

In this low energy quest against Chairman Jerome Korkoya, Dr. Tipoteh is stridently supported by Sister Miatta Fahnbulleh, an individual I certainly admired from childhood. But, can Sister Miatta Fahnbulleh honestly admit that she has no other citizenship apart from Liberia? Furthermore, it is odd that Dr. Tipoteh is pursuing a charge so complex when he knows that many of his core followers or protégés abroad have acquired citizenship of those countries. Besides, children of his friends as well as his political and professional peers, some of whom are serving in the Liberian administration also have other citizenships, so too are some of the families of members in the rank and file of the Liberian government.

One can understand why Dr. Tipoteh, Sister Miatta Fahnbulleh and others are going after Chairman Korkoya, but among the Grebo people in Southeastern Liberia, there is a saying that “town trap is not for chicken alone.” It can catch goats and sheep too. This lawsuit is not only a bad town trap, it is a chancy precedence. Moreover, it could reflect very poorly on the hard-fought character and legacy of Dr. Tipoteh––a great Liberian who Korkoya as a student was once a protégé. Therefore, I urge Dr. Tipoteh to desist and the reason is as clear as a snowball.

The call for justice, fairness and the application of the rule of law cannot and must not be half-hazard, half-baked, selective, and prejudicial; because if it is, then it is a sure recipe for a social iniquity that will destroy our inherent dignity as Liberians. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, “No [thirst for] power on earth should destroy the thirst for human dignity.” This lawsuit goes against what Mandela meant because ‘witch-hunting’ is beneath our inherent dignity as Liberians. And, if we have not learned anything from our self-destruction for 14 years, the consequences of exclusion should be one thing we must learn and not forget.

Korkoya is not only a sheer victim of a self-seeking political interplay, he is targeted because he is an easy prey and a subject of a passion for power. This is precisely why this whole Tipoteh-led lawsuit and the Miatta Fahnbulleh-led Liberian citizenship campaign are like the play “Julius Caesar,” According to literature, the driving forces in the play “Julius Caesar” were Cassius, Brutus, Marc Antony, and Octavius Caesar. “Cassius’s greed for power, good reputation, and his jealousy led to Caesars’ death.” Cassius had many motives for the killing of Julius Caesar. One of Cassius’s motives was his greed for power.

According to Literature also, Brutus too had many motives for killing Julius Caesar. One motive of Brutus’s for killing Julius Caesar was that he knew the people of Rome loved and trusted him. Another motivation of Brutus was that he loved Rome. Brutus thought that if he kill Julius Caesar he would do a big favor for the Roman people because Julius Caesar becoming king could only mean bad things to come for Rome. Brutus had told the Roman citizens at Julius Caesar’s funeral, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer–not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more” (III, ii, 17-19) to explain his reasons for killing Caesar. By telling the Roman citizens that he killed Caesar for them, he had eased some tensions between the citizens. So, the question is: Why are Dr. Tipoteh, Sister Miatta Fahnbulleh and others trying to figuratively ‘kill’ Chairman Korkoya? Is it because they love Korkoya less and love Liberia more?

On the other hand, literature tells us that Marc Antony had many motives for rebelling against the conspirators and teaming up with Octavius to battle Brutus and Cassius. One motive of Marc Antony for revolted against the conspirators was that he wanted revenge.  On the contrary, I am in no way perfect, and I am in no way Marc Anthony, even though I am in defense of Chairman Korkoya. I defend Korkoya because of my strong belief in justice and fairness. I defend Korkoya because of my background and training as someone who once studied for the Catholic priesthood where honesty and integrity are not mere words, but concrete actions.

The Tipoteh-led lawsuit and the Miatta Fahnbulleh-led Liberian citizenship campaign against Chairman Korkoya are not only a waste of the precious time and resources of the Liberian judiciary, it is a very gloomy precedence that disrupts us of the path to reconciliation and national unity. The effort to remove Korkoya from office on the basis that he is a US citizen serves no common purpose, except self-interest politics with no grounds in fairness and justice.

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Jones Nhinson Williams

Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian philosopher (born in Pleebo, Maryland County but hailed from River Gee County) firmly educated by the Catholic Church. He is an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional with accomplished global experience in job creation and institutional governance.

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