Samuel Kofi Woods
As news of Liberia’s vice president, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai of the ruling Unity Party, is surfacing about the selection and announcement of his vice-presidential running mate, some lawmakers in the United States with deep interest in West Africa, particularly Liberia, are said to be comfortable with the evolving of the name of lead human rights advocate and lawyer, Samuel Kofi Woods, then the rest of the names on the list, as published by a local Liberian daily, FrontPage Africa.
In the United States and in most advanced democracies around the world, the choice of a Vice Presidential candidate matters because the vice-president is “just a heart-beat” away from the Presidency. For example, in the United States, nine vice-presidents took over for the President before the end of his term. Therefore, voters consider the VP candidate when voting for President.
However, in the case of Liberia 2017 October’s presidential election, it is not just the Liberian voters who are concerned, some in the international community are watching and are also very concerned.
One US senator who declined to be on record said, a choice of anyone from the Liberian legislature [since 2006] which is known for scanty track record of accomplishments and corruption will be a calamitous error of judgment by whoever selects them as a running mate in the upcoming presidential election.
A member of Congress also indicated that the mention of Woods’ name is good for Liberia and the ruling Unity Party’s coalition, considering that the ruling party and the current administration are tainted with institutional failures, injustices, corruption and the abuse of power.
Samuel Kofi Woods enjoys extensive international support for his record fighting human rights abuses, social injustices, economic crimes and anti-democratic tendencies under Charles Taylor and subsequent Liberian administrations. He is also good friends with some former world leaders, including former Irish president, Mary Robinson.
Woods is the first Liberian to win international awards in relations to human rights advocacy, good governance and social justice, and has a credible standing with the global Catholic Church as far as Rome, where he has been honored by the Pope for his advocacy work.
On June 7, 2005, Mr. David Crane, then Special Prosecutor of the Special Court in Sierra Leone honored the Liberia’s foremost and veteran human rights crusader, Samuel Kofi Woods, II.
Although he served in the first administration of President Ellen Johnson as Minister of Labor and later as Minister of Public Works before resigning for what many termed as governance and policy differences, he continues to enjoy the respect of Liberians who generally frowned on officials from the inner circle of the Liberian administration.
A US political consultant in Washington, DC said the first sound governance decision a presidential candidate can make is the choice of a running-mate. He added that for a government and a ruling party or administration so loathed by Liberians and many in the international community for the right reasons, Woods brings a credibility and trust factor that international partners can find comforting.
A survey of several Liberian groups in the United States, Canada and Europe seemed to agree with these assessments.
James Kiazolu in Portland, Oregon, said current House Speaker Nuquay appears to be a nice young man, but he lacks international and governance experience, contacts and functional institutional knowledge to step in should the president becomes incapacitated.
“I just think Nuquay needs more time to grow and he is not ready for prime time such as the position of vice president,” says Kiazolu.
Kiazolu indicated further that “the choice of former Grand Bassa County Senator Gbehzohngar M. Findley is an ill-advised and unreasonable proposition for consideration by those who are even suggesting that.” He said, “it will be a colossal mistake for Vice President Boakai to even consider such a terrible recommendation.
Maxwell Dixon in Windsor, Canada said, he hailed from the same political subdivision as former Senator Findley and both are from the Bassa tribal group. However, he said, “Findley demonstrated autocratic tendencies as a lawmaker and ‘errand boy’ for the president when he tried to pass laws requiring individuals running for legislative seats to put down a registration capital or finances that he knew they wouldn’t have.”
He said Findley did that so that no one could challenge him in Grand Bassa County. Dixon said, such a man would be dangerous as head of state because he would most likely make the country a one-party state and throw everyone that disagrees with him in prison.
Theresa Kumoteh of Pittsburgh, Pennsylavania, said Senator Dan Morias of Maryland could be a good choice but his credentials must be reviewed critically to see if he fits the bill since the position of Vice President in Liberia must be transformed from a mere ceremonious office and duty to an active office. She said, “for Senator Peter Coleman, I think he should remain in the senate and add his voice to health care changes, improvement and related bills.”
She said, “No one will take the vice president seriously when he selects former Senator Findley who is a replicate of everything bad about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s policies and the current Liberian administration.”
A brief survey conducted with other Liberians favored Samuel Kofi Woods broadly. They see and consider him as someone who will bring credibility, trust, youth and experience to a lagging campaign that is in danger of losing the election to Brumskine or Cummings if nothing is done to energize it.
A politics professor at Ohio State University said the current presidential race in Liberia is between four candidates: Vice President Joseph Boakai, Counselor Charles Brumskine, Mr. Alexander Cummings, and businessman Benoni Urey. He said, any of these men can and will become the next president of Liberia.
He said, with the potential of Samuel Kofi Woods being one of the individuals rumored to be on the ballot as a running mate might resuscitate hope for the ruling party’s coalition and the Vice President’s candidacy. “Anything short of that, Brumskine or Cummings will become the next Liberian leader.”
Mr. Brian Weaver, an Ontario-based political researcher, said many international figures have interest in the upcoming Liberian presidential election for a variety of reasons. He added that the current large field of candidates is not good for a small country like Liberia.
Mr. Weaver said, if the opposition could form a united front, that would cause trouble for the current ruling party’s coalition. He said, “the elections will be over if Brumskine and Cummings were to have a united front and form a coalition.” Mr. Weaver said, as things stand “the vice president appears to have institutional and governance advantage since his party controls the government.”
He further mentioned that the vice president choice of running-mate in the coming days is important because it will project his decision-making ability and judgment for a better Liberia. “The selection of his running mate gives some indication of the candidate’s ability to make wise appointments in the future,” argued Weaver.
Weaver said, Brumskine now has the upper hand in the campaign process in terms of funding, strategy, organization, messaging and vote rich constituencies as well as having stronger representation, connections and meaningful ties in Washington, DC because of his recent US visit and meetings with officials.
He said, Cummings is a formidable candidate with all the right appeal the West will look for, but he needs to localize his appeal, develop a strong messaging and perhaps redefine and restructure his political organization, which, according to Weaver, is the main setback for the candidate in the ongoing race.
Weaver added that Urey’s strong appeal to Liberians as a job creator could resonate with Liberians if he (Urey) capitalizes on that messaging as well as develop a campaign’s organizational strategy. He said Urey’s setback is not having a strong political organization, but it is not late to assemble one as well as making effort to launch a contact in Washington, DC.
In another development, a powerful member of Congress is urging Liberians to desist from sectional and tribal politics. As member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he said, such could pose dire consequences for Liberia and for the next president if nothing is done to halt that.