There was a popular joke in Liberia during the Tolbert administration about his erratic brother, Frank Tolbert. As Senator and a family member of the president, Frank Tolbert, who was believed to claim ownership of the public sidewalk in front of his house, was quick to prevent the public from walking on that sidewalk.
And when they did, he would first use force to stop them, and then subsequently announce his kinship to the president to legitimize his crazy claims of the public walkway.
“Do you know who I am? I am Frank Emmanuel Tolbert, senior brother of the President of the Republic of Liberia, and President Pro-tempro of the Liberian Senate,” it is believed he would ask or tell a person walking on the sidewalk in front of his house.
Even though Frank Tolbert did not coin the phrase, ‘do you know who I am?’ it became popular in Liberia during the heyday of the one-party dynastic rule of the Americo-Liberians freed black slaves from the United States, some of whom used their family connections and positions in government to intimidate, harass, jail or physically assault Liberians they believed crossed their paths the wrong way.
While it is so true that those Americo-Liberians in and outside of government were known to commit these illegal acts that were close to being treasonous, some indigenous Liberians who occupied powerful government positions at the time were also quick to intimidate, harass and remind Liberians of their place in government and society, when they think those Liberians also crossed their paths the wrong way.
Just as it was then when previous administrations did not implement or enforce existing laws to combat intimidation, harassment and physical abuse of civilians, journalists and police officers by powerful government officials, the current administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has been unable to implement or enforce existing laws to prevent those illegal acts.
As a result, there has been an increase in physical abuse, intimidation and harassment of civilians, journalists and police officers by members of the House of Representatives and Senate, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Johnnie Lewis, and now the acting Mayor of Monrovia, Mary Broh.
Just recently, it was widely reported that Acting Mayor Mary Broh allegedly slapped Senate staffer Nancy Gaye, for “provoking her.” According to reports, the incident happened when the acting Mayor was spearheading street-cleaning projects in the city of Monrovia.
For a government official or anybody to lay his or her hand on another person is unacceptable no matter what the situation. And for this to happen continually in Liberia in 2012 shows an obvious lack of leadership, lawlessness, dysfunction and a low level of dialogue and tolerance in Liberia.
And for a sitting president to watch and do nothing after her staffer physically assaults a citizen underscores Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s style of leadership, which favors her friends, family members, cronies and government officials over ordinary Liberian citizens.
President Sirleaf’s unconditional support of this lady is a classic example, which emboldens Mary Broh to do whatever she wants to do to anyone whom she believes is in her way, without facing the consequence of her action.
Interestingly, Mary Broh, who hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate as Mayor in the many years she has held that position, was subpoena by that body to appear before them to answer charges that she physically assaulted Ms. Gaye.
While it is so true that the anger coming from the Legislative Branch is in the right direction, this case shouldn’t be tried in the legislative chambers, but in the court of law where cases are litigated.
What these members of the House of Representatives and Senate should do right now is not to pander to their emotions and public sentiments. They ought to enact sensible legislations, or enforce existing ones to prevent future abuse by powerful government officials, including those same members of the legislative branch who are now making noise about this incident.
However, where were these Representatives and Senators years ago when their own members where found to intimidate, harass and physically assaulted journalists, police officers and ordinary Liberians?
If the Liberian court systems are too weak that they favor government officials over ordinary citizens during litigation (even when those government officials are guilty), then enforcement mechanisms must be put in place to correct the problem, to instill confidence in the judicial system.
To her credit, however, Mary Broh is not alone in her disdain for ordinary citizens, journalists and police officers. With a history of aggression towards those she sees as lesser than humans, the unrudely Mary Broh, who does not have any ounce of leadership in her DNA to lead anything, let alone a city, is a manifestation of what’s wrong in Ellen’s Liberia.
As a presidential friend Mary Broh can do no wrong in the eyes of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who showed her unwavering support for the embattled acting Mayor in the wake of this latest controversy that rocked her administration.
I have always argued that nation building, or the talk of nation building (as is the case in Liberia right now) should not only be about building infrastructure, but also about attitude change, having a civilized environment that respects others and encourages constructive dialogue, and enforcing existing laws on the books.
As it’s now, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Liberia has yet to show leadership on these issues and other issues on her watch that continues to plague the country.