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Me, myself and I, and everybody for themselves

By Elder Siahyonkron Nyanseor                 Siahyonkron-Nyanseor1-130x150

 

Historian Carter Woodson, founder of “Negro History Week” once said: “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his place and will stay in it.”

Also, Dr. Philip Emeagwali wrote, “You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told.” To which, Woodson concluded, “…If there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Let me begin by first commenting on what Woodson and Emeagwali were referring, and then move on by sharing with you a discussion I listened to on the Liberia Destiny Debaters’ Forum on Monday, February 17, 2014. The forum was hosted by Mr. B-Slow Flomo. The guests were Mr. Moses D. Sandy, a Liberian journalist and Mr. Gabriel Nimley, the first Information Minister of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) government. The topics discussed were: “Dishonesty as norm in President Sirleaf’s Liberia”, “Corruption/Kickback, Unconstitutional bills and more.”

Following Mr. Sandy’s brilliant analysis of corruption in the Sirleaf Unity Party government, a caller asked him this question: “Are you the same Moses Sandy who had a goldsmith shop in Monrovia?” Sandy said “yes.” The caller then said, “I used to visit your shop with two of my sisters to have their chains fixed; each time their chains became shorter by your employers.” I liked the way Mr. Sandy did not respond to the caller’s statement, since it had nothing to do with what he said about corruption in the Sirleaf government.

Some of us who advocate for good governance and transparency in government are sometimes told, “If you were there you would do the same thing. Even in the United States, there is corruption.” Statements like these are asked to evade the issues. Mr. Sandy went on to provide examples of corrupt practices in the Sirleaf government.

This brings me to the title of my article.

You see, these days in Liberia, “Me, myself and I, and everybody for themselves” have become the order of the day, and “Everybody for themselves, and God for all” has become the norm by which decisions are made. Very little has changed since I was a teenager in Liberia. In fact, it has gotten worse! The man in the street refers to this practice as the “same 6 & 7.”

Christians believe everybody should be for each other; but this is not the way of the world today. It has become “me, myself and I”; or “what is in it for me?” Since God’s help is for everyone, the practice of “Each one for himself and God for us all” should not be an acceptable way of life in any country! Why should this selfish practice continue when God has given us plenty to share? However, with the rate in which Liberia is being mortgaged to outside interests, sooner than later Liberia will be owned by others. This practice is done at the expense of the Liberian masses, reducing them to mere beggars; and making the country to lag behind most African nations in education, health services, safe drinking water, electricity, technology and infrastructural development badly needed to compete in the 21st Century’s global village.

This reminds me of Ed Schultz’s 2009 health care column in the Huffington Post titled: “My God, what has happened to America?” The focus Shultz wrote, “Senators Should Visit a Free health Care Clinic to Really See the America they Represent…and Deny”.

According to Shultz, what has happened to America is “GREED”. “… In our world there are takers, meaning the wealthy… Seems we have more takers than givers. GREED, GREED, GREED, GREED, GREED, GREED. THESE GREEDY PEOPLE ARE PREDITORS, SELFISH, MERCENARY, COVETOUS, AVARICIOUS AND COLD, COLD, COLD. I don’t believe they have a ‘clue’ as to what AMERICANS are going thru daily. They should trade places for a week and find out. BUT that would mean giving up their life of luxury.”

Ed Schultz went on to say, “I have just one question for those that have this insidious disease called “GREED”. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Greed is wanting and taking all that one can get with no thought of other’s needs; desiring more than one needs or deserves. How many houses does one need, you can only be in one house at a time, in one room at a time. HOW many are out there with no homes as a result of Wall Street. Again GREED.”

Yet, with all what greed does to a people and country, we still have individuals who see it differently. One such individual was the caller on the Liberia Destiny Debaters’ Forum whose rationale for corruption in Liberia was “Liberian people’s lack of education. The host, Mr. Flomo responded that “Most of the corrupton committed in the Sirleaf government are committed by Book people.” This disproves the belief that with education, we will be able to reduce the practice of corruption. The fact of the matter is ordinary Liberians do not need to READ and WRITE in order to be able to identify corrupt practices in the country. Corruption is all around them!

It was the ordinary Liberians that referred to the late former Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant’s National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) as: “Now it’s Time to Grab and Leave” or “Never Trust Government Leaders.” The same people referred to the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) government of Samuel K. Doe as “Plenty Rice Coming”; “People Ruled by Children” or “People Repeating Corruptions.” The Sirleaf government is not exempt. The people refer to her Unity Party (UP) government as “Unscrupulous Practices”.

In my view, nothing has really changed in Liberia. In fact, it has gotten worse! It is business as usual! The present leaders in Liberia lacked leadership qualities, i.e., vision, sound financial management; and more importantly, transparency. Bad governing practices have become the order of the day. As a result, most of the people in our country have gotten accustomed to corrupt practices. To them it is the way of life. The reason being, “since corruption cannot be eliminated, why hurt your head over it!” The common advice they offer is, “When the opportunity presents itself to you, take your share of the Elephant’s meat. Don’t complain when others are doing it; wait on your turn. Liberian government job is like a big Elephant meat; it is plenty. It belongs to anyone who can cut a bigger piece because if you steal from yourself (government), it is no sin at all.” And as the axiom says, “Steal from steal, (only) makes God laugh.”

As you shall see, corruption is not limited to politicians and government officials alone. It is within the family today in Africa. One Nollywood movie I watched makes the case for corruption, envy, and deceit in family relationship. The movie, “Proof of Life” (Parts 1 & 2) is about a man named Chike who is married with two kids, a boy, 6 years old, and the girl about 8 years old. Chike loved his extended family and would go to any length to help and satisfy their needs to the detriment of his own family.

This successful lawyer was exploited financially by his greedy relatives. They moved their own responsibilities to him believing that it is the tradition for him to fend for them since he is wealthy. The demands from them were too much for him to bear, and it soon affected his job, wife and kids. After things fell apart for him, he arranged his own death without the knowledge of his wife just to see how his family members (specifically his three brothers) would care for his family when he is dead.

Finally, he discovered through agony and astonishment that his extended family did not care about his wife and children. The money he left in trust for them to take care of his son, daughter and wife was converted for their personal use. Eventually, he revealed himself after he had tested each of his brothers. They failed the test by their uncaring actions to his family. This is a fact-based drama that must be watched by all Africans in the Diaspora!

Now, let me share with you a story about corruption in Liberia told to me by my mother. The story is about “John Johns’ Refusal to be Promoted.” According to the story:  John Johns was a messenger (an expediter) in the Bureau of Customs at the Ministry of Finance. John Johns was troubled when he heard that his boss was considering him for a promotion. So he decided to bribe his boss to prevent him from promoting him.

Based on the bureau’s records, John Johns was the most dedicated employee in the history of the bureau. He was the only employee who worked seven days a week, the first to report to work, and the last to leave. These good qualities earned him consideration for a promotion. The promotion would be a salary increment of $75.00 per month. (This was in the 1950s).

However, the environment in which John Johns worked, “cold water” (bribery) was the practice. It was encouraged! If one refused bribe, he/she was considered ‘stupid’ or ‘naive.’ The promotion became a dilemma for John Johns. John Johns’ monthly starting salary was $25.00 when he was first employed; he had a wife and two children. Within five years, with five increments, he earned $50.00 per month. With this salary, John Johns supported his four children by his wife and two other children by each of his two girlfriends. With this meager salary, John Johns managed to build 4 concrete houses in less than a year.

Hearing the news that he was slated for promotion, John Johns grew weary and troubled. As a result, he quickly called on the personal friends of his boss to ask them to intervene so that his boss will change his mind regarding his promotion. He got his bosses’ friends to accept his proposition. Some of them even made remarks like, “If a person doesn’t want to be promoted, you can’t force that person.” Based on this rationale, the friends offered to help John Johns by agreeing to talk to their friend on his behalf. In exchange, John Johns promised to handsomely reward them. They decided to meet at the home of their friend, Mr. Johnson. John Johns made other arrangements with his boss’s wife. He provided funds for the entertainment. He gave Mrs. Johnson lots of cash to stage the event in grand style. In order for her husband not to leave home that day, Mrs. Johnson made sure to tell him that, “On Saturday some of your personal friends are coming over to visit; you need to be home to receive them.”

About 7:30 that evening, John Johns and the friends of Mr. Johnson showed up at his house. He was glad to see his close friends and associates. Mrs. Johnson served the guests expensive drinks and food. By then, Mr. Johnson began to wonder about the purpose for such an elaborate occasion. He was somewhat puzzled how his wife got the resources to provide such high-class entertainment. Looking at the reflection on Mr. Johnson’s face, John Johns got up quickly, took the center stage, and said: “Mrs. Johnson, Madam, thank you for your assistance in arranging this meeting.”

“Gentlemen, I thank all of you for responding to my request in a timely manner. However, before I begin to tell my boss the purpose for which we have gathered here, let me first thank God the Almighty for forgiving all of the bad, bad things I have done in my lifetime.” He then focused his attention on his boss. He said to him, “Chief, this palaver was called because I heard you were thinking about promoting me. Is there any truth to what they have been saying around the office?” The boss responded in the affirmative. “It is certainly true.” John Johns then said, “Chief, the reason I brought you this ‘cold water’ and ‘goat soup’ (bribe) along with your close friends and associates, is to beg you to not promote me. Chief, in the name of the Almighty God, please reconsider your plan. And if it means for me to give you half of my salary for your personal use, I would rather do so than to be promoted. Chief, I beg you; I love my present position very much! I do not want any increase nor to be promoted to another position. My present position was meant for me!”

As soon as John Johns got through speaking, Mr. Johnson thanked him for his concern and generosity and said to him, “If that’s what you want, I have no other choice but to adhere to your wishes.” He accepted the “goat soup”, “cold water” and the portion of John Johns’ salary without questioning him about his motives. After reaching this agreement, Mr. Johnson and his guests had a good time celebrating John Johns’ request not to be promoted.

In short, one must always strive to do what is RIGHT. Mr. Johnson failed this test! He accepted to do wrong for greed. His behavior reminds me of the statement the Catholic Archbishop Louis Ziegler delivered during the Fast and Prayer Day sermon. It reads:

“Now this (corruption) is on all levels, it comes from the family throughout to the top. If I had the time, I would demonstrate, a little bit where it is, because when we talk about corruption, we only think about those only up there, but deep down there, it is there and is being practiced every day. Now where is the training ground for this? It is within the family; let us work on that, our conscience, for the conscience of this nation seems to be dead, dead to sin and it needs to be reawakened.”

Arch Bishop Ziegler’s statement is a good example of what is required of us. Therefore, I say in this regard that if history is any guide to understanding the genesis of any country’s and direction and how it has been able to overcome major national concerns on such issues as corruption, ethnicity, reconciliation and national unity, the Liberian experience will leave much to be desired or appreciated.

The inherent problem of most African countries is the “lack of loyalty to the state.” For the most part, the loyalties of many Africans are geared towards their immediate or extended families, ethnic groups and personal friends. The state comes last! Americans and Europeans, on the other hand, tend to be loyal to their states.

Some political scientists tend to explain this inherent problem of African nations within the context of colonial domination—considering the fact that these nations were established by outsiders. Another explanation of the problem is found in Raymond F. Betts’s critical work: “In the Scramble for Africa: Causes and Dimensions of Empire.” Betts attributes Africans’ lack of loyalty to the state to the manner in which the Berlin Conference was established. Europeans carved-up Africa amongst themselves at these conferences (from 1884 to 1885).

Betts writes:  The ‘Scramble’ suggests rapid and confused activity and, in this particular instance, a rush forward, a sort of treasure hunt. The metaphor therefore not only tends to describe vividly, it also tends to assign values to the historical action itself. The popular conclusion has long been that the opening up of Africa in the nineteenth century was done both with great haste and with reckless abandon as European explorers, missionaries, and military men brought European politics, culture, and confusion to a hitherto largely terra incognita.

This process generated different “spheres of influence” within various African nation-states that emerged out of the partition. Moreover, these newly established states were imposed on indigenous African populations. Africans did not participate in the formation of these states. In other words, these so-called nation-states were established by force and illegitimately. The same argument can be made regarding the so-called founding of Liberia.

In Liberia’s case, it was a group of white Americans in Washington, D.C. who took up “the White Man’s Burden” for The Grain Coast (the name Liberia was called prior to the arrival of the Settlers).

Due to the imposition of foreign hegemony, true nationalism or loyalty to the state never developed. The lack of loyalty to the state makes the African State fragile and the citizenry an easy prey for insincere ethnic politicians to exploit on the basis of sectionalism, tribalism, nepotism and personal relationship. As a result, African States have and continued to experience all sorts of social, economic and political problems. These problems are maintained, instead of being resolved. These corrupt leaders exploit the differences through the use of bribery, brute force, and other forms of corrupt practices, like what is going on in Liberia today.

The Liberian phenomenon is a sad commentary. It is hard to fathom how individuals who were nurtured, schooled and acquired the taste of American democracy – the citadel of world democracy would easily abandon these important virtues once they returned to Liberia and acquired power. Their corrupting influence has spread like wildfire destroying even the most basic structures for building a democracy.

There is truth to the adage – “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is clearly the case of the ‘Iron Lady’, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom I once considered a friend for her expressed patriotism. Madame Sirleaf once referred to me as ‘Eminent’ before I became an Eminent Person of ULAA, and now it’s Chair.

How soon people forget history? The critic has assumed the practice she once condemned. She has now consolidated powers, and she is using it for the sole purpose of acquiring wealth at any cost, and pursuing its grandiose plans of maintaining power for herself, her children, relatives, friends, and her Unity Party government. And in the process, heightens repressive rule and tightens it stranglehold on the basic freedoms of the Liberian people.

Based on my research, selfishness and greed make corrupt individuals turn blind eye to the sufferings they inflict on others; and that corruption has become so rampant in some parts of the world, it has become an accepted practice. French lawyer Arnaud Montebourg laments that “Corruption is like a heavy pollution that weighs on people’s spirit.” The Economist also added, “As much as 10 percent of the $25 billion spent every year in international arms trade serves to bribe potential customers.” The magazine stated further that “corruption is but one form of oppression.” I agree wholeheartedly with this observation.

James Foley, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state puts it correctly when he said, “We all recognize that the cost of bribery is high. Bribes undermine good governance, harm economic efficiency and development, distorts trade, and penalizes citizens around the world.” Regarding this concern, on December 17, 1997, 34 major countries signed a “bribery convention” that is designed to “have a major impact on the global fight against corruption.” According to the convention, a crime is committed when one offers, promises or gives a bribe to a foreign public official in order to obtain or retain international business deals.

The practice known as corruption is as old as man. Some people argue that corruption started with the first family in the Garden of Eden, and that it exists in all human societies – from Genesis to Exodus. Yet, in almost all societies, there are laws against corrupt practices of any kind. If corruption goes unchecked, it will flourish and collapse continents. Unlike a tip that is given as an expression of appreciation for services rendered; bribe is a form of corruption that is given to prevent justice or for other dishonest purposes.

Dismayingly, however, apologists of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Unity Party government lacks honesty, and is incapable of owning up to the mounting problems her administration has created either by its acts of omission or commission. They have shamelessly and deceptively engaged in a public relations war of words to deceive and make mockery of their real interests. Mouthing such phrase as “the Oldma is trying;” and calling for cessation of criticisms against her administration in order that we the so-called ‘Troublemakers’ will receive our share of the spoils of the people’s wealth. This deception has produced more deceptions, exposing its vulnerability and practice of corrupting the truth.

The fact of the matter is, since there is a total lack of honesty in the Johnson-Sirleaf administration, certainly it will be difficult for the government’s policies to escape the attention of any concerned and caring person. In retrospect, it astonishes me; yet, I am not too surprised by the behaviors of many Liberians regarding this cancerous practice of corruption.

John Gunther was wrong when he wrote over 50 years ago that, “Liberia is a sick country, one day it may get well”. Mr. Gunther’s diagnosis was WRONG! Liberia is not only a ‘sick country’, her illness has become terminal, and there seems to be no cure in sight.

As a matter of fact, because of the doctrine of “Me, myself and I, and everybody for themselves,” Liberia has become the only country on earth that disregard individuals who refused to steal the people’s money; instead, they considered them FOOLS and STUPID. Because those that steal, ride expensive cars, build big, big houses, have many girls/boyfriends, and send their children abroad to school. For these strange reasons, these individuals are admired and protected because some of these criminals and murderers are their relatives or they are from the same counties or are members of the same criminal network. This is the wrong way forward; therefore, these rogues and murderers need to be persecuted and not celebrated.

How soon we forget! How can we not see that there is something wrong with the corruption going on in Liberia? It is a historical fact that these rogues and murderers will not escape the fate that visited Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and many other corrupt African leaders. Nevertheless, I am in agreement with Charles Taylor who said, “The ant on the treetop will always find water to survive.” But if the ant is not careful, the water could kill it due to neglect and environmental contamination caused by the leaders who were supposed to take care of the environment.

As we may recall, it was corruption that hastened the downfall of the Roman Empire; so will it destroy those who engage in it – along with innocent people. Therefore, for anyone who called herself/himself President of a nation to use the people’s wealth to bribe others so as to continue corrupt practices, suggests that she/he is a criminal, as well and is morally bankrupt. Right this moment, corruption needs to be denounced in all of its forms and manifestations because what is sweet in Billy Goat’s mouth will eventually run its stomach. It is the same with corruption. Small amount of corruption, leads to the one that will destroy an entire nation.

Conclusion

The story of the ‘Greedy Workmen’ is a classic example of the Liberian people’s plight in the land of enormous wealth; yet, majority of its people cannot afford a cup of rice.

As the story goes, when Jesus came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things, and who gave you this authority?

Jesus did not answer their questions, but he began to speak to them in parables, saying:  “A certain man planted a vineyard and hedged it around about and dug a wine press in it and built a tower, and then let it out to workmen and went to a distant land.

“When the time of the harvest drew near, he sent his servants to the workmen to collect the fruits of the vineyard. But the workmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.

“Again he sent other servants, and they did likewise to them. Last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But when the workmen saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let kill him and let us seize his inheritance.’

“And they caught him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

“When the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those workmen?” Jesus asked.

They said to him: “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will rent out his vineyard to other workmen, who will pay him his share of the fruit when they are ripened.”

When the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parable, they knew that he spoke of them. But when they tried to lay their hands on him, they were afraid of the multitude because they took him for a prophet.

The story of the Greedy Workmen is similar to what is going on in Liberia; therefore, those of us who are advocating for good governance and transparency in government must continue to make our position clear as conscientious objectors; a position that the apostle Paul took against the corrupt Roman officials.

During the trial of Paul and Felix, the Roman governor delayed the trial, hoping that Paul would give him money to secure his release (Acts 24:22-26). Instead, Paul lectured him about “righteousness and self-control.” This is the same approach we must follow if we intend to discourage corrupt practices in Liberia, Africa and the world.

The statement by the late Archbishop Michael Francis is appropriate at this juncture. It reads:

We (Liberians) are in many instances insincere, dishonest, deceitful, and sycophantic. We have serious attitudinal problems. For the past two plus decades, our society has been so replete with a culture of violence, a culture of deception, a culture of dishonesty, non-achievement and multifaceted negative social attitudes that moral decadence has become the order of the day. There is now a looming fear that if this trend is not reversed our younger generation will grow up with negative attitudes, and this country will suffer greatly. Just think, sixty percent of our population was born after 1979 – one understands the magnitude of the problem.

We should address ourselves not only to healing the wounds of the past, but also to dressing the open wounds of the present. (From the speech the late Archbishop Michael Francis delivered on August 28, 2002 at the Government Reconciliation Conference in Virginia, Liberia).

Finally, we the advocates for “Rights and Rice” have come too far to betray our mission; therefore, my appeal to you is for us to rekindle our fighting spirit and passion like we did in the past; “We should not get tired or give up the fight. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” (Wangari Muta Maathai).

 

Siahyonkron Nyanseor is Chair of the ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. He is an ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of theperspective.org online newsmagazine, and Senior Advisor to the Voice of Liberia newsmagazine. In 2012, he Co-authored Djogbachiachuwa: The Liberian Literature Anthology; his book of poems: TIPOSAH: Message from the Palava Hut will soon be on the market. Nyanseor can be reached at: siah1947@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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