Wednesday, August 6, 2008

TRC Thematic Hearing Heats Up

...Many Actors Facing Hearing;
...No Date Yet for Prez Sirleaf' Yet

By: Bill K. Jarkloh

As last week folded up, the news broke from the files of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would appear on Monday, 04 August 2008, but soon on the morning of the day, the TRC was reported to have somersaulted, saying that President was not available because of short noticed invitation.

Although President Sirleaf’s appearance date is not yet scheduled, there are other prominent past actors on the Liberian political theatre who are now appearing. The first to appear Monday, June 4, 2008, was Oscar Quiah followed by Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh. On Tuesday, the following day, Cllr. Chea Cheapoo who is a former Senator, former Justice Minister and former Chief Justice faced an 8-hou hearing at the TRC convening at the Centennial Pavilion on Ashmun Street in Central Monrovia.

The TRC’s Thematic Hearing is said to traced the past history that contributed to the Liberian civil debacle so as to utilize recommendations by the actors to find a way out to lasting peace and reconciliation. The parade of witnesses that have appeared and are expected to face the thematic exercise include former State Councilman Oscar J. Quiah, prominent politician and former presidential candidate Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh, former Chief Justice Chea Cheapoo who is also former presidential contender during the 1997 Special Elections, Deputy Planning Minister Marcus Dahn and Grand Kru County Senator Blamo Nelson.

Quiah’s Testimony before the TRC

Mr. Quiah was called to share his knowledge and experience of the Liberian situation. Starting his testimony he prostrated before the TRC Panel of Commissioners. During Oscar Quiah’s appearance, he started this way as he fell prostrate apologizing for whatever wrong he did in the past: “This is from my heart. I am appealing to all Liberians to forgive me for whatever I did that led to the death of other people.”
Mr. Oscar Jayee Quiah, former State Councilman and former Secretary General of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), furthers testified at the public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Monday, August 4, Mr.Quiah prostrated flat on his stomach and asked Liberians to forgive him for whatever he might have done that may cause the lives of other people. His apology was preceded by long testimony of how he and others joined the People’s Redemption Council government of Samuel Doe.

He was the first the First Secretary General of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the first Minister of Internal Affairs Minister of the military junta of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) Government, headed by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe On account of his experience, Mr. told the TRC that that civilian members of the junta had no part to play in the execution of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. and 13 officials of his Government.
Following the 1980 coup d'├ętat carried out by 17 enlisted men of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), President Tolbert and 13 senior officials of his administration were executed by firing squad on the south beach of the Barclay Training Center in central Monrovia. Other family members of Tolbert, including his son Abe Tolbert, were also killed. Accusing fingers have been pointed at the coup makers, and some members of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), referred to at the time as the “Progressives” of aiding and abetting the execution of the officials.

But in his statement at the on-going TRC’s Thematic and institutional public inquiry at the Centennial Pavilion in downtown Monrovia, Mr. Quiah said civilian members of the governmentwho were mostly members of PAL were never consulted about the killing of the former officials.

“We never knew about the execution of the arrested officials. It was purely military. In fact I never heard about the killing until the very day they were being killed. Had I known, I was going to discourage the mass killings,” he told the TRC public hearing which attracted a large crowd Monday including members of the House of Representatives and other government officials.

He said PAL was against violence and would not have supported the killing of the former government officials. Mr. Quiah indicated that the PRC government was a military government that never consulted civilian officials on key issues. He asserted, “Our struggle was non-violence and that members of PAL were against sharing blood.”

Quiah noted that he and other members of PAL including the late Gabriel Bacchus Matthews were released by the soldiers following the coup d'├ętat and were requested to serve in the junta government.

The former Internal Affairs Minister noted that they were arrested and imprisoned during a mid-night march to the Executive Mansion, the official residence of the President of Liberia. He indicated that some elements of the junta could have considered their action at the time as provocative, but said it was aimed at attracting government attention to societal ills.

Tolbert’s Government Wasn’t Showing Willingness

According to Mr. Quiah, that the Tolbert Government was toppled because it did not listen to the progressives. “The Tolbert’s government never shows willingness to understand our stance. It considered us as noise makers,” he said in support of the April 14, 1979 rice riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and eventually set the stage for the Liberian Coup of April 12, 1980. Although Quiah disclosed that PAL leader Bacchus Matthews wrote expressing regret about the riot, Quiah justified that the riot was necessary to address the increase in the price of rice, the country stable food.

At the time Tolbert had increased the price of a 100-pound bag of rice from US$19 to $35. The PAL opposed the increased on grounds that the same bag of rice was being imported into the country for US$13.00 and therefore it was unjustifiable for the government to sell it $35. He clarified that the rioters had weapons and noted that the protest had started peacefully until police and soldiers were dispatched in the streets to quell the “peace march”. That was when the rioters went haywire looting stores and turning vehicles upside down. Police shot at demonstrators killing hundreds of them.

I’m Not LPC Member

Quiah also served as a Vice Chairman of National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) in 1995. The NTGL was headed by Prof. Wilton Sankawulo. It was believed that Quiah was a member of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC). But he dispelled rumors that he was a founding member of the LPC, a warring fraction that committed mayhem in Southeastern Liberia where it confronted the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Major Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor.

LPC, a Sarpo and Krahn dominated armed faction, used the civil strife in favor of the Sarpos to settle score with the unarmed Kru tripe that had just relied on protection of the belligerent forces. The Kru were reported to have fled from LPC into the bushes from Greenville, Sinoe County and other villages and towns in that part of Liberia. The LPC was led by George Boley as political leader, Ruth Milton and Teh Quiah – all former AFL staffs. It was professed to be a counter terrorist movement organized during the regime of Dr. Amos Sawyer’s Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) and unleashed into the South-east.

But Quiah disclosed that he had no blood relation with the LPC Chief of Staff, Teh Quiah. He however noted that Teh Quiah assisted him during his stay in Sinoe County then under the controlled LPC.

Quiah Begs for Pardon for His Role in Liberian Crises

Mr. Quiah is a serious participant in the Liberian rice riot of 1979 masterminded by Gabriel Baccus Matthews Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) was the first to appear. But who was Oscar Quiah and why is he called to appear before the thematic hearing of the TRC?

From every thing known about Quiah, his participation in the crises or history making events centering around the Liberian conflict are as follow suggests that J. Oscar Quiah was member of the six-man State Council that ruled Liberia in August 1995, when a new peace agreement was signed in Abuja, amending and supplementing the Cotonou and Akosombo accords, which included all the warring factions and provided for a new cease-fire.

Quiah represented the Liberia Peace Council (LNC) and other members of the transitional council were Wilton Sankawolo, as chairman; George Boley, representing the LPC, the Central Revolutionary Council of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and the Lofa Defense Force; Alhadji Kromah, representing the combined ULIMO; the late Chief Tamba Tailor; and Charles Taylor of the NPFL.
Quiah was a founding member of the United People’s Party, which was the political progeny of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) a rebellious group that spearheaded the April 14, 1979 rice riot during which hundreds of civilians lost their lives. He was the first Secretary General of the PAL.
In 1981, Quiah and others were accused of plotting to overthrow the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) military junta of Samuel K. Doe, but he was exonerated. The other accomplices, Thomas Wehsehn, Robert Sumo, Henry Zuo, Nelson Toe and Harris Johnson were found guilty by the junta tribunal and executed overnight, sources disclosed.

Tipoteh Also Shares Notes With TRC

Another person who shared his experience on the matter following Mr. Quiah was a political economist of Liberia, Dr, Togba Nah Tipoteh. Dr. Tipoteh is so far one of the few top Liberian politicians who has had no links with any of the wars in Liberia. But he has been in the vanguard of political agitation both nationally and internationally since the 1960s.

He has headed the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) for more than two decades and he was also accused in 1981 of conniving with Wehsehn and others to overthrow Samuel Doe. He was then the Minister of Planning & Economic Affairs in the People’s Redemption Council Government of the Doe-led military junta when he was accused of conniving with Wehsehn to attempt to assassinate him, Doe. He fled the country and lived in exile and only returned to Liberia in mid 1990s.

In his testimonies, Dr. Tipoteh said the delay in telling the truth concerning the affairs of state and national events caused some of the problems in the country. From the onset of his testimonies he apologized to the public for whatever wrong he might have done; he said he had certainly offended people he might not know because it is only God that does no wrong.

Dr. Tipoteh called on the religious community and those with moral authority to exercise those authorities to come forward and say the truth as torchbearers of reconciliation because it is unlikely that murders who reign mayhem on the people will come forward to admit and apologize.

Referring to a document taken to the donor conference when the Liberian Government sought US$4 million from the international community, the Dr. Tipoteh said marginalization that caused poverty amongst the people contributed largely to the civil crisis. He said marginalization was practiced two ways – one being foreign domination of the economy which was not an indication of democracy and deprivation of the people of their fair share of the national resources through people-based participation in decision-making.

He therefore said he pushed for cooperatives amongst cocoa and coffee farmers so that middle-man sale that could deny them their just earning would be eliminated, but added that it did not work to his expectation because the final decisions on these matters lied with the President of Chairman of the PRC and the Council. He however said his fight against hut tax payment for which the poor natives were beaten by soldiers succeeded by the abolition of that policy.

The same situation reflected in the banking sector where by ‘over-exposure’ – huge credit made by Government and was not repaid to banks bearing the ordinary people’s money, and internal credit by the big boys of the banking institutions at the expense of depositors. He blamed the central Bank of Liberia for failing to regulate the commercial banks based on acceptable practice.
He than said he fought against injustices in the economy, in the Liberia politics and through the use of intellectual facilities and non-violent approach to fight against injustices as a progressive. As of the preparation of these summaries, Cllr. Chea Cheapoo, a former Senator for Grand Gedeh County, a former Minister of Justice for the PRC junta and former Chief Justice of Liberia during the Samuel Doe Government is testifying before the TRC’s Thematic hearing.

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