Dr. Philip EMEAGWALI, the supercomputer and Internet
pioneer, told a story once that when he was ten years
old, living in Nigeria, Africa, his father posed to
him the following question: "The story or the warrior,
which is mightier?" "The warrior!" he
replied. "My father shook his head in disagreement.
"The story. The story is mightier than the warrior,"
he said to him. "How can that be?" Philip
asked his father. "The story lives on long after
the warrior has died," his father explained. (http://www.emeagwali.com/index.shtml)
The legendary African fabulist, AESOP (deliberately
referred to in most literature as a Greek), is a classic
example of the explanation provided by Philip’s
father. AESOP, the creator or inventor of stories, lived
in the time of the Egyptian pharaoh Amasis, during the
middle of the sixth century, and was connected with
the island of Samos He was a slave of a Samian citizen
called Iadmon. Yet today, the Fables of AESOP are still
alive with the some of these fables are: “Friend
Or Foe,” “Look Before You Leap,” “A
Lesson For Fools,” “A Bird In The Hand,”
“The Lion’s Share,” “Blood Suckers,”
The story below fellows the tradition of AESOP:
As a youth growing up in Monrovia in the 60’s,
in the vicinity of Clay Street & Camp Johnson Road,
I honestly thought corruption was a legal practice.
Why? For the most part, individuals who embezzled government
funds were transferred to other positions, instead of
being punished for the crimes they committed. These
individuals were transferred or promoted as if they
had contributed to meaningful national developments.
The current corrupt practices going on in Liberia, reminds
me of John Johns, “the man who refused to be promoted”.
My late mother, Sarkpah Mardea Worhwinn, told me this
story. John Johns is a fictional character, but the
story is true. Any resemblance to any actual person
you may know with this name, either today or in the
past, is purely coincidental.
John Johns was a messenger (an expediter) in the Bureau
of Custom at the Ministry of Finance. John Johns was
troubled when he heard that his boss was considering
him for a job promotion. So he decided to prevent his
boss from promoting him by bribing 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.
It was due to these fine qualities that earned him the
consideration for the promotion. The promotion came
with the incentive of salary increment (from $50.00
to $75.00 per month).
But the environment in which John Johns worked, “cold
water” (bribery) was the order of the day. In
other words, it was encouraged. And if one refused to
go along, he/she was considered stupid or naive. This
was the atmosphere in which Messenger John Johns found
himself. John Johns’ monthly starting salary was
$25.00. When he was employed, he had a wife and two
children. Within five years, he had five increments,
which brought his salary to $50.00 per month. With this
salary, he supported four children, 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.
Upon hearing the news around the office that he was
slated for promotion, John Johns grew weary and troublesome.
As a result, he immediately called on the close and
personal friends of his boss to have them talk to their
friend on his behalf – to change his mind regarding
his promotion. He got these friends to agree with his
position. Some of them even said, “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 approaching their friend
(John Johns’ boss) on his behalf. For their assistance,
John Johns promised to have them rewarded handsomely.
So, they decided to meet at the home of their friend,
whose name is Johnson. John Johns went ahead to make
arrangement with Mr. Johnson’s wife by providing
for the entertainment during the meeting. He gave Mrs.
Johnson lots of cash to stage the event in grand style.
In order for her husband not to leave home on that day,
Mrs. Johnson made sure to tell him that, “On Saturday
some of his friends are coming over to visit; you need
to be at home to receive them.
At the appointed time, 7:30 PM in the evening, they
showed up. Mr. Johnson 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 concern as to how his wife obtained the
resources to provide for such high-class entertainment.
Looking at the reflection on Mr. Johnson’s face,
John Johns got up quick, took the center stage, and
said, “Mrs. Johnson, Madam, thank you for your
help in arranging this meeting”, and to the friends
and associates of his boss, he said, “Gentlemen,
I also thank all of you for responding to my request
in a timely manner; but before I begin to tell you 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 that 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 proceeded by saying, “Chief,
the reason I brought you this ‘cold water’
and ‘goat soup’ (bribe) along with your
close friends and associates, is to beg you not to 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, the 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 part 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.
Now, I leave it up to you to come up with the reason
why John Johns refused the promotion.
Stories are aimed at a particular audience and intended
to convey a specific message to the readers or to those
who will listen. This story is no exception. Its audience
is the Liberian people, and the intended message is
the same as that of, the internationally acclaimed writer
Chinua Achebe who accused the leadership of his country,
when he wrote: "The trouble with Nigeria is simply
and squarely a failure of leadership". The same
is true with the Republic of Liberia since its inception
in 1822. However, there are some exceptions, in the
persons of Dr. Wilmot Edward Blyden, Chief Seyon Juah
Nimley, Rep. Didwho “Welleh” Twe, Rep. Francis
W. M. Morais, Hon. Nete-Sie Brownell, Sr., Hon. S. David
Coleman, Cllr. S. Raymond Horace, Ambassador H. Boima
Fahnbulleh, Sr., Rep. Bill Whitterspoon, the prolific
writer of his time, Albert Porte, and others. In my
view, the present National Transitional Government of
Liberia (NTGL) is not exceptional in its leadership.
It lacks Total Leadership Quality, i.e., vision, sound
financial management and more important, transparency.
Today in Liberia, corrupt practices seem to be the order
of the day. Many people are getting accustomed to it
(corruption). To them, corruption is a way of life.
They reasoned that “since corruption cannot be
eliminated, why hurt your head over it”. The common
advice that they usually offer is - when the opportunity
presents itself for you, take your share of the Elephant
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. Furthermore, it belongs
to anyone who can cut a bigger piece of it; because
“if you steal from yourself (government) it is
no sin at all”. And as the axiom says, “Steal
from steal, makes God laugh.”