Why Did John Johns Refuse Promotion?


By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 3, 2005

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,” etc.

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.”