Wake Up Nimba

By Jerry Gbardy

The Perspective

Posted March 13, 2002

Nimba County was the center of political activism during the days of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA). Many Liberian politicians including Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Amos Sawyer, Dew Mason, Oscar Quiah (who lived in Yekepa at that time), Nyan Kwiawon Taryor, a Nimba citizen, frequently visited the county delivering high school commencement addresses, organizing political rallies, recruiting members, etc. The wind of political change in Liberia at that time blew across Nimba County like no other county in the country. I remember Assistant Superintendent for Development, the late Samuel Dokie resigned his position to join PAL, donated his house as PAL headquarters and used his elementary school campus as venue for conducting PAL meetings.

Then came the April 14, 1979 rice riot. A preponderance of Nimba students, teachers and citizens were arrested in the county and imprisoned at the South Beach Prison Compound in Monrovia. In Tappita, my high school principal, the registrar and other teachers and students were arrested because they were members of or believed to be members of PAL and MOJA. They spent several days at South Beach before being released. I went underground to escape the ruthless Superintendent J. Fulton Dunbar and his notorious security forces. He arrested, harassed and intimidated a lot of citizens during that period for no apparent reason other than the fact that people affiliated with different political organizations and not the True Whig Party. Let's talk briefly about the Superintendent.

Dunbar was so arrogant, heavy-handed and power-drunk that he became a law unto himself. He ran the county like a fiefdom. He would drive a D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer through people's homes in major cities and towns in the name of development to "construct streets" which were in the final analyses, left uncompleted, thereby creating health hazards. He would pullover motorists on highways for traffic offense like overloading, broken taillights, or smooth tires and literally flog them with rattan. If he did not dispense rugged justice himself, he ordered the "carboy" to whip the driver and vice versa.

In view of the fear and apprehension that engulfed the county in the aftermath of the April 14th demonstrations, Nyan Kwiawon Taryor fled into Guinea. It took a few more months before President Toure let go of him. But before Nyan Kwiawon Taryor returned to Liberia, the county was up in arms pressuring President Tolbert and Superintendent Dunbar to produce him. Then in January/February 1980, Samuel Dokie called on citizens of Nimba not to pay taxes to the central government since their taxes were being used by the power-elite to enrich themselves.

Dunbar arrested him and others, flogged them repeatedly in Sanniquellie, and Ganta before finally transferring them to South Beach. They remained in jail until the April 12, 1980 coup. I was surprised to see Dokie working with Dunbar in the NPFL.

I also remember in 1980, the PRC government proposed building its headquarters in Sanniquellie, because of Nimba County's political activism, but that dream was never realized. However, there were deep splits among high-ranking coup makers, which again affected the county in a very profound way. Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa was first transferred as PRC Secretary General, and then subsequently dismissed by Samuel Doe after his refusal to accept the position. In the wake of the Quiwonkpa dismissal, the Dokie-led Nimba raid was launched in Yekepa in the latter part of 1983. Most of the actors in the raid were citizens of Nimba. Former Superintendent Robert Saye lost his life in that process. Scores were arrested in Monrovia and paraded before national television with Kalonko Luo as the Mr. Tell All. There are stories about mass arrests, detentions, harassments, and intimidations of some residents of Yekepa, Sanniquellie, Ganta and other towns and villages for alleged complicity in the raid. Among those arrested was D. K. Wonserleay.

During the political tension that ensued, Quiwonkpa, former Labor Minister Moses Duopu, Dokie, and others fled into exile only for Quiwonkpa to lead an ill-fated November 12th invasion of Liberia two years later. The invasion has left some indelible imprints on our national memory. A lot of people died when the invasion was crushed by the government, many of them Nimba citizens. Those who could not endure the harassment and intimidation fled into exile which then culminated into recruitment and training of mostly Nimba citizens for the Taylor-led 1989 Christmas Eve invasion of Liberia.

Taylor who himself was in exile, fled Liberia in 1983 to escape an impending government financial audit for the period he served as General Services Director from 1980 to 1983 before being transferred by the government as deputy commerce minister, swapping position with Clarence Momolu. And so he capitalized on exiled Nimba citizens' disaffection from the government into the formation of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Little did they know that Taylor had his own personal agenda to accomplish, a greed for wealth, power, and women.

Once the training was completed in Libya and the invasion got underway through Butuo, Taylor began to eliminate one by one, all those strong guys within the NPFL whom he perceived as potential threat to achieving his life-long ambition of becoming president. Moses Duopu was among the first to be killed, followed by Elmer Glee Johnson. Outside of the NPFL, those prominent Nimba citizens who strayed into NPFL-held territory, but did not come out alive to tell the story included, former Nimba Senator and presidential aspirant, Jackson F. Doe; former Nimba Superintendent and PRC Commerce Minister, David Dwanyen; former Nimba Senator, David Toweh; former Nimba Superintendent, Steven Daniels; among others. Taylor also had Prince Johnson in his sight but the latter broke away before Taylor could reach him. In the Gbarnga encampment, NPFL "chief recruiting officer" Yeagbehee Digbon, General Nixon Gaye, and five other generals did not escape Taylor's executions. I do not need to remind you of the gruesome murder and dismemberment of the bodies of the Dokie family. Then there was the recent death of vice-president Dogolea, which is shrouded in mystery with a promised autopsy from Taylor that never was and never will be.

What to be gleaned from this trip down memory lane is to remind you of how far you have come but not sure where you are headed. There are some, too young to remember, or too old you don't want to remember. And there are those who remember but say, " Da wha' God say" or " I leaffy to God." But the fact of the matter is that you have struggled for long. But where have you gotten so far? What have you achieved as a people, as a county? Has the Ganta-Sanniquellie-Yekepa Highway been paved yet? What about the Ganta-Saclepea-Tappita Highway? How about those one-lane bridges between Ganta and Sanniquellie? Are they two lanes now? What about those arterial roads from Zekepa to Saclepea or from Zekepa to Tappita? Has the hospital (I think, GW Harley) in Sanniquellie near the train track been relocated yet? Is the average Nimba citizen in Liberia any better off now socio-economically than he was pre-war days? Has Ganta--once swelling with business activities--improved? Do people still come from n'Zerekore and Grand Gedeh to attend Ganta market? Finally, have all the Sayes, Nyans, Gonkarnues, Dahns, Wehyees, and Suomies returned from refugee camps? These are genuine questions that deserve genuine answers, for I have been away since 1990.

Taylor has used you as a springboard to get to where he is today. You created the monster, gave him teeth and he has been biting you and the Liberian people since 1989. He cajoled you into believing that a castle was to be built in the sky for you once you entered Butuo. All he has succeeded in doing is transforming young Gio and Mano boys and girls into his terror machine and destroying the future of other Liberian children who are languishing in refugee and displaced camps while his children attend JJ Roberts and other schools. Taylor has only appointed a few of you in token civil administration positions with the rest in military and para-military entities just to keep on killing yourselves in defense of him. No wonder why there are a lot of COs from Nimba in his government. "CO" is no longer a title but a name ascribed to you that every child--especially the ones that grew up in NPFL territory--knows you by.

Ponder over this for a moment. How many Arthingtonians are fighting LURD? If there are any, how many of them are Taylors? I am not referring to Chuckie Taylor who engineered and presided over the systematic elimination of unarmed Krahn women and children on Camp Johnson Road in September 1998. I am talking about real fighting where one is at the receiving end of heavy rifle and artillery fires. But in his Monrovia regime, the number of Taylors in civil administration positions is higher than one can imagine. The Liberian proverb, "monkey work baboon draw" is alive, active, and practical in his NPFL government.

Taylor refuses to carry out genuine reconciliation among all Liberians without which there can be no total and lasting peace in Liberia. He is using the divide and rule method effectively to his advantage. I have no shred of doubt in my mind that after more than 10 years, if Taylor was not president, the Krahn, Gio, Mano and Mandingo together with the rest of the Liberian people would have settled their differences. He doesn't want that! He is only interested in personal wealth accumulation and clinging onto power. He enjoys thriving on the Liberian people's misery. For that I consider him a hard-core psychopath.

As a people, you need to reclaim your rightful place in the Liberian society. You know what that means.

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