Liberia: History Loses a Vital Page

By T. K. Sannah Source:

He is gone forever, leaving Liberians in everlasting wonder for answers that will likely remain unknown to generations yet unborn.
His failure to take charge and fearlessly pronounce the verdict of the five-member Special Military Tribunal decreed by the military junta following the 12 April 1980 coup d’état left Liberians in perpetual darkness about the “actual” verdict sanctioned by that tribunal.
Major-General Frank P. Senkpeni, Judge Advocate General (his sainted memory) of the Armed Forces of Liberia, who chaired the tribunal that hurriedly tried over a dozen cabinet ministers and other top government officials without any legal representation, made no statements before and after the junta ordered 13 officials shot while tied to poles on the Atlantic ocean beach at the military barracks, BTC.
The military junta had tried the officials for “rampant corruption and misuse of power”, a cardinal reason amongst others they gave to justify the hitherto bloodbath.
He is no more and left no footprints like diaries, letters, notes, essays or autobiography that could shed light on this vital signature needed to update Liberia’s history.
The defendants were arrested or ordered to report at BTC to non-commission officers of the military who had seized power and decreed the top brass of the army powerless and subject to their command.
At all trial sessions, which this reporter actively covered for the official news agency, Liberia News Agency (LINA), the tribunal chair and members cross-examined the defendants at the BTC where legal representation and the anxious public were prohibited.
In the absence of an announcement that the trial of ex-government officials lasting some eight days had concluded, or any verdict given by the tribunal, suddenly Gabriel Q. Nimley first information minister appointed by the junta, swiftly assembled local and foreign journalists on the early afternoon of 22 April 12 in his conference room on Capitol Hill and said this tersely: “You are invited to go to BTC where there will shortly be some executions.”
Nimley, who came in sweating from the Executive Mansion, exhibited no list to the press, took no questions, scurried downstairs into his office, slammed the door and left.
The curious journalists quickly collected their equipment and sped out of the conference room and headed for to the BTC where they saw and recorded what the minister had invited them to witness.
A cloudy pall suddenly eclipsed the bright afternoon sun followed by a downpour that pounded Monrovia for nearly two hours only abating shortly before dusk.
Nightfall under curfew brought more mourning and anxiety after 13 former government officials charged with “rampant corruption and misuse of power”, amongst others, had been shot by soldiers who appeared abnormal.
Gen. Senkpeni’s failure to make any statement about the proceedings and verdict of the tribunal even after the junta replaced him with retired Major-general John Bernard Blamo (his sainted memory) left a vast vacuum in the history of Liberia.
With that missing signature, it is uncertain where researchers can trace records of the tribunal in order to get an insight of what it may have recommended as verdict to the military junta in 1980, if it ever did.
Questions still persist as to who decided whom to be executed since chairman Senkpeni failed to speak on this grave national issue before he died.
ELBC continuity duty announcer, Gabriel Nimley, at the time of the coup, who read the news bulletin at 7 A.M. from the Liberia News agency (LINA) hinting the new dawn in the nation, got the job by coincidence.
Days before the defendants were tried wearing overall prison outfits, junta leader master-sergeant Samuel Doe had read his first speech at the pagoda near the Executive Mansion charging that “rampant corruption and misuse of power”, among others, necessitated the coup.
And on his first trip outside the Mansion after the coup, Doe first toured the defence ministry and later Central High Buzzi Quarters where he told principal Robert Kemokai to accompany him for funds to purchase copybooks for students at that school which he is said to have briefly attended.
It was there he made his first independent statement on corruption:
“There are some people, when they receive 25 loaves of bread for the students, they eat 10 and only 15 reach to the students. That is rampant corruption…anyone found doing that will not live to tell the story”.
Soon after that ‘you will not live to tell the story’ became a cliché’ in Liberia.
Doe once rebuked his foreign minister H. Boima Fahnbulleh, for urging the military junta not to relent in the surge against corruption, their reason for rise to power.
Dr. Fahnbulleh had accused the junta leaders of having taste for luxurious flashy cars and backpedalling on the fight against corruption, but Doe instead slapped him: “park your car and use bicycle to work”.
As the crackdown waned with time while the junta enjoyed the paraphernalia of power, Doe once publicly declared: corruption cannot be completely eradicated, but can be only minimized.”
He would only perished in a gorilla rebellion whose masterminds accused him of being dictator engaged in rampant corruption.
And yet corruption is still with us even after President of Ellen Johnson-Sirfleaf attacked the menace during her inaugural speech’ as being “public enemy number one”.


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