By James M. Fromayan
On Wednesday morning, November 14, 2018, I was driving towards central Monrovia from Paynesville. At some point, I began monitoring your show (The Costa Talk Show) on a local radio station. You accused people you referred to as “progressives” for a host of ills, including “fomenting of troubles” in the country. Progressives in this context refer to Liberians, who were and have been in the vanguard of the struggle for social justice and equality.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, you failed to make reference to “reactionaries,” opportunists and people, who sat on the fence and dared not speak out in the face of injustice in the country even if such was glaring and obvious.
You began your erroneous narrative by making the following wild allegations: That according to your twisted logic and warped interpretation of history, Liberia was very good under President William R. Tolbert, Jr. until the “progressives” entered the political scene and “started inciting” Liberians against the establishment.
Additionally you claimed that it was the “progressives” who told the Master Sargent Samuel K. Doe and his People’s Redemption Council (PRC) colleagues to execute the 13 former officials of the Tolbert government. You further claimed that it was the Israeli Intelligence Agency, the Mossad that spearheaded the assassination of President Tolbert, Why? Because according to you, the Israelis built the Executive Mansion, and so they knew their way to the President’s bed room.
Quite frankly, your reasoning and logic beats the imagination given the hard facts provided by former National Security Minister Wilfred Clark that it was he, given his intimate knowledge of the Executive Mansion, who was using a VHF radio handset (walkie talkie) directing President Tolbert’s assassins on that fateful morning of April 12, 1980. This is by Mr. Clarke’s own admission on oath when he appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I really do hope you can provide some empirical evidence to support your claim to convince the public of the “Mossad” connection to the April 12, 1980 Military Coup that led to the killing of President Tolbert.
Mr. Costa, the notion that Liberia was a “Paradise” until the arrival of the “progressives” is as absurd as the belief that the world is flat, a notion purveyed by the little ill-informed person, whose ignorance of Liberian history is indeed telling. For your information and enlightenment, Liberia was a de facto one-party state in which women were denied the right to vote until 1947, and one in which the right to one man one vote was restricted due to laws requiring individuals to own property to be considered eligible to vote.
It is also worth noting that Liberia under the True Whig Party (TWP) Government, was a de facto one party state where civil servants were forced to make monthly contributions from their salaries to support the TWP machinery. The EdwarJ.Roye Building in Monrovia stands as testimony to the compulsory deductions paid by civil servants to the construction and completion of that building.
In the face of suppressive laws on the books and harsh measures meted against political opponents, it was the “progressives” who stood up against such measures using the laws of the land, not guns or other violent means in clamoring for democratic change under a multi-party system.
Mr. Costa, here are some of the issues that the “progressives” fought against during the period under review: The Gambling Bill of 1973- The TWP Government had intended to make gambling legal in the country. It took patriotic and decent Liberians, including the veteran and renowned human rights advocate, Albert Porte and the “progressives” who mobilized Liberians from diverse backgrounds to defeat that infamous bill that was poised to be passed into law. There was even a dangerous bill known as the “age of consent.”
What that bill literally meant was that at age 13, a girl was now considered a woman and could therefore engage in sexual activity. This was happening in a government run by a head of state, who was also once President of the Baptist World Alliance. The Vice President, Reverend Bennie Warner was simultaneously serving as Bishop of the Methodist Church. That proposed bill was killed not with guns, but by citizens’ action organized by the “progressives” and other well meaning Liberians.
Let me also inform you, Mr. Costa that in 1978, two Lebanese merchants residing in Monrovia strangulated a young Liberian store boy, named Gberi to death. Gberi was reported to have stolen a candy, which led to the Lebanese killing him. It was the Student Unification Party led ULSU government that mounted pressure on the TWP Government, which led to the arrest, imprisonment, trial and conviction of the two Lebanese.
There was also this primitive and backward property clause law, which I mentioned earlier, that was designed to keep away the masses from participating in elections, and equally so contesting elective posts. That law which was on the books until the 1986 Constitution came into effect, required people who were desirous of contesting for elective offices to own property in fee simple. Opposition to that law, however did not move the TWP Government.
The 1979 Rice Protest
This episode is a long story that requires a long narrative to put it in the proper historical context, to debunk the pseudo intellectuals, who have the audacity to distort history due to their lack of knowledge of the event they often wish to discuss.
In a nutshell, the Tolbert Government had intended an increment in the price of rice, which meant a US$5 for a 100 pound bag, which was at the time sold at US$9.50 per bag. The reason the TWP Government gave for the proposed increment was that it would “boost” local rice production, thus enabling farmers to “earn” more money from their harvests. The government was not truthful in its plan to increase the price of rice.
For there was no way that a subsistence farmer using backward farming tools, such as cutlasses, axes, hoes would have been able to feed his household, let alone to talk about a commercial venture. People who stood to benefit from any increment in the price of rice were few wealthy farmers, and the importers of rice which counted wealthy Liberians, including Frank Tolbert, the President’s brother.
As a student leader at the University of Liberia at the time, I took part in the 1979 Rice Protest opposing the increment in the price of the commodity. At the Buzzi Quarters Gas station, I saw a soldier beating a police officer. The military were in effect against the increment in the price of rice. The reason why I presumed the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), refused to support the position of the government was simple.
They were at the very bottom of the government salary scale. Besides, the living quarters of the rank-and-file members of the AFL was very deplorable at the Barclay Training Center (BTC). The BTC zinc shack residences of the AFL was infested with flies. It was simply hell on earth. Therefore it was little wonder why the army stood on the side of the people unlike the Police. The indiscriminate killing of protesters by police officers on that day left more than 60 persons dead. A school mate of mine, Ms. Irene Nimpson was killed by a strayed bullet.
Mr. Costa, I would like to educate you on what happened during the 1979 Monrovia Mayoral election period. A member of the “progressives” Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, in an attempt to draw official attention to the need for a credible voters roll, threw a challenge to the TWP candidate for the office of Mayor of Monrovia, Chuchu Horton. After a century plus in power, the TWP was unprepared for democratic election. Faced with a challenge from an independent candidate, the party was caught pants down.
Unable to play the game by their own rules, the TWP Government under the leadership of President Tolbert, kept postponing the election for fear of imminent defeat by an independent candidate. What broke the back of candidate Chuchu Horton was when his younger (biological) brother, Steve Horton endorsed Dr. Amos Sawyer in an opened letter that was published in one of the local dailies at the time. In this case, it was the TWP that was running away from the ballot box. And Mr. Costa you want people to believe you when you falsely blame “progressives” for the ills of our society.
What annoys me the most and I am inclined to believe that it is an insidious and malicious attempt to paint the “progressives” as evil minded individuals is when you claimed that we were “responsible” for the execution of the 13 former officials of the Tolbert government. Mr. Costa, I think this falls below the standard of journalism. It is a pure act of a mercenary posing as a journalist. As catalogued above, we had disagreement with the TWP Government on policy issues.
Our disagreement with the TWP Government did not in any way suggest that we wanted to see President Tolbert and his officials dead. Mr. Costa, you only fell short of saying that it was the “progressives” that planned and executed the 1980 Military Coup d’etat. We all know that the AFL has always been under the training and mentorship of the United States Army, and that its influence was used to usher in violent regime change in the country.
Don’t venture into a terrain that you lack knowledge of Mr. Costa. You need to read Victoria Tobert’s book in which she laments the fact that those that called her husband, a friend had the worst things to say about him behind his back, and they dared do even in the Executive Mansion. I can understand that you have great dread for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, because of your strong ties to individuals with a tainted past.
As a matter of fact, I still see President Tolbert as the most progressive Liberian leader in history since 1944. His development agenda was all embracing with considerable emphasis on education and agriculture and the political inclusion of indigenous sons and daughters in national governance although he had his faults..
Mr. Costa, you may recall that in April 2017, you claimed on your talk show that when I served as Chairperson of NEC, I “offered” my friend, John H. T Stewart, a “consultancy” worth US$5,000 a month. In your tirade, you failed to indicate what the “consultancy” was about neither did you offer any proof of your imaginary claims, including check stubs or returned checks or anything of the like.
Up till today, you have still not produced such evidence. This simply goes to show that you were hired by certain interests to tell such lies in order to distract attention from accountability issues at the NEC. That was such a blatant lie concocted by you and your paymaster at NEC during that time. I once more challenge you and your paymaster to produce any evidence that shows that John Stewart ever worked for NEC under my leadership as a consultant. You have since failed to establish any evidence to support your bogus claims.
Finally Mr. Costa, as a young man, you have the potential to be a good journalist. You are articulate on radio and you do a little bit of research over our average journalist. I think it’s about time that you choose between being a credible journalist or a rented mercenary. Above all do not forget that the freedom, which you now enjoy to even cuss people on radio did not fall from the sky. It came through bitter sacrifices by committed individuals dedicated to the cause of freedom, justice and equality in Liberia. Thank you.This Open Letter was first published in the Liberian Observer December 19, 2018
Main Photo: Henry Costa, Bush Chicken