A JOLLY GOOD APRIL
The month notorious for some of Liberia's brutal past is fairly light this year, eclipsed by a controversy over of all things, an alleged April Fool's Play by the President on an opponent looking to unseat her through the ballot box.
TWO NEWSPAPERS, the News and the New Democrat, quoting reporters travelling with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on her Southeastern Tour reported Monday that the President issued a stern warning that opposition politician Simeon Freeman will be arrested and indicted for sedition if he proceeds with his planned demonstration against corruption.
PRESIDENT SIRLEAF reportedly made the comments in Barclayville, Grand Kru County, following a Cabinet meeting during which the president said she had gathered information from the Ministry of Justice and others that Freeman, the presidential candidate for the Movement for Progressive Change, will face sedition charges over his planned demonstration.
SINCE HIS announcement of planned demonstration against corruption, Freeman has been bombarded with threats and attacks from pro-government forces suggesting that Freeman has been behind recent student unrests in Monrovia.
JUST A DAY later presidential press secretary Cyrus Wleh Badio has come out to explain that the President was simply playing an April Fool's joke on reporters on the southeastern tour trail.
SAID BADIO: 'The guys(reporters travelling with the president) didn't grab it.'
THE CONTROVERSY is a rare departure from previous April months in previous years. On April 13, 1979, the country was hit by a massive rice riot which led to deaths, injuries and a violent outbreak of looting.
ONE YEAR LATER, a band of low-level army officers ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule and the reign of William R. Tolbert's True Whig Party.
WHAT FOLLOWED in the years after was a nearly-decade-old rule by the military followed by years of civil war which took Liberia's oldest republic to the purgatory of suffering, chaos and war.
WE FIND no fun in the president's play of fools' joke on an opponent simply because of the nature and context of the President's remarks.
THE FACT that threats of indictment and arrest over a planned protest against corruption has now been spiralled into an April Fool's joke signals two things: Either the Sirleaf administration is covering up a simply flawed choice of words or the President was actually making folly of a serious issue with historical connotations. Whatever it was, the clarity offered by the Executive Mansion falls short of assuring the public that the comments were in no way a sign of what the administration is thinking regarding a planned demonstration against corruption.
THE ADMINISTRATION owes much to its own record to dismiss any sign that it is against the expression of free speech. While the controversy is a far cry from the violent and turbulent April past Liberia has experienced, it certainly is important that the administration erase all perceptions about its stance on freedom of expression. There can be no doubt, no uncertainty about where this government stands when it comes to an issue which has been front and center to the many travails in Liberia recent historical travels down memory lane.
BADIO'S CLARICATION comes in the aftermath of controversy surrounding comments made by another opposition politician, Liberty Party Charles Brumskine in a speech delivered at a Columbia University program in which Brumskine told his audience that school children were brutalized by government agents and the government had failed to mount a credible response.
THE WOMEN'S WING of the Liberty issued a statement countering Justice Minister Christiana Tah's comments slamming Brumskine by stating that Brumskine made the comments in a bid to sound an alarm that Liberia's ugly past is creeping into what is supposed to be a new Liberia and to challenge the government to quickly take action.
THE PARTY's women's wing continued: ''To address this last incident by simply asking the police to investigate themselves, or even by constituting a bogus, symbolic commission of inquiry, would be a serious mistake. The government must institute a truly INDEPENDENT inquiry to establish the facts of the Tuesday incident and bring to book those who visited mayhem on the students.''