columnBy Philip N. Wesseh
Every time this newspaper celebrates its anniversary, I always fused on its historic path, especially as it relates to the dream of the founders and the difficulties it underwent during the civil war. It is a known fact that the newspaper today remains the "only surviving and oldest post war independent newspaper" in this country. It started as the first independent newspaper on January 15, 1991 during the civil war and it continues to function.
The paper was initiated by a group of young Liberians, mostly high school graduates, many of whom who chewed their teeth from the Daily Observer, prior to the country's civil war. Thanks to God for his strength, mercy, blessing and grace. But with all of these years, can the INQUIRER Newspaper rely on the issue of longevity? In all unambiguous terms, I say NO! The Inquirer as it is today can boast of another area of life.
That is, the manpower development of the country. Since its existence, the paper has also focused on manpower development, something for which it continues to provide opportunities for employees to seek tertiary education. Today that program has paid off, with many of them acquiring degrees in various fields of study. Those who benefited were not only bono fide employees, but those who even came in as vacation students.
It is an open secret that the newspaper was mainly organized by high school graduates who had gained some knowledge in the journalism profession. But the management as part of its desire for further education embarked on this program. And so the employees realizing the need to advance themselves took advantage of this opportunity and began enrolling at various universities to adequately and efficiently prepare themselves for future leadership and challenges. Besides, the vacation school program initiated by the institution over the years has benefited many students. Its aims are not only to encourage young people into the journalism profession, but to expose them to leadership skills and better work habits and ethics. Today, many of those who benefited from the yearly vacation school program are contributing their quotas to national development, whether in the public or private sectors.
Actually for this year's celebration or anniversary, I will depart from the usual historical details about the founding of the newspaper and the many vicissitudes it went through to reach this far. I will mainly focus on the achievements of some of our former staffers, especially the young ones that joined it later, either as vacation students, interns or cadets.
Notwithstanding, let me mention a few of the older ones whose achievements and accomplishments have added "morale" to the institution. They include, my predecessor, Mr. Gabriel Isaac Harris Williams, affectionately known as "Bill-green" who is now an official at the Liberian Embassy in Washington D.C. , the United states of America. He previously served as Deputy Minister at the Information Ministry, before being transferred to the United States. Before then, he worked for a local newspaper in Sacramento, California. Prior to going to the United States, Mr. Williams served as a senior reporter of the Daily Observer. Today, Mr. Williams, the founding Managing Editor of the INQUIRER Newspaper, is on the national scene as one of the country's international figures. The next person is the first female editor of the newspaper, Madam Massa Washington, who recently served as one of the commissioners of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC). She was on top of the task during the public hearing, something for which she commanded the respect of the public. She has won several awards. It is worth mentioning the name of Johnny Wesley Washington, one of my boys I "miss" greatly because of his "nose for news." Today, "J. Wes," as he is commonly called, is Assistant Press Secretary to President Sirleaf. Previously, he served as Assistant Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign affairs.
Another person, Bedor-Wla Freeman, though not a founding member of the institution, as feature editor, he was inspired to advance himself. Based on this, he enrolled at the law school at the University of Liberia, where he graduated. Today, Mr. Freeman, now Counselor Freeman, is a member of the Supreme Court Bar. Even with the law degree, Cllr. Freeman, now a member of the Maryland Bar, felt there was a need to further equip himself after being imbued to acquire additional knowledge by working with UNMIL and enrolled at the IBB Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Liberia, where he left an indelible mark of leadership and academic excellence. Today, Cllr. Freeman is the head of the Commission on the Freedom of Information Law, popularly referred to as FOI.
Also, the paper's first Chief Reporter, S. Togba Slewion, who later became the paper's Board Chairman, is doing well in the Liberian Community in the United States. He left here as a high school graduate but is today a degree holder. As someone who has interest in serving humanity, even while in Liberia, Mr. Slewion, is also active in the Unions of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). Besides, he has served in many positions in Liberian-based groups in that country. The recent news maker, Josephus Moses Gray, who launched his maiden book, joined the newspaper as a high school graduate from Maryland County. Mr. Gray, who is assigned at the Liberian Embassy in Paris, France, is today a Master's degree holder. Noticeably, after being educated with the rudiments of journalism, Mr. Gray, left The Inquirer to found his own newspaper, The New Vision, which is still on the newsstand. My own New Kru Town boy, Jackson T.S. Seton, also came as a college graduate and later became News Editor. But in keeping with the dream of The Inquirer, Mr. Seton who is now in the United States, has pursued further studies and is today a holder of a master's degree. At present in the Delaware State, he is an instructor of mathematics.
Now, getting to the young people that joined the newspaper years ago and are today still with the paper, include Augustine S. Choloply, who came as a student from the William V. S. Tubman High School. Choloply started as an apprentice in the graphic section of the paper and later became the Layout Assistant to the then Layout Editor, H. Wantue Major who now resides in the United States. Choloply graduated from the Tubman High School while with The Inquirer Newspaper and subsequently enrolled at the University of Liberia and obtained a BSc. degree in Political Science. Still not satisfied, Mr. Choloply, matriculated to the Louis Arthur Grimes School of law at the University of Liberia, where he is now a second year student. Presently, he is the head of the Layout Section of the newspaper.
The next is Varney K. Sirleaf, who was brought to the institution through the vacation school program, after graduating as the Valedictorian of the Samuel Slewion Doe Memorial Institute in New Kru Town on August 22, 2004. Today, Varney is one of the best brains in that department. In fact, he is the Web Master of the newspaper. He is currently a senior Student of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion University (AMEZU), reading Accounting as major and Public Administration, as minor.
Since its existence, the paper has been promoting gender balance. Although it is a male-dominated profession, the paper has encouraged many women in its editorial department. Today it stands as the only newspaper with more women in the newsroom. The young ladies that joined include Melisa Chea, now Melisa Chea- Annan, one of the paper's female editors, who is currently on a study leave in the United States of America. Madam Chea, who is still with the paper, is vice president of the Press Union of Liberia.
Little Rose Saulwas, the youngest thus far, came into the institution before enrolling at the University of Liberia, where she graduated with a Bachelor's degree in sociology. She ephemerally worked with the Land Commission upon graduation. Miss Jennie Fallah, now Jennie Fallah- Wounuah, one of my 'journalism students' from the B.W., Harris Episcopal High School, also joined through the vacation school program in 1998. It was while at the paper, she was inspired to seek high education. Madam Wounuah, is still with the newspaper, is presently a student at the university of Liberia, reading Sociology and Mass Communication.
To close up on the young ladies is C. Winnie Saywah, who is presently the judicial reporter of the newspaper; she came as an intern after completing months of training in journalism by the International School of Journalism, a training institute under the Liberia Broadcasting System, with G. Moses K. Dorbor, of LBS as its coordinator. She too, was inspired by working with this paper to advance herself. She is now a student at the University of Liberia, majoring in English. Her father graciously gave her to me as my "daughter" to train her to become a professional journalist, something I am vigorously striving to do, and from what I am seeing in her, Winnie's father's dream, with the help of God, will become a reality.
Wanting to be like her uncle, Miss Patience Blaye, now Patience Sampson, my late brother's daughter, came in as one of the vacation students. It was while here she was touched and decided to seek college education. She then enrolled at the A.M.E. University on Camp Johnson Road, where she earned a Bachelor's degree. Upon graduation, she entered the Louis Arthur Grimes School of law at the University of Liberia, where she is presently reading law. Proudly, let me say, this young lady runs an insurance broker's business, within the proximity of THE INQUIRER.
Miss Gloria Voker, joined the newspaper based on the YMCA 's vacation school program, as one of the beneficiaries of that program. At the time she was a student of the W.V.S. Tubman High School in Sinkor. While with the INQUIRER she became its receptionist for years and later joined the paper's business office. But by then, she had already enrolled at the University of Liberia, where she graduated few years ago. She is happily married to Edward Mulbah, also a graduate of the University. Both of them now reside in the United States after winning the DV. I used to call her "G.I." because of her way of walking. She was like a foot soldier or tomboy. I also miss her. One of the young persons that joined and left recently is Hester Jackson. He is presently as part of the PR team at Sime Darby Plantation in Grand Cape Mount County. It was while with the INQUIRER, he decided to advance himself by entering the AME Zion University, where he is presently studying.
Still on the young people who joined the newspaper and are today excelling in the society include Sidiki Trawally, now Communication Officer at the Finance Ministry. He previously worked at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs in similar position. During the civil war, Mr. Trawally was credited for venturing into danger zones to report on the war. He was the only reporter from Monrovia that covered the fall of Gbarnga. That edition of The Inquirer sold like a hot cake. While withThe Inquirer, he enrolled at the University of Liberia where he is presently studying.
He is another young person who I foresaw would excel to such level today in the Liberian society. 'Tiny' Kimmie Weeks, then a student of the Isaac Davies Memorial School in Paynesville, came to the newspaper through its vacation job program by operating a cartoon which depicted how dogs were eaten during the civil war. Later he became a broadcaster and a young advocate. During the Taylor's regime, he was forced, for security reasons, to leave the country. But while in exile, he made use of the time to educate himself .As a result of his desire and determination, he has earned many degrees, up to doctorate level. He has won several local and international laurels for youth advocacy. Mr. Matthew Wah, now an Assistant Minister in the Sirleaf's Government got his raining in team work and basic communication skills from the INUQIRER Newspaper.
He is one person who always acknowledges the role the newspaper plays in reaching to where he is today. During the recent UL graduation, one of the paper's vacation school program beneficiaries, Phil Dixon, earned a Bachelor's degree in Law from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. It was while with the newspaper Phil Dixon entered the AME University on Camp Johnson Road and graduated with honors, before entering the law school. Mr. Michael Gebeh, who is now with the Angie Brooks Center, came to this paper, as a typesetter.
Before then, he was a money exchanger opposite the INQUIRER Newspaper. From the level of intellectualism he saw when he joined, he was moved and matriculated to the University of Liberia, where he graduated with a degree in public administration. This paper has changed a young man from being just a mere money exchanger to a college product.
Diminutive Charles Asumanah was one of the students recruited from Lott Carey Mission. While at the INQUIRER, he enrolled at Cuttington University, where he graduated and later became one of its teaching assistant and presently, Mr. Asumanah is studying in China, and is expected to return soon, as one of Liberia's youngest scientists.
Isn't it a good thing that The INQUIRER former vacation school student will become a scientist? Certainly so!
With all of these achievements and accomplishments by some of its former and present staffers, it would be foolhardy for anyone to think that the paper has nothing to boast of. Besides it being the only surviving and oldest newspaper in post war Liberia, the role of its former staffers is something worth mentioning. Yes, in 22 years, this paper can hold its head high for its role in manpower development.
Besides, as an institution organized by young people at the time and still exists, especially so when it is said that "Liberians are not good business people," there are reasons for celebration. They original staffers include, the late T-Max Teah, H. Wantue Mayor, Sam Van Kesselly, Doe S.K. Davies, J. Grody Dorbor, Photojournalist Gregory Stemn (who authored two books on the Liberian crisis), the late D. Emmanuel Nah (who covered the ECOMOG peacekeepers extensively), D. Ignatius Roberts, Bana Sackie, Amos Bryant (now a clergyman), Roger Seton, Stanley George, Timothy Pyne and D. Emmanuel Nah. Others that joined the staff later included Yadea Chea ( the expert in manual proofreading by cut and paste) robert early(not the one at LPRC),K. Moses Nagbe, Albert Pyne, Siaman Kromah (now with the CBL),C.Y. Kwanue, Edwin Fayiah, the late Stanton Peabod, the late Emphraims Johns, Jacob Doe, George Wandah and John Kollie. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!
NB: The author is presently the longest serving employee of the newspaper. He served as its first News Editor, and later became Managing Editor, a position he holds presently.