10 November 2013

Liberia: Journalists in Disarray - Following Issuance of Injunction On Congress - KAK Supporter Calls for Dialogue

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL), an umbrella union of journalists in the country, presently finds itself in the state of clutter after its Congress was disrupted as a result of an injunction placed by the Civil Law Court here in Monrovia based on complaints filed by Messrs Cholo Brooks and Omecee Johnson.

The disrupted two-day Congress held in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County was about electing a new leadership and mirroring other salient issues that affect the operations and administration of the Union.

What happened?

On Saturday, November 10, at about 10am, journalists or delegates to the Congress began thronging the Fairground in Buchanan to honor the last session of the Congress which had to do with the elections of a new leadership to succeed the current administration led by Mr. Peter Quaqua and to discuss other pertinent matters.

The few journalists that made to Buchanan on Thursday and Friday for the red-lettered gathering, as of Saturday morning, were joined by their colleagues from Monrovia, thus increasing the presence of journalists in the city.

After breakfast, in fact while others were still having theirs, President Quaqua took the Microphone to announce the commencement of the process and urged every one to take seat.

Others adhered right away, but others were still in their galaxies, apparently reflecting on the elections and other issues of interest to them as far as the Congress was concerned.

"We will like everyone that is here for the Congress to take their seats. Please take your seats; we are about to start, a wearied-looking Quaqua urged delegates.

In response to Quaqua's call, journalists poured and queued into the hall and resigned to their seats to lend listening ears to their president who waited so patiently to make a point.

"We will leave out the rest of the items on the agenda and go straight into elections because there are some distractions. So we like to entertain a motion to proceed," the PUL leader said to the murmuring of few of the delegates. By then, the PUL leader had asked the few observers from the National Labor Congress, the National Elections Commission to take their seats on the stage, above members of the PUL Election Commission who were seated around the table below.

But in no time, Mr. Trokon Tarr woke up and proffered a motion calling for the suspension of the rest of the issues before elections to enable the body go straight into elections.

The motion was seconded, but delegates Samuel Doe and Webster Cassel retorted to the motion and the president was forced to recognize them to make their input.

Delegate Doe wanted the PUL president to enumerate the items that would have preceded the elections, while delegate Cassel wanted the issue of debate before voting to be spelled out.

In response, President Quaqua nodded the points made and clarified that debate was inclusive in the elections, meaning that the candidates would have the time for a debate.

However, as the PUL boss endeavored to emphasis the concerns of the two delegates and to call for quietude since there was a good level of disturbances and noise, the Sheriff from the Court walked into the hall, and upon seeing him, photo journalists, television crew rushed to capture him while others hauled their recorders to get what he had to say.

The Sheriff walked to the table around which seated members of the PUL elections chaired by Professor James Wolo of the Mass Communication Department of the University of Liberia and explained his mission.

Surrounded by scores of journalists, the Sheriff spoke briefly but could not serve the Writ of Injunction because the PUL President was indisposed as he had left the scene for reasons known to him. But others said, he had been informed earlier by some friends that a writ was under way to him.

With no one to receive the writ, the Sheriff left the hall and still chased by journalists who tried to get words from him for being unable to serve the writ of injunction. Some journalists who were against the writ attempted preventing the Sheriff from serving the writ. At some point, journalist Julu Johnson almost beat the Sheriff, some reports said. He was later asked to desist from carrying such action as such would paint a bad picture on the media.

But when the head of the PUL Elections Commission, Mr. Wolo saw the writ, he jumped from his seat and went outside to inform Mr., Quaqua. The other commissioners whose names were on the writ, also went into hiding.

The departure of the Sheriff without serving the writ on the absence of the PUL president ignited scene of tension amongst journalists, with some calling for the halting and continuation of the process. Others questioned the absconding of Mr. Quaqua from the hall amidst the arrival of the sheriff.

About five minutes later, the PUL president whose tenure expires soon, walked into the hall, got hold of the microphone and charged the hall with some of his undeterred statements, reminding those vying for positions in the new leadership to beware of what lies ahead of them.

He said journalists in Liberia continue to endue harsh experiences and press freedom and the rights of journalists continue to be trampled upon, citing the writ of injunction as a shining example.

He said the PUL will not run from these situations as it has been over time, stressing "we will go back to town and will on Monday proceed to the court."

"We have been in the vanguard of calling for adherence to the rule of law, and will not shy away from this process. We will not allow ourselves to be seen as not respecting the law of the land," he said.

With those words, he called off the elections and the closure of the Congress.

State of disarray

The proceeding events were enough to send the hall into frenzied mood as journalists went from one place to another in different colonies in disgruntlement to the issuance of injunction by two of their own.

Others sat quietly and pondered over the issue and the next steps to take to address the issue before elections are held.

Several delegates opted for the continuation of the Congress considering the expenses incurred but others, especially legal-minded journalists, like Alphonso Zeon and Philip Wesseh advised that the process be stopped.

However, the disruption of the process via the issuance of injunction was anticipated to a large extent because information had earlier filtered that the concerned men were making preparations at all cost for that.

According to information gathered, the PUL president was being informed about the writ and told what to do.

It was noticed also that some delegates who had earlier expressed dissatisfaction with the holding of Congress on the basis of other issues, welcomed the injunction.

The men behind the injunction

Messrs. Cholo Brooks and Omecee Johnson, both journalists by profession, were among three aspirants disqualified by the PUL Election Commission on the basis of what it (commission) said was contrary to the election guidelines.

For Mr. Brooks, the committee disqualified him for what it termed inconsistency in academic credentials presented, while Mr. Johnson was kicked off from the process "for being a public relation officer."

The two persons who filed the writ said they were denied without any just cause. For Johnson, he said, those who accused him did not go before the election commission to prove their case. "Rather, the election commission agreed to what they said without the accused persons facing me."

In the injunction, the Brooks and Johnson (plaintiffs) claimed that their rights as enshrined in the constitution of the Union had been violated. They also cited breach of the PUL constitution.

One of the plaintiffs, Omecee Johnson, who was present when the Sheriff walked into the hall, later told reporters that the injunction was intended to clean the mess created by the Peter Quaqua administration.

When quizzed to explain in details what he met about mess, he retort, "the next time you hear from on this matter will be through my lawyers."

Calls for dialogue

As solution is sought to the impasse that led to the staling of the election, a Liberian journalist is proposing the path of dialogue as a way forward.

Journalist Heston M. Jackson, II, a full member of the PUL said whatever happened in Buchanan which led to the placement of an injunction on the election for a new corps of officials of the Union, is a test for all journalists and not just the leadership.

He said a dialogue needs to take place between and amongst all aggrieved parties together, adding "If this is not done, I see serious division amongst journalists."

Jackson, a supporter of candidate Kamara A. Kamara, said it is not time for journalists to be fighting for various fronts in the PUL, noting "rather, it is time that the process that led to an injunction being placed on the table."

He stressed that the aggrieved parties together with the entire membership and congress committee and all veteran journalists sit together to look at the possibility of withdrawing the case pending before the Civil law court.

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