When Ellen Cockrum was spotted by the Liberian government, her credentials were super excellent, and it became more fascinating and interesting to employ her because she was a native of Liberia and over all she holds a rank of Major in the United States Military and flew a Blackhawk.
The government would come to hire her and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a religious admirer of competence and high qualification did not hesitate but placed this young woman at the height of management of Liberia's gateway to the world-Roberts International Airport.
Highly placed sources even suggested that this lady, given her expertise would become Liberia's first woman commanding general of the Liberian Armed Forces; but little did the government know that Cockrum would introduce a method of secret recordings that would set the entire government on the edge.
First broke the scandal of financial misappropriation at the airport and the pilot tasked with the responsibility of revamping the RIA, was accused by her employer-the GoL of attempting to defraud the Liberian government of nearly a quarter million United States dollars leading her dismissal by President Sirleaf and a subsequent indictment by the GoL.
"On December 4, 2012, the LAA through its MD Cockrum submitted two requests to the PPCC for "no objection" to single source SSF Entrepreneur INC and Diaspora Consulting LLC for the rehabilitation of the RIA's runway and other pavements in the combined amount of US$1,283,333.00 proposed for SSF Entrepreneurs Inc. and US$ 255,000.00 proposed for Diaspora Consulting LLC," stated the indictment.
Diaspora Consulting belonged to Cockrum's sweetheart Judge Melvin Johnson who would come to help her on the mission to record their friends who would then be victims of a string of scandalous recordings.
Apparently Cockrum in an attempt to clear her name started to secretly tape her perceived enemies and allies alike. But recordings so far show the opposite; 'she only taped her friends'.
Secret Tapes; unknown motive
Cockrum in an effort to give her side of the story to the media first called a news conference at which time she played the first batch of secret tapes which was the voice of her ach rival, co-accused Chair of the RIA board Musa Bility.
In August Cockrum and her boyfriend Judge Johnson, would stun the nation when they released the second batch of secret recordings, this time, none other than confidantes of the President: Dr. Edward McClain, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Gyude Moore deputy Chief of staff, executive office of the President and more shockingly, Minister of national defense Brownie Samukai.
These strings of recording shocked the country, not because of the individuals that were taped but because of the content of what they actually said behind their boss' back. Many clamored for the resignation of these people especially the minister of defense or opted that the President fire them, but as it turned out to be, neither they nor President Sirleaf would do no such thing.
These strings of secret recordings became just another point of discussion for a while but the outrage of the public would come to subside and subsequently reawakened by a third batch of recordings, this time it included President Sirleaf herself, another set from Dr. McClain and Mr. Moore and police Chief Col. Chris Massaquoi. The pair also in one of the recordings tried to tie the government's awarding of a contract to former police Chief Marc Amlard as a payoff for his role in the November 7, 2011, pre-election runoff shooting that left one partisan of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) dead.
The gravity of these recordings interestingly have not been the wrong done by these government officials but many especially those in the government have come to accuse the pair (Cockrum and Johnson) of being on a mission to distract and distort, meaning pure blackmail.
Against the Liberian way of Life
Some in government circles began to shake as these recordings came to light as others expressed shock at the gravity of blackmail that smelled all over the motive of the pair as they chose their victims carefully especially those who went to length of secretly saying despicable things about their boss the President, in order to help them (Cockrum and Johnson).
"We don't destroy people who help us. We repay kindness for kindness. It is Liberian to help someone who comes to you crying in need; but then they're recording you and they pay your attempt to help them by destroying you," said Lewis Brown minister of information with disappointment.
"What is this? This is un-Liberian. We should worry ourselves; what kind of person is this; who will pay kindness for evil. What kind of person are you? Willfully destroy those who helped you in secret. You ruin their families; you ruin their relationships with their friends."
'It is about country'
But the pair in an emailed response to these assertions sent to FrontPageAfrica said that their action was not about throwing their "Friends Under The Bus", it was a stand taken for the greater good of Liberia, even if it means hurting perceived friends in the process.
"First of all, if as a nation we keep doing what we have been doing, we will keep getting what we have been getting," Judge Johnson told FPA on Saturday.
"Who would have believed us without these recordings? The real and bigger issue is the future our country. This movement is not about Judge Johnson, Ellen Corkrum, Brownie Samukai or Chris Massaquoi, it is about Liberia's liberation."
The pair said their actions are more about fighting corruption using the evidence they have against the government no matter what the source.
"Minister Samukai and Director Massaquoi are two men who have displayed exemplary courage in making sure that the Liberian people and the international communities are aware of practices within this government. While their actions are not popular among their peers, they have stood up in the midst of adversity, which is a true definition of character," said Cockrum in another emailed response on Saturday to FPA.
Continued Cockrum: "We understand that this is a difficult time for them as well, and the fear that surrounds their jobs security within the government; to this any back down from their initial position is understood."
They contend that corruption is entrenched in the government and as Africa's oldest independent nation Liberia lacks the requisite development to show for it because of the continued abuse of public office by those chosen to serve the public's interest.
"Whenever you do not have basic services such as electricity, water, roads, schools, etc., and you are richly blessed by Almighty GOD, you are not free," said Judge Johnson.
"We should hail Samukai and Massaquoi. We should listen to their message to us: If the Police Director and Chief of Military do not have any confidence in the President that they have known intimately and serve for years, why should we?"
But Eugene Nagbe, minister of Youth and sports also drawn in the imbroglio by the pair say, both Cockrum and Johnson do not care about fighting corruption or helping the country because they themselves have been implicated in corrupt acts that they are still unable to answer to. He contends that the pair is only out to cause mischief. He said it is also unfortunate that Ms. Cockrum and Mr. Johnson would try to use a very key national security issue concerning the RIA to make a point and ferment trouble.
"Someone enters the office of the President; the highest office in our land and go in and record, it shows that there was some motive; there was some malice and forethought," he said.
'Attempt to distract'
The government maintains that the wave of secret recordings released by the pair is a clever attempt to distract from the real issue of the indictment that has been hanging over them and is playing these tapes to try the case in a court of public opinion. But the GoL emphasized that it is determined to go after the pair no matter what.
"You can distract, you can distort, you can reveal what you want, we will spare no effort, to ensure that you answer to the charges in the indictment in the proper venue and place. We have a duty as a government to do so," said Minister Brown at Thursday's press briefing.
"I don't care how many tapes; how many recordings is released; what time it is released; I don't care who you record, when you record, this government will not coward to your blackmail. Major Cockrum, we will stop at no effort, to ensure that you answer in our courts, to charges brought against you."
Brown said no amount of blackmail or smear campaign will water down the GoL's resolve to pursue the already progressing extradition plans.
"We will not be tricked into trying this matter for which there is an indictment, outside the courts; at hatai centers, in newspapers and on radio stations," said Brown.
"It is now clear to us that what Major Cockrum, seeks to do is to bring us into a trial. But when you are accused, the best thing to do is to answer your accusers and the venue to do so is the courts.
But if you have 2,000 tapes; I'm sure our courts will have 2,000 minutes to hear all of them."
No tactic of Distraction
The pair in response to these assertions by the government's chief spokesperson maintains that they do not have any intention to runaway from justice as is being insinuated by people in government circles. They claim they a duly giving their side of the story to the Liberian people.
"This claim is by definition as BOGUS as the Indictment. How can evidence create a distraction? Evidence brings about revelation, not distraction. We did not start the media revelations," said Judge Johnson.
"Since we learned that it was a lie by the President and government, we decided to bring the truth to the people. The people need to know the truth. The President and government, out of fear of us bringing forth these recordings, documents and evidences, first plotted against us. When that didn't work and they discovered that we had recorded them, the President and government decided to capture and kill us."
The secret tapes are now becoming a matter of concern and worry about what length Cockrum and Johnson are willing to go as the pair has promised to release more. The entire country is saddled with this new phenomenon of secretly taping public officials especially by other public officials; with people now looking over their shoulders not knowing where the next red button might be pressed and the tape begin to roll.
"This is troubling for all of us in this country. If these people can record someone who helped them and also record confidential conversations with the President, then it is unclear where we are going in terms of security," lamented a senior government official who did not want to be named.
"Now all of us are skeptical of each other because you don't know what nasty things your colleague will have to say about you or who is next in line for to be blackmailed.
The Gag order
Liberia's Ministry of Justice has reportedly filed a Bill of Information at the Criminal Court C in Monrovia, preventing media institutions from further playing, publishing or discussing the recordings.
But in response to the move by the justice ministry, the pair contend that the purported Gag order is Unprecedented, Illegal and Unconstitutional adding that never in history has any country, even the communist and dictatorship-run ones issued such order to the entire nation.
"This blend of arrogance and ignorance is the what the late President Tolbert feared and spoke about. President Johnson Sirleaf has allowed the ignorance of her arrogance, combined with the arrogance of her ignorance to shape her decisions. Such a leader is ineffective and unfit to lead," said Johnson.
"No wonder the neither the Chief of Military nor the Chief of Police have trust and confidence in her. This clearly reflects the President and government shame and attempt to cover up the same."
'Samukai, Massaquoi are patriots'
The ramifications of these recordings on the individuals involved have been costly as some of them have lost cordial relationships and their place close to the President and some have become a point of discussion for topics of gossip shops but the pair seem unrepentant as they contend that they still hold these individuals they have exposed in high esteem adding that whatever sacrifice with their reputation they have made, it is for posterity and history will surely judge them correctly.
"I understand the concerns of the people regarding this issue. I have and continue to applaud the efforts of Samukai and Massaquoi and urge the people to do the same," said Judge Johnson.
"If there was another way to expose the corrupt practices of this President and government, we would have done it. The fact is there is no other way to clearly demonstrate the President and government's plot against us (as outlined by Samukai) and plans to capture and kill us (as outlined by Massaquoi) without revealing these recordings."