It was indeed a sad day for Justice in Liberia, Monday November 2, 2020 and will go down in history as a day of infamy. It was a day when Justice, it appears, was put on trial and it happened under the watch of Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor and it took place right in his backyard garden, so to speak.
In the view of the public, this development warrants either his (Justice Kporkpor's) voluntary resignation or his impeachment from office.
According to a legal expert (identity withheld), the Writ of Arrest against Mr. Ponpon appeared to convey a distinct impression that it was intended to intimidate, silence and cow the aggrieved workers into submission by having its leader, Ponpon, subjected to what would have been a bogus trial.
Graphic accounts, captured on video of Archie Ponpon, the leader of the aggrieved Temple of Justice workers, daring Court officials to arrest him, dousing himself with gasoline and then setting himself ablaze were truly heart rending and have gone viral around the world.
This latest development has once again highlighted the point underscored by this newspaper on numerous occasions that historically, the Courts of this Republic, especially the Supreme Court, have never been there for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the underprivileged.
Rather the Courts have always been there for the movers and shakers of society. And this point has been made manifestly clear by the heavy and very high-handed manner in which Chief Justice Francis Korkpor has handled the case of aggrieved Temple of Justice workers who have been engaged in protest action against the non-payment of their salaries and benefits for over five (5) months now.
That Judicial workers would take such open public protest action, which is unprecedented in recent history, suggests that channels of communication between the Chief Justice had broken down due to what a judicial official (name withheld) says is Chief Justice Korkpor's haughty, over-bearing and heavy-handed attitude towards workers and even towards lawyers.
According to the official, this can explain why the leader of the aggrieved workers, Archie Ponpon virtually ran into a brick-wall desperately seeking the services of a lawyer to defend him against charges levied against him by Chief Justice Korkpor.
Further, according to the judicial official, fear of disbarment from legal practice is the Sword of Damocles that the Chief Justice allegedly never fails to dangle above the heads of lawyers which has tended to encourage obeisance rather than critical and constructive engagement.
Ponpon had been slapped with a Writ of Arrest apparently on charges of leading workers protesting against unpaid salaries and benefits which according to sources are about five (5) months in arrears.
But that Writ of arrest caused to be issued by the Chief Justice, according to a leading lawyer (name withheld) was not only in bad taste, it was a clear and flagrant violation of Mr. Ponpon's basic and fundamental Human Rights including the right to protest against discrimination and non-compensation for services rendered as in the case of the aggrieved workers.
It can be recalled that only a few weeks ago, Police had violently broken-up protest action by workers in demand of their pay. A number of workers sustained injuries during that incident and right on its heels has come this latest protest action-self immolation by protest leader Archie Ponpon.
Fortunately, the flames were doused by sympathetic onlookers and fellow co-workers as well, according to reports quoting eyewitness accounts. During the entire episode, not a single Police Fire Service or government ambulance could be seen. Ponpon was instead conveyed to hospital by a motorbike.
But questions are being asked and rightly so if Chief Justice Korkpor is indeed a right fit for the job, given what is being viewed as a flagrant violation of the basic and fundamental right to compensation for services rendered to the state by poor struggling people, struggling through legitimate means to feed their families daily.
Why do they have to be beaten up and assaulted only for exercising their rights under the Constitution to peacefully assemble and protesting in demand of their due rights to their pay now five (5) months in arrears?
Unlike those protesting workers. Justices of the Supreme Court earn thousands of US dollars monthly, in addition to other perks and benefits such as gasoline allowance, etc.
That a young man would douse himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze clearly demonstrates that he had been driven to desperation and for him, therefore, life had become no longer worth living.
It sends a clear message to all and sundry that officials of this government should not take the Liberian people for granted.
Their actions are tending to drive people to desperation and this certainly does not augur well. Perhaps the Chief Justice may have had very little or no inkling at all where the road he had chosen would lead. Certainly not with someone setting himself ablaze.
But it came as a rude shock and this latest development has damaged the already eroded image of the judiciary. It portrays the Chief Justice as a strongly vindictive, callous and inhumane character, which are all non-desirable traits of any individual presiding over a court of law and what should be essentially a "holy altar of justice", according to the late Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes.
Truth be told, Chief Justice Korkpor's actions have drawn the Court into the cross-hairs of adverse public opinion formed largely by graphic images gone viral of Archie Ponpon setting himself ablaze. And the images are shocking to say the least.
In the opinion of the public, Chief Justice Korkpor ought to resign forthwith or be made to face impeachment proceedings for violating Archie Ponpon's basic and fundamental human rights, including those of his fellow co-workers. But whether he possesses the moral courage to resign remains to be seen.
And if he does, it would indeed be a watershed moment in the country's political growth and development. And if he does not, it would hardly be surprising, for men of honor are nowadays a rarity and in very short supply in Liberia.