Families of 13 executed Americo-Liberian officials Wednesday got fresh memories of a bitter “nightmare” that took place 35 years ago when 17 enlisted soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia commanded by then Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, staged a bloody coup on April 12, 1980 and toppled the William R. Tolbert regime.
In a memorial service held yesterday at the Presbyterian Church at the corner of Broad and Johnson Streets in Monrovia, the horrible execution of President Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr. and his officials by “evil men,” despite the regime’s “achievements” was recounted.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Sando E. Townsend, recalled how in April 1980, [native] Liberians jubilated in the streets of Monrovia and chanted “native woman born soldier; Congo woman born rogue,” upon the execution of 13 officials of President Tolbert’s government, just [ten] days after the President himself had been assassinated in a military coup.
Though Rev. Townsend says families have forgiven those, who pulled the trigger, he however vowed that they “refuse” to forget the brutal execution of many of their people [Americo- Liberians], particularly insisting that the “power- that- be” did not extend hands of reconciliation for the lives cut short.
He recalled how imprisoned officials’ names were called from a prepared list and paraded through the streets by soldiers to the beach at the Barclay Training Center barracks and eventually executed by firing squad on poles that had been plated few days before.
Following Rev. Townsend’s sermon, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reminded the gathering and Liberians as a whole that, “in the spirit of Christianity, our nation was born to right the wrong” of hatred and divisiveness.
President Sirleaf said, “Time and time again” Liberians allow themselves to hatred, divide and lie against each other; but noted that God has given the chance “over and over again” to reach out to be able to do what he has called Liberians to do.
She re-emphasized call for reconciliation from the heart of every Liberian, and reminded citizens that “We all have sinned and fallen short of the mercy of God.”
Both Americo-Liberians and the native Liberians suffered the terrible consequences of brutal armed conflicts here, with the worst of all casualties reportedly claiming the lives of over 200,000 when the now imprisoned ex-President Charles Taylor, who allegedly broke jail from America, launched a civil war against his former ally Samuel Doe’s government from 1989 up to 1997.
President Doe’s life equally ended when he was captured in Monrovia by a breakaway rebel faction of Taylor led by Gen. Prince Y. Johnson, now Nimba County Senator on September 9, 1990.
Doe was brutally tortured before being killed, with his ears, some of his fingers and toes mutilated by his captors.
When succeeded in overthrowing the Tolbert government, 13 officials, mainly cabinet ministers, were paraded publicly around Monrovia nude and then summarily executed by firing squad on the beach.
Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned.
Doe’s former Justice Minister, Counsellor Chea Cheapoo, told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 that American CIA had provided the map for the Executive Mansion, which enabled the assassins to break into it, while accusing “a white American CIA agent” of shooting and killing Tolbert.
But another former Minister of Samuel Doe’s government, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, testified in contrast to Cllr. Cheapoo, claiming that “the Americans did not support the coup led by Mr. Doe”.
At the climax of the service marking the 35th anniversary of the late President Tolbert and his officials, President Sirleaf hoped that as her government and the citizens joined in the spirit of solidarity, every tribe or group that felt hurt would recommit to correcting the historical and current wrongs of the country.
The President stressed that Liberians would be proud to be part of history making in correcting the wrongs of the past in the nature that “our forefathers” foresaw when they came to this shore and joined their brothers here.
By Winston W. Parley