By Atty. Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
The 15th of this month would make it exactly 30 years of existence of The INQUIRER Newspaper, the first independent newspaper in post-war Liberia that came to being on January 15, 1991.
The first newspaper that appeared on the market was the “TORCHLIGHT” on Bushrod Island under the guise of the then Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) then headed by now Nimba County, Senator Prince Y. Johnson.
The TORCHLIGHT at the time comprised of top media practitioners who were displaced in Monrovia as a result of the civil conflict.
It was headed by the late veteran and venerable journalist Rufus M. Darpoh. Other members were Madam Weade Kobbah-Boley, now at the University of Liberia, Pete “Quepee” Kahler, with the Liberian News Agency (LINA), the late J.N. Elliott, then an expert in crime reporting; the late T-Toe Slewion, Nyenati Allison, who later became a stringer for the BBC, S. Togba Slewion, the late Emmanuel Nah and I who later joined the staff after returning from areas then under the control of the Charles Taylor’s forces.
Some Members Of The Inquirer During Last Sunday’s Service At The Eliza Turner Church On Camp Johnson Road
As the TORCHLIGHT was still operating, the Late Darpoh was arrested and incarcerated by INPFL forces because the paper reported at the time that some fighters of the INPFL forces were harassing some civilians at a food distribution center in New Kru Town.
That story infuriated the leadership of the force, thus resulting to the action against the old man.
Obviously this created fear, panic and apprehension in us, making some of us to take a decision to form our own newspaper that would not be under the control of the INPFL.
We then formed The INQUIRER newspaper, with Mr. Gabriel I.H. Williams, who is now a Liberian diplomat, as its first Managing Editor and the late T-Max Teah as its Chairman of the board.
The Front And Back Pages Of The First Edition Of The Inquirer Newspaper On January 15, 1991
Even though establishing The INQUIRER on Carey Street in central Monrovia was still risky because INPFL was in control of the area, we took solace in the presence of the ECOMOG peacekeepers in case of any eventualities.
Notwithstanding, then Gen Johnson, many times, uninvitingly paid visits to our offices, mainly to express his displeasure harshly against the then Interim President Dr. Amos C. Sawyer’s monetary policy that his government took by changing the Liberian banknotes because it was out of the banking system as a result of massive looting.
At the time, it was generally believed that the INPFL and others in arms had huge banknotes on their bases.
January 6 1992 Edition Of The Inquirer That Carried The Story About The Changing Of The Banknotes
By The then Interim Government. This Did Not Go Down Well With The Then NPFL And INPFL
The INPFL was based at the Taylor Major Compound in Caldwell. Gen. Johnson was very bitter with Dr. Sawyer, for which, he made sarcastic and disparaging comments; something I cannot repeat because my late grandmother who taught me decency, modesty and civility would get angry with me in her grave.
Also, the issue of the new banknotes was considered a crime by the then National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) headed by Charles Taylor. As such, taking the new banknotes into areas under the control of the then NPFL was considered a crime.
Some of the original staffers were me (present managing editor), Mr. S. Tobga Slewion; the late Sam Van Kesselly; J. Grody Dorbor; Amos Bryant; Stanley George; Mr. Doe S.K. Davis who now runs a printing press; Mr. Roger Seton; Gregory Stemn; my New Kru Town buddy D. Ignatius Roberts; the late Emmanuel Nah; Mr. Bana Sackey; Mr. J. Burgess Carter and Amos Justice Bryant, now a reverend; Others who later joined the editorial staff were D. Yadeh Chea; Prof K. Moses Nagbe; the late Stanton B. Peabody; Massa Washington, who served as one of the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Cllr. Mark Beldor-Wla Freeman who now heads the Independent Information Commission.
Dr. Charles Asumana Sr., Dr. Kimmie Weeks and Dr. Moses Gray
Also joining later to make the paper what it is today were J. Moses Gray, now Dr. Gray, who is now in the hierarchy at the University of Liberia; Jackson Seton, a Mathematics Instructor in the USA; Larkpor Boahndao; H. Wantue Mayor; the late Augustine Choloply; Dr. Kimmie Weeks; Bill Jarkloh; Attees Johnson; who had “nose for news,” Melissa Chea Annan, former vice president, Press Union of Liberia (PUL); Martin Benson; Isaac Yeah now in the foreign mission; Steve Jarvey, D. Sonpon Weah, the late Ephraim Johns, Edwin Fayiah, Simeon Reeves, J. Kaba Williams; Isaac Solo Kelgbeh now Presidential Press Secretary; Albert Pyne; Jarwinken Wiah; Timothy Seaklon now Managing Editor, Independent Inquirer; Matthew Wah; Atty Phil Dixon a candidate in the 2020 special senatorial election in Montserrado County; Emmanuel Cooper; Dr. Charles Ansumanah now a scientist; Alex Karvonzeah, Webster Cassell now with the Gender Ministry; Emmanuel Savice now heads a campaign for war crimes tribunal; the late Patrick K. Wrokpoh, Augustine Gebeh; C.Y. Kwanue; C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy, Jennie Fallah-Wounuah; Margaret Weagbe; Kennedy Zobah, James Kpargoi; Emmanuel Mondaye; Throble K. Suah, Folo-Glagle Korkokollie, Edwin Fayiah, the late Bobby Tapson; Welma Blaye-Sampson now assistant Minister, Ministry of Labor; Gibson Jerue; J. Wesley Washington now in the foreign service; James Momoh who runs a diabetes center in Liberia; Sidiki Trawally now with the West African Power pool; Jacob Doe; Alva Wolokollie; Sebo Daniels; Heston Jackson; Rose Saulwas; Hassan Kiawu, a contributor at the LBS; the late Tanna Wolokollie, Helen Nah-Sammie owner of Women Voices Newspaper; the late M. Welemongar Ciapha; Jefferson Tweh; Gloria Voker; Boima J.V. Boima former Deputy Director General of Rural Broadcasting at the LBS; Roland Mulbah now with the independent Inquirer, Morrison Sayon, also with the Independent Inquirer; Michael Gebeh a prospective graduate of the Arthur Grimes School of Law; Solomon Gaye, correspondent, Nimba County; Naomi Saydee now supervising the rural women empowerment division at the Ministry of Gender; Suku Shannon; the late Sarweh Doe; Lovettee Waynawhere with KMTV; Antoinette Sendolo now studying in Europe; Edwin Wandah; Victor Hanson; Ferricks Dainsee, with the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS); Francis Pelenah also with LBS; Varney Sirleaf, now with the Liberian Institute for Public Administration (LIPA); Edwin Jackson, now with independent Inquirer; Gerald D. Yeakula a law school graduate now working with CENTAL; James Paye, Lincoln Barcon and Janjay F. Campbell now with the Independent Inquirer; Charles Yates, publisher of the Integrity Watch; Never Lomo, Caesar Siaplah; Rodella Karlay-Sylvester; Charles Crawford, who now holds a master’s degree from the US and runs an NGO; Andrew Johnson, James Fassukoi and Ralph Geeplay, both in the USA.
Some of those who are presently holding on to the paper are Frank A. Smart, Alex Yomah, Bill W. Pyne, Precious Freeman, Grace Bryant, Bill Cooper, Solomon Isaac, Lewis Weah, Richard Myers and Ignatius Sackor.
Indeed, the three decades of existence thus far was not rosy, as there were many challenges including dangerous assignments for which we took the risk. The fact that this paper started when the guns were around, created a challenge to the paper to exercise great deal of professionalism and high ethical standard.
One of the difficult assignments that this paper covered during the conflict was “THE FALL Of GBARNGA” from Charles Taylor’s NPFL by forces of Alhaji Kromah’s ULIMO forces.
Former President Charles Taylor (Leader of the NPFL) and Alhaji Kromah (Leader of the ULIMO K) Waring factions
This award-winning assignment was done by Sidiki Trawally.
The next day, the paper sold like a hot cake, even though it came out late.
The other precarious incident was the ill-advised coup by the late Charles Julu when the peacekeepers were around.
Upon hearing this, we assigned J. Grody Dorbor, John kollie and another person to cover it at the Mansion. Fortunately, they met him there and he later provided documents, as his manifesto to our team.
This was one of the times this paper withheld the issue confidentially, as there were requests to disclose the names of some of our reporters who were spotted at the Mansion but we declined to do so because there was a gentleman understanding not to disclose the names of those individuals spotted. As a result of this, those individuals and I had a nickname known as “SECRET.”
As expected, Gen. Julu, then nicknamed, “THE ROCK” was hours later, with heavy shelling, flushed out from the Executive Mansion by the peacekeepers. He later went into hiding but was arrested in the Mamba Point area and sent to the military tribunal that acquitted him after it was said that the judge instead of saying, “GUILTY,” mistakenly said, “NOT GUILTY,” thus giving him an undeserved freedom.
One of the events or episodes of the civil conflict that heavily hit the newspaper was the April 6, 1996 fracas among the former warring factions that saw the destruction of properties, including our offices on Carey Street in Central Monrovia. However, we were not discouraged or perturbed by this, as we mustered the courage and resilience by operating from the “BURNT OFFICE” of THE INQUIRER.
Even though one other widespread event known as “OPERATION OCTOPUS” launched October 1992 by the NPFL of former President Charles Taylor, affected our operation, it was not that severe as compared to the April 6 incident.
It was launched at the time to dislodge the peacekeepers for the NPFL to ascend to state power, as it saw the peacekeepers as an obstacle to its success.
But it did not come to fruition because of the resistance of the peacekeepers, then, in charge of security.
Still to mention, another situation the paper encountered was when several of its editors were arrested and taken to the Executive Mansion for a story about a missing man who was allegedly abducted by people loyal to then President Charles Taylor.
They were held briefly at the Mansion and later released. Surprisingly, the man for whom we were concerned came out to deny being missing, as reported. Understandably, at the time, we knew why he denied this because “his hands were in the devil’s mouth,” as we say figuratively.
Also, one situation about two years ago that almost broke down the newspaper was the plan by some individuals in the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) to see the demise of the newspaper.
But God be God, this diabolical and wicked plan did not materialize, as some former employees quickly moved to the rescue of the paper, thus making it to still be on the newsstand.
This plan was being executed at the time I was hospitalized, recovering from a leg surgery.
I was shocked over this because I personally helped the CDC when it was in opposition and that this paper published the voluminous Manifesto of the party, without a cost. To this, I always vaingloriously say, “To God Be The Glory.” As one Gospel musician says,”they plan it for evil but God plans it for good;
As the paper marks three decades, one thing worth mentioning was its vacation school programs, where children from schools at all levels were given the opportunity to work. Purposely, it is intended to inculcate in these future leaders the sense of leadership and good working habits, not necessarily to become journalists.
Today, we can proudly say that this program has yielded fruitful results as many of the students have earned higher education and have deservingly leapfrogged into top positions in society.
Three of such students are now Dr. Kimmie Weeks from the Isaac Davies School in Paynesville; Charles Ansumanah from Lott Carey in Brewerville and Gerald Yeakula from Cathedral.
As we continue to provide services to the Liberian society and the world, we renew our pledge to remain dedicated, committed and ethical as we discharge our professional duties.
As the oldest and only surviving post-war independent newspaper, we will remain people-centered.
To God Be The Glory