Why Did Vice President Joe Boakai Stay in His Lane For 12 Years


As Liberians prepare to participate in the general Presidential and Representatives elections slated for Tuesday, October 10, 2017; they are poised to elect a President and 73 Representatives from a pool of at least 900 Representatives and 20 Presidential candidates.

This article is focused on the key Presidential candidate, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who upon serving as Vice President to Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for 12 years; has been elected standard Bearer of the Governing Unity Party and is serving as the Party’s flag bearer in the ensuing Presidential elections of October 10, 2017.

During these kinds of elections and its rather sad associated electioneering verbosities, the current one is of no exception. It is marked with character assassinations, name callings; good intentions twisted by knaves, friends against friends and accusations without researched facts.  But the truth can never be twisted.

In this piece, I have been moved by the many mis-characterizations about the work, functions and duties of the office of the “Vice President of our Republic”. During the August 17, 2017 recently held OSIWA sponsored Presidential debates jointly organized by the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC) and the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) featuring four of Liberia’s twenty Presidential candidates; the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, His Excellency Joseph Nyumah Boakai in one of his most acclaimed comments asserted “If you want to test a race car, place it on a track”.

The Vice President was responding to a question about his role as a Vice President under the Governing Unity Party’s 12 years leadership and what difference would it make with him being a President.

Many opposition political pundits took the Vice President’s comments and ran with various interpretations and at times demeaning and disrespectful to say the least of a sitting Vice President of our Republic.

Many averred that the Vice President should have done more than sit because in his comments he insinuated that his boss, President Sirleaf, was not giving him much to do when he should have demanded same and or find a job to do as a Vice President. Many continue by further commenting in the print and social media that the Vice President should have resigned and or take the blame of all the failures of the Governing Unity Party and quit the Presidential race.

Furthermore, many opposition political “wannabes” still found it difficult to grasp the work of a Vice President against what His Excellency Joseph and Nyumah Boakai asserted that a “Vice President is a Vice President”.

The Tubman – Tolbert Case Study – Liberia

President William R. Tolbert, Jr., (1971-1980) was considered the “Preacher President”. He was an ordained Baptist Pastor and former President of the Baptist World Alliance. But most importantly – as is Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Tolbert was President William V.S. Tubman’s modest (“invisible”) Vice – President for nearly 20 years. Tolbert succeeded Tubman on July 23, 1971 after Tubman (1944-1971) had died in a London clinic.

President Tolbert was so “invisible” and “modest” under President Tubman that he quietly served and spent most of his time on his Bellefanai farm in Bong County, 200 miles from Monrovia. President Tubman usually used to leave the government in the hands of his confidants whenever he travels out of the country. And Vice President Tolbert was not one of them. But he never complained as in the words of Vice President Boakai; the Vice President is the Vice President.

And so when President Tubman left for England, he had left the reins of the government in the hand of his confidant, Secretary of State, J. Rudolph Grimes. Upon announcing President Tubman’s, demise, Grimes tried to be installed as Acting President arguing that Vice President Tolbert, who had left for his farm in Bong County could not be expected to return to Monrovia within the constitutional prescribed term of 24 hours. However, opposition to his plans from other Cabinet Members, notably Postmaster General Mac DeShield, prevented the realization of Grimes’ ambitions.

As modest and invisible as he was, William R. Tolbert arrived in Monrovia in a lent Volkswagen during the evening of July 23, 1971. Imagine Vice President Tolbert’s own car had broken down and he was still wearing his short-sleeved safari suit, in which he was sworn in as Liberia’s 19th President.

Since that day, the open-necked cotton suit has become to be known as the “swearing in” suit and has replaced the most ceremonial occasions the tuxedos and top hats that his predecessor had liked so much. This modesty extends to Vice President Boakai today both in attire (swearing in suit) and the invisibility heart to Think, Love & Build a nation.

President William R. Tolbert inherited a country with a political life controlled by less than 3 percent of the population and a modern economy in the hands of foreign investors. Yet still, he was the Vice President for almost 20 years – with all these under him and President Tubman’s leadership as a team.

Many would argue of Tolbert’s contributory failure as they are currently doing to Vice President Boakai. The tribal majority was excluded from all areas under Tubman. President Tolbert surprised many and showed dynamism few only, if any, expected and which soon earned him the surname “Speedy”. He made many changes that as Vice President under Tubman, he could not have made.

He broke with Tubman’s Conservative formalism that was based on an imitation of the West and in particular the United States. A second change was the area of foreign relations and constituted a rupture with Tubman’s anti-communist doctrine.

Thirdly, Tolbert publicly recognized that the fruits of foreign investments were quite unevenly divided and he gradually introduced re-negotiations of the concessions agreements that had granted the foreign investors important tax and other privileges. For this he then declared the concept of “Humanistic Capitalism” and then announced policy aimed at improving the living conditions of the majority of the people. Those included:

Total Involvement for Higher Heights – From Mat to Mattress

All these were geared toward creating a wholesome functioning society and winning the war against Ignorance, Disease and Poverty. He was considered one of Liberia’s most progressive Presidents and the first who spoke a tribal language. Never judge a Vice President by his invisibility and modesty.

Place the car on the race track. Imagine for 19 years, Tolbert burned with an insatiable desire of economic, socio-political and developmental reforms – but again he was only a vice President waiting for the appropriate time. President Tolbert did so well in 9 years (1971-1980) that which as Tubman’s Vice President of nearly 20 years; they could not.

He however became a victim of the conflict that had characterized relations between the Americo-Liberian colonists and the Afro-Liberian population since the arrival of the first settlers in 1821. He was assassinated on April 12, 1980 but yet still he remains one of the BEST Loved and productive Liberian Presidents to date. He opened the economy and gave the green light to multi-party democracy that we enjoy today.

But who knew Tolbert would have been considered such a leader under Tubman – where he was invisible and a modest Vice President for nearly 20 years and not even a confidant of President Tubman.

But his modesty propelled him to be Vice President for all these years and when the race car was given the opportunity to perform following the death of President Tubman, he did so well that he had marked his place in the annals of history written by an indelible ink darkened by the acid of history and cherished by most well-meaning Liberians to date. Indeed, a Vice President is a Vice President.

Whenever a Vice President, who does not know how to stay in his lane, and comes out whether be it accidental, the aftermath of such political accident leads to a political demise. And so like Tolbert, Boakai played it well by staying in his lane and for that Boakai is poised, prepared, well nurtured and experienced to be Liberia’s next President. As Liberians, let’s place this race car on a track to know its viability.

He will be more than our next Tolbert. Imagine President Tolbert not being a man of modesty and invisibility under a President like William V.S. Tubman during nineteen of his twenty seven years rule. You be the judge of what would have been the political faith of Tolbert under President Tubman we have all heard or read about. Tolbert survived and became President because he knew his role as a Vice President.

The Koroma – Sumana Case Study – Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone story runs contrary to the above Liberian case study with a rather happy ending where Vice President Tolbert of Liberia succeeded President Tubman as President. The Sierra Leone story contravenes the concept of a parked race car not waiting for its turn to be placed on track. That is when a Vice President does not want to be a Vice President but rather decides to take on added responsibilities not handed to him by the President. Anarchy, rancor, acrimonies, political turmoil and bad blood ensue between the President and the Vice President.

The President shall always be allowed to be Presidential. And when any dispute arises; in most cases, the President always wins as was in the case with President Ernest BaiKoroma and his Vice President, Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana. Don’t forget in Africa we have an imperial presidency despite the constitution. After all, who actually makes and implement the law… ok there are provisions in the constitution for the most part to answer this question. Let’s keep this for another time – The President makes the law! Take this with a grain of salt and never bet your dime against this.

President Koroma was sworn in on September 17, 2007. He and his Vice President Sumana started on a good footing until early 2015 when both men became embroiled in dramatic political blows. President Koroma believed that the action of Vice President Sumana was disrespectful and after all, the Vice President was chosen by the President and he was running too fast ahead of his shadows and forgetting that he was a Vice President.

Following the Vice President’s expulsion from the APC; the President announced to the nation that the Vice President had abandoned his duties and office as Vice President of Sierra Leone and had sought asylum from a foreign embassy. And as such, the President continued, the Vice President was no longer a member of a political party in Sierra Leone and therefore did not have the continuous requirement to hold the office as Vice President as provided for under the  Sierra Leonean constitution. 

President Koroma continued by saying that based on his supreme executive authority as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, he was relieving with immediate effect Vice President Sumana of the duties and from the office as the Vice President of Sierra Leone.

The President sooner than later named and appointed Victor Bockarie Foh, former Secretary General of the Ruling APC; who until his selection was Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to China; as the Sierra Leone’s new Vice President. Sierra Leone goes to general Presidential elections in March 2018. It should not be a surprise if Vice President Foh stands as the picked candidate by President Koroma. Let’s not forget the President has “Supreme” executive power. Never shall a Vice President test the resolved and supreme Presidential power of a President.

Lessons Learn: “Never outshine the Master”. In the words of Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, “the Vice President is the Vice President”. I wish Sam Sumana had known this fact and like Tolbert and Boakai become “invisible” and “modest and or ascertain some elderly advice from Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai.

Under Article 51 of the Liberian constitution, the official function of the Vice President is to preside over the Senate.

The Vice President only vote during deliberations of the senate when there is a tie. During (verbal) research question placed for this article, I was reliably informed that Vice President Boakai had never being allowed to vote during the almost 12 years of his presiding over the Senate since there is yet to be a condition that would warrant his breaking of a tie through such vote.

In addition, the Vice President only acts when asked by the President to perform certain duties.

He does not make any cabinet, statutory or lower level appointments of any kind. The Vice President may recommend for appointment to the President, but the final decision to accept or not to accept rests with the President who has the constitutional appointing power to do so.

Indeed, the Vice President is the Vice President. I have not an inch of doubt that the current story would have been different if Vice President Boakai had acted in similar shape or form like the former Sierra Leone Vice President Sam Sumana.

The Rawlings – Arkaah Case Study – Ghana

Rawlings, leader of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and a former air force flight lieutenant who staged two successful coups and then turned politician entered into a political marriage with Arkaah, the leader of the National Convention Party (NCP); as President and Vice President. 

Rawlings and Arkaah were sworn in on January 7, 1993 with Arkaah being the first democratically elected Vice President of the 4th Republic of Ghana since independence. The two men never had cordial working relationships. Again, like Sumana, Arkaah forgot the basic rule; – never to outshine the master.

It was not until around December 20, 1995;the 68 years old Vice President Kow Nkensen Arkaah ; while addressing his party (NCP) convention; allegedly accused the cabinet, over which he (Arkaah) presided, as being corrupt and making additional derogatory statements of the governing NDC.

The following week, at the December 28, 1995 cabinet meeting; President Rawlings being so furious and angry challenged Vice President Arkaah over the alleged statements and that Vice President Arkaah should go out and prove to the world the questionable or so called corrupt things which took place during cabinet meetings. Until then, President Rawlings insisted that Vice President Arkaah had no moral right to continue to participate in the deliberations of a cabinet for which he had no respect.

Lessons Learn: This is what happens when a Vice President does not want to be a Vice President and attempts to “outshine the master”. Similarly, take a closer look at various ministries and agencies and the roles of the principal deputies. You would notice that most ministers or heads of entities over-ride their deputies – even when it involves the deputies’ statutory duties and functions of those deputies. 

On Principal Ministers’ illegal over-rides; One deputy minister remarked “when the minster is about to use his un-statutory over-ride, he says, I am THE minister”. And interestingly many of these deputies allow such breach –not that they are not aware of their legal right; but rather they are just being invisible and modest as a deputy. Moreover, society may not understand their pleas for their legal rights as they may be misjudged as undermining their bosses.

But most deputies are going through a lot at various ministries and agencies against the un-administrative acts of heads of entities. Some even boast of their closely to the President, an intimidating tactics against their deputies. Liberia’s Vice President, His Excellency Joseph Nyumah Boakai understands this well and modestly remained invisible in his lane until Article 51 of the Liberian constitution is invoked by President Sirleaf. Kindly permit me to state verbatim the provision thereof…

“There shall be a Vice-President who shall assist the President in the discharge of his functions. The Vice-President shall be elected on the same political ticket and shall serve the same term as the President.

The Vice-President shall be President of the Senate and preside over its deliberations without the right to vote, except in the case of a tie vote. He shall attend meetings of the cabinet and other governmental meetings and shall perform such functions as the President shall delegate or deem appropriate; provided that no powers specifically vested in the President by the provisions of this Constitution shall be delegated to the Vice-President” (Lib Const. Article, 51, 1986).

In view of the above, what more could any reasonable mind expect of a Vice President. Furthermore, Article 50 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution is crystal clear as stated here in parts “The Executive Power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia”. 

Indeed and yet again in the words of Vice President Boakai, the Vice President is the Vice President. Listen to the voice of wisdom and elect him as President on October 10, 2017; given him full powers as enshrined under Article 50 of the Liberian constitution and hold him accountable. As we have learned, history has been harsh to Vice Presidents who never played by the rules but in the same vein; history had been kind to those who did. We are reminded of the stated cases above involving Sierra Leone, Ghana and yes our Liberia.

His Excellency Joseph Nyumah Boakai served well as a Vice President. He shall be more than Tolbert of Liberia and Atta Mills of Ghana in providing the kind of leadership and development Liberians are yearning for. JNB as he is affectionately called; eats with kings, but never forgets the common touch.

He is a humble and a kind hearted man with a developmental and unifying spirit. Let us “Vote for Boakai – Let us Sing for Boakai – Let us dance for Boakai – as our President”…For we shall all “Think Liberia – Love Liberia & Build Liberia”.

Vote for Joseph Nyumah Boakai as President of the Republic of Liberia on October 10, 2017

Big Question: Mr. Boakai “If elected, will you investigate Madam Sirleaf and her son Robert?”

Over the past year, we have been inundated with assertions of the rift between our President and the Vice President. Assumptions have been made overtly and covertly by both camps but there has not been any substantive ceremony or speech that would entice a Unity Party voter to embark on the premise that there is a rift. They are both walking on eggshells.

Boakai needs to either embrace Ellen or distance himself from her failed administration of the Republic. He has stated that he can do without her endorsement but why not take the final blow and criticize her publicly? Then we will know whether or not he depends on her. His failure to do so provide much suspicion as to the ulterior motives of both.

Boakai’s risks: Offending Ellen would detach himself from the avid fans of the President and those who yearn for stability. He would then encounter stiff opposition in both houses and stifle his efforts to reform the current government. Discrediting Ellen could impart a message of mistrust with the world’s financial community which has steadily deepened the pockets of her cohorts (Robert in particular).

Boakai’s rewards: The electorate will have a different perception of the Unity party. Voters who are reluctant to see the perpetuation of corruption, malfeasance, and nepotism would easily switch sides in an effort to reap the rewards of having a fair chance to change their economic woes. Next, Boakai will be viewed as a strong leader willing to expanse relationships in an effort to attain lofty goals.

The rewards outweigh the risks. To leave a valuable imprint, we need to prosecute Madam Sirleaf, her roguish son, and all of the thieves who plundered the vaults of the Liberian government. Boakai needs to show he has the toughness to withstand the onslaught of abuse he will receive for a patriotic act. Boakai for once in your life “stop sleeping and wake up” to the New Liberia or be remembered as a weak ineffective vice President with narcolepsy (frequent naps during waking hours).

Will Ellen and her son walk away with their millions? Which candidate has the intestinal fortitude to assure the voting public that corruption and nepotism will not be tolerated? Which candidate will cut the salaries of the highest paid officials in Africa? ( By the way, Liberia is the 4th poorest nation in the world, 2017 results World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

How can you justify being the fourth poorest nation in the world and having senators making $12,000 in salary and $4,000 in expenses for $192,000.00. The average US Senator makes $174,000.00 in annual salary.

Jeredine Keita Koleh, Contributing Writer
0770-234-367 / 0886-530-041