The Fall Of A Colossal Media Icon! Tribute To Philip Nimene Wesseh
Whenever our history books begin to document the trappings of media icons along the shores of the small West African nation, Philip Nimene Wesseh’s name will be engraved. For more than 40 years he dominated the pages of the papers. He joined journalism from a passionate perspective. It was self-evident in his DNA! He was the father of straightforward narrative prose writing in Liberia, which was manifested in being labeled as a star reporter in the almighty Daily Observer severally. Philip will be remembered for nurturing hundreds of young journalists in Liberia and abroad. Yes, a great journalist has truly fallen! Such is the complexity of life…
By Ekena Wesley, Contributing Writer
Just outside the walls of D. Twe Memorial High School, Philip Wesseh joined the Daily Observer in 1981. Philip was a young and enterprising man of so much zest and passion. His by-lines would inundate the Daily Observer from page to page. He knew how to go after the news. He had a news-sniffing inclination. even the late President Samuel Doe would be keen on what the next Daily Observer’s headlines would appear like. It was Philip N. Wesseh who covered the Executive Mansion variously under the slain Liberian leader.
Philip Wesseh was the Daily Observer’s Executive Mansion correspondent throughout the reign of late President Samuel Kanyon Doe. If ever there were any Liberian journalist who could effectively write vividly and incisively on the reign of Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, it would have been Philip Wesseh. At the Daily Observer and throughout the media landscape, he will remain a powerful household name. A man who rose from being a cub reporter, reporter, senior reporter, and news editor at the Daily Observer – speaks volumes.
What manner of man was Philip Nimene Wesseh? President Samuel Kanyon Doe’s nightmare had faded away. Charles Taylor’s intransigence continued after Dr. Amos C. Sawyer-led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) had landed. A ceasefire was pushed down Taylor’s throat following ECOMOG’s forced landing on August 24, 1990. Perhaps the only language Charles Taylor could understand was – force. It was obvious, that Taylor was losing territory. The man at the center of 99% ambushed hold on a terrified and shattered nation.
The aura of relative peace the West African Peacekeepers brought to bear meant a glimmer of hope. A group of journalists including Philip N. Wesseh, the late T. Max Teah, Sam Togba Slewion, Gabriel Williams, D. Emmanuel Nah, et al reckoned the need to start a newspaper. The Inquirer was birthed in 1991! Along with The Inquirer, we saw the emergence of The Eye, Scorpion, First National Poll, etc.
Charles Taylor’s sickening attempt to forcefully capture Monrovia was aborted amid Operation Octopus in 1992. It was a deadly onslaught! Thousands of child soldiers were sent to their early graves because of Taylor’s personal ego. At the cessation of hostilities in 1992, we had gone to see Professor Weade Kobbah-Boley at Roman Catholic-run, ELCM. Our interest was journalism. We had come from Fatima in Cape Palmas and as a result of cadet history with the then UN-funded (LIR/78/006) Self-Help Village Development Project (SHFDP). Professor Kobbah-Boley also an alumna of Our Lady of Fatima told us to give her a few days and come back. Of course, we did with so much alacrity and she said – go and see Philip N. Wesseh. She had already spoken to him about us though.
When we arrived at the Inquirer, we had a brief tête-à-tête with Philip N. Wesseh who obliged us to get started the following day. During that period, ULIMO was battling Taylor’s NPFL in fierce exchanges. The star reporter at the Inquirer then was Sideke Trawarally. He reported extensively on the ULIMO-NPFL conflict. But it all that came to a snail-pace when Inquirer received an anonymous letter bordering on terroristic threat. Managing Editor, Gabriel I. h. Williams immediately convened an editorial meeting. He did not mince his words. Gabriel Williams termed the threat as cowardly, uncivilized, and barbaric and warned those faceless elements that The Inquirer would never succumb to any form of threats. Comrade Williams said, moving forward, RP stunts coming from ULIMO would be subjected to rigorous scrutiny in the newsroom.
But at the Inquirer, we met the likes of Massa Washington, D. Emmanuel Nah, Bernard Sackey, Gibson Jerue – a veteran court reporter with the Inquirer. Later, along with Gibson Jerue and others, we started the Public Agenda newspaper. Many of the folks named here have absolutely no recollection of us because our stay was short-lived owing to a professional development sojourn in Ghana. For those in the business of print journalism, cup reporters would struggle and report for several months before they even see their bylines on the pages of the papers. Indeed the learning curve, wasn’t it?
By 1992, newsrooms in Liberia were still tucked into typewriters amid the ticking, clicking, clacking, rattling, or clattering noise. Sam Togba Slewion was then the news editor. He was user-friendly. We ported either to Sam, Philip, or Bernard. Philip Wesseh praised our ability to employ the inverted pyramid technique, grammar, and composition associated with stories we did but chastised us once when we unintentionally misspelled “Burkina Faso.”But we took it in good faith. We also covered the Gibraltar story – where the youths of the slum community honored George Manneh Weah for his achievement in the soccer arena. Most of our beats assigned at the time were tilted towards general-purpose reporting and handling press releases.
On the eve of our travel to what was formerly Gold Coast, we met Philip and told him were would be away and he wished us the best of God’s Grace. On return to Liberia in 2006, Philip N. Wesseh followed us through the prisms of A Patriot’s Diary in Heritage, Critical Thoughts – in Public Agenda, and Crossfire in New Vision respectively. To his credit, when NGOs approached him to recommend analytical writers, we became his preferred choice. Strangely, he would not call to hint at his recommendation. Something we would later learn from the particular institution.
Philip Nimene Wesseh never rested until our flight to the Executive Mansion became a reality. On a Civil Aviation delegation from a state visit to Qatar, Philip Wesseh was invited to join former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her Business Class seat onboard Qatar Airways. Whatever the nature of the discussion, Madam Sirleaf asked us to step forward. We obliged! “Mr. Wesley, it is high time you look at the bigger picture. My protocol will call you when we get to Monrovia.” Philip was not the only one. Former Nimba senator, Adolphus Dolo similarly whispered my exit from Civil Aviation Authority. The Nimba senator felt we were underutilized.
Philip N. Wesseh was an example of an achiever. After many years at the Daily Observer, he made a firm determination that saw him matriculate at the University of Liberia where he studied Mass Communication. He became an incredible asset to the Mass Comm. Department. He later severed as an Assistant lecturer owing to his practical understanding of print journalism, especially the newsroom. Philip Wesseh later enrolled at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and became an Attorney-at-Law.
He selflessly gave back to his country. Colleagues, politicians, as well as students of the University of Liberia (UL) and Methodist-run, United Methodist University (UMU) would truly miss a great teacher, mentor, and pedagogic father figure of journalism. Philip N. Wesseh was the last man standing at the Inquirer. Rest in Peace, Gina until we meet again.