Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay: ‘No Lebanese Business Ties’
Monrovia – No choice for a running mate in Liberia’s recent political history has generated so much controversy as the selection of Emmanuel Nuquay has.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Vice President Joseph Boakai’s Running Mate on the 4-G Farmington Hotel Passage, his assets to the ruling Unity Party Ticket and erasing perceptions about his close ties with the Abi Jaoudi Family.
“First of all, let me establish that I’m not engaged in any business anywhere or at no point in time have I ever been engaged in a business venture with any Lebanese; I have never been engaged with any business with a Lebanese either here in Liberia – or in any part of this world – Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay (PUP, Margibi County)
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was named last week by Vice President Joseph Boakai, the candidate for the ruling Unity Party in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, has gotten off to a rugged start.
The surfacing of a tape recording in which the speaker appears to be going on a venting rage immediately drew outrage from Liberians both at home and abroad and spurred a social media discussion frenzy that has ricocheted across the political spectrum, leading many to conclude that the ruling party had shot itself in the leg.
Critics were also enraged that the vice president chose to take a dip into a legislative body that has very low approval ratings from the general public amid perceptions about corruption and bad concession agreements.
Saddled in controversy, Mr. Nuquay sat down for an exclusive, no-holds barred interview Tuesday in which he addresses a number of burning issues including his alleged business dealings with Lebanese businesses, misconceptions about the lower house and undertaking the biggest gamble of his political life, abandoning his powerful position of speaker for a shot at the vice presidency.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA/LBS: This is your first interview since your selection as Vice Presidential Running mate to Ambassador Joseph Boakai. How do you feel about your selection?
SPEAKER EMMANUEL NUQUAY: As I said on the night of the announcement, as a young man, I come to this bearing in mind that I am indeed on a mission to prove perceptions about young people wrong. ‘There’s this perception that young people are not patient, that they are not organized, they are inexperience, they are desperate. We certainly want to disprove those. We want to conduct ourselves in a way, manner and form, that the Liberian people will be convinced – in the end that indeed young people can be reliable and dependable partners in the development of our republic.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The process was indeed rigorous, it was a long haul, given the fact that one of the leading contenders, Ambassador was the last to pick his running mate. Did you see this coming?
NUQUAY: Not at all, I didn’t see this coming. And I often ask young people and those who ask me this question and as you can see, I have printed all of my campaign materials in China, I even have some which I can display to you. These are caps I had printed, T-Shirts that I printed, bags also that I printed, as you can see. I did all my printing materials. So, I never thought about becoming a running mate but when it came and then elders prevailed on me, it dawned on me that I could not single-handedly make myself to succeed as speaker in the 54th, I needed to rally the support of political allies and if those individuals were asking me to move on then I needed to consider their requests more.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Was it a difficult decision to make to move on.
NUQUAY: Certainly, it was a difficult decision when you take into consideration the wrangling for power; when you take into consideration the enormous difficulties it would take to get adjusted. I came from being a representative on the floor to getting elected on a white ballot and I’ve been speaker for nine months, then being requested to be a running mate on the ticket of the forerunner of the campaign for the presidency of our republic that’s a huge transition and to make such a decision it was extremely difficult because firstly we form a team here in the House of Representatives so that selectively we support one another in the field to get re-elected and to have the opportunity to provide leadership for a full term.
What we are providing is leadership for one year, three months. Our entire anticipation was let’s work together, build a leadership team, get re-elected, come and have the opportunity to serve the Liberian people at level of speaker for six years.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Your earlier comments that it was difficult to accept doesn’t jive with rumours in the public that you paid huge sums of money to get this slot? In fact, a Senator from Nimba County (Senator Thomas Grupee, NUDP) alleged recently that you paid US$2 million to Ambassador Boakai for the slot. Are there any truths to this?
NUQUAY: This is laughable and regrettable. Firstly, as I’ve shown you, I never anticipated this. I built a team, we worked together, we printed all of our campaign materials, we have containers in the port as we speak, we clear a container of motorcycles few weeks ago, we’re working as a team here, we did not anticipate this. If we had interest in this, I wouldn’t have printed campaign materials in China, I wouldn’t have done that. But this is politics and this is what people do.
And this is the reason why people shy away from politics people will want to smear their good character. What is being done is regrettable because I see it as a classic disrespect to a selfless and dedicated public servant who has served diligently for more than 35 years, a very humble and immaculate father of our land, one who has lived an exemplary life for many young people to emulate, he has been tested, many, many times.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: But when you have a sitting Senator making such accusations where do you think it is coming from?
NUQUAY: I don’t know. I cannot explain where it is coming from but all I can say is that it is regrettable in terms of the person who is being mentioned. Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai has never lived such life, he has been tested, he has been proven, it has been established that he is indeed corruption free.
This is why the whole country is gravitating toward him. Why do you think the whole country is gravitating toward him? Because he has been seen as a selfless and dedicated public servant. One who prioritizes the interest of the country above his personal interests. If he was someone who goes for such things he would have picked his running mate long since. But he submitted the process to prayers. So, someone who is seeking for bribes will do that?
They will not do that. And even to elevate him to that level, I certainly think it is an insult to Ambassador Boakai, a father, a great leader, a leader that the whole country is proud of, a leader that is now seen as the rallying point who has been endorsed everywhere in almost all of the country and I feel strongly that is an insult to him. This should not have no place in our country.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Speaker, let’s look at what you bring to the table. There’s been a lot of debates about whether you can deliver Margibi and the Bassa belt for the vice president. For those who do not know you, what can you bring to the table for the Vice President? Secondly, there’s been some tension with you and Ben Fofanna in the Margibi area, would that escalate to the point where you think it would affect the VP?
NUQUAY: Well, I certainly bring a lot to the table. I bring teamwork, I bring team spirit, I bring results to the table in terms of getting the job done. I bring that charisma to the table that I can get the job done. In my county I’ve been able to get things done, I’ve been able to build leadership teams. I’ve been able to work with people to ensure that we promote the leadership of the county. I understand that one or two persons will have problems with me, it’s because my political decisions have not favored some of them and they will always go into the county and try to get back at me. That is understandable, this is politics.
As honorable Zayzay says, nobody scores hundred in politics. We will have our own little problems here and there but politics being the game of majority rule, we can rally the majority, I’ve demonstrated that in my county.
Besides my county, I’ve been able to rally leaders in the central region and beyond, in the central region first with Senator Yallah, with Senator Woyee, Representative George Mulbah, Rep. Tokpah Mulbah – all of those people are leaders that we get along with very well. At the national level, the House of Representatives, I’ve been able to establish a team at the legislature that has been able to stabilize the house. So if we can stabilize this house, we can stabilize this country, that’s what we bring to the table.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: One issue that has been in the news over the last seven days is this recording that surfaced which portrays you as an angry man, as a man who hates people, who has this vendetta against people, who is willing to go all out to go after people. What was your impression of the tape recording and where was it done?
NUQUAY: Basically, let me establish that contrary to what was heard in the public that after I was nominated I felt that I had authority or that I was on the verge of becoming vice president and I would use my power to go after people. In fact as it is I would have no power after the election.
The speakership is more powerful than vice presidency, I mean I can say that. That is not true. I have not spoken to the media as I am doing now since I was nominated. The only time I spoke to a media person was when I got nominated at the SKD Sports Complex and I was asked about the process. That was all. This is the first time I am having a major interaction with the media. So, I did not make such statement after being nominated by VP Boakai.
The fact is that recording was done sometime last year or year before last, I cannot really recall the particular event. But what is the background? We need to understand the background and in this country sometimes people do not address issues when those issues are raised but they want to capitalize on maybe something they can portray negatively because of politics.
What was the major issue that was raised in that recording? In my district, I’ve been able to work to establish myself as a dominant political force in my district, to the extent that I’ve been able to rally forces to produce leaders at the county level and as such there are people who harbor political ambitions at the level of the district in order to be representatives, we welcome that, we appreciate them, I mean that’s their constitutional right but the political contest should be on the basis of ideas and what you bring to the table. It should not be on the basis of rudeness, it should not result to insults to parents, family members – and this is what we frown on.
And we thought to advise the young people to say, look, you cannot come to the political contest relying on violence, relying on rudeness, insults to my parents, my family members. We thought to advise them and say look, when you do these things you will have a price to pay in the future. No matter how long it takes, these records will haunt you. That’s what we try to portray. Today, as we speak, I’m not in the contest anymore.
There are some of them who been wanting to come to me, how do they come to me? That’s the price they have to pay now because they were rude, they were disrespectful, they cannot get my blessing, so they have a price to pay.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you say then to people who say that this could just portray a picture of non-tolerance and you are in a bigger contest now, what do you say to that?
NUQUAY: The way I see it, it gives me a very good political message. I said something, someone tried to portray it differently to besmear my character and present me negatively in the eyes of the public. I could turn it around. You know how I turn it around. I could take the recording and I’m going to organize big political rallies. Everybody knows me, everybody knows me in my region to be humble, to be a very humble and compassionate man and above all to be a man of development.
People honor and appreciate me for development, they know me for that. So, if you portray me as being someone who will witch hunt people then they really don’t know me. So, I will take that recording and address a big rally and say, these are people who want power, they portray me as someone who is going to hunt you.
Look at my life, look at what I have done for you. Look at my life, compare what they say about me and the life that I have lived, you know me. But again, my advice to people will be, look, don’t go for them because in essence, I am saying that our politics should not be politics of violence, our politics should not be politics of disrespect. They want to introduce violence into the body politics of our country, don’t’ go for them, go with me because I frown on, they want to encourage.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: In case you go on to win, as vice president, would you consider civil liberties?
NUQUAY: Certainly, I’m very tolerant, politically, I have thick skin. Let me say this to you, people don’t know me. In 2005, when I contested, there’s a town called Bapolu, they voted for me overwhelmingly. I built for them a youth center, equipped it with DSTV and then I took the President there in 2011. In 2011 because one of their sons was in the race. I’m now a son from that region, they voted against me overwhelmingly. Sometime around 2014, 2015, they asked me for a meeting, they wanted to come and see me, I told them, I will come to you, I went to Bopolu, they presented their plight to me.
The principal issue they wanted to address to me was that the public school was now taken over by the government, it was being used by the SRC before but the government took it over, there were volunteer teachers, they wanted their children to go to school, their teachers were leaving because nobody was there to pay attention to the volunteer teachers, to pay US$500 monthly and that they wanted to work with me.
They made some mistakes, but they realize their mistakes. I accepted, today’s date, ask the county education officer, he can verify that, I pay on a monthly basis, US$500 to the people of Bapolu to keep the public school open. If I was a man of vengeance, I would have never done that.
I say this to you, 2005 when I contested as a representative, I declared my intention somehow late by then one Professor Sonii, one representative candidate had gone to Margibi, he had built relationship with the people in an area called Gibi District, he made a relationship with the people, the people committed themselves to him. In 2005, they did not vote for me they voted for Professor Sonii, after elections, I went there and did some development for them.
In 2011, I anticipated they were going to support me, again, one Charles Bennie, who is a son of Gibi got in the race. On that basis because he was their son, they voted for him overwhelmingly. I accepted their decision. I went back there, I built fresh toilet system for them, I built women resource center and did all the development for them.
I kept engaged with them to the extent that this 2017, they stopped all of their children from running and told them that this time we have to support, Honorable Nuquay because he is a man of courage, he is a man of perseverance, he is a man of tolerance, let’s support him. So, last night we climaxed a meeting, the opinion leaders we had a meeting last night, they agreed that whoever I nominate, they will support that person. So, whatever people try to portray from the tape recording, it is contrary to the life that I have lived. So, it gives me a good campaign.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Speaker, when you took over this position, you spoke about image building and rebranding of the lower house of the national legislature. The perception out there is that the lower house and the Senate passed some bad concessions which you alluded to when you took over, that they are corrupt, the take brown envelopes and all that perception is there and the VP taking you, as the head of this perceived corrupt body, how do you convince the Liberian people that you are not what the public sees in this lower house.
NUQUAY: I think we’ve been able to demonstrate that, the way we have been able to work in the house, since we took over. We’ve been able to project a positive image of the House of Representatives so that people see that we can provide leadership and the way we’ve been able to present our leadership agenda to the Liberian people can also convince them that whatever is on the agenda that Ambassador Boakai has we’ve got to give him support, as VP and as running mate, we have to be able to give him support.
We have no agenda of our own but we are there to support him. So, I’m not the head of the ticket as you know. He is the head of the ticket. I’m just there to give support. In terms of what we’ve been able to do here – all of the perceptions, yes, there will always be this perception, but we need to endeavour to reach out and work with everyone, especially the people in the media.
That’s why we talk about media partnership because we realize that the media was detached from the leadership. Things we do here was not being communicated to our people so we felt there was a need for media partnership.
If we work with you, we report the good things and the bad things there will be a balance and we think by doing that going forward whoever comes after me, we should be able to do that. All of us, this is in the collectively interests of our country. We work together in the interest of our country, we are not perfect. We’re going to do some things that will be consider as wrong by you or other people will see those things as right but this is the situation. Sometimes you see it one way but someone else might not see that.
People talk about the Farmington Hotel and other issues, meaning that it’s a bad law. This is the situation, a group of business people, this is the first in the history of our country, went as far as Robertsfield highway and built a hotel resort, how many ordinary Liberian will go there for business?
Even those who come to Liberia for business, how many of them would want to live at that hotel and be able to transport themselves to come back here. Even as we speak, my information is that those workers who started working at the hotel, forty more have been laid off because of bad business. So when we do these things we do them in the interest of our people.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: And that information is true?
NUQUAY: It’s true. You can go there and find out, it’s true.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Speaker, one issue relating to the Farmington Hotel is the issue of your alleged business ties. There’s this perception that you are in bed with the Lebanese people particularly the George Abi Jaoudi family and that they influenced you to pass that bill in the house, and there’s this talk that when you become vice president it would only continue the trend of Lebanese people or one Lebanese family dominating the local economy. What guarantee is there that once you are elected, business will be opened to everybody and not just one family or one group of people?
NUQUAY: First of all, let me establish that I’m not engaged in any business anywhere or at no point in time have I ever been engaged in a business venture with any Lebanese; I have never been engaged with any business with a Lebanese either here in Liberia – or in any part of this world.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You don’t’ have ties with anyone?
NUQUAY: I don’t have ties with anyone, you can verify that I have no such business ties with any Lebanese. Besides, when you talk about government, government is collectively, it’s not just one branch. You have the Executive, you have the Legislative and you have the judiciary.
As Speaker, I have no authority by myself to just run legislation through the House of Representatives. There are opposition lawmakers who participate in the process of legislating laws. So, it’s not a one-man show. So to create the impression that someone who is vice president who is not debating on the floor, who is not part of the Cabinet discussions to vet the people that are coming here would be so powerful that you will give Lebanese and foreigners business? No!, that’s not how the government works.
I mean, this is what we pray for so that the interest of our people can be prioritized, we are here to ensure that in the interests of our people we will make it as much as possible to become a middle-income country to help to improve the lives of our people to make them to be independent, that’s what we pray for, that’s what we strive for and Ambassador Boakai has given us that message: Let’s think Liberia, Let’s Love Liberia, Let’s Build Liberia and that’s the rallying point for all Liberians now, I think we should maintain our focus, let us not be apprehensive, let us not be skeptical, let us not raise issues that are not in the thinking of the leader on this ticket.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Speaker, when did you know that you were the pick? I ask because there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of waiting games regarding who the vice president was going to choose as his running mate. There were a lot of names out there. When did you know, because people are feeling that you knew all along and you did not tell anyone? Especially in the wake of the recording when you said October 11, which is the day after the elections. When did you actually know?
NUQUAY: This is what happened. Initially, there were friends who came to me and said you know the media was speculating and on the basis that my leadership team came to me and forewarned me that, we don’t want you to be a part of this. We have built our leadership team here, we are sure of the future. We can work and retain the leadership, it there’s such a thinking, please disengage and as such, one or two persons talked to me out-rightly I said, no! But closed to, between the seventh and the tenth, there were people who came and said, look, we think you should reconsider.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, it only started happening this month?
NUQUAY: Certainly, certainly! Even some of those able lieutenants who came and said don’t’ engage, they came and said look, if this happens, please accept. After they came to me I said well I’m not asking for anything. Since you are the ones that will make me to succeed, in the event when I’m nominated I should accept, I will accept, if you say I should remain then I know you will not be the one to come 2018 and haunt me out of here. So, you have it, if the decision is made, I will accept, if it is not made, I would remain. And that was my last statement to them and we waited until that day we were called, that fateful morning when I was called.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Speaker, our correspondent in Bong and Margibi Counties spoke to a couple who drove from Firestone to last weekend’s rally in Margibi who said they were still on the fence, since your name came up as the running mate. If you were to speak to the Liberian people in one or two sentences, what would you tell them to convince them to jump off the fence and into you and the VP’s corner?
NUQUAY: First, two things. Nuquay is a man of team spirit. He builds a team to get the job done, two, Nuquay is a man of development. I have been able to do development that surpasses any development that any leader in our country has done. My county honors me for that, my county knows that I’m a team leader, I believe in building a leadership team and as such anybody who wants a leadership, because a leadership team will critically analyse issues before they take action. Nobody wants a leadership that will be autocratic, you want a leadership that will consult widely, will take into consideration the interest of the people.
So, anybody who wants to elect a leadership for country, will take into consideration, that someone who builds a leadership team, will help to build a leadership team for the country that will comprise of people from all walks of life in our country, whether you are from Maryland, whether you are from Grand Gedeh, whether you are from Nimba, whether you are from Cape Mount, wherever you come from or your interest, you will be part of the leadership team, it will be all inclusive, this is what our people long for, the process of inclusion, the governance of inclusion, people want to be a part of the process. How do we negotiate? How do we bring the interest of other people on the table, so they see themselves as part of the process?
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, you are saying that you frown on any negative, or encouragement of tribal politics in this campaign?
NUQUAY: But we have said this. Maybe, you alluded to a statement by Senator Henry Yallah. What I think Senator Yallah was projecting to the people in the central region – in the book, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe said when things fall apart it means the center cannot hold. If you want to unify this country, the central region, we believe is the beginning point. If we rally that region, you would have gone more than sixty, seventy percent in unifying this country.
And that’s what Yallah was trying to project. It’s not that…there’s no way, absolutely no way that one group of people can provide leadership, there’s no way and it would be farfetched for anybody to think that way. But what you do is to rally your people. Let’s partner, let’s go along with others because you’re not going to be safe, you’re not going to be protected – if you think you can do it on your own – and this is where team leadership comes, building a leadership team that incorporates the interests of all. And this is what we stand for.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Any final word, thoughts about something we may have left out?
NUQUAY: We just want to reassure the people of Liberia in the wake of all of the … or some of the negative comments that they have heard, this young man is a dependable young man, this young man is a progressive young man, this young man is a man of team spirit, he’s a man of dedication, he’s a visionary leader. He believes that everyone should be incorporated, everyone should have an opportunity to contribute their quota.
This is about the country, we’re not talking about leadership of the community, we’re talking about leadership of the country. We’ve gone through war, when people are deprived, their voices cannot be heard, then they resort to violence, that’s what I was even alluding to in that tape, that we don’t want violence, we don’t want rudeness, let’s be civil, let’s put our issues on the table, and that’s what we want to do, give everyone the opportunity to be heard.
So, that we dialogue. Everyone not going to get what they want at the same time but through dialogue you can narrow down the differences and assure people that they have a future and that’s what we stand for and we want the Liberian people to believe in us. The good thing I’m happy about also is that, nobody has been able to raise any issue with respect to particular things that I have done in my district, in serving my people that will corroborate with the tape recording they playing; but on the contrary, we have done things to prove them on the contrary.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What happens to you after this election? You are taking a major risk. Leaving your speakership and your representative job to become VP. If things don’t’ go the way you want it to go, what happens to you?
NUQUAY: I’m a child of God! Whatever future God destines for me is what I will face. So, I have no fear, I have no fear. After this election, I’m not going to be speaker, if I’m not vice president, that’s the future God has for me. I believe in my God, I’m a child of God.
I’m a son of a Presbyterian pastor – all I do is pray and read my bible. I believe in my God. I know that my God said to me, that look, I will never leave you, I will never forsake you. He promised that look, come what may, my plans are good for you. My plans are to make you to be prosperous, my plans are to give you a future. So, I know that my God will not lie to me, he will give me a future, he will make me to be prosperous, I believe in my God, whatever happen is the will of God.