Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine: The Late Liberian Senate Pro-Tempore I Knew
Interment for the late Standard Bearer of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) and Senior Partner of the Monrovia based Brumskine and Associates law firm, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, is scheduled for December 14, 2019, in Upper Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. According to an obituary from the Brumskine family, the body of the late Liberian Senate Pro Tempore will be laid to rest at the Upper Buchanan Cemetery.
In preparation for a befitting funeral rite, the body of the late Cllr. Brumskine is expected to be flown to his country of nativity, Liberia, soon. The Deceased’s life clock stopped ticking on Wednesday, November 20, 2019, after his earthily journey came to an end. He gave up the ghost after a protracted illness in the US at the acclaimed John Hopkins Hospital located in Baltimore, Maryland. Then he was more than 68 years old. His body will be shortly flown to the country for which he spent 15 years of his political career life working and strategizing to lead as president, but his dream was never realized.
When the late Cllr. Brumskine expired, his death news spread like wildfire at home and abroad; it was on social media, the internet, and the airwaves of radio and television stations. Also, the story made headlines in several Liberian newspapers. For many Liberians and friends of Liberia, the news was a shocker. It seemed unbelievable; many people, especially LP partisans and fans of the Deceased refused to accept it. It was an absolute no; they didn’t want to hear it.
For the Brumskine family too, the report sounded farfetched and it was hard to grapple with. But sadly, the news was authentic! The man, Charles Walker Brumskine, the people of Grand Bassa County most celebrated and cherished son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin and nephew is no more. He is now a dead man! Indeed, Liberia has lost an erudite legal luminary and savvy politician. He was one of the nation’s most adored politicians and former Senate Pro-tempores in contemporary Liberian history. His death is a national loss; he will surely be missed.
Before1990 when the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia’s (NPFL) orchestrated civil war, which reportedly decimated more than 250 thousand human lives and millions of dollars’ worth of properties begun, little or nothing was known or heard about the man, Charles Walker Brumskine, in Liberian politics. Then he never ventured into politics; he was a devoted constitutional lawyer. He was preoccupied with the practice of law in Liberia and the US where he earned a Master of Law degree from the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
However, in the 1990’s when the Liberian civil war progressed; and the former NPFL gained more territories in rural Liberia, things changed. The fallen Brumskine embraced the NPFL; and formed alliance with Mr. Charles Taylor, who then headed the former rebel group. He became one of Mr. Taylor’s confidants. Also, he was reportedly one of the NPFL’s legal advisors.
In 1994 during the transitional period, the expired LP Standard Bearer rose to prominence as one of the NPFL’s proponents for the signing of a “Status of Forces Agreement” between the West African Peace Keeping Force, ECOMOG, and the Liberian government. The NPFL supported the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement between ECOMOG and the Liberian government as a means of checkmating ECOMOG soldiers, who were reportedly engaged in the plundering and looting of Liberia. Leading proponents of this stance, aside from the late Charles Brumskine included then Cllr Varney Sherman and the late former Associate Supreme Court Justice, Clarence L. Simpson Jr.
Initial Contact with Brumskine
My first encounter with the late Cllr. Brumskine was in August 1997. It was at the Capitol Building, the seat of the Liberia National Legislature based in Monrovia. It was 22 years ago. At that time, I was a young reporter assigned at the National Legislature. I represented the State-Owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) as legislative reporter. Then he was 48 years old. He represented Grand Bassa County in the Liberian Senate. Also, he was Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate. In the Senate, he was energetic and unstoppable in advancing the cause of the people of Grand Bassa County and Liberia as a whole.
He was one of the 21 senators that represented the defunct National Patriotic Party (NPP) formally led by Mr. Taylor as standard bearer in the Liberian Senate. They occupied the legislative slots awarded the NPP in the Senate as the majority winner of the 1997 Liberian general election, which was held as part of the 1996 peace agreement that ended the first Liberian civil war.
As part of the political arrangement, the Liberian presidency as well as all seats in the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate were up for election. The NPP won the election with more than 75 % of the vote thus giving the Party about three-quarters of the legislative seats according to the proportional representation system. In keeping with the arrangement, the NPP was awarded 21 seats in the Senate and 49 seats in the House of Representatives.
Beginning August 1997 to March 1999, I and several other Liberian journalists including Jackson T.S. Seton formally of the Inquirer Newspaper and Malcolm Joseph of the erstwhile Liberia Communications Network (LCN) covered the late Cllr. Brumskine; and the activities of the Liberian Senate then under his leadership extensively.
In the Senate, the late former Pro Tempore came across as a people’s person; he was easy to get along with. Moreover, he was a friend of the media, especially the legislative press corps. He was jovial, humble and respectful in relating to reporters. He never shied away from the media. He was always willing to provide clarification(s) or grant news interviews whenever it became necessary.
Heydays in the Senate
The late Brumskine’s service in the Liberia National Legislature, especially the Liberian Senate was brief. He served from August 1997 to March 1999. He was Senator of Grand Bassa County and Senate Pro Tempore for 19 months before falling off with the Taylor administration as a result of political differences. But as Senate Pro Tempore, he knew the weight and authority the position carries. As a result, he literally refused to be subservient to former President Taylor or any of his cronies.
Moreover, he left an indelible mark on the print of history. He was revered for upholding the sanctity of that august body. He had a profound understanding of the roles of the Senate and the National Legislature as a whole. He was knowledgeable and ferocious in upholding the rule of law in Liberia. He did not mince his words in calling a spade, a spade. He spoke truth to power, condemned and sometimes punished societal ills.
Additionally, the late Brumskine led Senate wasn’t a rubber stamp legislature. It was robust and efficient in dealing with national issues. It grilled thoroughly individuals former President Taylor nominated for appointments in government; and rejected those, who failed to justify that they were up to the tasks assigned them in the executive branch of government.
The late Cllr. Brumskine’s days in the Liberian Senate were also, marked by political challenges and tougher actions. At times, he and his fellow senators took tougher actions that ruffled the feathers of former President Taylor and some politicians that worked in the former NPP led government. Some of those actions helped fueled the political rift that existed between him and Mr. Taylor.
For example, Sinoe County Senator, Milton Teahjay, the then loquacious Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) in the 1990’s became one of the victims of the late Brumskine’s heavy handedness in dealing with acts that were considered inimical to the principles of good governance. Then the Senate commanded the appearance of Mr. Teahjay before it for a probe into a dispute involving him and his former boss, the late Information Minister Joe Mulbah. At the hearing, former Deputy Minister Teahjay apologized to the late Minister Mulbah, but the late Cllr Brumskine ordered Mr. Teahjay to make an open apology to the late Minister Mulbah and publish same in six leading newspapers in Liberia.
The late Cllr. Brumskine’s denigration of Mr. Teahjay didn’t go down well with former President Taylor and some higher-ups of the former NPP, who earlier held the view that the late Senate Pro Tempore had a presidential ambition. Former Deputy Minister Teahjay was Mr. Taylor’s chosen propagandist at the Information Ministry.
On October 23, 1998, the late expelled Magibi County Senator Bedell Fahn became the second victim of the late Brumskine’s fierce stance against malfeasance in government. Members of the Liberian Senate expelled the late Senator Fahn from that august body for what was then cited as “desecrating the sanctity of the Liberian Senate”. Before the expulsion, the late Senator Fahn reportedly took armed men to the senate wing of the Capitol Building and broke into an office, which was then assigned to former Bomi County Senator, Mohamed Dukuly. The office was situated on the second floor.
At the time of the crisis, former Senator Dukuly was Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Ways, Means and Finance. He replaced the late Senator Fahn as Chairman of the Committee after the Liberian Senate removed him due to an alleged financial impropriety. The late Senator Fahn’s expulsion was followed by another political feud, which developed between the late Cllr. Brumskine and the former House Speaker Nyudueh Morkonmana over the question of who the head of the Legislature was. The leadership squabble was serious. It dwelled on the positions of President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was about which of the two positions is more senior in rank than the other?
At that time, the late former Pro Tempore Brumskine argued that each House in the National Legislature was separate; and had its own rules of procedure. Moreover, he contended, a senator represented an entire country as opposed to a representative who had a much smaller constituency. The late Brumskine’s argument literally drove a wedge between him and former Speaker Morkonmana on one hand; and former President Taylor and some members of the NPP on the other.
After falling off with former President Taylor and the erstwhile NPP, the late former Senate Pro Tempore unceremoniously departed Liberia for the US in 1999. However, his escape didn’t come by easily. His first attempt to abscond the country in the wake of visible death threats from some insiders of the Taylor administration was thwarted. He was stopped at the Roberts International Airport by Security officers while en route to the US. Reportedly his passport was seized.
But after several days the passport was returned to him; and he was given the go ahead by the Liberian government to leave the country. According to media reports, before fleeing, the late former Pro Tempore was reportedly tailed nightly by security vehicles including that of former President Taylor’s dreaded Special Security Services (SSS) Director, Benjamin Yeaten. They consistently followed him at the then famous Hotel Africa where he resided in Virginia.
Unquenchable Ambition for Presidency
When the history of the Liberian presidency is written in the future, the late Charles Walker Brumskine will surely be remembered for consistency; he had an unquenchable ambition for the presidency. His desire for leading the tiny West African country, Liberia, at the level of the presidency was unwavering. He was determined and unrelentless. He worked, strategized, campaigned and formed alliances with several politicians including President George Manneh Weah, when he led the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) as political leader with the sole purpose of helping him snatch the Liberian presidency, but his efforts yielded no positive result.
Simply put, his dream never came to fruition; he failed miserably. A relook at the late Brumskine’s political history showed he made four attempts for the Liberian presidency beginning 2002 through 2017. His initial public pronouncement for contesting the presidency came in 2002 when he risked his safety and returned to Liberia after three years of exile in the US to challenge former President Taylor at the polls. Then Liberia’s general and presidential elections were scheduled for 2003. Despite Mr. Taylor’s brutal and autocratic style of leadership, the late Cllr. Brumskine braved the storm by returning to Liberia. He returned to a triumphant reception by his supporters.
At the time of his return, Liberia was already engulfed by a rebellion led by the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Upon his return, the late former Senate Pro Tempore announced the establishment of an exploratory committee on his bid for the presidency of Liberia. Reportedly that announcement didn’t go down well with former President Taylor and the erstwhile NPP led government.
Former President Taylor and the NPP panicked; and they immediately begun a full-scale smear campaign against the late Cllr. Brumskine. They worked very hard to demonize him. As part of the ploy, Mr. Reginald Goodridge, former Minister of Information, took to the airwaves of radio and television stations to announce that the late Cllr. Brumskine was unqualified to contest the Liberian presidency because he was allegedly a US citizen.
In furtherance of the government’s smear campaign, some insiders of the administration accused the late Liberty Party Standard Bearer of supporting LURD rebels. The government supported and financed National Elections Commission (NEC) also, frowned on the Deceased when he declared his intention to contest the Liberian presidency in 2003. Then the Commission warned him against early campaigning.
Irrespective of the NPP’s propaganda, the late Cllr. Brumskine quest for challenging Mr. Taylor at the polls in 2003 gained traction thus expanding his support base. However, the 2003 general and presidential elections were called-off due to the LURD rebels advance on Montserrado and surrounding counties followed by Mr. Taylor’s resignation in August 2003. Former President Taylor’s coerced resignation paved the way for the establishment of a transitional government in Liberia.
In the year 2005, when peace and stability returned to Liberia following the disarmament of the warring factions in the ended second phase of the Liberian civil war, the late Cllr. Brumskine returned to full politics again. He was amongst several presidential hopefuls that participated in the post crisis election that year. According to media report, he put up a good fight but he lost. He came third in the polls; he accumulated 14 % of the vote, 6% less than of the then second-place candidate, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Therefore, he was not able to participate in the run-off, which then featured Mrs. Sirleaf and Mr. George Weah. At that time, President Weah was the CDC’s presidential candidate.
In 2011 and 2017, the then resilient and unwavering Charles Walter Brumskine was again in the political theater to contest for the Liberian presidency, but as usual, he lost both elections. Despite the losses, especially the 2017 presidential race, the late Cllr. Brumskine won a place for himself and his brain child Liberty Party (LP) in the history of Liberian politics when he stepped forward fearlessly and brilliantly challenging at the Supreme Court of Liberia, the integrity of those results while urging his supporters to remain calm, which undoubtedly earned him a place in history.
Rest on Cllr. Brumskine! Liberia is proud of your legal and political accomplishments. You left an impeccable legacy in the fight for the rule of law and democracy in Liberia. As a career politician and renowned lawyer, you will surely be missed. It was a pleasure covering you and your former colleagues in the Liberian Senate. Yes, Liberia has indeed lost a HERO!