Liberia: Leaving His Options Open, Samuel Kofi Woods Pondering 2020 Senatorial or 2023 Presidential Elections
Monrovia – Charging that there is a leadership deficit in Liberia, Human Rights Activist Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods says the door remains open for a possible shot at competitive politics; but whether it is a possible run for the Montserrado County Senatorial race in 2020 or the Liberian presidency in 2023, he says, is a matter currently under consideration.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Ready for Battle
Speaking in an exclusive FrontPageAfrica Facebook Live interview Tuesday, Attorney Woods, who served in two positions in the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government – Minister of Public Works and Minister of Labour, in a direct response to a question about his decision, said, that he has been approached but is weighing his options. “I don’t know yet. What I’m doing now – and you asked me if I will be involved in politics and I am very clear. I will be involved in politics. As to the Senatorial race in Liberia 2020, I’ve been told and I’ve been approached by a number of Liberians as part of my consideration of continuous involvement in politics in Liberia – it is under consideration and very soon I will be able to announce the result of that because I’m still consulting – so it could be 2020, it could be 2023 but as I said I will definitely, I will definitely be involved in the politics of Liberia.”
Attorney Woods reiterated that he will not shy away especially now when there are numerous reports of intimidations directed to perceived critics of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. “I am hearing that people are intimidating people and I hear there are names out on the internet and so forth you know, we need to send a message that these petty tricks, these subtle acts of intimidation will not drive us away. In fact, the more you do it, the more we will speak out.”
Attorney Woods said the reason he has not been involved prior to now is because the intimidation and harassments were not as severe as they are now. “So, now that people are saying these things, we will step forward and we will tell them to their face that my friend, you start a battle, we are used to wars, we have won so many battles. So, remember, if you start a battle, we will fight war. So, we will be involved and we would be active.”
Mark Wallace’s Advice: Always Leave Options Open
Attorney Woods explained that in his many years of public life he has learned to never close a door on a political life.
This, he said was inspired by a conversation he had with veteran American journalist Mark Wallace who once posed the question to him during an interview for the Sunday Morning Show on CBS.
Attorney Woods explained: “Well, few years ago, I met a respected journalist Mark Wallace, 60 Minutes and I had a long interview with him on his Sunday Morning Show on CBS. And Mark Wallace asked me, what’s your future like, do you want to be President of Liberia and I said, No! and Mark Wallace said, you are a young man, I’m older than you,- I’ve met several presidents and would-be presidents and I met Fidel Castro when he was a young man campaigning in America and I asked him and he said, always say, I leave my options open. Never say no . . . you never know the future. You never know why you become so passionate about something to change things.”
Regarding his current political future, Attorney Woods said his interest in politics is a sure bet for now. “In this case, I will say yes. I am interested and I will continue to be involved in politics in Liberia.”
Attorney Woods, who was one of the founding members of the Liberia People’s Party, served as Secretary General in the party for several years until 1991 when he stepped down to take up a leadership role in the Justice and Peace Commission.
Long Break From Active Politics
Formed in 1983, the LPP was the electoral wing of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) of Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh.
It’s membership also included the likes of Dr. Amos Sawyer, who previously served as President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) from1990-94.
The party participate in the July 1997 elections with Dr. Tipoteh winning 1.61% of the vote. The party won 1 out of 64 seats in the House of Representatives but failed to win a seat in the Senate in a poll, international observers deemed free and transparent although it had taken place in an atmosphere of intimidation because most voters believed that former rebel leader and National Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate Charles Taylor would return to war if defeated.
In the October 2005 elections, the LPP and the United People’s Party participated as part of the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD), supporting Dr. Tipoteh for president.
In the 2011 presidential and legislative elections, both parties were part of the National Democratic Coalition, backing Dew Mayson for president. In the same elections Dr. Tipoteh ran under the banner of the Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia.
On Tuesday, Attorney Woods, reflecting on his progressive past said his stint with the LPP was the only time he was involved in active political activities.
Said Attorney Woods: “I became a member of the LPP until I resigned in 1991 to take up responsibility at the Justice and Peace Commission.
Since then he said, he has not joined any political party including the former Unity Party in which he served as minister. “I never joined the Unity Party, I’m not a member of any political party at the moment.”
Nevertheless, he said he will be involved in politics in the current dispensation. “I will be involved in politics in Liberia. We fought blood, sweat and tears in this country. I am proud that others can now stand on our shoulders and have an opportunity to vote.”
Attorney Woods paid homage to pioneering figures of the progressives’ era including himself, who fought and sacrificed for the good of Liberia. “Because we conceded and allowed other people to contest, they think that the history is irrelevant. So, today I hear people insulting the likes of Baccus Matthews, the likes of Tipoteh, denigrate them, demonize them. They have a place in history, they must be recognized for their place in history.”
No Retreat; No Surrender
Attorney Woods also threw pointed jabs at critics of Professor Alaric Togba, who of late has been a critical voice against the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
“I hear people criticizing the likes of Alaric Togba, a young man whose future was cut short. He had spent eleven months in Belleh Yallah. He was one of six people who were to be executed by the military government for advocating for the rights of students in this country. Today, there are people whose names are on the ballot because of the blood, sweat and tears and yet they stand on the shoulders of many of us and now want to denigrate them because they made no sacrifice.”
Attorney Woods said he would not be among those trying to taint the image of the progressives. “I’m not one of them. I’m not one of those – and I want to say, we will continue to be involved in politics, we will continue to work to improve the conditions of the lives of people; we will not succumb or surrender to threats, intimidations and fears – we lived in our lifetime, we fought many battles, people did not know that we fought wars – we fought many battles and we won them. So, no battle will be new to us. If people open the battle, they should know we will fight. We will not retreat, we will continue to fight, we will continue to fight them. So, they must stop denigrating the likes of Matthews, the man who fought and paid the price, who’s back was beaten and sever relationship with their families.”
Woods, now 54, said, he started his advocacy at the early age of thirteen. “I advocated for the rights of others, many of us went to jail, many of us lost our families, people were banned from employment in this country, we struggled for this day to come, we struggled for the likes of Weah name to appear on ballot – the price we had to pay, Weah is a product and beneficiary of years of political struggle by Albert Porte, D-Tweh and many other people.”
He said it is because of those shoulders that President Weah is standing on today – and thus, he must acknowledge it by demonstrating tolerance, by holding the constitution of this country, by promoting integrity in government, by delivering to the Liberian people the just benefit of our natural resources, by doing the right thing – that’s what we want.
No Envy or Hate for Weah
He added: “There’s no envy, no hate – we did it because we knew that this day would come, that there would be a Moses and a Joshua, we knew it. We made the sacrifice knowing that by the suffering we endure that Liberia would become a better country, not because we want it to be but because one of us, our children, our friend’s children, our relative’s children, a tribesman or somebody, a Liberian would emerge to become President of this country and do good for our people and that all we want is that Liberians will have justice, must have a just reward and I’m happy for people who are speaking out and the torch because every generation must respond to its own challenges. We did what we could do in our time as student leaders at the university.”
Today, he added, “we have friends and comrades who lost their lives because they were identified student leaders – not because they were just Liberians but their lives were cut short.”
This is why he says passion runs deep in advocacy. “We are passionate about what we do, not because we want benefit, not because we want a job, not because we want to loot and plunder but we believe in setting principles and being consistent. So, this is where we stand and those who know us, know where we stand on this issue – some of them want to distort our history, some of them want to deceive people – and they are being hypocritical, we will not be, we will focus on the issues.”
Woods was born in Monrovia on May 1, 1964 and was one of twenty children. He has worked in the field of human rights and has been vigilant in exposing child labor practices and injustice throughout Liberia.
Active even while a student, he was first arrested in 1981. During the Liberian civil war in 1989 Woods escaped to Ghana, but returned to Liberia in 1991 and founded a human rights organization, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission.
He operated a radio program aimed at exposing improper arrests, unlawful executions and informing citizens of their civil rights. In 1994 Woods created the Forefront Organization in order to shed light on human rights abuses during the Second Liberian Civil War.
In 2006, Woods became the Minister of Labor under President Sirleaf, only to become Minister of Public Works in 2009 following a cabinet shake-up.
He won the Reebox Human Rights Award in 1994 and received the Pope’s human rights medal. Woods graduated with a Master of Arts in Development Studies, and a specialization International Law and Organization for Development at the International Institute of Social Studies under Erasmus University in Rotterdam in The Hague, Netherlands.