As an amateur footballer in the mid 1960s, and being a part of the cheering squad of the team of my alma mater the Laboratory High School I already had an admiration for G. Baccus Matthews then the star goal-keep of the College of West Africa (CWA). Then, and until the end of his life he was highly reserved, discrete and disciplined: qualities of an hidden electric temperament that bred a national icon, respected statesman and diplomat.
After that period would come 1978, fresh from studies abroad, I met Liberia in a forward social and political movement. There was MOJA (Movement for Justice in Africa) of the intelligentsia and later PAL (Progressive Alliance of Liberia) the populist movement led by G. Baccus Matthews. A year later, on that fatal day of April 14, 1979, PAL organised the demonstration that stood as an epitome of our youthful aspiration to shake up the political system for a democratic change. The following year, on April 12, 1980, that change finally occurred; but not democratically, instead, it was a bloody military coup d’etat. All our progressive icons including G. Baccus as the new Foreign Minister joined the military government to legitimise and guide that change. And I, though a fervent sympathiser of MOJA and an active militant in the “Sawyer For Mayor” campaign of 1979 went into exile on the intuition that that change was already lost.
A decade later I had my first and real encounter with G. Baccus during the interim administration of Dr. Sawyer in which we both served as officials. He was again the Foreign Minister and I was the National Security Advisor and later Director of the National Security Agency (NSA). And on this day, I got an invitation to meet with the Foreign Minister at his office. Well, I thought I was going to be asked for some security advice. But as the meeting began tête-à-tête, I listened and very impressed as the Minister recounted his political experiences and the capacity to endure and survive. At the end, he confirmed to have information that my office the NSA was investigating to link him to some purported subversive activities against the government. The accusation was grave, indeed. I was taken aback, but not intimidated. I went on the offensive and told him first the role of the NSA to investigate and collect intelligence on any citizen, even the President, where it saw fit to protect the national security; and in no way intended to implicate any honest citizen in clandestine activities, especially for a government vowed to uphold the principles of democracy. Then with all due sincerity I reiterated that the information was false and unfounded. The meeting was closed; we shook hands with mutual respect. But I left, having in the back of my head that politicians do not trust security people they considered not to be in their camp.
In retrospect, for those carrying false rumours intended to drive a wedge between the interim President and his Foreign Minister this meeting had nullified what would have probably resulted in an unnecessary confrontation to disunite and discredit that first government of our national unity. Thanks to the farsightedness, political experience and wisdom and patriotism of G. Baccus Matthews. A lesson that a political figure, having been at the epicentre of the national history, and on whose shoulders still reposed the survivability of that nation can not and must not take any information at face value.
From then on I realised why such men endured and survived regimes of such diverse nature, but then are rarely understood by the majority of their peers and countrymen. In as much as G. Baccus came to prominence on a populist platform, he also had a strong conservative view on governance and the continuity of the state. He was a fervent believer in democracy, true, but with a strong government, law and order, a paradox of life, perhaps. But this was the man I got know.
As we reflect his memories and mourn his untimely departure let us keep ablaze that flame of democracy, equality and justice for which he fought and saw its recent nascence. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
© 2007 by The Perspective
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