Joseph Boakai

Vice President of Liberia, Mr. Joseph Boakai was in Nigeria recently to drum up support for his country’s forthcoming national elections, especially his ambition to replace President Johnson Serleaf, who will be leaving office soon. The VP however made startling revelations about the state of affairs in his country, including the fact that many of Nigeria’s ECOMOG soldiers left children in Liberia. He spoke to select journalists in Abuja and Onyebuchi Ezigbo was there. Excerpts:

What’s your candid assessment of the out-going government in Liberia, of which you are a part?
Liberians enjoyed quite a good fortune in the first administration. We had a lot of support, and we achieved quite a lot. Of course, you know that we had some setbacks due to Ebola and other sectors that form the strength of the economy were affected like the rubber sector. And so, the economy is facing challenges. Very honestly, the administration, not because I am part of it, has brought in a lot of developments compared to what was there before. We do have challenges economically right now like any other places. I believe that the government is original and trying to make sure that it is able to fulfill all the promises under the current circumstances.

Of what importance is the land reform bill to the development of your country?
The land reform is very important being that traditionally all land is owned by government. The land is called the reserve. They can use it for farming but if they want to transfer the ownership, it has to be signed by the president. The reforms that are being made now will give the custody to the people and that is still being refined because we have government land, private land and concession land. So, some of the problems we have had include the fact that people living in Monrovia, for example, may have 500 hectares of land outside that they are not using and they don’t allow people to use. So, these have direct bearing on agriculture, on environment. So, that reform has been put into place and the land commission has been dealing with that and they want to bring it down to the land authority and that is in progress.

What stands you out from others as a presidential aspirant in next year’s presidential election?
Well, I know that I have served in many capacities and nobody in Liberia can boast of experience in administration as compared to me. Thank God I have very clean record of service and it is known to Liberians and beside that, we are talking about continuity. There are several things that have been done that we would want to see continued. And I believe that quite a lot of people will agree that there is no better candidate than myself.

How can you assess Liberia’s relations with Nigeria?
That is splendid! I must say Nigeria has been that big brother to all the countries in the sub-region. For us, in Liberia and Sierra- Leone, we will remain grateful for the ultimate sacrifice Nigeria has made and on top of that, they have been seen as people, who have always been in the vanguard of things when there are problems in Africa, plus the economic contributions they are making as well as in the social arena. We have in Liberia, doctors serving, teachers. Nigeria has been that country that has really put its neck on the line in the sub-region. While we have peaceful coexistence with our neighbours, Nigeria is that country that has really helped to sustain the stability on the continent and we remain grateful to her for what it has done for our country and the sub-region.

Do you think your country has not done enough to appreciate Nigeria’s sacrifices towards securing peace in Liberia?
So far that I know, almost all of the banks except very few that are in Liberia, are Nigerian banks. The insurance companies and a lot of the investments are owned by Nigerians. Liberia doesn’t ever stop Nigerians from investing in Liberia. As a matter of fact, if we take by region, Nigerians might have the biggest investments in Liberia. Then, Nigerians are aware that Liberians have always been grateful to them. They say that all the time. I was jokingly saying that we have a lot of Nigerian children in Liberia, kept there by ECOMOG soldiers. So, we have a very big community of Liberians that are Nigerians.

When will Liberia be strong and stable enough to warrant the pulling out of Nigerian troops from its territory?
Nigeria should not pull out. I think Africa in general has a responsibility to ensure peace and tranquility in the region. We are not reckless not to be able to govern ourselves, but as a matter of reality in African solidarity, we don’t set up a deadline for Nigeria to pull out as much as we make commitment to sub-regional peace. We look upon our brothers and sisters, who have the muscle for the region to be a part of the process. So, there is no deadline for Nigeria pulling out. You know very well that most of the military leaders during the conflicts and even in the recent past were Nigerians, who were holding that position. So, no deadline! The Liberian soldiers are in place. We have the paramilitary, but we will continue to work together for regional stability.

Your country suffered greatly from the deadly Ebola. Would you say that your country is now out of the woods?
We have a long time record now of being Ebola free, and as we all know, Ebola was an unexpected attack on the country. We didn’t know, but so far, there are mechanisms put in place to detect early for us to be able to confront it, for us to be able to find a solution, to find the remedy, so we are not threatened by Ebola anymore. The institutions are in place now to counter it. Even if it took a long time, whether it is Ebola, we can now detect it. And we have been trying to put in place safety measures. Liberians now are very conscious of their health – sanitation. We are out of the wood, but it doesn’t mean that we should not keep surveillance.

As a presidential hopeful, what are the key things you intend to offer the Liberian people, which the outgoing government could not do?
Thank you very much. You know as the incumbent, you know some of the lapses; you know some of those things you could not have done in the past regime. I know the things that are critical to the development of our country. I have worked in different sectors. I can assure you that I have a lot to bring to the table.

You seem to enjoy a cordial relationship with the incumbent president, what is the secret behind such cordiality?
I have learnt in life and I have always said that if you serve somebody – a leader, you should always push them up. As they go up, you go up too. But if you pull them down, they sit on you. My role was to assist the president. The constitution is very clear. I preside over the senate and I assist the president. And so that is the job I do because if the president doesn’t succeed, I won’t succeed and I won’t even be a successor in good faith.

After being in power for quite a while, do you still believe you have something different to offer?
That I have served in many capacities has prepared me better and more responsible as the candidate to replace the president. We are not here for experiment. Nation leading is not for experiment; it is to lead – to hit the ground running. That is what I will do. I do know what the issues are in Liberia that have not been tackled. I am not to criticise but I know exactly. I have the diary of where intervention needs to be made and I know that I am capable to make them and make the difference.

How are your country’s ties with America like?
We continue to relate with America but we have to know that we are an African country and Africans have been willing and ready to make sacrifice for us. We are not an America colony. We are friend of America. We continue to draw from America. We continue to look up to African region for cooperation at all times.

What do you think could be done to sustain the relative peace in your country?
That is the idea of continuity. We have to continue in a peaceful direction. That is why we want to make sure that this election is going to be transparent, it is going to be peaceful, that all political parties and contestants in this election are going to be respected, the press is going to be free and all the things that we need to put in place to make it a free election, we have to do because if we have free and fair elections, it leads to a peaceful country and there will be development.

What would say were the major lessons your country learnt from the Ebola outbreak?
We learnt that there are lots of resources internally that we could have relied upon. We didn’t know may be how much, the people, the village the system they have that was useful. For example, you get into a traditional village and they take you to the chief, the chief knows that you are there. Those are important lessons that we learnt that people even in rural communities were responsible enough to help. We also learnt that our people were in disbelief and they are now educated. They know that if there is a disaster of that kind, we had to be prepared. And all over the country and around the boarders, that vigilance has been kept.

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Nigeria should not pull out. I think Africa in general has a responsibility to ensure peace and tranquility in the region. We are not reckless not to be able to govern ourselves, but as a matter of reality in African solidarity, we don’t set up a deadline for Nigeria to pull out as much as we make commitment to sub-regional peace. We look upon our brothers and sisters, who have the muscle for the region to be a part of the process. So, there is no deadline for Nigeria pulling out