Saturday, November 12, 2011

NATIONAL UNIFICATION PROGRAMME: SUCCESSES AND FAILURES PART 3



Tubman and his vice President Tolbert at a National Unification Council.

The following year 1945 saw the President visiting the Eastern Province, where Executive Councils were held in Tchien (now Zwedru) from April 3rd to the 22nd, in Webbo from the 29th to May 5th, and then in Harper, and in Barclayville, Kru Coast Territory. In reporting to the National Legislature, the President alluded with satisfaction to the settlement by the Interior Department of the twenty-year old land dispute between the Gbandi and the Kissi peoples of the Western Province, and with displeasure to what he termed "certain transcendentalists and some foreign influences that continue to promote the idea of clan, tribe and element feeling, that the authority and conduct of government will evolve to one element or clan to the exclusion of others." Any such idea was preposterous and unpatriotic, he said, because:

"...The office and purpose of the founding of this republic was to offer a home for all the sons of Africa-those who were originally here, those who came here, and those who shall come hereafter. It is therefore our bounden duty and service to effectuate the aims and purposes for which this nation was instituted, regarding everyone as a Liberian without regard to tribe, clan or ancestry."

He mentioned specifically his presence at the closing exercises of Bromley Mission, run by the Episcopal Church, where he said the members of the graduating class were catalogued as Miss 'A,' Vai, Miss 'B', Grebo, Miss 'C', Liberian. This was basically averse to government's policy of unification, he said, and if it was any indication of the kind of teaching being done in the classroom, it must be immediately halted, or government would employ measures to enforce a halt, "to the extent of demanding a change in personnel at such institutions, or even inhibiting all such institutions."

In May, 1954, the first National Unification Council was convened in Harper, and attended by delegates from all counties, districts, provinces and territories. The President outlined the aims and objectives of the Unification Policy and the chiefs presented an open letter reaffirming their loyalty to the government and dedication to its Unification Policy. Letters poured in from all over the country confirming the sentiments of the chiefs and officials. In his annual message to the legislature in November 1958, the President observed that for the fourteen years since the launching of the Unification Programme, there had been peace, tranquility, national cooperation and solidarity throughout the nation, and no rebellion, uprising or war, against the government or between the tribes. The single exception he reported was a boundary dispute between the Yederobo and Nyanbo peoples of Maryland County in which a citizen of Yederobo was killed. Tubman traveled to Maryland, investigated, found the Nyanbo to be the aggressors, and convened a council of chiefs to recommend penalties under Grebo customary law. After the traditional ceremonies for the restoration of peace, friendly relations resumed between the two peoples. The President attributed the peace and stability to the administrative reforms instituted in the provinces, alluding to the infrastructural and economic development taking place as a result of the interior being opened up, and the enthusistic response to and participation of the people in, these development activities. Tubman recommended that monuments be erected on Providence Island in honor of the first settlers, and of King Peter and the other chiefs that welcomed them. He also defended the controversial Matilda Newport holiday, maintaining that there would be no Liberia if not for her actions in defense of the colony.

The second National Unification Council was held in Sanniquellie in 1959, from February 5th to the 9th. The theme of the Council was Integration of Elements in Liberia, and it was attended by over three thousand chiefs, officials, delegates and foreign guests, including special representatives of the President of Guinea, Sekou Toure. At the conference, President Tubman made a promise to the people of the provinces that if they continued on the road to development, he would work to raise the provinces to county level. This was crucial in order to equalize legislative representation and budgetary allocations, ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and development, and institute the final phase of National Unification.

In 1960 the President proposed a Special Commission "to examine, study and survey the present political subdivisions of the country." He recommended that the law establishing the forty mile county jurisdiction limit be repealed and the county jurisdiction extended to the limit of the country's territory. After annexing portions of the provinces to the counties, he recommended, the remaining territories of the three provinces would be raised to county level. This rearrangement was essential, the President told the Legislature, because the hinterland administration as it existed was patterned after the colonial system, and had to be abolished.

At the 1963 National Unification Council in Kolahun, Western Province, the National Commission to resurvey the country presented its report. After assessment of progress made in development over the previous five years based on reports from government agencies, provincial and tribal administrators, Tubman announced his expectation that this would be the last Unification Council where the country was divided by county and hinterland jurisdiction. At the Council, attended by three thousand plus delegates, the President recognized the indispensable services of the Paramount Chiefs in promoting the objectives of the Unification Program, singling out for special recognition Paramount Chiefs Arkoi Tellewoyan and Tamba Tailor of the Western Province, Jimmy Dahn and Johnny Voker of the Central Province, and a host of other tribal leaders who were working tirelessly to effect the unification of the country. Operation Production, a national campaign to boost agricultural output and self-sufficiency, was launched. Counties would compete for the highest output and the fruits of the campaign would be exhibited at an Operation Production Fair during the next Unification Council where the winners of the competition would be honored. The council ended with a mass demonstration of the people of the Western Province in support of the Unification Programme.

The legislative acts creating four new counties were passed in 1962. Special elections were held in May 1964 for senators and representatives from the new counties, and superintendents and other officials appointed. Independence Day 1964 fell on a Sunday. On Monday the 27th, officials of the four new counties of Lofa (Western Province), Nimba (Central Province), Bong (Central Province), and Grand Gedeh (Eastern Province) were inducted into office. It was an especially electrifying Twenty-Six Day celebration, filled with excitement, optimism and a sense of great accomplishment for the nation as a whole.

The fourth National Unification Council and Operation Production Fair was held at the newly constructed Buchanan Fairgrounds in Grand Bassa County, in December 1966. In the spanking new thousand-seat, circular-shaped central pavilion, a standing-room-only crowd of thousands gathered, delegates, officials, ordinary citizens and foreign guests. Progress since the last Unification Council was assessed, and Operation Production prizes were handed out, Lofa County taking the grand prize of ten thousand dollars for the highest output of agricultural produce, especially rice.This lavish celebration was to be the last National Unification Council as it turned out. President Tubman died in 1971, when the next one was scheduled.

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