New Thinking

JB fancyThe Imperatives of Introspection

By Joe Bartuah

The late eminent jurist, Counselor Tuan Wreh was reputed for his expertise in research. Sometime in the mid 1980s, a guy returned to Liberia from the United States with a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) degree in law. The fellow’s name was Isaac Wiles and he tagged himself “Dr. Isaac Wiles.” Perhaps this was intended to entice Samuel Doe in appointing him to a prestigious government position. The late president was said to have had some level of ambivalence about Liberians with terminal degrees.

On the one hand, it was believed that he loathed PhD(doctor of philosophy) holders, because he believed that they were, to put it in a Liberian political parlance, “trouble makers”, The late president was said to have perceived PhD holders, or highly educated Liberians as compatriots who were generally prone to find faults with, critically examine, or object to some of his policies. During his heydays, the joke was that whenever he heard a Liberian being referred to as “Doctor”, he would typically ask: “Da wan da book doctor or medical doctor?” Apparently he was relieved when such person was a medical doctor, because the sentiment was, “Da lay PhD people who can cause the trouble.”

On the other hand, Doe, who was later awarded an honorary doctorate degree in South Korea, probably reasoned that by surrounding himself with doctorate degree recipients, his government would earn some level of respectability and acceptability locally and internationally. And so because of Doe’s perceived obsession with enlisting PhD holders in his government, some Liberians were bent on cunningly conferring fake doctorate degrees on themselves, just to attract the president’s attention for possible appointment.

Remember, those were the pre-Internet years when getting pertinent pieces of information from abroad was difficult. It was during such time that the flamboyant “Dr. Isaac Wiles” returned from the great U.S. And he was the talk of the town; apparently he had some buddies in the Doe regime who were pushing his opportunistic buttons. You know, Liberia is so small that the interconnectivity, however latent it might be, has most often been the underpinning of cronyism. Just elect one person today and all the other unelected family members and extended relatives delude themselves that they are all “elected” bosses for the country, making crucial decisions that tend to have consequential ramifications for the entire country in decades to come.

In the case of “Dr. Wiles”, after a few weeks of heaping praises on the regime in speeches, interviews and other public pronouncements, he landed a deputy minister job at the Justice Ministry. Then Counselor Wreh, a former professor at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, by then a Senior Senator from Grand Kru County, decided to summon his pen and clarify the “doctorate” issue involving Isaac Wiles. The legal luminary explained that Doctor of Jurisprudence was a contemporary equivalent of Bachelor of Law (LLB) and that it was not a terminal degree in law. When that article was published in one of the few reputable newspapers at the time, it was only then that the self-styled “Dr. Wiles” reluctantly decided to grudgingly come clean with what appeared to be a full disclosure. He basically noted that “Dr. Wiles” was a nickname his friends had given him while in school and it just stuck on him. Why am I bothering readers, especially young readers with my “J.J. Roberts” (old) story? It’s simply because I strongly believe that Liberian journalists ought to go beyond the façade of superficiality.

But before digging much deeper into other issues, one needs to carry out some form of introspection. In my specific case, I now find myself at “The News Pinnacle”; as a result, my conscience has begun pricking me that in order to earn a niche in the metaphorical pinnacle of the Liberian media landscape, I must resist the temptation of flirting with superficiality. This also goes for my current and future colleagues of The News Pinnacle as well as other members of the Inky Fraternity. In these trying times in our nation-state, it is obligatory for all media practitioners to carry out some form of self-imposed introspection. As it’s often said, to whom more is given, much is expected. As the so-called watchdogs of the society, the society expects a lot more in-depth analyses from the news media.

Of course, introspection entails a pensive retrospection as to from whence one has come; introspection is an honest soul-searching to map out strides made thus far and the challenges ahead. Introspection also presupposes prior preparation; in order for one to effectively conduct a credible self-assessment, one must, first of all, cultivate the capacity for discernment, or some basic skills for scrupulous analysis. In addition to cultivating a professional capacity, one must also possess the requisite attributes or character so as to muster the courage for a rigorous introspection. Such character is not nurtured or cultivated overnight; it is an accumulative asset, which is fueled by one’s values. On the other hand, arrogance and bigotry, especially shrouded in a supercilious sense of entitlement, are a disincentive for an impartial introspection.

Now, after hovering across the rhetorical atmosphere for a while, a safe landing is now imperative. At this unpredictable stage of our nation-building process, it is incumbent on every Liberian professional to engage in an intense act of introspection as a patriotic duty. This is imperative because whatever becomes of our nation-state, or whatever any nation becomes is reflective of the individual and collective inputs of its constituents, which are manifested in its aggregate form. Against this backdrop, whether one is a lawyer, a priest, a marketer, human rights advocate, business tycoon, security operative, politician or journalist, everyone of us needs to carry out an intensive self-assessment of our respective roles, either formally or informally, and also reflect on the roles of others. It is only upon an honest self-assessment would one dare to courageously step up to the pedestal and candidly call spade a spade during moments of reckoning.

In the Isaac Wiles pseudo-doctoral tagging cited earlier, Counselor Tuan Wreh must have deeply searched his soul before concluding that he needed to shed light on the issue. Why? Apparently the gentleman felt obliged that he couldn’t sit supinely and be apathetic to someone misleading the whole country about his academic credential, as if Liberia was a clan of clowns. As a result, he stepped up to let the public know that this fellow, who was masquerading as a terminal degree recipient had not actually earned that academic laurel. I believe that Mr. Wreh was able to do that because he had had prior preparation and qualified himself as a consummate professional. As a young man in the early 1950s, Mr. Wreh had earned his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the globally-acclaimed Boston University in Massachusetts. In 1955 when William Tubman’s dictatorship was fiercely entrenching itself with Tubman’s unconstitutional run for a third term, Mr. Wreh had courageously written an article against Tubman’s undue self-imposition on the Liberian people. The young intellectual’s eloquent candor had enraged the autocrat from Cape Palmas who then sought to silence Mr. Wreh through pernicious dehumanization. You know, political purging is not a new phenomenon on the Liberian landscape.

But as fate would have it, good has a way of triumphing evil in a mysterious way; in the final analysis, Tuan Wreh survived Tubman’s cruelty to tell the story. He later went on to pursue a career in law, earning his Bachelor of Law from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and subsequently his Master’s in Law from the Cornell University in New York. In short, by the 1980s when Wiles was masquerading as “Dr. Wiles”, Counselor Wreh was already aware that he had paid the price for speaking truth to power, and therefore, he was no more prepared to let falsehood and subterfuge take root at the expense of the larger society, hence his timely clarification at the time. That singular intervention was sufficient to help stamp out a trend of delusional academic achievement which was becoming a new normal in the eighties. But there is more to taking a stance, as the second episode of this series would later indicate.




Filed in: New Thinking

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