Interview with Varney Sherman, LAP Presidential Aspirant
On Accusations of Undermining Charles Brumskine in LUP
On Thursday, October 21, 2004, the Liberia Action Party Presidential Aspirant, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, held an exclusive interview with Radio Veritas’ Matthias Daffah and Rhodoxon Fayiah to react to accusation by Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, that he (Cllr. Sherman) contributed to the split in the Liberia Unification Party (LUP), which led to Cllr. Brumskine’s resignation from the Party recently. Here is the full text of that interview.
Q. Let us just begin with the relationship between you and the Liberia Unification Party. How is it?
A. Good! You will recall that there were, I believe, four political parties which contested the 1985 elections, i.e. the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), the Liberia Action Party (LAP), the Liberia Unification Party (LUP) and Unity Party (UP). You’ll also recall that after the 1985 elections, LAP claimed that it won the elections, and that the election results were seized from it by the NDPL. You will also recall that as a consequence of that, shall I say fiasco, the three political parties – LUP, LAP and UP – formed the Grand Coalition. The Grand Coalition was organized to come into opposition to the NDPL Government, and that was done in 1986. As a consequence of that organization, the Grand Coalition was taken to court, and the Supreme Court said that because no organization should operate as a coalition in Liberia, the Grand Coalition leaders were held in contempt and sent to prison. Eventually, from the Monrovia Central Prison they were taken to Belle Yalla. What I am trying to show is that there has been a relationship between these three political parties as far back as 1986, and that relationship continued up to 1977. In 1977, for the Special Election, these same three political parties came together and started what they called the Alliance of Political Parties. More political parties came into the Alliance of Political Parties; but unfortunately, at the end of the day, everybody else broke out of the Alliance of Political Parties, except for the Liberia Unification Party and the Liberia Action Party. Anybody else who stuck there with us was part of a political party, not the entire political party. The two parties that stuck in the Alliance as a whole were the Liberia Unification Party and the Liberia Action Party; and the relationship between LAP and LUP continues.
Q. Is there any special relationship between you and Cllr. Brumskine?
A. I don;t know why you would want to call it;. I know him very well. He is a friend, if I may say so. We attended law school together at the University of Liberia. I was a year above him there, even though he graduated from college, I believe, before I did. He went to work for LAMCO for a few years before resigning his job at LAMCO and coming and joining us at Law School. Unlike him, immediately after college, I went to law school. While we were both at law school, we were also at the Ministry of Labor. He was then Director-General for Alien Registration & Work Permits and I was Director for Youth Services and later Junior Labor Counsel & Investigator at the Ministry of Labor, Youth & Sports. When we graduated from law school, we went and studied for our master’s degree, came back and worked in Liberia as lawyers. I joined a political party to contest the 1985 elections and was active in politics; but to the best of my knowledge, Brumskine chose not to be a part of any political party then. In 1990, Brumskine joined the NPFL, which later became the NPP; but I remained a member of LAP. So in politics, we have gone our separate ways based on our separate beliefs and values.
Q. Now you both hope to contest the presidency come 2005, where did the relationship reach that he is accusing you of fueling tension in LUP, which led to his resignation from the Party?
A. I think it is an unfair accusation; but it is the accusation according to the newspaper reports; I was not in Gbarnga; and I did not hear the accusation personally. According to the newspaper reports, Brumskine accused us (Chairman Bryant and me) of being the persons responsible for the confusion in LUP; the people who are responsible for his resignation from that party. I think Cllr. Brumskine is using Mr. Bryant and me as scapegoats. You know that there has been a leadership struggle in LUP. To the best of my knowledge, and I will never deny that, Isaac Manneh and I are personal friends. Isaac Manneh and I have been personal friends for many, many years. In fact, in 1987, that was my tenth wedding anniversary, Isaac Manneh was one of those invited to that wedding anniversary. And he was publicly announced there as a personal friend of mine. And Isaac Manneh and I started our relationship as far back as 1985 when he was in LUP and I, on the other hand, was in LAP as bulging young politicians. He rose to the position of becoming Chairman of LUP but I have not become Chairman of LAP; (Laughter) Manneh rose to that high position of becoming Chairman of LUP. So we’ve had a good relationship over the years. I was prominently figured in his wedding just a few years ago. We have had a good relationship and a very personal relationship. But I am not the one to instigate Isaac Manneh to do anything of the nature that Mr. Brumskine is accusing me of. That is not the kind of person I am. I respect Isaac Manneh as a person, I respect him as a politician and I honor his views. We have had differences of views on many, many things, but we have also had similarity of views. So much for the relationship between Manneh and me.
Specifically to your question, what is important is that this same Isaac Manneh and Cletus Sieh (Cletus Sieh being the Secretary-General of LUP) opened their arms to Charles Brumskine and welcomed him into LUP. To me when you come into a political party, you learn the rules, especially when you are a stranger in there, and get adjusted to the people you meet there; but not to impose on them either your views, your philosophy, your management style or anything else. If you differ with them, what you try to do is to convince them that your ways, your ideas, your management style, and those kinds of things, are the best ways. That is what you do; that is what I would do – work with them and convince them; and that is what I think most people would do. I don’t know exactly what was the problem in LUP, but one thing I know, standing outside as an observer, there was something called a mini convention organized by Brumskine and his campaigners, and the only purpose of the mini convention was to change the officials of LUP; to change Isaac Manneh, to remove him from his position as Chairman, and to remove Cletus Sieh from his position as Vice Chairman or Secretary-General, whatever it is. But these are the people who had been running LUP all these many years, almost ten years, when Brumskine was a senior member of NPFL, later NPP. Believe me, you think I will sit down, if I were that Chairman of LUP, and let this man whom I welcomed into the party come and oust me? Would you do it? And if Manneh, Sieh and others fight back to retain their position and during that fight Mr. Brumskine lost or, alternatively, decided that that fight was delaying his progress as a politician and so he leaves, how can he come and blame Varney Sherman?
Is it Varney Sherman and Chairman Bryant who called the mini convention to oust Manneh and Sieh from their jobs? No! We didn’t call the mini convention. In fact, is this mini convention something that is provided for in the Constitution of LUP? From what I read in the newspaper, it is not even called for in LUP’s Constitution. So what you find here is a lawyer, a preeminent lawyer, who adopted an unconstitutional means to oust the leadership of a political party barely a year after he was accepted from the political wilderness into the party. That was an attempted coup d’etat in LUP. Now had that attempted coup d’etat succeeded and Manneh and Cletus Sieh were removed from their official positions in LUP, don’t you think that the next move by the Brumskine gang would have been to claim Manneh’s seat in the NTLA and claim Sieh’s position as Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs on the grounds that these are positions allocated to LUP and for LUP officials?
Now, you don’t think Manneh and Sieh would fight back, fight for their political positions in LUP and for their jobs in Government? They were not only fighting for their political life; they were also fighting for their honor and livelihood. And if they fight back and Mr. Brumskine loses or alternatively he thinks that the struggle is delaying his political progress and he decides to resign, he looks for some scapegoats? He decides that because Varney Sherman and Manneh are friends and Varney Sherman is a candidate so Varney Sherman is the one responsible. I think that is an unfair accusation.
Q. The 2005 election is just twelve months away, are you considering forming an alliance with LUP?
A. With lots of political parties; we are fundamentally in favor of alliance, some level of collaboration. We believe that whatever government emerges from these elections, it should be a government of inclusion. We also believe that no single political party in this country has the number of skilled and talented people all by itself to man the Liberian Government as a whole. We also believe that there is a great need for unification of our people, for reconciliation; and one of the ways to move forward is to have a government of inclusion. Since we want a government of inclusion, now is the time to start the collaborative effort and let’s go into the elections with that level of collaboration. So that forming a government of inclusion will be much easier because we collaborated in the electoral process.
Q. You are very bold about this decision that could threaten your own ambition for the presidency – forming collaboration.
A. You mean in the collaboration the decision could be made that instead of I, somebody else should be the candidate? I will accept that verdict. I will accept that decision and I will work with whoever is elected for us to win the elections. I am committed to that.
Q. What about the allegation that you gave Mr. Isaac Manneh US$5,000.00 along with a car to sell the party (LUP) to you?
A. If somebody is saying that I gave Manneh $5,000.00 and a used car to bribe him to influence him to sell the party (LUP) to me, that is ludicrous, nonsensical. Did Brumskine bribe Manneh to be admitted as a member of LUP? If not, why would Brumskine suggest that I would bribe Manneh to oust him from LUP? Manneh is not a cheap person; he is an honorable man, who has worked hard for LUP and stood up for LUP during difficult times in the 1990s. Manneh is a member of the Legislature, who is riding a new Cherokee Jeep today, and you would believe that he accepted a used car as a bribe to oust Brumskine from LUP? I hesitate to dignify such attempt at insult with a response. I think Manneh is far above what Brumskine and his associates accused him of and so to respond to that is to bring myself low.
I am not the kind of person that Brumskine accuses me to be. I have been a lawyer in this country for more than twenty-four years, and I have practiced law with the level of integrity and credibility that, I believe, is at the highest. That is why high quality clients of substance come to me, to our law firm. You know that if these high caliber clients, including large groups of Liberians, thought I was an “under-the-table” man, bribing here, there and yonder, they would not have come to me; I would not have acquired the kind of status and stature in the legal profession that I have today. I would not have represented the kind of business enterprises and Liberians that I have represented and continue to represent today. Citibank of New York, the largest banking business in the world, would not have left their business here with me for three years as their general agent to settle their obligations and receive payments from their debtors, if they thought I was passing around here bribing people. No, no, come on, man.
It is fine with them for them to insult us, but I will not insult them. I am not like them and I will never be like them; our value systems and respect for others are just different.
Q. But bribery is a serious offense that requires a response from the accused. Don’t you think so?
A. Of course, bribery is a serious accusation, and that is why no honorable person should recklessly make such accusation against another person. Some believe that since we are involved in politics we should expect our opponents and their supporters to make such accusations, no matter how baseless and unfounded. Well, if this kind of conduct is to be expected then the public too ought to be straight in examining the accusation by looking at the motivation of the accuser and the facts and circumstances. For example, did Brumskine bribe Manneh for Brumskine to become a member of LUP and make a meteoric rise to be a presidential aspirant? If not, why would Varney Sherman be able to bribe Manneh? If Manneh were that cheap, wouldn’t have President Taylor bribed him to refuse Brumskine since it is well known that Taylor and Brumskine are political enemies?
Let’s put this false and malicious accusation in its proper perspective. It is public knowledge that Manneh and Sieh underwent criticism from LUP members in America for receiving Brumskine in LUP when Brumskine was a member of the NPFL that murdered Gabriel Kpolleh, founder of LUP. It is also well known that President Taylor tried his best, including intimidations, to get Manneh and Sieh to refuse Brumskine after it was announced in Liberia, before Brumskine’s return to this country, that Brumskine had been admitted to membership in LUP. If huge amount of money, pressure, intimidation and criticism did not cause Manneh and Sieh to reject Brumskine, how is it possible that US$5,000.00 and a used car would cause them to make trouble for the same Brumskine? Brumskine now condemns and accuses Manneh and Sieh who received him from the political wilderness; that is their reward for the risks they took for him. For me, my conscience is clear, the sort of accusation that has been levied against me does not characterize my record, both as a person and a professional lawyer.
Q. Do you foresee a standoff between you and Cllr. Brumskine for some time?
A. What is a standoff? In politics, if I may go back one step, you asked me about the possibility that I might not win the nomination or the candidacy of a collaborative effort. I am not the candidate who says: “I am President of Liberia already.” No, I am not that candidate. I hear some candidates saying: “I am the President of Liberia; you start working with me now”. No. I am not the President of Liberia and this is something that I am vying for. And I reiterate I will support whoever is elected. I am a party man. I am one of the founders of the Liberia Action Party. I will remain in Liberia Action Party until my body goes to the grave. I am not going to leave because I have differences with Liberia Action Party people. No.
You asked whether Brumskine and I have a standoff. What do you call a standoff? We are in politics; it’s a competition. I have been a lawyer for too long, and everything that we do in the legal profession is a competition; our profession is called the adversarial system. There is always an adversary, all right; and at the end of the day, I win cases, I lose cases. I don’t make my colleague lawyer as my enemy when I lose a case; I don’t insult or malign him. I don’t ever want to do that because I lost a case. So I don’t call my political relationship with Brumskine a standoff; it is a competition. I am the guy who has decided that when people talk things that don’t require a response, especially when people sling indignities, insults and vituperation I just don’t respond to them. I say to my opponents address the issues, raise issues, how do we go forward with our country or what are the problems with our country, how do we solve them and then let us talk about our differences as to how we approach them. But when an opponent or his supporters start slinging character assassinations and insults and other things, I will not dignify them by response, because I just don’t know how to insult somebody or assassinate another person’s character.
For my character it took years and years of hard work, serious hard work, of building. And I assume that other people worked hard on building their character and their integrity. I will not just go out there and recklessly try to assassinate their character and insult them, not for political convenience, because I think that is the way to get popular votes. No, I will not engage in that kind of conduct or behavior.
You are journalists and so you probably read the article in the Perspective, an online news magazine, where somebody in Brumskine’s camp wrote an article accusing Dr. Walter Gwanigali that he unnecessarily amputated the legs of former combatants while Dr. Gwenigali was medical director at Phebe Hospital in Bong County. Now pray tell me, what did Dr. Gwenigali do to those people for them to blatantly and recklessly lie about him like that? These are people from Brumskine’s camp and Dr. Gwenigali’s only “offense” was that he announced that he wants to be President of Liberia on the LUP ticket. Immediately, Brumskine’s campaigners started to sling insults at him, saying he unnecessarily amputated the legs of combatants of our civil war. Now, suppose one of those combatants believes that lie and gets vexed and tomorrow shoots off Dr. Gwenigali’s head, how will Brumskine’s campaigner who wrote that lie about him feel? No, we are not going to engage in that even though that is the character of those kinds of people; it is their character to do those kinds of things. We are different, we try our best to be civil and honorable, to respect all in our dealings, even if we differ on opinions or thoughts or even if we are on different sides. We try to treat all with respect, courtesy and dignity.
Am I going to beg somebody to come and sit and talk to me because he engages in that kind of conduct or behavior. No I wouldn’t. And Dr. Gwenigali, I am sure, is not going to beg the people who falsely and maliciously accused him of unnecessarily amputating the legs of combatants and put him at risk of revenge from these former combatants during campaigning.
Q. Cllr., you people are the cream of the nation. It’s exactly twelve months to election. What is the way forward for Liberia?
A. Elections! Elections are the way forward for Liberia. We all need to forge ahead and have the elections as scheduled. We have been in the process of engaging political parties for us to have this collaborative effort and we hope at the end of the day, by that, we will be able to reduce the number of political parties that go out straight to canvass for elective positions. We hope we will be able to come up with one slate of candidates with several political parties on the slate; and through that, we can lessen the burden for the National Elections Commission (NEC), lessen the burden for the country and also lessen the confusion for the electorate.
Q. Are you satisfied with the disarmament process so far?
A. I wish it could be better, but UNMIL and the warring factions have done a tremendous job. Disarmament is nothing small; and so we ask them to work harder. I think they will work harder and meet the targets on time.
Q. Are you satisfied with the Elections Commission so far, its work?
A. I wish everything could be faster, honestly. I wish that we could be campaigning today overtly and aggressively. I wish that we were out there educating the people, examining how the ballots will look and conducting voter registration and those kinds of things. I wish we were there telling the people that complete peace is here and elections are near; by our participation, country-wide tours and campaigning, we would be giving the people comfort that civilian life is coming back; that some level of civility is coming back. All of these I agree take time and we will give the Elections Commission the time it needs to do its work.
Q. Any final message to our many listeners?
A. Ah, ha, ha! I don’t want to campaign. You know my final message will be campaigning. So I don't have a final message. (Laughter).
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