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S.Tugbe Worjlor Snr: A tribute to a warrior for justice

10 January 2018 at 00:56 | 6209 views

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia

Last Saturday, January 6, we buried Saydee Tugbe Worjloh Sr., a Liberian who was a warrior for justice in Liberia. He was commonly known as S. Tugbe Worjloh, the walking encyclopedia in New Krutown in Monrovia, Liberia. He was 81 years old. If you lived in Liberia, particularly in the 70s you may not have known him and you did not read about him either. But he was one of the progressives, and he was a real good one too.

S. Tugbe Worjloh was a comrade and an advocate in our struggle for justice in Liberia, particularly in the 1970s. I first met and knew him in Claratown, Monrovia when I was a little boy in the 50s. He was residing in the Karboh section of the town not far from old man Shoefry’s house. He was an older brother and was always active in the town’s affairs. He and other older brothers, “byebee”, big brother in Kru, showed us the younger ones the way. They were our role models.
I left Liberia for the US in the 60s and in the 70s we reunited in the cause of the people, in the struggle for rights, equality, and freedom. He was a reporter and chief correspondent for West Africa, particularly Liberia for the Awina Drum, a news organ, which I edited and published for Awina, an organization founded in the US by sons and daughters of the Krao people. Awina was the first Liberian group in America to stage a public and peaceful demonstration against the Tolbert regime. That protest set the pace for other demonstrations by Liberian groups in the Diasporas.

Few years later, MOJA, Movement for Justice in Africa, was organized by progressives in Liberia with general attention on Africa but strategically with focus on injustices and repression in Liberia. Certainly the organization would have died at birth had the organizers labeled it Movement for Justice in Liberia. The True Whip Party suppressive and undemocratic regime would have arrested leaders of the movement.
S. Tugbe Worjloh was a foot soldier and committed member of the movement, writing and reporting about events in the country. He was fearless, he was prepared to go to jail for his writing. I came to Liberia in 1975 for the burial of my mother. He had written a story of the government arrest of key members of the Revelation Newspaper, a young social and political conscious news organ operated by students whose advocacy did not go well with the establishment.

Worjloh was critical of the government action. It was a period of authoritarianism and autocracy as the government began the harassment of many progressives, including Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, who was fired from his post as a professor at the Liberian University because of his advocacy. Dew Mayson was harassed too on his teaching job at Cuttington College. He was eventually terminated. Everywhere Tipoteh went, he was followed.

Beside his activity in journalism and his writing ability, S. Tugbeh Worjloh voiced his concern of injustices and disadvantage leveled against poor people. His first lesson of disadvantage was when he was a boy in his village in Sanquine (Karboh), a rural town in Sinoe County, Liberia. In the village, a powerful man prepared a document and wanted Worjloh’s father to sign. The father asked that his son should come to read the document for the father was illiterate and the son was attending grade school. Young Worjloh read the document and advised his father not to sign, because doing so would give his father’s only property to the powerful man. Worjloh knew then that disadvantage is not only carryout by the rich and powerful in the city, but also by some of those who live in rural communities or villages.

Another example was the forcefully demolition of Claratown, our home town. The breakdown came as a surprise. Many residents were out when the bulldozers entered the town on a week day and destroyed homes and other properties. Our people were displaced and made homeless. Majority came to New Krutown while few went to Gibraltar, another slum.

When it was speculated that oil was discovered near his village, he mobilized and encouraged university students from his region to study chemistry, petroleum engineering and other appropriate sciences for the community to benefit from the resources. He was concerned about his people. When I visited Liberia for my mother’s death, I asked him what position he would like to occupy when change came to our people or when power came to the people.
“I would like to be superintendant of Sanguine; I want to serve my people”.

I admire his courage, his commitment, his sincerity, his sense of history, his desire to serve his people, and his progressivism. He never backed away or shaken in his advocacy. He did not make the front pages like other progressives. He was not an icon and neither did he enjoy the glory, but he was quietly effective. He was a historian. He knew the facts and documented historical events. He contributed to the book, THE KRU, a history of the Kru people, traditionally called the Krao. He was called the walking encyclopedia, for he was a depository of historical facts and could state facts from his fingertip. He also had a strong command of the English language, the grammar and its composition,

While I was here in Liberia covering the election, I visited him for his 81st birthday at the governor’s office where he worked as vice governor of the Borough of New Krutown. It was a reunion. We talked about old time, about some of our friends from Claratown, and most have joined the ancestors. Age has gotten to us. But he was looking strong and energetic.

Then I asked him, “S. Tugbeh Worjloh, how are you been”?
“fine”, he said with some hesitation.
“I mean health wise and living condition”? I repeated. He did not answer.
“Have the guys, the comrades helped you”?
He knew what I was talking about but he turned his head side to side. It did not mean yes or no. He was being diplomatic. Then I went directly to the point.
“Have Tipoteh, Amos Sawyer and Dew Mayson helped?”
“Not really”, he finally said. He talked about the difficulty of getting pay and promises that people have made to him. He did work in the Ministry of Finance during the interim government before Charles Taylor presidency.

Dew Sawyer and Tipoteh were the main comrades in the 70s that Wlojloh knew and was close to. Things have been far better with them compared to our days of struggle. Tipoteh was former minister under Samuel Doe in the 80s and was head of the board of Freeport during the Gyude Bryant administration and is a personal friend of President Sirleaf. Sawyer was interim president of Liberia and currently works in the Sirleaf administration. He too is a personal friend of Sirleaf. Dew is a big business man who is considered to be a multi-millionaire. He maintains a good relation with the president from my knowledge.

Wlojloh was quiet as I was recounting the old days and the present situation. He was just looking.

“May be if God is with George Weah and he is elected, he will help”, he said. He expressed with a tone of sadness and pity of abandonment. I could feel and see it from his voice and look.

Speaking about Weah, Wlojloh knew Weah’s father very well. We all lived in Claratown together. The father, called Papee as a nickname was called Tarpeh. He and his sister were living in the Karboh and Jloa section of the town just when entering Claratown . He was a quiet, tall and handsome young man of the age of Wlojloh. He played soccer but not a very good player.

Life was tough and difficult; majority of our parents was poor. Most parents were unemployed. The nearby Freeport of Monrovia provided temporary day work for the men when possible. Sometimes some men served as seafarers on ships for three to four months travelling around the West African coast loading and unloading ships. Others were fishermen. The women, the mothers sold market in West Point. Many of us walked barefooted to school in the West Point area where Barclay morning school was located.

PSJ, Peter Jlaokro Slewion, was a great help to us the younger boys. He taught us soccer, which was our pastime and our main recreation. He also helped and encouraged us to do our school homework. God blessed me to leave Claratown as a teenager for school in the US. Papee’s son Manneh was born a month before I left in November 1966.

Wlojloh talked about Weah with hope. I could see that from his eyes. He kept looking at his watch as we spoke. I was wondering why was he looking at his watch. He picked up his cell phone and dialed. The phone rang without answer. In few minutes he tried again. No answer.

“Oh this boy, he is not answering, where could he be and why is he not answering”, he finally said, adding “it is my son. I wanted him to be here to meet you; and he is still not here”. He looked at the watch again.
The phone rang, Wlojloh picked it up. It looked that it was his son on the line. But I was about to leave. Wlojloh asked me for two favors. I asked what they were.
“I want you to help my son”, he said. He did not go further but told me that the son has completed college and majored in the sciences, I think physics or chemistry. Prior I have communicated with the young man on Facebook. He is politically active. First he was supporting Brumskine of the Liberty Party before joining the CDC, where I understand he is a youth strategist with the coalition. He is involved in the local politics of New Krutown just like his dad.

Second, Wlojloh brought a pile of documents, including the book, THE KRU, mentioned earlier. The documents were manuscripts, some typed and some handwritten. He looked at me and said.

“My dear friend Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore, I want you to publish these documents for me. Please do that for me”. He emphasized.

The documents were writings on the Kru, consisting of Kru alphabets, numerals and history. I was touched. I was touched for his confidence, belief and trust in me.
“Yes I will do that S. Tugbe Wlojloh”, I enthusiastically responded.
I thought that I would have gotten the documents published in his life time for him to see his work in print. Since I believed that I was to see him soon, I did not bother to get the material from him. I left for town with the hope that we will meet soon. I did not hear from him. I did not save his number in my phone. I wondered what happened to him for I have not heard from him since. On December 16, 2017, I read on Face book that he has passed. I felt empty inside, so sad when I heard that and confirmed it with his son.

At his funeral, I was given few minutes to say something, to talk about him. I wanted to say a lot, I wanted to talk about his role in our struggle. I wanted for people to know again that he was not just a man, but a great one who stood for justice, who wanted a better life for his Sanguine people, for Krao people and Liberia in general. He was not a star and did not taste, eat and enjoy the fruits of the struggle. The movement failed him and the comrades in better positions abandoned him.

But he was not the only comrade who was forgotten. Many were, including the late Koffa Nagba, younger brother of Eugene Nagba. When some progressives ascended to power, they forgot their own and instead embraced non- progressives and anti-progressives, giving them employment and contract opportunities while fellow comrades went unemployed and suffered. It brings sadness to me when I think of those comrades who suffered and died and did not benefit at all. This contradiction helped create the downfall and ineffectiveness of progressivism in Liberia.

Wlojloh did not live to see Weah election and to see the hope he expressed in his office. Tipoteh was at the funeral and he spoke also. He spoke about MOJA and the role Wlojloh played. He said that the best way to remember the dead is to carry out his or her mission.

The life of S. Tugbeh Wlojloh Sr. is another reminder of the way life can be. Sometime you struggled for a cause and achieved your goal, and sometime you do not. Sometime you are about to reach the finish line if only you can hold on just for a little while. But sometime the tank runs out and you are not around to enjoy the fruits of your struggle. Wlojloh lived for 81 years, if he could just live for two weeks, he would have witnessed that his friend Tarpeh’s son is now president-elect for Liberia. He would have been happy, I am sure. It would have surely given him a new hope for a better life.

However, Wlojloh will enjoy the fruits of his struggle through his son, and I hope he will live up to the spirit and soul of his father, an advocate; a great, just and honorable man.

May S. Tugbe Wlojloh’s soul rest in peace and in the bosom of our ancestors.