By: Anthony Q. Jiffan, Jr.
Barely a month after the Umbrella organization of journalists in the country, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), inducted into office its President, Mr. Charles B. Coffey for his second term along with a new corps of officers, Coffey’s main contender in the Union’s past election, the Union former Vice President Octavian Toegar Williams denounces his membership with the Union, terming the current leadership of the Press Union of Liberia as illegal and one that does not have any integrity to govern professional body.
Williams who served as Vice President during Coffey’s first tenure contested the presidency of the Union and lost to Coffey following an electoral rigmarole at the end of which Coffey took the day, Octavian rejected the result of the election after all attempts to use the court to stop the PUL election yielded no fruition.
The reformer Vice President therefore declared, “Now, having reflected over the period as an advocate for journalists and non-journalists rights, and also a former Vice President of the PUL, I am today informing Liberians and the world at large that I, Octavin Toegar Williams, in this public manner do hereby denounce my membership with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) under this current illegal and purported new leadership headed by Charles Coffey….”
The former PUL official therefore called on his followers, supporters and well-wishers to disassociate themselves from Press Union of Liberia under the Coffey’s administration.
According to Mr. Williams, the PUL has lost its relevance in regards to integrity. “When the founding fathers of the PUL organized the Union in 1964, its objective was to advocate for the rights of journalists and ordinary people in society,” he said.
But he said that in keeping with the realities today, Stanton Peabody, whose detention gave birth to the formation of the PUL is sad in his grave because his dream that made the Union to be built on a pillar of democracy, advocacy, good governance and integrity has been dashed and fallen below the belt.
see below the full text of the statement of the former PUL Vice President.
23 January 2020 – Monrovia, Liberia
Denouncing Membership with Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
My esteemed colleagues of the media, comrades, ladies and gentlemen. I invite you today to disclose pertinent issues regarding my tenure as Vice President of the Press of Liberia (PUL). In 2016, I was elected Vice President of the PUL along with three other colleagues, Charles Coffey as President, Daniel Nyakonah as Secretary General and Dyrus Zinnah, as Assistant Secretary General to lead the Press Union of Liberia for a three-year period. Together, we set out to embark on an agenda that would lead our beloved Union to higher heights and to continue from where our predecessors had stopped. In the first year, we holistically took on the challenge as we peacefully led our colleagues in keeping with our platform – to build the PUL headquarters, training, accountability among many others.
But interestingly, at the close of our first year in office, I noticed that PUL President Charles Coffey was deviating from the agenda. I personally engaged him on several occasions to put him back on track, but it ended fruitlessly. It was at that point I decided to write Mr. Coffey to document my concerns for future as PUL Vice President and someone who played a key role to have him elected as PUL President.
On November 22, 2017, I wrote an inter-office Memorandum addressed to the PUL President, Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General with the subject: EC Meetings & Issues affecting Journalists. I wrote that memo because my three colleagues in the PUL leadership had kicked against my advocacy for the rights and protection of journalists. It can be recalled that the PUL President had earlier issued a statement on November 22, 2017 and launched a public attack against legitimate issues relating to the rights of journalists as articulated in my personal statement of advocacy and solidarity for several of our colleagues and media houses that were victims of repressive and frivolous lawsuits. Sadly, my three colleagues in the PUL leadership sided with those media and journalists oppressors. I felt then and still feel today that the PUL President’s November 22, 2017 statement endangered the lives of journalists.
I then recommended that the pending PUL EC Meeting should instead focus on the financial and operational status reports. I also queried why a mini congress was not held as required by the PUL constitution in order to update the membership. I also said in 2017 that sidestepping those issues and restricting EC meeting agenda to “deportment of vice president” was grossly simplistic and would lead to the conclusion that the PUL under the Charles Coffey leadership lacks vision and understanding of its founding objectives.
Following my discerning views on how Coffey was proceeding in 2017 as PUL President, surprisingly on November 28, 2017, I received a Memo from Mr. Coffey outlining measures on the day-to-day working hours at the PUL. The memo stated that the official working hours was from 8:AM to 6:PM and that the generator would run from 8:AM to 1:PM; break at 1:PM to 2:PM and resume from 2:PM to 6:PM daily. I was shocked to be accused of overstaying in the PUL offices up to 10:PM and with guests. Having officially discarded Coffey’s accusation against me, the PUL President again wrote another Memo on December 4, 2017 repeating the same accusations against me. Even the office assistant, Emmanuel Davies, commonly known as “Holy Water”, was also suspended because I asked him to open the PUL offices in order for me to access my office as Vice President, thereby putting the support-staffs against me.
Fast forward to 2018, I detached myself from a Financial Instrument or Report authored by the Charles Coffey’s administration which brought the PUL to public ridicule. The Financial Report covered the period September 30, 2017 to June 2018. In an official statement that I issued on Wednesday, August 8, 2018, I declared “the Financial Instrument presented to the General Membership by Mr. Coffey and the Secretary General as outright lies, deceits only intended to positively portray their actions and in-actions.” Even to support my claims, a motion at a called meeting was filed by journalist Jonathan Paye-Lalay that the financial report be properly written with supporting document of financial transactions, and surprisingly that report was never made by Mr. Coffey to the general membership to date. I then challenged the PUL President and Secretary General to display documentary evidence linking me to the day-to-day financial activities of the Union since assuming the leadership in January 2017 having insinuated to the membership that I was aware of financial transactions at the PUL as stated in their fraudulent report. I also thrashed as lies insinuation that the PUL awarded a renovation contract to my family or a friend. To debunk their lies, upon taking office, I single-handedly financed the renovation and furnishing of my office as Vice President and not a dime was spent by the Union as captured and intimated in their fake financial report conveyed by some elements of the media. I then challenged the PUL President and Secretary General to provide a ‘written contract’ indicating that the Union awarded a renovation work to my family or a friend. Up to date, the PUL President and his Secretary General failed to provide such written contract.
My Illegal Suspension
On Friday, December 28, 2018 some partial Media workers including non-members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) tele-guided by Mr. Charles Coffey at a meeting held at PUL headquarters, upheld the suspension of Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe for branding the PUL as a “useless” organization. The PUL in its statement also illegally suspended me for time indefinite without due process because I had a discerning view on the suspension of Minister Nagbe. I said at the time and still say today that the Minister was not given due process in keeping with the PUL constitution following his statement against the PUL.
For the record I did not support Minister Nagbe’s assertion of the PUL being a “useless” organization but only urged the PUL leadership to give him due process before taking action against him. I was also mandated to face the National Media Council to answer to charges of disrespect to the membership which represents congress. But my call for Minister Nagbe to be given due process was in no way an affront to the PUL membership but rather a call for the Union to respect its own constitution.
I therefore issued a statement to that effect that read: “The Vice President of the Press Union of Liberia says he’s unaware and has distanced himself from a statement claiming that the Membership of the Minister of Information has been suspended from the PUL.
Mr. Octavin Toegar Williams said it is only the Executive Committee that is empowered by ARTICLE 29 of the union’s constitution to take corrective actions (warnings, fine, suspension and expulsion) against members that are in conflict with its laws.
Mr. Williams said as Pro-democracy and Human Rights Organization, it is compelling that the PUL’s policy decisions are in acceptance with its Laws and Constitution including the organic laws of the Republic of Liberia relative to due process.”
Events Leading To The 2019 PUL Fraudulent Election
Prior to the 2019 Press Union of Liberia (PUL) illegal and fraudulent election, I had earlier decided to part ways with Charles Coffey, because he failed the Union in his three-year term. Many times we tried in our weak ways to talk to him to get back on track since we were part of the leadership, but he never heeded.
He deviated from the agenda that we set in 2016 when we came together to run as a team. I personally had to convince most PUL members to vote for Coffey at the time because we felt the incumbent leadership of the late Abdullai K. Kamara, alias KAK, (May His Soul Rest in Peace), needed to give way to new breed of leaders who had come to the table with new ideas. Despite several members of the Union not wanting Coffey at the time, but due to my influence I had to persuade them to vote for him, and as God would have it we became victorious in the 2016 election.
So it became imperative when Coffey could not listen to our candid advice on how he wrongly ran the PUL in the first to second year of our leadership, I had to take a decision to go my separate way and thus decided to contest for the PUL presidency in 2019.
When Coffey got hint that I had intention to contest the PUL presidency, he deliberately ignored calls to lift my illegal and indefinite suspension as PUL Vice President. Despite several calls from members of the Union and even after several interventions from some senior colleagues of the PUL, Coffey still refused to lift the suspension. But as time progressed towards the election date, Coffey had no choice but to lift my suspension after the general membership voted to have the illegal suspension lifted.
After that illegal suspension, I immediately started to work along with those who believe in my ideas and ideals regarding what I wanted to bring to the PUL in this new age. We put a team together and started to consult our members telling them what we wanted to bring to the PUL. But as the electioneering process moved on, our campaign team noticed deliberate foul play from Coffey and his team, including the PUL Membership and Elections Committees. On November 5, 2019, Team Octavin wrote a letter of complaint, signed by me, to the PUL Election Committee, headed by Jarlawah A. Tonpo, outlining several constitutional breaches and violations by Coffey and his lieutenants, including the PUL Membership Committee.
In that complaint letter to the PUL election Committee, #Team Octavin wrote that it had anticipated a fair and transparent process leading to the PUL elections, but observed that the incumbent PUL President and his lieutenant, Secretary General Daniel Nyakonah, repeatedly and flagrantly violated the organic law of our noble and esteemed Union.
In so doing, #Team Octavin brought to the PUL Election Committee’s attention several PUL Constitutional provisions violated by Mr. Charles Coffey and his lieutenant, Daniel Nyakonah.
Article 4: Section 1: Membership shall be open to all persons in the following categories:
Full Membership: Full Membership of the PUL shall be granted to Liberian journalists who hold degree(s) in journalism or mass communication from a recognized institution and have practiced for two years. (ii) Full membership shall also be granted journalists with degree (s) who have practiced for three years. Full Membership shall also be granted to journalists who have practiced for five years with recognized and accredited media institutions, employed by or freelancing with either electronic or print media institutions.
Article 18: By Laws of the Union
Section 1: Application for membership to the Union shall be done in writing in the Secretary-General who shall present same to the Membership Committee for action.
Section 2: An approved applicant can enjoy membership rights based on the category of membership sought and granted.
Section 5: The PUL fiscal period shall be from October 1 to September 30. The annual registration of members shall be from November 1 to January 31 each year. The Union leadership shall publish latest first Monday of February full membership register for the fiscal period. Members who fail to pay or renew their annual membership shall forfeit their rights as provided by this Constitution.
PUL Constitution: Article 10 Section 7:
The Membership Committee, with the approval of the PUL leadership, shall publish in not less than two local dailies registered members of the Union not later than 30 days before Congress. Lists of all registered members of the Union shall be disaggregated into categories of membership; males and females; due paying and non-due paying (delinquent) members; editors, reporters, etc.
Following Team Octavin’s complaints to the PUL Election Committee, and its failure to address our complaint, three journalists of the PUL, including Omecee Johnson, Siebo Williams, Sekou Sheriff and Samuel Haysay had no option but to file an injunction to the Civil Law Court to halt the PUL election due to constitutional breaches. The Court effected the injunction which halted the November 9, 2019 PUL election. Few days later, the PUL filed its returns asking for ‘Motion to Vacate’ the injunction which the Court granted but emphatically stressed that the full outcome of the case was still pending.
While Team Octavin’s legal team was pushing for assignment of the case, the PUL Election Committee announced that it was going ahead with the election and set November 16, 2019 as the new date without even holding a consultative meeting with the candidates. So in efforts to stop the election again, our four colleagues’ legal team again filed a Bill of Information to the Court to alert it that while the case was yet to be adjudicated, the PUL Election Committee had announced holding of the elections. Despite the Bill of Information, the PUL Election Committee ignored it and went ahead with the election.
It was then incumbent upon Team Octavin to inform its supporters that our four candidates for the Presidency, Vice Presidency, Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General in the PUL race would not partake in the elections due to deliberate fraud and the constitutional breaches carried out by Charles Coffey, his lieutenants, the PUL Membership Committee, coupled with the failure of the PUL Election Committee to address complaints filed by Team Octavin and few other journalists, including Samuel Haysay and Omecee Johnson. At a press conference on the day of the purported election, Team Octavin called on its supporters to stay away from the election because the matter was still before the court and that its candidates would not participate in a fraudulent and illegal process. In adherence to our call, Team Octavin’s supporters stayed away from the polls because they were not prepared to disobey the Court and partake in fraudulent and illegal polls. Team Octavin’s supporters and majority of the PUL membership believed the PUL as an advocacy and pro-democracy group as well as a pace-setter of society cannot ignore the rule of law that is one of the cardinal reasons they could not participate in a fraudulent and illegal process.
A Declarative Judgment was then filed to officially inform the Court that the election was held in disregard to the Bill of Information earlier filed. The intent of the Declarative Judgment was to revert the fraudulent and illegal PUL election. As the Complainants sought assignment for the case to be held, the PUL went ahead to hold a purported inauguration of four individuals, including Charles Coffey, Daniel Nyakonah, Musa Kanneh and Akoi Baysah, the PUL Election Committee declared the winners of the controversial election. The PUL again disobeyed the court to hold an inauguration for individuals who participated in a fraudulent, illegal and purported election.
Denouncing My Membership from the PUL
Now, having reflected over the period as an advocate for journalists and non-journalists rights, and also a former Vice President of the PUL, I am today informing Liberians and the world at large that I, Octavin Toegar Williams, in this public manner do hereby denounce my membership with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) under this current illegal and purported new leadership headed by Charles Coffey, and assisted by Daniel Nyakonah, Musa Kanneh and Akoi Baysah.
The PUL has lost its relevance in regards to integrity. When the founding fathers of the PUL organized the Union in 1964, its objective was to advocate for the rights of journalists and ordinary people in society. Today, Stanton Peabody, whose detention gave birth to the formation of the PUL is sad in his grave because his dream that made the Union to be built on a pillar of democracy, advocacy, good governance and integrity has been dashed and fallen below the belt.
As we speak, the PUL is being regarded by most Liberians as a lame duck institution that does not have the integrity to criticize state actors, including the government and greater society because it could not respect its own constitution as it deliberately violated several articles leading to the purported 2019 election. How can the PUL under Coffey’s leadership criticize state actors when it has no morals to uphold its own constitution? How can the PUL for example, call the National Elections Commission (NEC) to book if it transgresses in the conduct of national elections, when the PUL could not honestly hold its own election free of biases as well as being free, fair and transparent? What morals does the PUL have today, to speak truth to power when Charles Coffey and his purported leadership deliberately breached and violated every aspect of its constitution in disregard to the general membership of the PUL? How can the PUL be critical of national government and call on it to uphold democratic and good governance tenets when it has also fallen short of those very values due to the desperate quest for power by Charles Coffey and his lieutenants that led to a fraudulent election?
My fellow colleagues, Liberians and ladies and gentlemen, though it is with a heavy heart that I denounce my membership with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) after being a member for many years and also as a former Vice President, but at the same time, I find it far-sighted to do so, because I do not recognize the current purported PUL leadership headed by Charles Coffey because it lacks the dream to lead the Union to nobler heights. I am of the strong conviction that Coffey will not take the Union anywhere so I am not prepared to be with the Union under the Coffey’s leadership as a member and a person of vision and direction who wants to see the Union reach greater heights.
For now my fellow esteemed colleagues, I will continue my profession as a profound investigative journalist who has been recognized both by the United Nations through its 28th progress Report on Liberia under the signature of the then Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the United States Government through its State Department Report on Human Rights and the Human Rights Hub Freedom House for my fearless role played during the 12 years administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who was oppressive on journalists rights through the Court system.
I will like to take up this time to call on well-meaning Democratic institutions and individuals of integrity including all of my supporters not to associate with the Press Union of Liberia under the Coffey’s leadership judging from the history of its well-placed and documented rig of the just-ended Election.
To you my supporters as you may be aware, we are on our way in making history in the Media sector. In due course, our collaborative efforts will be felt by the Republic.