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Liberia presidential inauguration: A Nigerian’s experience

As my sleepy eyes tried to clear the foggy vision, I adjusted to pick up my phone after its endlessly ring. It turned out to…

As my sleepy eyes tried to clear the foggy vision, I adjusted to pick up my phone after its endlessly ring. It turned out to be my boss, Alhaji Sagir Hamidu. I sprang to my feet and quickly picked up my mobile phone. “Are you in Abuja already,?” he asked. “Our flight to Monrovia is taking off at 7a.m. the following morning”. Needless to say, I headed straight to the train station at about 5.30p.m.

The following day, we flew the Asky Airline to Monrovia via Lome and Accra. The flight to Lome was 1hr.30mins and we were delayed for two hours before embarking on the flight to Accra. As I made my way through the Airport security in Lome, in my paltry French I said to them, “Bonjour”; they answered in the affirmative response, or so I thought, I just smiled back for lack of what to say.

The flight from Lome to Accra lasted just 25 minutes and soon thereafter, the two and half-hour flight to Monrovia from Accra airport ended. We landed exactly at 5.30p.m. Liberian time, which is 6.30p.m. local time, at the rather bumpy and dilapidated Springsfield Airfield. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I assumed it was their official International airport given its state of disrepair. However, I was told the main airport is under renovation by the Chinese.

On ground at the airport were the government’s protocol officials and business mogul, George Haddadd, who was there to receive us. While we were ushered into the Presidential Lounge, we met the veteran Coach who first discovered George Weah as a footballer, Frenchman Claude Le Royseated quietly.

We exchange pleasantries and asked him why he never deemed it fit to take up a coaching appointment with Nigeria. He only smiled back in response. Ostensibly he perhaps didn’t even understand me much. I, however, asked for his autograph, which he gladly obliged.

We were given the option as to whether to follow the protocol officials or be the guest of the businessman, Haddad at his mansion. Considering the fact that Monrovia was filled to capacity with guests, we opted for the latter; and I’m glad we did. Mr. Haddadd, the CEO of Prestige Motors among many other companies, is a Lebanese who has being living in Monrovia since 1974. Widely touted as the richest man in Liberia, he is the president of the business community in Liberia. In other words, he is the ‘Dangote’ equivalent in Liberia.

And what a warm reception he accorded us. The following day, he offered to drive us round to have a feel of the city. Broad Street, Lagos equivalent of the country. And there we saw a huge Nigerian presence. GTBank and UBA are touted to be two of the biggest financial institutions in the country. On the same street is the Nigerian Embassy (Nigeria House), arguably the second largest after the American Embassy.

There is a strong Chinese presence in Monrovia. They are rebuilding and re-modelling a modern airport, a state-of-the-art massive Secretariat under construction. They built the Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium, where the presidential inauguration took place and, wait for it: The Chinese didn’t charge a dime for it; it was handed over to the Liberian government free of charge – talk of Chinese benevolence.

The people of Liberia, estimated to be around 4 million, are very poor people, but happy. The market located in Painsville consists majorly of second-hand goods from Europe and America. There are lots of shanty towns around Painsville, but the hope and expectation on the faces Liberians, especially young people, was unprecedented. They all seemed to love the president-elect and seem to believe he has the magic wand to turn around the fortunes of the state of Liberia.

Part of our itinerary was a visit to the former interim leader of Liberia, Prof. Amos Sawyer. A great leader who knew my boss from way back, called out: “Sagir, it’s good to see you” as they shook hands. His level of the mastery of international politics and economy didn’t amaze me, that’s why he is a professor. Unlike in Nigeria, ex-leaders of Liberia are not entitled to emoluments after leaving office. From the modest life the prof. is living one needs not be told that he would make do with some financial rehabilitation.

Monday 22nd January was the Inauguration Day. As early as 7am men and women set out to the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium to witness the swearing-in ceremony of arguably the most popular president Liberia ever produced. One thing struck me though, the level of orderliness exhibited by the citizens, which was noteworthy. Also worth mentioning is the civility of their security agencies. They love their people and their country.

Inside the stadium, various Heads of State and dignitaries started trooping in. I waited endlessly for the announcement that the representative of President Buhari had arrived, having had a privileged information that the president was not coming. However, it turned out to be an endless wait.

The stadium came alive when the Cameroonian soccer sensation, Samuel Eto, entered the stadium. Shouts of ‘Eto!’chanted across the stadium. Minutes later, our very own Jay-Jay Okocha got his fair share of acknowledgement from the 35,000 crowd, as his name was also chanted across the arena.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo arrived, even though the crowd tried to acknowledge and chant his name, his arrival was not acknowledged because he broke protocol by coming in at the same time as the vice president-elect, Taylor.

Interestingly, locals told me OBJ has one of the biggest farms in Liberia. Thereafter, the outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleef arrived the stadium to a rousing welcome from the crowd. Then came the big fish himself, the 24th president of Liberia, George Manneh Weah. The stadium went wild. Indeed, the ex-soccer star is very popular.

 At noon, he mounted the stage to take his oath of office. Just then the Nigerian Vice President walked in, of course, no mention of him or the Nigerian delegation was made. To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Having spent close to $12 billion in Liberia, I thought Nigeria would dictate the pace in that country.

President George Weah finally took the oath of office at exactly noon, to the loud ovation in the stadium and beyond. There was hope and expectation among Liberians as a new dawn was born. My prayer and hope is for him to succeed as he brings succour and home to the awar-ravaged country.

Abubakar wrote in from Asokoro, Abuja.

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