By Chidi Obineche
Dr Jeremiah Whapoe, a leading politician and presidential candidate of The Vision for Liberian Transformation Party in next year’s presidential elections speaks on his vision for Liberia, the role of Nigeria and other neighbouring countries in bringing stability to the war ravaged country, among other contemporary electoral issues. Sunday Sun met him in Lagos. Excerpts.
You are one of the presidential candidates of one of the parties in the forthcoming Liberian elections. What is new that you are bringing on the table? More than 25 years after the war, what do you think is very crucial for the country at this time?
Thank you. It is a pleasure sitting in Lagos and talking to you. I want to specially pay homage to our Nigerian compatriots who were able to come and resuscitate Liberia from the civil war that we had, and today we are enjoying at least ten years of peace. All of these started with Nigeria’s intervention. One of the things that the past leaders of Africa propounded was that we will come together economically; we will then enjoy true independence. It is through the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS that we are enjoying the true and lasting peace we are enjoying today.
Having said that, what is new that we are bringing on the table? What we are bringing on the table in my view might not be new, but cannot be forgotten. What we are bringing is that we believe that food is important. Food in a nation is a political weapon that nations use to manipulate others. So my priority would be massive food production. We must produce what we eat. Right now, Liberia is having a capital flight of $480m going out of the country just on importation of food. What it means is that if all this money continues to go out, it will not only cause capital flight but will place the Liberian people in perpetual poverty.
Our mission in Liberia is to make sure we minimize the poverty in Liberia so that Liberians can produce their own food. The more we produce our own food, the food they eat, the $480m escaping from Liberia will be circulating in the country, and when that happens, it will help to keep a lot of people out of poverty.
Is Agriculture the mainstay of the Liberian economy?
Yeah! The Liberian economy is primarily based on agriculture. 75 percent of the economy depends on agriculture. The landscape in Liberia, 3 percent of it is used for agriculture. So our mission is to expand it. How can we produce more, not only for consumption, but farming as a business? We want to make entrepreneur out of farmers, so that they can produce not for local sales and consumption, but to extend the sales outside Liberia. When they sell their produce like that, then they can get out of poverty. Believe me, there is no great country in the world today when you cannot feed yourself. We talk about the United States of America, USA, not because they have great weapons of war, United States of America is great because it produces food in excess and that’s what we are going to do. We believe that the more we are able to produce food in our country, feed our people, a lot of things will fall into place, because healthcare, education are all connected to agriculture. If we want to move the country forward the first thing we can do is to produce our own food which will help our economy and also help to reduce the deficit that we currently have, and clear our debts. So the whole economic system is connected to agriculture and that is the bedrock of a country that is independent.
One of the opposition Leaders in your country recently advocated a Christian state. What is your view on that?
Well, that is Lulu Briggs. Creating a Christian state in any nation is complex. The more you create a religious state, whether Christian or Muslim, what you are trying to tell the people is that they are not important. That will not be a discussion under my administration.
How many people are you contesting against and who are the real contenders?
What I know is that we have 23 registered political parties. All of them are not going to produce presidential candidates. Some of them are looking forward to merging with other groups. But the irony of Liberian politics is that these guys who are coming forward that they want to run for the presidency, if you call them on a table to debate the issues, tell them to tell the Liberian people what they will do, none of them would like to do that. And you ask for the reason why they don’t want to participate, and you discover they don’t have anything to offer.
Apart from my party, The Vision for Liberian Transformation Party, none of them has anything to offer. And that is where we have fundamental difference with almost all the political parties in Liberia. They do not have message for the people, and if they do have, these are messages that they are fabricating from one place to another, but how to articulate these messages into tangible goals is lacking.
You were once quoted to have said that “the wealth of Liberia was squandered by a selected few in power”. Can you expatiate on this?
Yeah! Take for example, the current government and the past governments; most of the executives, cabinet ministers are from the inner circle of the president. It is difficult to see through that, because everything that they are doing in Liberia belongs to them. For instance, the son of the president was the head of the NAGCOL (National Gas Company of Liberia).
It was alleged that the company’s millions of dollars was missing. The company closed down and the president came forward to say, okay I am taking the blame. But taking the blame is not returning the money to the people. Up till today, she has taken the blame, but she cannot produce the money. Liberia is today being investigated by a global group. The senators, the Speaker of the House, the Vice- president, the President, they are all involved in corruption. The global group is investigating them; they forced the speaker to resign, but the money cannot be found. And that is the culture we find in Liberia; this perpetual culture of corruption is not according international respect to the country.
The Liberian people are not benefitting from the government they voted into power. So at the end of the day, nobody trusts government anymore. If we have to take over, we have to create a new political trajectory; we have to create a better reputation even with our neighbouring countries- Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria. Today, Nigeria does not have good rapport with Liberia because of Ebola funding that Nigeria supported, and the funding leaked into the wrong party and the people, the direct beneficiaries did not benefit from it. Today we do not have rapport with Nigeria, Ghana because of our reputation of corruption.
But your president, Sirleaf was here last week?
Oh, she has a personal interest. The president coming here does not mean we have a good rapport with Nigeria. When she took over she said that corruption was going to be public enemy number one. But that is not what we are seeing. Corruption at the end of the day is her public friend.
Today, they have 20 corruption commissions in Liberia. But there is no one prisoner of corruption. We are on top of the corrupt nations in the world, and I wonder what the commissions are doing. I feel for the Liberian people. This particular job I am running for, I am not desperate for it. I am a young man. I can do other things. I am fully educated to the peak. I can stay in the United States or anywhere in the world. I can work in oil sector, but how do I show my citizenship to my country when I see that the poor people are suffering.