A. B. Assensoh:
Ritual murders were serious business in Liberia for several years
before the April 1980 coup d'etat took place. The amazing thing,
however, was that the Americo-Liberian political leaders were
supposed to be steeped in Christianity. In fact, the last
Americo-Liberian president (Mr. William R. Tolbert, Jr.) was an
ordained Baptist Minister, a regular "churchy" preacher and a
one-time President of the World Baptist Alliance. Yet, ritual murders
flourished before (as Liberia's vice-president for about 19 years)
and later, when he ruled Liberia. A.B. Assensoh served in Liberia for
some time as the Editor of "Daily Listener", "Saturday Chronicle ",
and "Sunday Digest", three newspapers owned by the C.C. Dennis
family. He offers a brief overview of the problem of rampant ritual
murders as he saw it in Liberia between 1967 and 1971.
When Dr. Justine Molokai Obi was arrested, tried, convicted and
sentenced to death in Liberia for the murder of Episcopal Church
Bishop Browne, an African American, I was still part of the editorial
team of the three Liberian newspapers named above. Dr. Obi was a
young and brilliant Nigerian chemistry professor (with an American
Ph.D. in chemistry) who allegedly had a "confrontation" with the
Episcopal Bishop. Reportedly, their fracass (or "confrontation") was
over Ms. Newiss, a British employee of the church. At the time, Dr.
Obi was a chemistry professor at Cuttington University College of
Liberia, which was based at Suaccoco, not far from Monrovia.
President W.V.S. Tubman, Sr., the long-term Liberian President, did
not sign Dr. Obi's death warrant because, as I learned, he did not
appreciate the fact that the quarrel between the murdered Bishop and
Dr. Obi was, reportedly, over a woman (what Liberians called "woman
palava"). Dr. Obi, therefore, languished on death roll for several
years in Monrovia. About two weeks after President Tolbert succeeded
the late President Tubman, he made it known in a press statement that
he (Tolbert) had signed the death warrant for Dr. Obi to be hanged in
public, as his death sentence prescribed. The Nigerian Ambassador to
Liberia at the time (Mr. Jalaoso) and several prominent international
figures fruitlessly sought a pardon or reprieve for Dr. Obi. Why
didn't they succeed? Because, as alleged, some powerful Liberian
politicians wanted Dr. Obi hanged so that his "human spare-parts"
(i.e. tongue, fingers, ears, toes, heart and private parts) would be
removed for "powerful rituals".
Very sadly, I saw the hanging of Dr. Obi as one of the most
gruesome and brutal killings that I ever saw or read about. His dead
body, which was hanging with a white noose around his neck, was not
released to friends or relatives, who sought to give Dr. Obi a decent
burial. His hanging was one of several "murders" that had ritualistic
connotations in Liberia at the time!
As President of Liberia, the late President Tolbert had a black and
white stick that he carried everywhere he went. Reportedly, it was a
product of a ritual episode, and that the "special" stick gave him
protection! In fact, ritual murders were so rampant in Liberia that,
as I recall, a sitting county or state governor was arrested and,
allegedly, found guilty of ritual murder; subsequently, the governor
was hanged. As I recall now (since the early 1970s), it was in the
Maryland county (or area) of Liberia that the governor was hanged for
involvement in ritual murder(s).
Very sadly, I even had a Ghanaian friend (a trained engineer) working
for the fishing/shipping company owned by Mr. Steve Tolbert, then
President Tolbert's younger brother, who died under mysterious
circumstances: the autopsy, as I learned later, revealed that several
parts of his body had been removed before he was dumpted in the
Mesurado River! His "human spare-parts" went for rituals!
In fact, I was in London the very week that "Africa Confidential"
publication did an enlightening piece on ritual murders in Liberia in
the early 1970s. Every word the Editor published in that report about
ritual murders in President Tolbert's Liberia was true, but the
Liberian Embassy in London was angry about the publication: for
washing Liberia's dirty linen in public!
In the end, Mr. Tolbert died violently, while Samuel K. Doe, who
engineered the very coup d'etat in which Tolber was murdered also
died violently! Was it the "Law of Karma" at work or simply the
fulfilment of the adage: "He who kills by the sword dies by the
sword"? Maybe, somebody will, these days, do something about ritual
murders anywhere in Africa or against Africans!