By Mardea Johns (May 13th 2005)
"...Today, Varney Sherman mounts the political pulpit in West Point , of all places, to give his corporate self image a populist makeover. That Sherman would today visit West Point to give credibility to his political bid is almost laughable. One is curious to ask when, in Sherman's last 20 years did he use the condition of the people of West Point as a platform to raise the larger debate about the failure of leadership in Liberia . ..."
It will be a few more hours before the Stewarts of my dear and beloved party (LAP) go out to vote for the next Standard Bearer. The person elected will be the 3 rd Standard Bearer since the founding of our party in 1984. I am sure that if Jackson Doe were alive today and willing to run, the Liberian people would have overwhelmingly elected him as the next President of Liberia. Of this, I am thoroughly convinced and convicted but, he is not around. The reason is that, this year’s election provides for us, the best chance to change our country for the better. Now, without any kind of undue influence, we are going to be making our own decision as to who should be our next President.
Given the fact that we won so much support in the 1985 elections to the extent that it remains undisputed that we won the elections, we should be able to win this year’s elections, to prove that we are the party with the most popular support from the grass root. It would be inconceivable for us not to win the upcoming election in which, there is no incumbent, no powerful warlord with a standing army and with no single person having a command of the nation’s resources to exclusively run their campaign. This is an indication that if we make our best selection, the Liberian people will show appreciation for us as a party and elect us into office. Let the Liberian people see us the as the promise of hope and deliverance.
The reason I have taken this time to caution my fellow partisans to be especially careful in the decision they make during convention is that, we have too much at stake. The Liberian people have too much respect for us as an institution after the ideology of Jackson Doe and other true sons of the soil. This is time for us to exhibit our true and sincere love for our country and set the example that we want the Liberian body politic to follow. I know how much people have interest in politics and how much influence money brings to bear on our decision but for once, can we change this course of action and break this train of thought?
I currently reside outside of Liberian and there is absolutely no way that I can come home to participate in these processes. It is not because I am unpatriotic or that I care less but, because I am completely indisposed at the moment. But I trust that those other Roosters who have being given the opportunity to crow during this electoral season will not let us down. I will encourage every member of the Liberian Action Party to read this passionate appeal before casting their ballots. I understand that Cllr. Sherman is the man tipped for this position, not because he represents the true aspiration of the Liberian Action Party but, because he has a lot of money and have been spending it to achieve this end. We need to be very careful here and reflect on what we are about to do to our children and our children’s children.
Who Is Varney Sherman?
Varney Sherman is a highly respected lawyer whose influence in the Liberian business and legal arena is pervasive. Representing such varied interests and clients as rubber companies, banking establishments, affluent Lebanese merchants, Sherman has positioned himself as the foremost legal practitioner in Liberia , a reputation that has earned him enormous wealth and placed him among the wealthiest Liberians to date. It is estimated that Sherman reaped more than US$3 million in the Bong Mines Workers' compensation scheme which he negotiated, despite grumbling among many workers who to date, still feel they were duped out of their fair earnings. And this is just one of his legal success stories. Until the eviction of Charles Taylor from power by LURD and MODEL forces, little was known about Sherman 's presidential ambition.
From the troubled days of the 80’s, running through the bloodletting days of the 90's, this man has masked his ambition and buried himself in corporate Liberia, sometimes earning retainers at the expense of the Liberian people. A Harvard trained lawyer, he chose not to use his legal expertise to give voice to the voiceless. Sherman has never had the reputation as a public advocate, and despite the enormity of his wealth, majority of Liberians have never felt the reach of his business influence in terms of leadership that addresses some of the critical issues affecting them. For example, for many years now, Sherman has taught at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law situated at the main campus of the University of Liberia .
Despite his university affiliation, he has never used his massive connection with corporate Liberia to push Firestone, for example, to renovate the Fire Stone Quadrangle at the main campus; such an endeavor would have endeared him to UL students and would have presented him as a leader concerned about the educational future of young people. Instead, Sherman opted out of such course of public service and concentrated on being a highly private individual concerned with making money. The argument is not about Varney Sherman using his personal money as other philanthropic Liberians, but about using his influence on giant corporations and business entities in advancing social, humanitarian, and environmental causes who have been impinging upon the lives of the Liberian people. Had he done so in his more than 25-year legal career, Liberians would have seen Sherman as a credible leader in whom to place their trust in administering the resources of their country. Results today would have been radically different.
But Sherman instead concentrated on the self, and there is nothing wrong for doing so, as long as he does not venture into the public space. I may be a highly selfish individual who choose to remain in my domain of wealth-building or ego tripping. However, venturing outside that domain and posturing as a public advocate can only raise critical questions of public perception and trust, and this may be the problem with the Sherman candidacy. Liberians have always seen that Sherman ventures into the public space only when it concerns his interests directly. For example, during the 1997 presidential elections, Sherman contested the senatorial seat of Grand Cape Mount under a LAP ticket. This signaled the beginning of his entry into Liberian politics, but he guarded his ambition tactically. First, he chose not to seek the presidency at the same time Charles Taylor was contesting, for he believed doing so would have dealt a crippling blow to his business influence and interests in the event of a Taylor victory. Second, when LAP did not win, which he knew was impossible; he chose to go back to the haven of his corporate cocoon. This is the kind of opportunism that underlines and characterizes Sherman 's entry into Liberian politics. At a time when men stood up to Taylor's destructive inroads in Liberian politics, Sherman remained sheltered in the luxurious comfort of his law practice, removed from the critical advocacy that framed the eventual collapse of the Taylor regime.
Yet Sherman considers himself a front runner even though he has very little popular or political appeal. For example, had Sherman had massive appeal among the people of Grand Cape Mount County during the 1997 elections, LAP, though it still would not have won the NPP, would have placed second and not fifth, primarily due to Sherman 's influence, since his interests were directly linked to those of his standard bearer Cletus Wotorson. Quite to the contrary, LAP and Sherman were routed, and now this man who holds such minimal appeal among his own people is audacious enough to seek the appeal of more than 3.3 million Liberians.
Today, Varney Sherman mounts the political pulpit in West Point , of all places, to give his corporate self image a populist makeover. That Sherman would today visit West Point to give credibility to his political bid is almost laughable. One is curious to ask when, in Sherman's last 20 years did he use the condition of the people of West Point as a platform to raise the larger debate about the failure of leadership in Liberia . Pointedly, Sherman is vastly unsuited to even raise the critical issues of corruption and political failure that have affected our people. He has too strong a tie, for example, to the Lebanese Community which is itself a lubricant to the corruption engine in Liberia .
Reports that elements of the Lebanese community are financing his campaign are troubling: they only render him a highly unlikely candidate to pursue and radically implement a Liberianization agenda, an agenda that the people of Liberia need critically, for the advancement of economic recovery and the elimination of corruption. Uprooting Liberia 's current culture of corruption requires a president whose past business practices and connections will not interpose critical stumbling blocks. In providing legal counsel for corporate Liberia and elements of the Lebanese business community as well as having strong ties with those elements, Sherman faces serious questions of credibility and conflict of interest that are bound to entangle his candidacy and undermine his presidency if he were to win those elections.
I absolutely do not hold anything against Varney Sherman, but firmly believe that those who venture to lead our impoverished people must have established prior credibility in their relationships and dealings within the Liberian community. This credibility is only for Liberians to decide, and because Varney Sherman has lost the credibility battle, many critics and propagandists of the intelligentsia are attacking other candidates who have clearly demonstrated patriotism and love of country but, do not have money to show.
There are several very important questions that Cllr. Sherman is yet to answer. In an August 10, 2004 article written by James Kollie and published both on the New Democrat website and the Analyst, some of these important questions were raised and the erudite Counselor has yet to address those critical issues as the response he deigned to bestow provided at best, very weak and elusive answers.
There was a question about Cllr. Sherman’s leadership and intestinal fortitude. The partisans of LAP and the greater Liberian population need to know what level of leadership Cllr. Sherman has shown in the interest of the Liberian person. Or has it been all about making out of the plight of the Liberian people and then coming back several years later to use that money to buy leadership? Under Taylor , the most malicious of all Liberians, when the Liberian people suffered the most, where was our would-be leader? Did Cllr. Sherman ever speak out against Taylor and his bandits? Did he question the excesses, corruption, human rights abuse, murdering of other Liberians? Or, was he complacent with the status quo? Could Cllr. Sherman have used his legal genius to fight in the Sam Dokie case like he fought in the case of the British journalist? Well, the British journalist had money to offer but the family of Dokie could offer nothing substantial. It has always being about money and nothing else. It will be difficult for anyone to believe that Cllr. Sherman said anything against Taylor because he would have used his power to ensure either Sherman went to jail, fled the country and/or, have his law practice closed. There are many cases of other lawyers who spoke but, we of course know what happen to them. Cllrs. Frederick Jarweh, Teawon Gongloe, Aloysius Toe and many others are example of people who spoke out in the interest of the Liberian people.
For Sherman to have done business with George Haddad while Haddad at the same time did business with Taylor , is a difficult ménage to understand and can only lead to underline the fact that Sherman and Taylor were doing business. Everyone knows that a friend’s friend is a friend. Taylor , whose personal adage as everybody knows was: if you are not for him then you are against him and, he normally would treat you as such. We saw the case with Devine and LUBI. Taylor had earlier asked Devine to be his banker and Brumskine to be his lawyer but because Devine refused to do that, we all saw what happened to Devine and LUBI.
Truth be told, all of Sherman ’s dealing has always being about money and not people. This man has never cared about people. Maybe it is from his troubled birth. Anyone who has dealt with Sherman knows that this man hates human beings. Even the folks in Gaye town, where he lives, can attest to this fact. Other student organizations and civil organizations who have invited this man to programs will tell you for fact that this man can look you in the eye and tell you that, he can make more money in court than be at your program and so, he can not afford to be there. For Heaven’s sake, tell me what kind of presidential material values money more than people? This must be the kind of presidents that we don’t need.
Let’s take a little a look at how Sherman even got the Law practice he runs today. James Kollie informs us that Sherman, a boy who Christian Maxwell had sent to Law school in Liberian and to Harvard, rushed to Monrovia in early 1991/92 to take over the Maxwell’s practice. Sherman gave a very weak defense written by Cllr. Sherman himself under the pseudonym, Samuel A Brown, in which, the learned Counselor provides no defense at all. He talked about how he got his first or biggest contract with City Bank and blah blah blah, but, he doesn’t say what the real story is, about Maxwell & Maxwell versus Sherman & Sherman. We know that law practice is not the physical building but the people and the client base. If Varney Sherman went to Monrovia and told Cllr. Maxwell’s clients that he (Cllr. Maxwell) had no intention of returning and besides I (Sherman) was the brain behind the entire firm so you need to give me your business because I am establishing a new firm, you (Sherman) are taking over Maxwell’s law practice. I think this act is the greatest ingratitude that any man can exhibit. Your own father, Cllr. Jones, refused to take care of you; this man, Cllr. Maxwell decided that he saw promise in you as a young person and could send you to Law school and gave you a future. Is that the thank you that you had for that poor man? To break his heart to death and don’t even attend his funeral? Is this the kind of person that LAP wants to offer to the Liberian populace as their choice for President? Cllr. Sherman’s hands are stained with the death of someone who was a father figure to him and his savior here on earth but, instead he pulls a Judas on this man and, boasts that he has money or, as he puts it, I am not “financially inconsequential.”
Don’t get me wrong! Sherman may be a good man but he is not presidential material. He has tilted his entire career in favor of the financially powerful and has never one day tried to represent things that are morally right or in the interest of the community. Sometimes it is just about helping and not always money. You have to be principled sometimes and let money go. Stand up for something that will benefit other people other than yourself and your family.
Ezzat Eid, this Lebanese crook, paid people to loot the only Sports Complex that we had and, also stole his other Lebanese friends’ possessions and you defended him because you wanted him to build a house for the mother of your extra marital child. I can remember vividly when he turned over the keys to you and thanked you for not making him go to jail.
The workers at Firestone - they will always hate you because you are their own Liberian, working against them, representing the company that is suppressing them and, you have not one single kind word for them, as if they are your enemies. Cllr. Sherman, sometimes people only need to understand and not get insulted.
Cllr. Sherman, you have too much political baggage and I think you have done too little and now it is too late to win the hearts and minds of the Liberian people. Visiting the people in the interior or West point or New Kru town will not do the job. You need to return to corporate Liberia and do what you do best—exploit and hate. Where is Cllr. Varfie Williams—this great guy who wouldn’t play to your drumbeat and so, you tried to destroy him. You have used your cash to buy judges and opposing lawyers to give cases for more than their clients are paying them. Over the years, we have seen Cllr. Sherman continue to intimidate his legal opponents and use extra illegal means to win cases and boast that he has a great legal mind but, if some like Taylor did this same thing, we would say that he is crook - anyway it is a Harvard graduate and so, he must be smart.
May 13 & 14, 2005, will be important days in the history of our dear country and party. If we go ahead and elect Varney Sherman, we not only lose the elections but, the family of Cllr. Maxwell whom Sherman duped to get the law firm, will never bring closure to the death of their father and husband. The sufferings of the people of Firestone, which Varney Sherman has profited from, would be celebrated in the highest order. Varney Sherman has looked the suffering people in the eyes and told them they are lucky to have Firestone here to exploit them. Varney Sherman has worked against the interest of so many people who are hurting today and, for LAP, of all parties, to elect this man as standard-bearer will be a sad, sad mistake. LAP can do better and we must show to the country and the world that we believe in people and principle, more than wealth and money.
Electing Varney Sherman will be a mistake of the highest order.
The writer, Mardea Johns, Coordinator of the Concerned Group of Liberian Commentators Worldwide (CGLCW) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org