-Says Independence Day’s Orator, Prof. Nelson

MONROVIA – This year’s Independence Day’s orator, Rev. Professor Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., has asserted that after 174 years as an independent naion, Liberia has nothing to be proud of.

“Honorable ladies and gentlemen, after 174 years of independence, Liberia is still being called a developing nation. This is nothing to be proud of especially when some of the countries we supported, to gain their independence, are far ahead on the ladder of human capital and infrastructure development,” Prof. Nelson said in a prerecorded Independence Day oration broadcast on state-radio Monday.

He blamed Liberians for the woes of the country since its independence 174 years ago, emphasizing that “it is unfortunate that in many respects, we are the cause of our own lack of growth, and we need to own up to our responsibilities and duties as a nation and correct our errors in order to move our nation forward.”

Professor Nelson pointed out that Liberia is a low-income country that relies on donor assistance and remittances from the diaspora, but stressed that on the contrary, the country, however, is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate that is very favorable to agriculture.

He added that in addition to Liberia’s principal exports of iron ore, rubber, timber, diamonds, and gold, the country is also engaging and encouraging oil exploration, while oil palm and cocoa are entering the marketplace, noting that all of these are very promising, in addition to domestic resource mobilization, which he says puts Liberia in a better position to achieve development at a greater pace.

But he hastened to stress that though the responsibility lies primarily with the Liberian government to create the enabling environment that will foster economic growth, social services, such as the building of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure development, Liberians, as proud citizens of this great land of liberty, have equal and important roles to play as well.

 “While the government focuses on the bigger picture (critical national development priorities), we, as citizens, need to focus on the smaller picture by engendering a nationalistic mind, and demonstrating love for country at all times,” the 2021 Independence Day orator stressed.

He warned that Liberians must never engage in actions that would be counterproductive to national development aspirations, stating, “We must continually do our part, wherever we find ourselves to support and contribute to national development in whatever little way we can.”

Hear Prof. Nelson: “It is counter-productive to development when we walk along the road and throw garbage in the streets and drainages, while at the same time we sing the praises of other nations, whose citizens are careful to use the garbage bins, thereby keeping their cities clean.”

“It is counter-productive to development when we loot the electric wires, and solar panels installed on the streetlights to provide light at night, but admire other countries that are lit up at night.”

“It is counter-productive to development, when we take without asking for the crushed rocks that were brought to repair the cracks in the road, and in some places, construct roads, while at the same time commending other countries for having good roads.”

“It is counter-productive to development, when we exploit our children who are pursuing their education, while speaking well about the educational standards in other countries.”

“It is counter-productive to development when we are placed in a position of trust and we betray that trust; it is counter-productive to development when some of us begin to think that we are more Liberians than others.”

“Indeed, it is counter-productive to development when we demonstrate that we don’t care for the needs and welfare of others.”

He intimated that he was being practical in his oration, because sometimes it is good to tune down from the high academic pedestal and speak directly into the hearts and minds of average Liberians.

He reminded Liberians that the growth and development of Liberia which he referred to as a beloved country, can only be possible if citizens of the country continue to hold together, work together, share together, and support each other.

“For this to be possible, we have to remember the golden rule that states: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the 2021 national orator said, adding, “In other words, treat others as you would want to be treated if you were in their place and position. This cannot be done through demonstrating hate and dislike for each other, whether we are in government or out of government.”

Howbeit, the 2021 Independence Day’s orator, who is also the State-run University of Liberia (UL’s) President, Prof. Nelson, indicated in his Monday’s oration that Liberia is a nation of great potential socially, culturally, and economically, that requires a nationalistic, patriotic, and visionary mindset to recognize, appreciate and pursue the common good of all, indicating that “As such, it behooves all of us to unite and continually recognize, appreciate, and embrace our ethnic, racial, tribal, religious, social, and political diversities.”

He recalled that the Liberian constitution sets the basis for the interactions of citizens of the country as families, tribes, and citizens for the common good of the entire community and the Republic of Liberia, noting that “In a society as ours, families, tribes and citizens are directed to have respect and appreciation for each other; this calls for tolerance, unity, peace, understanding, cooperation, dialogue, reconciliation, partnership, reconstruction, and sustainable development in the rich context of our diversity.

He recalls that in the process of upholding these virtues, Liberia and Liberians have had their shared challenges, but he was quick to point out that Liberia has always survived her crises and challenges, although he said there have been crises which challenged the nation’s existence.

Acknowledging Liberia’s challenges and envisioning resolution for now and the future, Prof Nelson averred that historically, as a nation, Liberians have made some key mistakes that are needed to be pondered over in the hope of finding solutions for now and the future.

“Many years ago, our brothers and sisters were sold through the great transatlantic slave trade movement to become slaves on many plantations throughout the world. Many, Many years later, they returned from the United States, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world in search of a home where freedom, peace, and prosperity would be embraced.”

“They settled on Providence Island and later extended to other parts of the hinterland of Liberia. The indigenous people were already living here and welcomed them as brothers and sisters, but many times living together became a challenge.”

“There were many internal skirmishes and sometimes serious conflicts, which threatened the existence of the young nation. At other times, there were external threats from great world powers as well, and therefore the logical thing to do at the time was to come together as a nation and declare independence on July 26, 1847.”

Therefore, according to Prof. Nelson, the purpose of birthing Liberia as a sovereign nation was to create a safe and peaceful environment where there would be Freedom, Liberty, and prosperity for all, including the rest of Africa.

“Fellow Liberians, Liberia is one of the oldest nations on the continent of Africa. This first-born child had the disproportionate responsibility to lead the rest of Africa to liberty. From the North to the South, and from the East to the West, Africans looked up to Liberia for guidance and direction. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Liberia politically fought for and spearheaded the independence of most African Nations that celebrate their sovereignty today,” he said.

He added that the forefathers and foremothers of Liberians, who he said were both Americo-Liberians and Indigenous, envisioned Liberia as a nation where all of its people would live in harmony, love, peace, and prosperity.

“But sadly, my fellow compatriots, there have been times when we have painfully experienced oppression, marginalization, exploitation and corruption at the hands of some of our own leaders over the period of our history, and this has often resulted into conflicts, sometimes wars, the loss of lives and destruction of properties, infrastructure and the very fabric of our society,” Prof. Nelson lamented.

He said Liberia and Liberians have at other times fallen victim to some natural disasters such as land slide, flood, sea erosion, as well as other epidemics and pandemics, such as the Ebola Virus Disease and the current COVID-19 virus, stating that Covid-19 alone has claimed more than four million lives globally, including the lives of some Liberians.

He disclosed that the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is challenging the socio-economic wellbeing of Liberia, is yet another evidence, that Liberians have not always been faithful stewards of Liberia, which he referred to as a gift, and a glorious land of liberty by God’s command.

He added that it is also an evidence that Liberians have not always sustained the vision that birthed the nation, indicating, “But, my fellow compatriots, it is not late.”

Professor Nelson intoned that Liberians still have the opportunity to end the blame game, renew their minds, reconcile their differences, focus on what unites them, roll up their sleeves and build what he calls a new Liberia.

“Pride divides the community and society. Unity and peace brings the community and society together,” said Prof. Nelson, who intimated that the issue of unity is not just theoretical, but practical.

“We should not only talk unity, we should practice unity concretely.  We can demonstrate unity by the attitudes of gentleness, humility, and patience,” he said.

The prelate quoting the Bible book of Psalms said, “The Psalmist says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity or harmony”. Let us walk in and work for unity. Let us allow unity to be the foundation or cornerstone to achieving development in Liberia.”

“We, who are heirs of this sweet land of liberty, must ensure that the love of liberty must remain our national commitment until the vestiges of oppression and exploitation are no more. We should not relent until “Africa’s sons and daughters rise to nobler destiny.” It is against this backdrop, my fellow compatriots, that we will speak to you on the national theme,” said Orator Nelson, who spoke on the theme: “Together, We are Stronger: Fighting COVID-19 and Achieving Development, Peace, Human Rights, Justice, Health and Prosperity for All…”

Touching on Liberia’s fight against Covid-19, Prof. Nelson bragged about Liberia’s experience with how the country effectively handled the Ebola virus crisis in 2014, which he said witnessed and acknowledged the true picture of Liberia’s already challenged health care system, coming under severe attack.

But according to him, with national commitment and determination, Liberians were able to face up to this menace, and defeated it completely.

“As Covid-19 infections began to be reported around the world, in January of 2020, many countries responded by shutting down schools, workplaces and international borders in order to curtail  the spread of the virus. We had our share of temporary lockdown and fought back the disease until recently when we have been hit again with a new wave that is reported to be even deadlier than the first, Prof. Nelson recounted.

But in spite of this reality, Prof. Nelson opined that it is worth noting that according to the country’s health statistics, infection rate is decreasing with a maximum average of 42 new infections reported each day, stating that “This is 23% of the peak, which was the highest daily average reported since 8th July 2021.”

“We can confidently declare here today, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, that just as we together defeated the Ebola Virus Disease, we can, and we will certainly defeat Covid-19. Together, we will fight on until the invisible enemy “COVID-19” is defeated and eradicated from within our national borders,” he assured.

However, Prof. Nelson noted that in order to achieve this, it means, all Liberians must galvanize their efforts, drop the blame game, pull together their resources, as a nation and people, and get each and every hand on deck, and fight this deadly virus together.

“In order to fight it together, we need to adhere strictly to all of the health protocols! In order to fight it together, we need to wear our masks at all times when in a public domain! In order to fight it together, we need to wash our hands as often as we can! In order to fight it together, we need to observe social distancing wherever and whenever necessary! In order to fight this deadly disease together, we need to stop the conspiracy theories and get vaccinated! In order to fight it together, the Government needs to disburse the needed funds allotted for the fight, to the right places and on the right medical weaponry to eradicate this disease! In order to fight it together, we need to exhibit a high level of accountability for all resources entrusted in our care!” Prof. Nelson stressed.

He then made several recommendations, which he said he was directing at President George Weah, his fellow compatriots, and friends and partners of Liberia.

 Prof. Nelson firstly recommended that the Weah-led government of Liberia invests more into the country’s health sector, according to him, so that Liberians across the length and breadth of the country may have access to quality and affordable health care delivery.

He said community-based healthcare training will be a significant contribution for the people of Liberia through health workers and professionals, stating that “Leading a healthy people is not only a feather in your cap, but will contribute to the benefit of all.”

While acknowledging and expressing appreciation for efforts currently being exerted by government to improve the country’s educational sector, Prof. Nelson said there is a dire need for increased budgetary support to the education sector including early childhood, primary, secondary, technical, vocational, and tertiary institutions across Liberia.

“Investment in education will enhance our fight against COVID-19 and contribute to the attainment of the goals and targets of the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, as well as those of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thus ensuring a prosperous nation,” he added.

He emphasized that special attention must also be given to “At risk Youths” widely referred to locally as Zoogoes for males, and Zoogees for females, indicating, “A government funded nationwide program should be formulated to transform these youths into valuable citizens and contributors to our society. They should be trained and subsequently organized into agricultural brigades and given the basic inputs and implements to competitively produce crops, vegetables, rice, meat, and fish, among others.”

Secondly, the Independence Day-2021 national orator, Prof. Nelson recommended that government prioritizes the empowerment of its citizens to grow what they eat and eat what they grow, stating, “We must prioritize agriculture, because it holds the greatest potential for alleviating poverty and inequality and ensuring food security and economic stability.”

“Our plead, therefore, is for the government to prioritize once again the counties of Bong, Lofa and Nimba as the nation’s food baskets, and invest heavily in this sector, which will result in the saving of millions of dollars being spent importing our staple food, rice, as we did in prewar Liberia. By doing this, we will improve food security, reduce food imports, increase exports, and hence spark an economic transformation that creates jobs and boosts the incomes of ordinary citizens,” he further stated.

Thirdly and finally, Prof. Nelson is recommending that that the Liberian government prioritizes investment in the full operationalization of the Liberia Research and Education Network (LRREN), indicating that “This is because science, technology, and innovation (STI) are key drivers of sustainable development.”

“The LRREN is a specialized Internet Service Provider (ISP) that interconnects research and educational institutions within Liberia with others across the globe,” Prof Nelson said, adding that LRREN is expected to connect to other regional and international Research and Educational Networks.

“It distinguishes itself by providing a very high-speed network both at the core and access levels with the possibility of offering dedicated channels at an affordable rate, for individual research projects for our students, faculties, and staff. When operationalized, this project will impact research institutions, educational institutions in addition to clinics and hospitals, said Prof. Nelson.

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