By Octavin Williams, Congress of African Journalists ( CAJ)
Hon. Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa, the deputy speaker of Liberia’s Parliament, is not just a politician in Liberia. He is a complete gentleman politician who knows the strapping of power and leadership engaging both to the benefit of his people. Koffa is a pride to not his constituency and family only. He is a pride of the whole country called Liberia. He is a responsive leader who is loved by people and earn respect for his efficacious legislative agenda beyond the border of his country. He has been instrumental in passing crucial gender-responsive bills, including the Domestic Violence Bill and the Female Genital Mutilation Bill which has earned him international commendations. JFK, a promising political leader in Liberian was born in then Sasstown Territory (now Grand Kru) County in 1963 into the union of Major Stephen Jaitoh and Margaret Mona Koffa. The son of a military officer, his family relocated to Monrovia, Liberia, in 1966, where he grew up and began his educational journey, Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) Magazine in Nigeria recently caught up with the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in Liberia and in exclusive interview he told us why he is supporting the reelection bid of Liberia’s President George Weah and also why he wants to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives in Liberia. Excerpts: Why do you, Mr. Deputy Speaker Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa Support President George Manneh Weah’s Re-election Bid?For me, I Deputy Speaker J. Fonati Koffa, feel and believe that President George Weah should be given a second six-year term due to his developmental works around the country, ranging from road constructions and pavements, and other infrastructure including housing units for grassroots citizens in the leeward counties, health facilities, free education at state university the University of Liberia the fishing industry by providing top-class nets and engines through donor supports, construction of market building for grassroots marketers, scholarships to train Liberian medical practitioners abroad, among many countless development initiatives. I say if President Weah is given a second term, he will take Liberia to another level never seen before in the history of the country.Why do your colleagues in House of Representatives refer to you as ‘A MAN With a Mission and, why should you be elected as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives in Liberia?As Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature, I Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa, is an eccentric political leader adept in the science and art of constituent representation. I am a lawyer and political leader, who short but impressive rise to prominence in Liberian politics shows a healthy understanding of politics and my ability to cut across political and ethnic divides to accomplish national goals and objectives. I have been instrumental in passing crucial gender-responsive bills, including the Domestic Violence Bill and the Female Genital Mutilation Bill. I was born in then Sasstown Territory (now Grand Kru) County in 1963 unto the union of Major Stephen Jaitoh and Margaret Mona Koffa. The son of a military officer, my family relocated to Monrovia in 1966, where I grew up and began my educational journey. I was recently lauded by the Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa, Madam Jaha Dukureh, over my efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia. She praised me for being a significant player in the Legislature for championing bills in the interest of women, including the bill to outlaw the practices of FGM. In her words she said, “we have seen this as an opportunity for us to interact with you, and we would like to say this as a fact that you are a champion in the fight against female genital mutilation in Liberia. Honorable, I must confess that your stance against FGM is realistic and honest, and since I have been here, I have not found someone who is so passionate and firm on this issue as you: your dedication, your commitment, your passion and your willingness to champion is excellent.” Who is Cllr. J Fonati Koffa The Lawyer? I am the founder and Managing Partner of the International Law Group (ILG), and I have been practicing law since 1997, both in Liberia and the United States of America. I was also admitted into the Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia with distinct honour as valedictorian of the graduating class.Tell us your political role:In 2016, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed me as Minister of State without Portfolio and Special Prosecutor of the Sable Mining Bribery scandal case. A few months later, I was appointed legal counsel to the President of Liberia. I later resigned in late July 2017 to participate in the Presidential and legislative elections as a candidate for the Representative seat in Grand Kru County District 2. On October 19, I was declared the winner of that electoral process, and in 2021, i was subsequently elected as Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature of the Republic of Liberia.Prior to becoming Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, what was your other leadership roles in the House?I was appointed Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the 54th National Legislature. I was a member of the Committee on Elections and Inauguration and the Committee on Human & Civil Rights. I am the current acting Chairperson of the Grand Kru Legislative Caucus at the 54th National Legislature and the Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature of the Republic of Liberia. Why do your fellow colleagues and Liberians in general refer to you as the lawmakers’ lawmaker?I am bearing a title as the second in command, Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature, and also the direct representative of the people of Grand Kru County’s district number 2. My official office is seen as dozens of people in need of financial assistance visit to express their gratitude to me for my many supports to the sojourn of most needy individuals who have queued at the office for my generosity at all time. Many of the beneficiaries have poured endless praises on me and call me a man of good heart for my financial support and generosity to them and their children’s education. According to dozens of Liberians including my kinsmen, youths and women groups, it is revealed that as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, I have always been in the frontline supporting the wellbeing of my people, at some instant, my support to the interest of the people is always borderless, meaning my kindness has no border. Some individuals who usually speak about me are most times over excited for the level of help been provided to them for their education, and medical needs, noting that I will forever be remembered in their lives for what I have done to improve their livelihood and their respective families. Performing my obligatory duties at the House of Representatives, I have also been there to solve the people’s problem at the level as a direct representative of the people. One of such is the passage and amendment of the Third Amendment to the ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) noting that it will be ratified by the Legislature, describing the company as a major investor and stakeholder that has done more positive things in Liberia. “Remember this…it’s a ‘catch twenty-two’ ArcelorMittal is a major investor in the country…a major stakeholder. If I were to rate them between the good and bad, they have done more positive things than negative.” I made this known last year in an exclusive interview in Monrovia, I said it would be prudent had the Executive, during the negotiation process focused on a performance audit of the AML’s current MDA, to ascertain the company’s level of compliance, amidst claims and counter claims by its stakeholders. What the House was looking for was the Executive to do a little more of accountability, giving the noise surrounding what Mittal has done or not done. When you give us that report, then, we will be able to put ourselves in a better position to explain to our citizens the process of the ratification and our mindset in ratification. I recognise ArcelorMittal Liberia’s contributions as a major investor and stakeholder to Liberia, and that the company has done better for the country.We have learned that your job is without border in Liberia. What drives you on in that direction?My services to the people of Liberia are not static, but rather spread out to all the sectors of the Liberian society. For instant, my helping hands during 2022 in review was extended to the people of Margibi County, particularly to a local church, ‘Harvest Wonderland’ Church where I graciously donated a 2.74 lot of parcels of land. According to information closed to the Church, prior to the purchase of the land, the Harvest Wonderland Church had been squatting on a private land with owner of the land had threatened to evict them from their current squatting spot. This situation drew my attention and I surprised them with the donation of the land for the construction of their Church. I believe that when you give freely, you will receive freely, and also, I found out that when you give, you get blessed, and there is no secret about it. A group of university students under the banner Conscious Students of Grand Kru County honoured me in recognition of my numerous development initiatives since I became Representative of the county’s second electoral district. On the international level, I also called for the expansion of Liberia’s position in the international maritime industry, which will allow the country to regain its place as the number one registry in the world. Speaking at the Posidonia 2022, the world’s largest international shipping exhibition that took place in Athens, Greece, I said although the sector has contributed to the Liberian economy over the years, it still has great potential to do more. As Deputy Speaker, I headed the Liberian delegation, and while the country remains the fastest growing registry in the world and the best in terms of service, it still needs to work harder in order to win back its rightful stature amongst the comity of maritime nations. With over 5000 ships flying its flag grossing 200 million tons, Liberia is the second largest registry in the world but rated as best in terms of service. We gathered that hundreds of Liberians hail you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your human development initiatives. What motivates you to focus on human development initiatives?Some time ago, I arrived in Lofa County in Northwest Liberia, specifically in Sarkonedu, Quardu-Gboni District as a direct representative of the Liberian leader, President George Weah and me along with my wife and entourage were given colorful and tremendous welcome by people of Lofa. Citizens from all over converged to receive their visitors joyously as we arrived in the county to on behalf of the President Weah donate an amount of L$3m towards the speedy completion of the Sarkonedu High School in Sarkonedu Quardu-Gboni, Lofa County. During the presentation of the amount, I emphasised that President Weah’s administration is passionate about education and believes that, for Liberia to continue on a trajectory of sustainable growth and development, it is imperative that Liberia develops the minds of the youths irrespective of their locations.Your kinsmen in your county of origin, that is Grand Kru have come to laud you for your academic scholarships that you have given to their children. How important it is for them?Financial aid or scholarships are important for our people who cannot afford. It can be recalled a cross-section of citizens from Grand Kru County, especially District No. 2 in an interview with journalists praised me as a man without borders. A prominent youth Darius Doe stated that the young people of Grand Kru County, including youths of district number 2, will remain grateful to me, for accelerating education in the county with the provision of much-needed scholarships. He mentioned my unwavering support to the Ahteenah Development Corporation scholarship program since 2005. The scholarship supported by me has brought financial relief to hundreds of parents and lasting benefit to hundreds of school-going kids across District number 2, in Grand Kru County. Within the last five years, I have constructed six modern Elementary & Junior High Schools, including the Changbetti School, in Bolloh, the Taybue, and Wropluken Schools, in Buah, and George P. Worjloh School, in Sasstown, Grand Kru County. Other schools constructed include the Kayken Big Flineken Schools, in Barclayville City Kplio. I continue to contribute immensely to the renovation of other Schools within District 2, Grand Kru County, with the provision of US$50,000 to the Barclayville Central High School, 200 bags of Cement to George Toe Washington School, 200 bags of cement to Barforwin Public School in Bolloh, 50 bags of Cement to Jarkakpo Public School, and 50 bags of cement to Kaykpo Public School, of Bolloh respectively. Additionally, I provided 100 bags of cement to Dioh Public School in Jolh, 4 bundles of zinc, and 50 bags of cement to A. A Huff Jr. High School and 60 bags of cement to also Wutuken Public School and 50 bags of cement Public School Joploken all of Kplio. Another donation and support provided is the provision of 15 bundles of Zinc to Putu Town (Civilized Village) School, and 30 bags of Cement to Niplakpo Public School. I am also continuing my support to hundreds of youths at various Universities through the Jonathan Fonati Koffa Financial Aid Program. Over the years, the Jonathan Fonati Koffa (JFK) Financial Aid Program at various Universities across Liberia has produced several Graduates, most of whom are enterprising Grand Kru youths with high national leadership potential. The Jonathan Fonati Koffa, Financial Aid program is currently addressing the financial needs of Grand Kru County youths at Tubman University, where sixty students are currently enrolled. At the United Methodist University, the Jonathan Fonati Koffa financial Aid is supporting thirty-five students, while the Program continued to support at African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) at least twenty students. For the African Methodist Episcopal Zion University, (AMEZU), the Jonathan Fonati Koffa Financial Aid program has fifteen (15) students, including ten (10) students at the Stella Marries Polytechnic. The Jonathan Fonati Koffa Financial Aid program has extended to the Smart Institute and other smaller community colleges, with at least twenty other students. At the Graduate School level, the Jonathan Fonati Koffa, Financial Aid program is supporting ten graduate students at the Cuttington University and the University of Liberia. Most recently, citizens of Grand Kru County, District 2 praised me for what they say are my strides to have completed up to ninety-five percent (95%) of all projects earmarked during my campaign in 2017. I am the incumbent Representative of electoral District number 2 in Grand Kru County and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) of the Republic of Liberia. I was elected on the ticket of then and still opposition Liberty Party in 2017 and took office in 2018 after defeating then-Representative Numene Bartekwa. I still enjoy the confidence of my people as scores of citizens from Buah and Forpoh statutory districts support my reelection bid. I feel extremely good that my financial aids and academic scholarships are impacting lives of my people.In July this year you were selected to speak at the 8th Edition of the Africa Summit in London, the United Kingdom to provide perspectives on critical global and continental issues and as well proffer meaningful solutions to address pressing problems on the continent. What can you tell CAJ about the Summit?The Africa Summit 2023, took place in London, United Kingdom on Tuesday, July 11, and was organised by the African Leadership Magazine (ALM). The summit featured a series of conversations on the future of African trade, as well as showcase Africa’s business and investment opportunities to the rest of the world. It brought together policymakers, private sector leaders, civil society leaders, leaders and all stakeholders in Europe, the US, and Africa to discuss issues that would prepare the private sector leaders for a more integrated and competitive African trade environment. As an international lawyer (Counselor) with over 24 years of experience I spoke on the future of African trade, as well as showcase Africa’s business and investment opportunities, under the theme: “New Opportunities for African Investments, partnerships, and opportunities. ALM sees the summit expedient as the wave of rivalries and strategic shifts between major economies and their allies have become intense, and as such, Africa now has a better opportunity to rack up more beneficial diplomatic and economic cooperation and partnerships. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the power struggle between the US, Europe, China and Russia particularly and increasingly, and at intensifying pace, involves the expansion of influence in economic and diplomatic ties with Africa. Experts and pundits have therefore opined that a realignment of Africa’s trade and investment partnership strategies is necessary to raise the geostrategic profile of the continent to advance the region’s broad-based economic interest, globally. As one of the most outstanding events for the African Diaspora, the summit brought together over 700 policymakers, private sector leaders, civil society leaders, and all stakeholders in Europe, the US, and Africa and discussed issues that would prepare the private sector leaders for a more integrated and competitive African trade environment. ALM uses the summit to leverage unique access to some of the world’s most influential leaders, policymakers and entrepreneurs uniting those global forces to harness their collective knowledge to address current critical issues by finding innovative solutions. Other global leaders who also graced the event as speakers were Baroness Sandy Verma, Member of the UK House of Lords; Lord Dolar Popat, member UK House of Lords; Hon. Johnny Ohisa Damian, Governor, Bank of South Sudan and Mrs. Josielle Rafidy, CEO, Economic Development Board of Madagascar. Others were Prof. Muhammed Bello Abubakar, Managing Director/CEO, Galaxy Backbone Limited, Nigeria; Dr. Renganaden Padayachy, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Mauritius and H.E. Rindra Hasimbelo, Rabarinirinarison, Minister for Economy & Finance, Madagascar. I told world leaders that if the share values of new opportunities for African investment, partnership and collaboration should be sustained between the United Kingdom-Africa trade relations, there is a need for the fullest recognition in the battle for the hearts and minds of Africa. I stated that the prevailing governing model in Africa made out of western democracy, has now been accepted by millions across the African Continent that government is ‘for, by and of the people. I stressed that Elections is Africa’s new norm where many young and innovative African leaders have gone beyond the old era of politicking and are now calling for reduced terms and term limits as led by presidents George Weah of Liberia and Macky Sall of Senegal. Even more so, the normalisation of women in politics was championed by Liberia’s election of the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa and a female vice president today. Liberia joined Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa in championing the cause of women in politics both in the executive and legislative branches. Totalitarianism is gradually being erased from the African psyche of governance and rightly so. We have seen what totalitarianism does, where one man can just wake up in the morning and decides he must take over a whole country and subjugate a whole people without a democratic exercise to validate his whims and caprices. The people of Ukraine are the latest victims of this much discredited governance system. On the significance of continued trade between the United Kingdom and Africa, I noted that given the improvement in the democratic credentials of many African countries, especially Liberia, it is now time for the UK to intensify trade relations with Africa. Now is the time to embrace trade not aid so that we can be true partners and an African market of 1.2 billion people will become a bastion of sophisticated consumers and not just victims of a world order which is in the ash heap of history, subjects of a guilt-ridden world who prefers to render pity and charity as a means of assuaging guilt that holds no one accountable and yet leaves no one better off. We must begin anew. I must admit simply embracing democracy is not enough. Africa must recognize its full potential and go back to the future, the days when Kwame Nkrumah, and Sekou Touré, and William Tubman, and Jomo Kenyatta preached Pan Africanism. There must be a new Pan African movement for economic growth. A dear friend of mine wrote a book subtitled ‘Rich land; poor country’ which can easily describe most African countries today, from Democratic Republic of Congo with its trillion-dollar mineral reserves to Equatorial Guinea and the Federal Republic of Nigeria with billions of dollars of oil deposits. This new Pan Africanism must vigorously implement the concept of open borders and free movement of African states. The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, has successfully implemented this concept and is seeing significant benefits of trade between and among people of different nations. The African Union must move fast to implement the open borders and free movement policies so that increased trade and access to each other markets can be seamlessly accomplished. I quickly stressed the difficult challenge of a single currency to facilitate trade in the new Africa-London trade relations. I cautioned the heaviest consequences of doing business on a continent of complicities in currencies, especially the lack of value for most of those currencies. The next challenged but more difficult one is the adoption of a single currency. It is counterproductive to do business in a continent of at least 40 different currencies in which many of those currencies have no value and the rest are artificially pegged. A single currency will make trade easier and our nations stronger in the global economy. If the African economy is strong, the incentive to engage in Africa will be compelling and make economic sense. Universal Policy and Natural Resources I further called for a ‘universal policy or protocol’ which prevents the transshipment of raw minerals from the shores of African, if African raw materials must attract value. If Africa minerals are valuable enough to be extracted, it must be valuable enough to be processed and exported as a finished product by carrying label ‘Made in Africa.’ It makes no sense to extract our raw materials to supply factories in China that sells finished goods to the west. Our economies will not grow, our working class will not increase, our middle class will not prosper as long as we are hewers of wood and drawers of water. We must demand value added manufacturing from the natural resources extracted from our lands. It does not make sense, for fishing trawlers to mine tuna a few miles off the shores of West Africa, take them to Spain for processing and packaging, then exporting them to Africa as finished consumables. Now to reflect on UK trade relations with Africa is to first recognize the historical relationship between Africa and the UK. At the height of the British Empire, the UK held more colonies than any other nation. More people in Africa speak English than any other foreign language. The UK was instrumental in building democracies in Africa. You cannot now cede the economic space to the Chinese. If you do that, the African basic mobility will be from a thatch hut to a zinc one; her social status will be diminished; and we will be nations of shiny things. For the Chinese approach to economic development in Africa is to give seemingly shiny objects in exchange for rapid depletion of our natural resources often with labor disputes. Just like the UK help us build our democracies so too must you help us build our economy by fostering policies and approaches that encourage free movement, open borders, single currency, and value-added manufacturing. You must help to make us equal in fact and not just in theory. This is the legacy of UK trade relations with Africa which we collectively endeavor to achieve. Both sides must be competitors. Let not one side continue to be the victim seeking charity and pity while sitting on their gold mines which fuel the world economy. Meanwhile, the highlights of the summit included Roundtable on African Leadership, Fireside chats with African CEOs, Private, Public Sector Leaders Roundtable, the 8th African Business Leadership Awards, 2023, African Good Governance Awards 2023, African Leadership Council (ALC) induction ceremony Invest in Africa Forum- Breakout Sessions. We leverage unique access to some of the world’s most influential leaders, policy-makers, and entrepreneurs, uniting these global forces to harness their collective knowledge, address today’s critical issues and discover innovative solutions. The history and growth and development of the African people cannot be divorced from your history of the advancement of society and humanity. Also, at the 8th ALM London- Africa summit in London held on July 11, 2023, I exponentiated the democratic credentials of President George Weah government in sustaining Liberia’s peace, especially upholding the tenants of democracy. Education Background I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, where I obtained a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree in Law. My educational pursuit took me to Raleigh, North Carolina State University, where I obtained a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Bachelor of Public Administration (Cum Laude) with a concentration in Urban Planning, from Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. I was awarded Best Oralist Moot Court, University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill, United Negro College Fund Meritorious Leadership Award, Shaw University Distinguished Leadership Award and the Valedictorian, Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia. Class of 2014.You were named 36th on 100 Most Reputable Africans List of Reputation Poll International What can you tell us about that?In January 3, 2023, I was named among the ‘100 Most Reputable Africans’ of 2023. A global reputation firm, Reputation Poll International (RPI), released the list which features individuals from diverse sectors, including Governance/Leadership, Entertainment, Human rights/Advocacy, Education, and Business. Reputation Poll is a research-based, global performance-management consulting company,” a statement on the firm’s website reads. “Reputation Poll set to become a Global Brand in reputation ratings focused on creating and executing credible opinions on personalities, organisations and brands across multiple industries. I became the 36th and one of three Liberians to be named including two Nobel Peace recipients; former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Activist Leymah Gbowee were recognised amongst others high profile African. According to the company, the selection criteria are integrity, visibility, and impact. The company added that the individuals recognised on Reputation Poll International are celebrated for their contributions to social impact and social entrepreneurship, helping to transform businesses in Africa and positively impacting lives without causing controversy.Finally, Sir, ahead of the October 10, 2023 presidential and legislative elections, your kinsmen in Grand Kru County, Liberians and your fellow colleagues in the House of Representatives in Liberia see you in their words as ‘A Man with a Mission’ because they believe you could become the next Speaker of your Country’s House of Representatives. Do you agree with your people assertion, Mr. Deputy Speaker?I have heard on many media platforms in Liberia that political pundits and commentators are of the view of that I. Deputy House Speaker, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa will most likely be elected the next Speaker of the House of Representatives after I shall have been re-elected by Grand Kru County District #2 citizens and residents. My enormous works and my desire to always achieve and make impact in whatever I have has engaged in throughout my professional life has been a driving force that political experts say will be key to my election as the next Speaker of the House of Representative after the October 2023 elections. I am seen among my peers as a lawmakers’ lawmaker, who is always there for each and every one of them when the need arises in a given situation. I, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, according to my supporters, kinsmen and fellow lawmakers as well as Liberians in general, I am a man of deeds who never stops at nothing until I get the job done. Liberians should not be surprised when I am overwhelmingly elected as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives of the would-be 55th Legislature after the October 2023 presidential and legislative elections are conducted and my people of Grand Kru County re-elect me as their representative for Electoral District #2 in the county. I have loved to serve the people of Grand Kru County, yea the Republic of Liberia. Working in government is a service to the people and we must always strive to our respective utmost best to deliver for the betterment of the people and the country. As conclude, I once again call on Liberians to reelect President George Weah for another six-year for his second term so that his administration will continue with the developmental initiatives it undertook and probably do more in the next term. May God bless our beloved country, the Republic of Liberia and save the State. Thank you.