The sudden death of Magistrate Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa has left an irreplaceable gap in furtherance of the struggle for justice and equity for all Liberians and even foreigners residing in the territorial boundaries of the country. It has left behind an indelible mark in the political, economic, social and religious landscape of this glorious land of liberty. It has left a very big shoe to fill in the family. And, it has even weakened the quest to ensure access to justice for all.
However, death is a respecter of no one person, gender or social status. Whether or not if one is rich or poor, powerful or powerless, big or small, woman or man, literate or illiterate, death chooses to reach out to everyone and at any time. So, this painful, regretful, and unwelcomed stranger brings profound sadness and deep sorrow with its unannounced visit without any prior notice of the condition and time and place. Though death is an integral part of life, but it still remains a mystery, because no one knows when it will come.
In Matthew Henry’s concise commentary on the Holy Bible in accordance with Ecclesiastes 8:1-5, “God has, in wisdom, kept away from us the knowledge of future events, that we may be always ready for changes. We must all die, no flight or hiding-place can save us, nor are there any weapons of effectual resistance...The believer alone is prepared to meet the solemn summons.”
Many fall prey every single day to the harsh reality of death with memorable impact, irreplaceable feeling, and unforgettable imagination. From time immemorial and up till now, people continue to do everything humanly possible to prevent death, yet it seems unstoppable, and it has become the only necessary end for every living creature since the emergence of the universe.
Mindful about the uncertainty of life, careful to live an exemplary life with a burning desire to blindly dispense justice and hopeful for a prosperous future where the rule of law is respected, Magistrate Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa fostered a career path for the service to humanity in the legal profession.
Magistrate Forkpa was a leader willing to serve, a character to emulate, a beacon of hope, a compassionate advisor and a devoted servant of God. He mentioned the phrase “God’s willing” in every promise or plan he made. Besides, he was an unrelenting voice for the voiceless, a courageous civil rights advocate and a gallant campaigner of social justice, who was always willing to safeguard the dignity of every man, woman and child to achieve their full potential and measure of happiness irrespective of religion confessed, dialect spoken, county of origin, place of birth or family name. He saw Liberia greater than the sum of his individual ambition and bigger than his greed for power or wealth or worldly possession.
His Honor Magistrate Forkpa was a great mentor, a father, a people-centered personality, a dynamic visionary, a disciplinarian, and a wise magistrate. For me, he was my only maternal uncle. He overcame the exceptional odds of hardship, human suffering, and poverty, but refused to give up in the midst of challenges. He bridged the storm and endeavored to acquire quality education leaving no room for excuses. From being a newspaper vendor to a farmer to a lawyer to a magistrate and a passionate family person, Uncle Forkpa encompassed life with creativity, integrity, and curiosity. Through the depths of conflict in Liberia, Uncle Forkpa built his character and embraced a life of service to others.
He voluntarily taught many secondary schools while in undergraduate school at the University of Liberia. He later lectured as a Teacher Assistant and also utilized his out-of-school hours to provide free tutorial for his peers. Uncle Forkpa always found time out of his very busy schedule to inform, inspire and involve young people as well as people of all ages and gender about the importance of upholding the rule of law, building trust in the justice system, and respecting constituted authority.
As a father, he was very loving, caring and sharing to his five (5) children and ten (10) grandchildren and most importantly a straightforward disciplinarian capable of handling any hardheaded child. He encouraged his children including others underprivileged children to prioritize education and never got tired of providing for the economic and social wellbeing of his children, family, and many other people. He always kept his words as his bound and under no circumstances deviated from his obligation regardless of the situation. He spoke truth to his children and everyone who came across him in very clear and distinct tone. He was never afraid to be truthful, so he was every so often called upon to settle family dispute.
In addition, my uncle was an innovative and brilliant leader. Under his dynamic and impressive guardianship, our family grew closer and stronger together. Uncle Forkpa assiduously worked to enhance the friendship, brotherhood, and sisterhood among the family often conflicted by deep division. His mediation and arbitration skills provided a unique opportunity for me to acquire more knowledge about resolving family dispute in an amicable manner.
Likewise, he was the voice for his sisters, nieces, nephews, and children. In as much as Uncle Forkpa was involved in the family dispute and legal guardian; he could in no way favor any family members over other people when it came to administering his magisterial office. As a result, he became very instrumental in broadening, enlightening and unshackling the minds of family members to know that justice favors no one. Due to his passion for education and quality healthcare, Uncle Forkpa provided school and medical fees to any members of the family who was in need.
Magistrate Forkpa did everything possible to administer justice in a tireless, fearless and selfless manner and form in spite of the hurdles designed by well-connected individuals and institutions. Due to his consistent and persistent quest in ensuring that justice is done to all, he created many friends and foes. Take for instance, a very powerful City Mayor of Careysburg prevented him from getting a magisterial job at the Careyburg Magistrate Court, citing that “a Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa cannot be a magistrate in Careysburg.”
As a Magistrate in Booniwein, Magistrate Forkpa put aside his gratuity emanating from the largest rubber company in Liberia to blindly dispense justice despite repeated threats and intimidation that even caused his reassignment. He refused to let justice lend on the side of the powerful and wealthy, but instead fought to administer justice for everyone.
With a great deal of competence and qualification and patriotic spirit, Magistrate Forkpa advanced reasonable and durable recommendations that could curb challenges in the Magisterial Court. The passionate magistrate utilized his interpersonal relationship and lobbying skill to reform his assigned Magisterial Court. He cautioned people to make use of the law and avoid mob violence.
The outstanding Magistrate encouraged young people to test the legal system. He also bolstered Liberian youth to wake up, shake up and stand up for their inalienable and fundamental rights no matter the circumstances and prevailing situations. In the words of Magistrate Forkpa: “Justice is on the side of everyone and it is left with everybody to enter the court and try it”. Up till today’s date, this statement still rings a bell in my ears and I have become so much more inspired to join the lifelong journey of a fearless, relentless and selfless legal practitioner like my uncle Magistrate Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa. To this end, I have grown up with an abiding affection to advocate for freedom, justice, and equality and as well make people become problem solvers.
The name Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa might sound funny and perhaps unpleasant and possibly nowhere to be found in any archive or museum or pages of any history book or crafted on any stone; however, my uncle was indeed a great magistrate. He had a special affection for his country, a sense of statesmanship, and a spirit of willingness to sacrifice for the common good of the country.
Magistrate Forkpa walked the talk and was a man of his word. He used truth-telling comportment no matter the circumstances without fear or favor. In family and legal disputes, Uncle Forkpa articulated his candid opinion on issues with vigor and boldness. He refused to succumb to authoritarian individuals or institutions. On countless occasions, one of Liberia’s erudite Magistrates was intimidated by cronies and surrogates of the ruling establishment. In the midst of continuous difficulties, Magistrate Forkpa remained resilient, steadfast and determined to stand on the side of justice for everyone.
Though, my loving, caring and sharing uncle is dead and gone, but his memories must forever remain. In so doing, young Liberians and older folks should emulate the exemplary role of the Magistrate Forkpa in putting Liberia first above personal greed. In the midst of extreme hardship, appalling education system, dreadful healthcare, high unemployment, unacceptable inequality and unbearable cost of living; our family will rise up to the legacy of Magistrate Forkpa and take the quest to dispense justice for everyone, speak for the voiceless, empower the less fortunate, foster peace and tranquility in Liberia for the common good of all.
With deep sorrow and humble acceptance of God’s will interceding for us through His son Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I am convinced that the soul of Magistrate Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa is being rocked in the bosom of Abraham. Good bye for now and may light perpetual shine upon you and all faithful departed. Till we meet again to sing your favorite traditional Lorma songs. Go and take your rest.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is a nephew of the late Magistrate Zaizay Korwolor Forkpa. He is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org.