A source close to Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson (PYJ), standard bearer of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), has now confirmed that the controversial senator will not abandon the Ganta Declaration, whose intent is to support a united opposition bid to unseat the ruling Unity Party (UP).
In September 2016, about 20 opposition political parties signed a communiqué called the "Ganta Declaration," forming a common political collaborative front against the ruling UP ahead of the October 10 elections.
Although there was nothing in the Declaration that withheld parties which signed the document from seeking the presidency in their own right, they all, however, agreed to collaborate to defeat the UP candidate.
Moses Ziah, chairman of Sen. Johnson's MDR, could neither confirm nor deny his standard bearer's decision to pledge support to the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), but told a local radio station manager in Nimba County that: "Sen. Johnson, as a peaceful political leader, often sticks to his word, which would include the Ganta Declaration."
News of Johnson's cross-over came to public light yesterday just after the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the final results of the October 10 presidential and legislative elections, confirming a runoff between the two finalists, the CDC of Mr. Weah and the UP of Mr. Boakai.
In a recent interview on the fracas in Sanniquellie, Nimba County between supporters of the CDC and Liberty Party (LP), Sen. Johnson said it was unacceptable for anyone to go to his county to shed blood. Based on communications he received from the NEC and its magistrate in Nimba, the LP - not the CDC, was granted permission to have a rally in that area, he added.
PYJ described George Weah, standard bearer of the leading opposition party, CDC, as someone who is unable to control his followers, and as such, any decision to elect him as President of Liberia will send the country back to war.
"It is not anyone's birthright to be president therefore, Sen. Weah should not impose his will. I think the CDCians headed by their leader were in the wrong," Sen. Johnson said.
"Mr. Weah wants votes that include also Nimba, if they love him. He has gone to my county to shed my people's blood and this is unacceptable and the people of Nimba and everyone will be informed not to ever vote for him. Our people are mad and very angry and until an apology is extended to us, Nimbaians (1.2 million) will not vote for him," Johnson promised.
The controversial Nimba strongman emphasized that Sen. Weah has no control over his men, "just as Charles Taylor had no control. I had control over my men in combat."
With the runoff scheduled for November 7, it is being circulated in recent weeks that Sen. Johnson has held a series of meetings with "financiers and political heavy weights" of the CDC, who reportedly promised not to turn him over to the war crimes court should he cross over to them. Sen. Johnson has reportedly told his supporters not to "betray the struggle" but rather to go by the Ganta Declaration. One account said he has traveled to Ghana with Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to seal the deal of his "cross-over to the CDC."
Up to press time last night, Johnson was yet to respond to numerous phone calls the Daily Observer made to him to clear the air.
Sen. Johnson has worn many notable hats in the social and political times of Liberia. He was once a rebel leader, now a politician, a clergyman and an overall eccentric disciplinarian, whose statements at tend to be curiously ambiguous.
He at one point made an open declaration of support for Boakai, but later said his statement was a "declaration of intent," and not necessarily in support of the V.P.
"Johnson has always supported the idea of an indigenous president, because he is the liberator whose is still savoring his heroic role as seen in the eyes of his kinsmen," MDR secretary general Wilfred Bangura told reporters.
The people of Nimba County assume they owe him a debt of gratitude and are willing to walk down the political isle with him, evidenced by his repeat successes in the senatorial elections as well as his surprising performances in the 2011 and 2017 presidential elections. This is why he is referred to as the "political godfather of the county."
Historically, Nimba County has never voted massively for CDC. In 2011, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf went there to campaign for re-election on the Unity Party (UP) ticket, the elders of the county told her that they had already pledged their support to their "son", the senator, who was also running for president. However, they promised her that if PYJ did not reach the run-off, then she would have their vote. The people kept their word.
In spite of their promise to the President, PYJ posited himself as a "king-maker" following the first round, the assumption being that he had the power to sway the county vote either in favor of UP or CDC, in the run-off. In the end, Nimba voted overwhelmingly in favor of the UP candidate, Sirleaf.
If the 2011 instance is anything to go by, then it remains to be seen whether the people of Nimba will follow their "godfather" to fulfill his Ganta Declaration or whether he will venture into CDC alone.