25 October 2017

Liberia: Where Goes Nimba's Political Kingpin?

Photo: The New Dawn
Senator Prince Johnson on the campaign trail (file photo).

The Nimba County factor has once again come to the fore in the 2017 runoff elections between the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of Ambassador George M. Weah and the Unity Party of Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, to the advantage of the kingpin of the CDC.

Widely dubbed political god-father and "the king-maker", Senator Prince Y. Johnson is on record that as he represents the vote-rich Nimba County with 279,572 registered voters, consummating to 13 percent of total registered voters across the country, according to the National Elections Commission's statistics, has reportedly taken a tough decision to transform the county political pedestal into votes for the opposition bloc.

Many political pundits in and outside of Liberia including his kinfolks are of the strongest belief that the bloc he supports in the runoff, that party automatically wins the November 7, 2017 runoff election because which every way he turns many of his kinfolks are destined followed.

It is often said that when Nimba County was threatened to be completely wiped out by Doe's army, the Senator battled with both rebel forces of Charles Taylor and the Armed Forces of Liberia.

The government of the People's Redemption Council regime commandeered by General Samuel K. Doe has promised to wipe out the county for harboring what he referred to at the time as dissidents.

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles G. Taylor launched an all-out civil war on December 24, 1989 in Butuo, the home district of Prince Y. Johnson.

Currently, there are reports that party executives and stalwarts of the two front-running political institutions have held talks with the Senator both on home soil and abroad to support them in the runoff.

If this true, this means either sides he intend to support in the runoff becomes the party to win the election, a decision which many people from the lower belt in Nimba County would highly appreciate.

Reports yet to be confirmed say weeks before the conduct of the runoff in November Senator Johnson and Senator Weah have visited a renowned religious leader in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a bid to foster a deal.

King-Maker Brief Profile

Prince Yormie Johnson (born 6 July 1952) is a Liberian politician and the current Senior Senator from Nimba County. A former rebel leader, Johnson played a prominent role in the First Liberian Civil War, in particular capturing, torturing, mutilating and executing President Samuel Doe, who had himself overthrown and murdered the previous president William R. Tolbert Jr.

Johnson, born in Tappita, Nimba County, in the east-central interior of the country, was brought up by an uncle in Monrovia. In 1971, while living in Monrovia, he joined the Liberian National Guard (LNG), which was transformed into the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in the aftermath of Samuel Doe's 1980 overthrow of President William R. Tolbert.

PYJ Rose To Prominence

Prince Yormie Johnson soon rose to the rank of Lieutenant, receiving military training in both Liberia and the United States, where he was instructed in military police duties in South Carolina. A stern, often draconian, disciplinarian, he served as aide-de-camp to General Thomas Quiwonkpa, the Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia, and forcefully accompanied him into exile in 1983, after Quiwonkpa was accused of plotting a coup against Doe.

Johnson later allied with Charles Taylor as part of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), serving as the NPFL's Chief Training Officer. Taylor's fighters crossed the border from Ivory Coast and began operations in Liberia on Christmas Eve, 1989.

An internal power struggle resulted in Johnson breaking off from the Taylor-led NPFL and forming the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). Despite intervention in the civil war by the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), INPFL forces captured most of Monrovia in the late summer of 1990.

Prince's War Years

During the civil war Johnson was notorious for killing anyone who opposed or criticized his actions. When Hare Krishna devotees, who were distributing food to starving people in Monrovia in the midst of the chaos of the civil war, sent him a letter begging him to stop killing people, he personally orchestrated the murder of Hladini devi dasi-born Linda Jury-and five of her students on the bank of the Saint Paul River on the night of Thursday, 13 September 1990.

In September 1990 Johnson's supporters abducted President Samuel Doe from ECOMOG headquarters in the Monrovia port district. Doe was tortured and executed in Johnson's custody on September 9, with the spectacle videotaped and broadcast around the world. The video showed Johnson sipping a Budweiser beer and being fanned by an assistant as his men cut off Doe's ear.

Johnson later denied killing Doe. Ahmadou Kourouma (who depicted Doe's assassination in his novel Allah Is Not Obliged) also accused Johnson of war crimes in the form of the abduction and torture of several Firestone executives.

After Doe's death Johnson briefly claimed the presidency of Liberia. Johnson's claim to power ended following the consolidation of rebel power under Charles Taylor. In an attempt by the weak national government to reconstruct Liberian politics, the INPFL was recognized at a conference held in Guinea, where Amos Sawyer was elected president.

Johnson was forced to flee to Nigeria to avoid capture by rebel forces supporting Taylor, and was not involved in the Second Liberian Civil War.

Reconciled With Doe Family

While in Nigeria Johnson became a Christian and reconciled with the Doe family through the intervention of Nigerian T. B. Joshua. Johnson returned to Liberia in March 2004, following the resignation of Taylor as president and the installation of a transitional government.

He stated his intention to return to politics, though he briefly left Liberia again on 7 April due to death threats he had received from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group.

Political Life

In the 2005 general elections, Johnson contested and won a Senate seat representing Nimba County. For a period he served as the chair of the Senate's defense committee.

In the June 2009 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established as part of the 2003 peace deal, the TRC recommended Johnson's inclusion on a list of 50 people who should be "specifically barred from holding public offices; elected or appointed for a period of thirty (30) years" for "being associated with former warring factions." Johnson labelled the recommendation a "joke," noting the absence of several other combatants from the list, and vowed to resist any charges brought as a result of the report.

In January 2011 the Supreme Court ruled in Williams V. Tah, a case brought by another person recommended for disqualification in the TRC report, that the TRC's recommendation was an unconstitutional violation of the listed individuals' right to procedural due process, and that it would be unconstitutional for the government to implement the proposed bans.

Johnson ran in Liberia's 2011 presidential election as the candidate of the newly formed National Union for Democratic Progress party. He placed third, with 11.6% of the vote; the election was won by the incumbent, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Of late, the Nimba County lynchpin is on record for making strong statements against the two political establishments that today he is at the verge to support in the runoff.

Statement Against UP Boakai

Once again Senator Prince Y. Johnson has shown the character he is known to be, turning the sword against Vice President Joseph Boakai few weeks after glorifying him as the best man to lead the country and as someone he sees as his kind among all the candidates.

The action of PJY, political pundits suggest, is seen as stab in the back of the VP who was endorsed by the county weeks before the conduct of the October 10, 2017 general and presidential elections.

He had further cautioned Nimbians not to waste their votes on Ambassador Boakai, on grounds that he is too old to be president, a tacit admiration of claims held by other political leaders who think the UP strongman is not what Liberia needs now.

Statement Against CDC George Weah

Weeks before the October 10 polls, Johnson described Senator George Weah 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.

"I am appealing to Ambassador George Weah because you have not become President yet, but you turned loose your men on people to stab them. When you become President, this country will go back to war," he warned.

Commenting on the recent fracas in Sanniquellie, Nimba County between members of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Liberty Party (LP), said it was unacceptable for anyone to go to his county to shed blood.

The standard bearer of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction, said based on communications he received from the National Elections Commission (NEC) and its magistrate in Nimba, Liberty Party was granted permission to have a rally in that area.

"I cancelled my scheduled September 20 trip and rescheduled it for the 29th because as one seeking leadership you should exercise all restraint by making sure that our elections are violence free. It is not anyone's birthright to be President; therefore, Senator Weah should not impose his will. I think the CDCians headed by their leader George Weah were in the wrong."

11 Days To Elections, PYJ Accuses President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Though he earlier in 2011 drew support for President Ellen Johnson sirleaf win over the congress for democratic Change, Senator Johnson, with just 11 days to the representative and presidential elections, accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of playing sinister games with the elections.

Sen. Johnson's accusation was made during a press conference following President Sirleaf's scheduled meeting with the chairman, 19 magistrates and some other officials of the of the National Elections Commission at her private residence before her trip to New York to give her final address to the United Nations General Assembly as Liberia's head of state.

He said "under no condition President Sirleaf's meeting with the NEC officials could be void of selfish and devilish plans." "An intelligence from within has informed me that President Sirleaf has recommended a list of 5,000 new names to the NEC so they can be recruited to be in charge of the counting of ballot papers right after the elections," he claimed.

Although Johnson did not state the name of the source of his information, he alleged that credible information he has received says that the magistrates received parcels and huge sums of money to work at the will and pleasure of President Sirleaf.

"We are all aware that some time back we, leaders of political parties, went to the Farmington River Hotel and signed a peace accord known as the Farmington River Declaration and accepted to also respect the Ganta Declaration, an agreement which is also in line with the Farmington Declaration. The Farmington Declaration was signed by all political leaders and approved by President Sirleaf to ensure a peaceful democratic transition of power, a transition which no one will manipulate," he said.

"The intent of Madam Sirleaf's meeting with those guys is unknown but it is not to be taken lightly. She has openly announced the name of Vice President Boakai as the candidate she supports in these elections. Therefore, she is no longer neutral. Having announced her choice, I think there was no need to invite Korkoya and others to her private residence for a secret meeting," he said.

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