Why Dillon, Nyonblee, Urey & Costa should Think Liberia, Love Liberia and Build Liberia?
Analysis By: Paul M. Kanneh
African leaders who controversially served often engage in deadly political maneuverings, especially when they realized that no matter the situation, the prevailing democratic political situation can no longer protect them from seeking another term of office. Those kinds of leaders become desperate for protection during or after their last term of office. In doing so, they leave no stone unturned and their political sword spares none, including those friends they once considered loyal lieutenants and institutions that made them. They also even disregard their legacies in the process by taking unpopular decisions that tend to limit the chances of their best friends, relatives and or would be successors who they believe pose serious threat to their post-presidential life”.
Ellen and Joe had worked together harmoniously until 2014, when her son, Robert Sirleaf came in the picture. In 2014, the public witnessed what many referred to as a dramatic political twist in which both Ellen and Joe as President and Vice President were seen supporting different candidates in the midterm senatorial election in Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
President Ellen Johnson did not hesitate to give all the supports her son Robert Sirleaf needed against the popular decision of Unity Party of which she served as Standard bearer. She also allegedly supported Dr. Foday Kromah against Unity Party’s candidate, Varney Sherman in Grand Cape Mount County, while Joe Boakia, her Vice President supported the then Chairman of the Unity party, Varney Sherman. The decision by the then two most senior UP officials to go separate ways in what observers still believe was a crucial election for the ruling party is still being described as the beginning of deadly politics between EJS and JNB.
Despite her political blessings, Dr. Kromah lost the election, and Joe Boakia’s preferred candidate, Varney Sherman won the midterm election in Cape Mount. It may interest you to know that one month to the 2014 midterm election; the ruling Unity Party senatorial aspirant of Montserrado County, Ali Sylla unilaterally withdrew his intention to contest citing poor health as main reason for his withdrawal. But in less than a week of his decision, Mr. Sylla travelled to the United States of America where he claimed he had gone for medical attention.
It is reported that Mr. Sylla’s withdrawal at the 11 hours against his party decision was influenced by Robert Sirleaf with the help of his mother, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Immediately following Sylla’s withdrawal, Unity Party issued a press statement terming him as an embarrassment to the ruling party. The UP, through its chairman, Wilmot Paye also declared Ellen’s darling son, Robert Sirleaf persona-non-grata.
Although it remained unclear who the UP supported in that election after the unprecedented withdrawal of its candidate, there are probabilities that several of the UP partisans voted George Weah of the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change instead of Ellen’s darling boy. In the end, President Sirleaf appointed Ali Sylla as Deputy Head of Mission to Qatar; an appointment many termed as a reward (political benefit) for Sylla for accepting to withdrawal from the special senatorial race in favor of Robert Sirleaf.
Though Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Cllr. Sherman and VP Boakai remained quiet on what the public termed as issues of disagreement, it seems the 2012 Independence Oration delivered by the ruling party Chairman, Varney Sherman did not go down well with Ellen. Chairman Sherman had delivered a scathing and damming oration in Bomi County on Liberia’s independent day, a speech opposition elements sufficiently exploited to their advantage against the Government of President Sirleaf.
Fast-forward to VP Boakai declaration of intent for the presidency
In Lofa, his native county in 2015, Joseph Nyumah Boakai accepted a petition to contest the 2017 presidency. The petition program was attended by several UP officials including VP Boakai strong man, Cllr. Sherman as well as prominent citizens from other parts of the country. Immediately following the petition ceremony, the media began soliciting Ellen’s view on the decision of her deputy to democratically replace her. But President Sirleaf, on many occasions, escaped the question from the media. It was not until the day she arrived in the country late 2015 from the United State of America and somewhere in Europe, that she publicly announced her support for Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai. “I support the Vice President. I believe in his ability to perform and will deliver on several of our incomplete projects”, Ellen was heard saying on radio.
But few weeks after declaring her support, a very strange thing happened. In studio with Torwon Sulunteh-Brown of UNMIL, Ellen said, “He (VP) will have to fight for it because I myself fought for it.” Journalist Sulunteh-Browne had asked the President if it would be politically prudent to allow her Vice President to complete her remaining term in office which could give him the political leverage ahead of 2017. The “fight for it too” statement raised serious debate in town with many terming the President’s statement as a slap in the face of the man she had early claimed to lend support to.
Attempt to unite Unity Party and Liberty Party.
Early 2016, rumors of President Sirleaf’s quest to have Charles Walker Brumskine go as Vice Standard bearer to Joe Boakia had over taken Monrovia with report of US$1 million reward if Cllr. Brumskine sees it fit to accept the deal. Prior to this day, Liberty Party had constantly come under the spotlight of being a regime collaborator principally by other opposition political parties. As the alleged negotiation continues, news hit town that the new Standard-bearer of UP Joseph Boakai, has vowed to find his own running mate. This was proving when he announced on ELBC that he is not in rush to find a running mate. “I am not in rush to find a running mate. I want a running mate that shares my vision and thoughts for the country”.
VP Boakai vowed to choose and work with a young running mate that has overtime demonstrated passion for Liberia and Liberians for the task at hand. Many Liberians have had their own interpretations of Ellen’s alleged struggles for a Boakai and Brumskine ticket. Some said it was intended to strangulate Boakai with the two (Boakai & Brumskine) being of different social orientations.
Ellen’s fear then
Many people had thought that some of the alliances formed by Joseph Boakai in 2017 posed serious threat to Ellen’s desire for a peaceful life after government. Individuals like Tiawon Gongloe, Samuel Kofi Woods, Alaric Tokpa, former TRC Executive Secretary Nathaniel Kwarbo, Ezekiel Pajibo, Jerome Verdier, etc, were some key civil society veterans and human right lawyers believed to be part of those alliances. Some of the names mentioned have been strong supporters for the establishment of a judicial system that will hold people accountable for corruption and the role they played during the Liberian conflict.
An unprecedented appointment and subsequent corruption scandal
President Sirleaf shockingly appointed Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa as Minister of State without Portfolio. Cllr. Koffa was a member of opposition Liberty Party of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine. The Liberty Chairman, Cllr. Koffa’s new portfolio gave him close proximity to the Presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party. Bringing opposition Liberty Party’s Chairman, Koffa closer to President Sirleaf was heavily questioned because Liberty Party remained was a strong contender in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections.
As politicians ponder over Koffa’s appointment, his first assignment was to investigate a corruption scandal involving former Unity Party Chairman, Varney Sherman now Senior Senator of Grand Cape Mount County. His appointment was predicated upon corruption report released by international watchdog, Global Witness. The report indicted several prominent Liberians for allegedly receiving bribe from a UK based Sable Mining Company to circumvent the Public Procurement and Concession Commission law in favor of the company.
Although a very serious allegation, politicians say allowing a member of an opposition political party to head a taskforce to investigate a senior partisan of a ruling party with vested interest in the Presidency, leaves one with no option but to conclude that the motive was sinister in the midst of multiple anti-graft agencies established by law. Being a seasoned lawyer, Cllr. Varney Sherman vowed not to give in to a group he referred to as illegal. One afternoon and to the surprise of everyone, a Writ of Arrest from the court was out for Cllr. Sherman and several others. The situation brought displeasure to many people including partisans of the Unity party who trooped in their numbers in solidarity at the premises of their former Chairman.
Some people condemned Ellen for the decision to allow an opposition figure to investigate the man who aided her in her reelection bid. Some said it was because Cllr. Sherman was a leading force behind Joseph Nyumah Boakai’s presidential ambition. The question in the minds of many was: Can a sitting president who is being seen as a strategic supporter of the man to succeed her take such decision in this type of politically fragile environment? What was the rationale of placing a key opposition member in such a strategic position with just 16 months left to election? Your guess is good as mine.
Fragmentation within the UP
The prolonged silence by Boakai in the midst of several controversial appointments and decisions on issues of national concern was enough to suggest that all was not well. As a matter of fact, the UP standard bearer (VP Boakai) remained inaudible for well over 11 years since they assumed national leadership amidst report of serious in-house political and administrative bickering. Such silence might have been due to the policy differences between Liberia’s two most senior public servants. The perpetual silence was described as unusual between individuals claiming to share similar vision and thoughts about how the country should be governed.
The division, if one may presume, became visible when Ellen and her associates or if you may like, kitchen cabinet decided to support Robert Sirleaf and Abel Massally at which time it is alleged, the President helped to influence the astonished withdrawal of Unity Party’s aspirant, Ali sylla from the senatorial race in order to increase the winning chances of her favorite son. The bad blood that spilt over from the 2012 Independent celebration in Bomi County-in which the then ruling party Chairman condemned their government of doing very little to fulfill promises made to the electorates, also served as one of the major causes for the fragmentation within the UP.
As a result, Unity Party was divided into two groups, a pro-Boakai group and a pro-Ellen group. Madina Wesseh, businessman Musa Bility, Amara Konneh, Dr. James Kollie, and former Secretary General Eugene Nagbe, among others officials were members of the Ellen faction. While Cllr. Varney Sherman and newly elected UP Chairman, Wilmot Paye and several others were equally aligned with Joe Boakai. Interestingly, and so true to the gossips, Musa Bility resigned from the UP and officially declared his membership for Liberty Party, proving assertions that he and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had previously endeavored for a political marriage with Liberty Party. Harrison Karnwea also resigned from UP followed by Security General and Information Minister Len Eugene Nagbe, who was paused to join the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).
Tuna Fish Wahala
The Tuna Fish had come as a donation from an International donor partner to be distributed by the office of the Vice President; Joseph Boakai across the country to Ebola affected persons. Credible insider sources told this writer that upon the arrival of the fish in Liberia, the Commissioner General of Liberia Revenue Authority, Madam Alfreda Tamba demanded that VP Boakai pays custom duties.
The demand for customs duties from the VP was part of a scheme to keep the consignment close to its expiration’s date before releasing it. The insiders maintained that the political calculations were that, the period between the release of the fish and the field preparation would coincide with its distribution at which time the tuna fish was expected to expire; thus further complicating matters for Unity Party Standard-bearer, Joe Boakai.
When the matter was reportedly brought to Ellen’s attention, she allegedly told her Vice President to deal with the Commissioner in resolving the matter. The negotiation, according to insiders delayed purposely to create embarrassment for the VP on grounds that he had brought in the tuna fish to promote his political interest.
Probing Vice President Boakai
In August 2014, word was out that Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai is wanted by police to answer to questions of an attempt to form an interim government in the face of a democratically elected government of which he is a part. Police Director, Chris Massaquoi denied that VP Boakai was under probe. The investigation, insiders said, was a scheme designed to make Joe Boakia unpopular in his bid to ascend to the nation’s highest seat. The investigation story caused the closure of a critical newspaper, National Chronicle. In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), Police Director Massaquoi denied that Vice President Joseph Boakai was under investigation.
Report of the formation of an interim leadership followed amidst VP Boaki visit to the United States where he met US President Barrack Obama at the white house. Immediately after the VP’s visit and his subsequent returned to Liberia, news from government circle about investigating him spread like wide fire. Independent sources confirmed that yes indeed; certain high ranking individuals within the security apparatus did contact vice President Boakia about his alleged involvement in the formation of an interim leadership and to give detailed information about his visit to the US Whitehouse.
Invitation of opposition to groundbreaking ceremony
On December 21, 2017, President Sirleaf invited opposition leader of the Coalition for Democratic Change, George M. Weah to the grace occasion of the groundbreaking ceremony of the Gbarnga to Mendikorma road. Mrs. Sirleaf’s decision to prefer opposition George Weah over her Vice President Boakai at a ground breaking program for a road project that her vice president (Boakia) labored to bring to fruition received public condemnations. In her response to allegation of betrayal, the former President shockingly informed the world that she did not see the program sheet that invited George Weah to the program.
Liberia’s popular FM radio, Spoon FM reported on May 7, 2023 that frantic efforts was being made by Ellen to convince Nyonblee to go as running mate to Alexander B. Cummings. Report of Ellen’s involvement into such negotiation came as a surprise to everyone because she had early informed the public that she would not be melding in the 2023 election. But it seems the former president is trying to take advantage of the broken pieces to continue her campaign against her former deputy for reason best known to her. Whatever the case maybe, the ordinary people are likely to be the victims of this political fight.