It was September 9, 1990, and about two o’clock in the afternoon. Emeka and a few other ECOMOG soldiers were on guard when suddenly they saw a procession of cars from the Vai Town area approaching towards the entrance to the Freeport of Monrovia. There were a number of assorted cars in the fleet, among them a few military jeeps. Ahead of the convoy came a black, distinguished-looking limousine that shimmered in the afternoon sun, and at the edges of the hood were the Liberian national flag and another one bearing the symbols of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Crammed in each of the military jeeps were as many as nine heavily-armed soldiers.
Traversing the potholes and bomb craters along the tarmac road, the cars approached slowly and came to a stop in front of the Freeport of Monrovia. Several soldiers immediately dismounted.
Emeka and the ECOMOG soldiers with him watched with a feeling of anxiety as the soldiers approached, conversing in Liberian English, or Pidgin. They were dressed in olive green military uniforms and camouflage fatigues, and a number of them wore red berets. They looked neither INPFL nor NPFL but a well-trained and capable force. From the way in which they held their automatic rifles you could tell they were ready for action.
One of the soldiers, a dark, slim young man, approached the Nigerian Deputy Chief of Staff, who himself was one of the ECOMOG soldiers gathered in front of the Freeport of Monrovia. The Deputy Chief of Staff and the soldier spoke for a few moments. The Nigerian gave the young man to understand that the convoy could enter the port but that no arms were allowed. The young man shook his head disapprovingly. The others with him then got into a brief but heated exchange with the ECOMOG soldiers but failed to dissuade them.
A few of the soldiers returned to the convoy and spoke with their military officers. Even one of the windows to the limousine was rolled down and whoever was within, evidently an august guest could be heard whispering. A few moments later, the soldiers that came with the convoy were disarmed, leaving their weapons with the ECOMOG soldiers on guard at the entrance to the Freeport of Monrovia. And so did all the security operatives that came along with President Samuel K. Doe resign themselves to the dismal fate that lay in store for them. In a large bus at the back of the presidential convoy were dozens of the president’s ministers, relations and cabinet officials, all of them come on this journey from which perhaps they would never returned.
No sooner had the president’s fleet entered the ECOMOG headquarters than in the direction towards Bushrod Island another convoy, crammed with INPFL fighters, began to approach the Freeport of Monrovia. What is the meaning of this coincidence? The Nigerian Deputy Chief of Staff thought to himself.
Could it be that the rebels had received a tip-off? Sensing trouble, a murmur arose among the ECOMOG soldiers. Everybody stirred into action.
The rebel convoy pulled up by the roadside and the fighters spilled out of their cars. They were a group of about two hundred heavily armed men and women, their eyes aflame as though they had come from smoking marijuana. Of course, there was a faint smell of opium in the air, as of smoke long after the fire has been put out. Ahead of them came Prince Johnson, holding in one hand his iconic AK-47 rifle and in the other the talisman in the form of a cow-tail and a few cowrie shells round the knob. He approached the Nigerian Deputy Chief of Staff and said, his voice trembling with suppressed anger:
“Look. I know that President Samuel K. Doe has just entered the Freeport. Now I want you to go and tell him to leave the country immediately.”
In a flash, the Nigerian Deputy Commander understood the reason for Johnson’s frequent visits at the ECOMOG headquarters. The rebel leader had been shadowing the ECOMOG force, if in case it had tried to smuggle Samuel K. Doe out of the country.
“It’s not for you to order anybody to do anything,” said the Nigerian. “Of course, who told you the president is in our headquarters?”
“Don’t f**k with me,” said Prince Johnson.
“All right, if you think we’re hosting the president,” said the Nigerian Deputy chief of Staff, “you and your men can wait here until he comes out of the headquarters.”
“No, no, no! Don’t do this to me,” Prince Johnson shouted, cutting the air with the edge of his hand. “I just spoke with the American ambassador and am here to make a decision now.”
With that, he walked past the Nigerian Deputy Chief of Staff and into the Freeport of Monrovia. His men followed suit, pushing past the ECOMOG soldiers.
No shots were fired. The Nigerian Deputy Chief of Staff, standing arms akimbo, did not even make the slightest move that would have indicated a response from the ECOMOG soldiers gathered with him in front of the Freeport of Monrovia; at least to follow the rebels and see that they were confined to a certain area, thus lessening the proximity of a confrontation between the fighters on the one hand and Samuel K. Doe and his security operatives on the other.
Just as the rebels made their way into the gates of the Freeport of Monrovia, so President Samuel K. Doe entered the office of ECOMOG force commander Major-General Arnold Quianoo.
“No matter the situation,” he was saying angrily to the Ghanaian force commander, “I deserve every respect and consideration as the President of Liberia. But you didn’t even go to visit me at the Executive Mansion. I wonder if you came here on a peacekeeping operation at all.”
The Ghanaian force commander said nothing until he had sat himself down and motioned the president to the chair in front of him. But the president refused and went on talking. “For almost ten years I’ve been the president of this country. Now you’re trying to take advantage of me only because you are in charge of this ECOMOG force. But let me tell you something, you’re nobody. I have ties with Jerry Rawlings, Ibrahim Babangida, and…”
“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” the Ghanaian force commander countered. “Of course I would’ve gone to meet you at Executive Mansion but the situation in which we’ve found ourselves is enough to put an end to this peacekeeping operation altogether. Despite having signed a ceasefire with Charles Taylor, only a few days ago we were attacked by the NPFL. If it hadn’t been for God they would’ve captured the Freeport and our equipment and taken us prisoners.”
The president knew well about the attack; that the ECOMOG peacekeeping troops had fought alongside the INPFL, who had helped in foiling the NPFL assault. He knew also that Prince Johnson would frequently visit the ECOMOG headquarters and that perhaps the peacekeeping troops had already formed a pact with Johnson and his men. All this merited huge suspicions. And the president, probably aware of this, had come with his men armed to the teeth and ready for any contingency. Unfortunately, they had been stopped at the entrance to the Freeport and disarmed. It was unlike anything he could imagine, and for a moment he couldn’t believe his own ears when his men were told to lay down their weapons. But eager to get out of the country and escape while there was time, he could do nothing other than to comply with the ordinance. When finally he and his men, along with his cabinet officials and relatives entered the ECOMOG headquarters, he knew that there was nothing he could do other than to trust the ECOMOG force with his life and with the lives of the people with him. But he did not reveal his misgivings or that he had any knowledge of all that had been going on at the Freeport. Rather, he asked whether ECOMOG force commander Major-General Arnold Quianoo could give him a ship to leave Liberia.
Just then they heard somebody shouting outside.
To be cont’d.
Copyright © Saah Millimono 2016