And So They Came

0
772

It was Prince Johnson shouting, and his voice could be heard rumbling throughout the Freeport of Monrovia: “Commando!”

“Brave, strong, intelligent!” chorused his men.

“Prepare for war!”

With the directive from Johnson, the two hundred or so INPFL fighters surrounded Samuel Doe’s bodyguards. Upon entering the Freeport, Prince Johnson had inquired from a few ECOMOG soldiers about Doe and his entourage. But the ECOMOG soldiers had pretended to have no knowledge of the president and his attendants. The rebels had then gone to Quainoo’s office and met the president’s security operatives, who could be distinguished by their red berets, in front of the building. Now Doe’s bodyguards, encircled, turned to look round at the rebels in shock and disbelief. A heavy silence, as of death, descended. For a moment nobody spoke.

Then one of Doe’s bodyguards named Colonel Harrison Pennue accosted Prince Johnson. Pennue was a relative of Doe’s and the commander of a notorious AFL death-squad. He had also participated in the 1980 coup which brought Doe to power. “There’s nothing to fear from us,” he said, smiling as though to thaw the immediacy of a scuffle. “As you can see,” he added, “we are unarmed and have left our weapons with ECOMOG.”

“Pennue,” Johnson said, “who invited you into the whole show?”

“You’re trying to provoke a confrontation,” Pennue said.

“Shut up,” Johnson said.

“But you rebels,” said another soldier standing in the group of AFL soldiers just behind Pennue, “shouldn’t have been here in the first place.”

“Okay, I’ll show you,” Johnson said.

Prince Johnson turned to two of his fighters and ordered Harrison Pennue put under arrest. As the fighters walked towards him, cocking their rifles, Pennue took two steps back, as if anticipating his AFL colleagues behind him would come to his aid. But no one stirred. One of the INPFL fighters approached
and kicked Pennue’s legs from under him. The AFL man fell to the pavement and grunted. The other fighter raised the butt-end of his rifle and brought it down on Pennue’s head. Pennue screamed; blood streamed down his forehead. The fighters twisted his arms behind him, bound them with nylon ropes, and left him kneeling on the pavement. The rest of Doe’s bodyguards, among them not one man armed with a pistol, stood as if possessed. Pennue started to beg for his life.

Prince Johnson drew his pistol, walked towards Harrison Pennue, and fired two shots at close range. Pennue’s head burst, like a deflated balloon. The other AFL soldiers scattered, like insects. The rebels open fire.

While the shooting was going on, about fifteen AFL soldiers, who had gone with Doe to meet ECOMOG force commander General Quianoo, burst into the room and surrounded the president. There were no more than a few pistols among them. But they were determined to protect Doe, if need be, with their bodies.

General Quianoo turned to Doe and his men. “Excuse me, there seems to be some trouble outside. You heard the shooting.”

Doe seemed suspicious. He looked at Quainoo. But the Ghanaian avoided his gaze and seemed uneasy. He’s guilty of something, Doe thought but said nothing. He had heard Johnson and his men shouting outside, followed by two shots and a barrage that seemed as if an ammunition dump had exploded.
Even though he couldn’t distinguish the voices of the rebels, the fact that they had spoken in Liberian parlance was enough reason to believe that they were not ECOMOG soldiers. Besides, the initial directive, “Commando,” seemed, to him, strange and unlike typical orders given by one of his army commanders. Could it be the rebels? He didn’t know. But already he knew that something had gone terribly wrong and that perhaps he had been deceived.

“Let me check to find out what the trouble is,” Quianoo said, and took a step towards the door.

Doe held up his palm. “My men have no weapons. You ought to send some of your troops to get us out of here or order them to bring the weapons they took from us.”

“Okay, I’m coming, wait here,” said the Ghanaian, and promptly disappeared.

But once he was out of the office, ECOMOG force commander General Arnold Quainoo, guarded by a large number of Ghanaian peacekeeping troops who would deploy along the harbor, headed towards one of the ECOMOG warships and vanished inside.

By then the shooting had deteriorated. Of course every time you thought it had stopped, it started again, like rain in September. The BBC journalist Elizabeth Blunt, who had called on General Quianoo that afternoon, would remember hearing the gunfire for about an hour as the rebels shot and lobbed hand grenades at Doe’s unarmed security operatives — and the so-called ECOMOG force looked on. Luckily, a few of the president’s bodyguards were able to escape and hide in shipping containers.

Having killed almost all of Doe’s security operatives, the rebels then advanced to the administrative house in which the cabinet officials, along with Doe’s relations, were hiding. The moment the rebels entered the building, the people screamed in terror. But their voices were snuffed out by the gunfire that followed. It was a massacre; and yet also a repeat of history. Except that now it was Doe, his relations and a few of his cabinet executives, and not Tolbert and the thirteen Liberian officials shot and killed following the repercussions of the 1980 coup d’état. It was also a chilling reminder of the innocent lives lost on July 29, 1990, after Doe had sent his death-squad to kill alleged rebels hiding in the St. Peter’s Lutheran church.

Inside Quianoo’s office, President Doe and his bodyguards, paralyzed, made no effort to leave the building. For when ECOMOG force commander General Arnold Quianoo disappeared, they knew their fate was sealed. But they hoped that the rebels wouldn’t find out that they were in Quianoo’s office; that perhaps when ECOMOG had intervened and calmed the situation, they would be able to return to the Executive Mansion. But it was an unlikely supposition. For as they looked through the window of Quianoo’s office, they saw the rebels, untidy and hungry as death, going from house to house clearly in search of the president.

Then they saw one of the fighters, a dark-complexioned boy of thirteen, shouting and gesticulating at the window of Quianoo’s office. “He inside the office,” the boy said. “President Doe inside the office.” The boy must have had a remarkable hunch. Doe and his bodyguards, standing just next to the office window, slunk away.

The next moment, footsteps were heard running up the steps to the office. Then the door burst open. Led by two ECOMOG soldiers (they could have been from one of the contingents), who punctually disappeared, a group of rebels, Prince Johnson among them, entered the office.

Doe’s bodyguards had formed a tight, almost impenetrable ring around him. Breeze couldn’t have passed them to reach the president, even. Doe barely got a glimpse of the rebels. He heard only their footsteps as they burst into the room, followed soon after by a deafening burst of automatic fire.

Just as Prince Johnson and his men open fire, so too the president’s bodyguards made a final and desperate attempt to save him. They all fell on top of Doe — right there in the office. But even after it was clear that all Doe’s security operatives had been killed, Prince Johnson and his men wouldn’t stop the barrage.

Then suddenly the gunfire stopped. The rebels began to drag one or another corpse from the pile and into the middle of the office, cross-checking to see if all Doe’s bodyguards had been killed. It was in this process that they discovered the president lying under the carcasses. Doe was trembling, covered with blood and terrified but quite unharmed. At a closer inspection, the rebels noticed that the blood on him was actually that of his bodyguards. It was impossible. But there Doe was, alive and well.

Among rebel fighters, the notion that someone might carry charms to render themselves impervious to bullets is never misjudged. Yet there are certain methods thought to outsmart any zekie, be it from Zeus himself and no matter how powerful. One of these is that you shoot first for the kneecaps of the person suspected to have an amulet. For anything other than that and your bullets against his or her body would be as indifferent as pipe to water. And so Prince Johnson shot at Doe’s kneecaps. Wounded, Doe cried out and fell to the floor. The rebels dragged him out of the office, down the steps into the yard. Next they threw him into the back of one of the military jeeps that came with his convoy. Then Johnson and his men, firing into the air, drove towards the gates of the Freeport and broke into song:
You can’t go eh-no!

You kill my mother
You can’t go like that
Zolo wa, zola wapi zolo
You can’t go eh-eh!
You kill my father
You can’t go like that
Zolo wa, zolo wapi zolo
You can’t go eh-no!
You kill my pekin
You can’t go like that
Zolo wa, zolo wapi zolo
You can’t go eh-eh!
You kill my people
You can’t go like that
Zolo wa, zolo wapi zolo

At the entrance they met the ECOMOG soldiers on guard. But the peacekeeping troops trembled and beads of perspiration broke out over their foreheads. Some bowed to the rebels. Others smiled obsequiously. The rebels drove their convoy out of the gates and headed towards the direction of Bushrod Island.

A few moments later, Ghanaian ECOMOG force commander General Quianoo emerged out of the warship in which he had sought refuge. Carrying a Nikon camera and with heavily armed Ghanaian peacekeeping troops on his flanks, he began to take pictures of the corpses that littered the pavement. Then he went up to his office and took some pictures also. Next he went to the administrative building in which all the cabinet officials, along with a few of Doe’s relatives, had been killed. The bodies were all piled in a corner of the office, as if the people had huddled together while the rebels shot and killed them all together. The walls and ceiling were covered with bullet holes. There were bullet casings, brain and stomach contents all over the floor.

Next General Quainoo returned to the harbor. He ordered two shipping containers, which Prince Johnson had given him earlier and which contained a number of brand new cars, carried into one of the Ghanaian warships.

As he was returning to the warship, the Nigerian deputy Chief of Staff said to him, “But, sir, where are you going?”

“To Ghana immediately,” Quianoo retorted, turning to look over his shoulder as the Nigerian, panting, ran to catch him up.

“To Ghana!” exclaimed the Nigerian, hardly able to believe his own ears. “The peacekeeping mission to Liberia is hardly over and you’re leaving the country already! What then I am to do with the troops?”

“If I were you,” Quianoo said, “I would send ECOMOG back home. Any fool can see that the Liberian Civil War is to become yet another Vietnam.”

With that, he entered the warship, leaving the Nigerian deputy Chief of Staff in charge of the ECOMOG force.

To be cont’d.
Copyright © Saah Millimono 2016
Read the September 1, 2016, edition for the next piece of this article.

About the author: Saah Millimono is the author of Broken Dreams, which was awarded the Short Fiction Prize of the Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings. His first novel Boy Interrupted was awarded 2nd Place for the Kwani Manuscript Project, a one-off writing prize for African writers across the continent and in the Diaspora. He is currently at work on his second novel and pursuing a BA degree in Mass Communication at the African Methodist Episcopal University. He has written for the Daily Observer and The Guardian (UK).
Let’s look up a few words used in this piece:
1.chorus: n. (of a group of people) say the same thing at the same time.
2.directive: n. an order or instruction issued by an authority.
3.entourage: n. a group of attendants or associates.
4.operative: n. a person engaged, employed or skilled in some branch of work.
5.immediacy: n. the state, condition, or quality of being at the shortest possible time.
6.poleax: n. another term for battle-ax; n.; v. hit, kill, or knock down with a poleax.
9.deflate: v. to release the air or gas from.
10.prompt: v. done or performed without delay.
11.deteriorate: v. to make or become worse.
12.lob: v. to hit or throw something.
13.supposition: n. a guess or hypothesis.
14.impenetrable: adj. the quality of bringing one into direct involvement with something.
15.carcass: n. dead body; corpse.
16.perspire: v. to sweat.
17.obsequious: adj. obedient or attentive to an excessive degree.
18. thaw: v. to cause to change from a solid, frozen state.

Authors

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here