Monrovia, 15 October 1992
It was evidently the beginning of the end. Thousands of Liberians were trapped in Monrovia. Insecurity was prevalent and the government of Amos Sawyer was only ruling the city and apparently extremely nervous. Liberia was under siege. Rebels of the National Patriotic Front occupied the rest of the country, minus Monrovia. The breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front, under Field Marshal Prince Johnson, occupied Bushrod Island as King, though he claimed that the “gun that liberates shall not rule.”
Unknown to the thousands in the city, hellfire was coming.
Since the rebels were not ready to let peace a chance, they, too would not have peace. It was possible that the NPFL leader, Charles Ghankay Taylor, did not know this. And if he knew, he might have been drunk with the preeminence of power and never for once considered that a child, who would not let his mother to sleep, would also not sleep. So whether Ghankay and the entire NPFL leadership had reached the end of the Rubicon or not, they were recklessly prepared to cross whatever was at stake.
Therefore, over the airwaves of the stolen FM-89.9 radio station, Mr. Taylor was triumphant in declaring the final count-down to hell:
“I’m ordering my forces to invade the city and kill all my enemies,” the voice of the president of the NPRAG, Charles Ghankay Taylor, was commanding and strong. Thousands of his teenage rebels, including the young and fragile Under-15 years Small Boy Unit, SBU were ready and anxious.
The Papay, as Taylor was affectionately referred to, was speaking and announcing the final determination of the existence of the national capital, Monrovia. His enemies were hiding behind the peacekeepers and they had to be overwhelmed by the patriotic power.
“We’ve never have the occasion to destroy the enemies and we must march on to Monrovia and remove them now and forever. Oh, you are heroes of the revolution!” Ghankay was just like that. Whenever he wanted “people’s” children to march on the battle field to sacrifice their lives, he would refer to them as “heroes” of the revolution.
This would energize the children. Like some unseen spirit, the soldiers would march on and sadly, many would never return alive. So they moved on, gallantly, at the declaration of the father behind the civil-war.
The infamous Operation Octopus was underway.
The patriotic forces could not wait to hear the final conclusion of their leader. They had heard enough. Monrovia had to be captured and there was no more time to waste. The final assault was against a city brimming and bursting at its seams with thousands of Liberians and other residents. The time was October 15, 1992. The rebels, who had been successful in their march across the country, were bogged down in Monrovia.
The target, the Executive Mansion, the seat of the government was heavily guarded by the remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia. It was the soldiers’ last stronghold. Barricaded behind a human mass were those the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe left behind. Sammy lived in a dreamland. His forces had failed to halt the advances of the rebels and could only offer some stiff resistance to deny them any chance of capturing the city.
On the eastern section of the city was the presence of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, under General Prince Johnson. The rebels were closing in. Despondency and lack of faith had unsettled the president and the entire city nervously waited for the impending doom that lurked on the horizon. The soldiers however had been fighting for their lives. Their effective tactics held the patriotic forces at bay, a stone throw from the seat of the embattled government. The rebels were more desperate now.
The whole country was under the occupation of the patriotic forces beside the city where the “enemies” Ghankay said were running the show. It was unfair, the leadership of the NPRAG felt, to be denied the right to run the affairs of the nation from the capital. It was true that a government could be run from any part of the nation, the evidence suggested that with the capital out of his hands and control of his forces, the international community was not prepared to recognize the administration of a government running from the center of the nation.
What was more; those who were running the show from the capital were part and parcel of the entire process to remove the fallen president and his government. So the NPRAG leadership was unhappy that their colleagues would rush to The Gambia to discuss the establishment of a new government, when already the country was under the control of the patriotic forces.
And that was exactly what they did, and Sawyer was selected president, against Ghankay’s protests and tears over the selection. It was clear that Sawyer and the others were determined to deny him the trophy that he felt he deserved.
He had taken on the might of the government of Liberia, an army that had received the full military and financial support of the American government. In six months, his forces, described as rag-tag had routed the national army, and at the last counting he was holding on to almost ninety percent of Liberia’s land mass. Why then could he not be selected as the interim leader till future elections? He reasoned that it was a conspiracy to deny him what he had sacrificed for.
“We’ve come to a stage in our country’s existence where we’ve to take things heads on,” anger rose in his voice, showing his un-preparedness to accept any participation of the interim government with the “rats” in Monrovia. “I’m asking the gallant forces to march through the streets of Monrovia and chase the enemies into the Atlantic Ocean.” The message was sinking in. The various commando units and their commanders were already marching for the final battle. They had heard the directive from their portable radios, provided by the president of the revolution.
“There is a conspiracy against our efforts and such deceit, to connive with foreign powers to deny our people the freedom to live in peace is not only treasonable but demands instant execution of all those who are part of it.” Ghankay was not known to be a man who would negotiate when there was a chance of using military force to get his objectives accomplished. He was a man of blood.
He was therefore determined to inspire his boys on to what he saw as the final countdown for the very existence of the national patriotic movement and Liberia.
What gave Ghankay the confidence of success was that a week before he received a huge consignment of military hardware from various sources, despite the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The Council didn’t do a good job since it did not control the various sources on the open market where anyone could go, once there was money; to purchase any kind and all kinds of military materiel for any adventure. So under various names, the national patriotic forces were re-armed with fresh consignment of AK-47 assault rifles; American-made M16 and their cousins of war.
Despite his confidence, Ghankay was unhappy since the “rogues and the rats” in Monrovia were enjoying the security of the West African Peace Monitoring Group, Ecomog, and therefore they were making big talk in the city. He was also dissatisfied with the role the breakaway faction, INPFL, of renegade commander Prince Johnson had done to the movement. Johnson’s trick and murder of the late president did not resolve the war. If the war had to end then Ghankay should be named the interim president. Anything sort of that meant the continuation of the war.
Total war, indeed!
At worst, he was convinced that the possible death of Johnson could clear the way for an unchallenged and triumphant entry into the capital. How he had wished that day would come! As a Baptist “minister” he had always rejoiced to read about the Biblical story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and he had always dreamed of such an entry.
Ghankay wanted to hear thousands sing and dance, “Hosanna, Hosanna, happy is the one coming in the name of Liberians.”
Though he had some premonition that his desire to be welcomed into Monrovia as the leader of men from the highways of Gbarnga would suffer, he was however convinced that it was possible, at a high cost of lives. He had become synonymous with war and destruction and suffering. In Monrovia proper, the mentioned of Charles Taylor meant nothing but war and suffering and anger to some, and to joy to others. However there were many who believed that Taylor was fighting a war of liberation.
Therefore, the war was continuing because he had been denied what he was deserved. Sadly, that feeling gained support from thousands in the embattled city. On his part, Ghankay was willing to let his forces overwhelm Monrovia with a mighty force to throw the city into confusion. He was determined to convince the populace that peace at any level would come on his terms. However, he could not be certain to trust the Nigerians in their involvement in the Liberian situation. He was not sure if he could trust the Nigerian-controlled Ecomog soldiers to abide by his directive to just stand aside and watch as his forces vanquish his enemies in the city, either.
He distrusted the Nigerians in the entire peacekeeping arrangement. Didn’t they provide some forces to help the late president when he saw he was losing the war? How would they rejoin other nations to come back as peacekeepers? Though the president was dead, how could he trust the Nigerians? The Ghanaians he could trust but he was unsure if Nigeria had exercised some control over them.
HIS MIND WAS rioting against his best judgment. But he was sure as hell that the capture of Monrovia was the only way the rest of Liberia would become his and his forces alone.
“Today,” his voice thundered, as he chose his words carefully, “I’m declaring ‘Operation Octopus’ to redeem Monrovia from those roaches and rats, which deserve nothing less than death.”
There were rejoicing among the teeming fans and supporters and their commando teenage soldiers. “I’m requesting the peacekeepers, to wear their peace helmets and avoid any confrontation with the gallant men and women of our forces. We cannot wait and we’ve no choice but to act in the interests of the Liberian people.”
The order for the capture of Monrovia was on. Ghankay was not interested very much in the thousands who had sought refuge in the city. He had always said they were what he described as collateral damage, should they become victims of the onslaught. Already, lack of food had reduced thousands into skeletons and people were barely surviving. That was probably not his concern. The interim government, headed by Sawyer or Moose, was nervously surviving, hoping that some sanity would prevail. Desperation and fear had set in. The government’s existence was at the mercy of the Nigerian-led peacekeepers.
Hence, Ghankay’s declaration of war riddled the city and fear and uncertainty gripped the leaders and also the thousands who were trapped in it.
Was Ghankay losing his mind? It was evident that Ghankay was more concern about the future of his administration to worry over the lives of thousands already trapped in Monrovia. Was that a mark of his insensitivity to the plight of the people? He didn’t think so. Already, the “Greater Liberia” under his control, was teeming with tens of thousands of Liberians. Those were the ones he cared about, though he had not really cared for them. Hundreds had been accused of being from one ethnic group or another and had been executed by his forces. He believed that one day the killings would end. But when? In his mind Operation Octopus, currently being waged, would solve the problem once and for all.