By Joe Bartuah
Even though the United States Government has imposed sanction on the enigmatic Senator from Nimba County, Prince Yormie Johnson, the lingering question is: Will the U.S. Government publicly identify, sanction or indict and equally penalize the accomplices of Senator Johnson, who have equally been involved in this sordid “pay-for-play” scheme over the years?
Senator Johnson is one of fifteen individuals and entities from around the world, specifically one of three from Africa who were hammered with sanctions by the U.S. Government on December 9, 2021, in consonance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, pursuant to Executive Order 13818 of 2017. The sanctions against Senator Johnson and others were in commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day, a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly on October 31, 2003 to conscientize the global community about how endemic corruption is decimating many societies around the world.
According to a media release from the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), this law is specifically “targeting several corrupt current and former officials, as well as their immediate family members, and making them ineligible for entry into the United States.”
In the case of Senator Johnson, since taking office about 16 years ago, Nigeria has been the main destination of his travels abroad; he’s not known to have attempted visiting the United States, neither does he have known assets here in the U.S. However, with his name now minted in the Global Magnistky Act, even an excursion to Lagos would be a little bit risky for the Nimba County senator, since the United States, under established international policing protocols, could deploy its global tentacles to can the ex-warlord from any corner of the world.
Even though Senator Johnson was pinpointed as the primary target of this year’s sanction, joining Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman in this ignoble club of global notoriety, what has so far been under-reported is that the entire Liberian Government was basically indicted on December 9, 2021 within the court of public opinion, regarding ongoing rampant corruption, which continues to severely victimize and pauperize the Liberian people, as President George Weah and his government officials continue to apathetically swim in a pool of opulence.
“The U.S. Mission in Liberia has long reported on the pervasiveness of corruption within the Government of Liberia, including in the annual Human Rights Report”, the media release of December 9, 2021 from the U.S. Embassy cogently pointed out.
While highlighting Senator Johnson’s corrupt activities, in addition to a litany of his grotesque, macabre past, the release further alleged, “As a Senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment”, adding, “As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants.”
And so clearly, some crooked elements in the higher echelon of the Liberian Government—“at the very top”--many of whom might have assets and family members here in the United States, are being accused by the United States Government of their involvement in a criminal cartel, orchestrating briberies and money laundering, which are felonious criminal offenses under Liberian as well as American laws.
Perhaps to forestall frivolous arguments by Liberian Government officials and their lackeys that every society has some elements of corruption, the U.S. Mission in Liberia maintained, “No government is free from corruption, but no government can improve its democracy without simultaneously attacking corruption, and that effort must start at the very top, both in word and in deed.”
“On this International Anti-Corruption Day, we call on all three branches of the Government of Liberia to acknowledge that public officials should not receive financial benefit from their positions other than their salary and should take all necessary measures to stand up to the corruption that continues to erode the trust between the government and its people”, the U.S. embassy in Monrovia passionately pleaded with the conscience of Liberian government officials in its December 9th media release.
That impassioned plea preceded the passage of the flawed Acelor Mittal Steel agreement by the House of Representatives, during which "brown evelopes" with hefty U.S. dollar contents in thousands, reportedly passed under the table.
Noting that “The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars”, the U.S. embassy’s media release further added, “Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple elections in exchange for money.”
The grave accusation against Senator Johnson about running a lucrative votes-peddling scheme “in multiple Liberian elections” is another serious public opinion indictment of the two post-conflict administrations of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the current President George Manneh Weah. Both presidents are known for giving Senator Johnson preferential treatments as a means of protecting their personal political interests.
Since the 2005 election, Prince Johnson has been brazenly bragging that he’s the “kingmaker” in Liberian elections. In the first post-conflict presidential election, then candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf received 19.5 percent of votes, while candidate George Weah got 28 percent at the time.
With the former soccer player, a political neophyte basically trouncing Sirleaf, a political heavyweight from the True Whig Party era, the Liberian political establishment was plunged into a panic mode and so, they decided at the time to dine with the proverbial devil, hence Prince Johnson who as an independent senatorial candidate, had received more than 80,0000 votes and overwhelmingly won in Nimba County, was then co-opted by seemingly deep-pocket Ellen supporters at the time, and rumors had it that a hefty amount had passed under the table to secure the former warlord’s support in the days leading to the runoff election.
As a result, Prince Johnson abruptly changed his earlier anti-Ellen rhetoric and became her vocal supporter up to the run-off election in which Ellen emerged victorious, snatching 478,526 votes, or 59.4 percent of the votes cast and Weah garnered 327,046 or 40.6 percent.
In the 2011 election, Johnson, the perpetual kingmaker first ran as a presidential candidate and once he miserably failed to get a runoff nod, he again switched his support to President Johnson-Sirleaf.
And then in the 2017 election, then incumbent President Sirleaf was highly rumored to have sought Senator Johnson’s support in favor of then candidate George Manneh Weah, due to the acrimonious relationship between her and her vice president, Mr. Joseph N. Boakai, who was running to succeed her.
Boakai had reportedly refused to guarantee that under his administration, Mrs. Sirleaf as a former president, would not be liable, or subjected to a future United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal trial and this did not go down well with the outgoing president, who then vowed to deploy whatever trappings of her incumbency to ensure Boakai’s defeat.
Moreover, for whatever strange reasons, when Boakai became the standard-bearer of the Unity Party, he began discrediting his former boss—President Sirleaf—whom he had served for 12 consecutive years as vice president, intensely complaining at the time that President Sirleaf had mistreated and marginalized him during their 12-year administration.
To underscore the pivotal kingmaker’s role of Senator Johnson in the 2017 election, he and then candidate George Weah scurried to the late T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria for both men to ostensibly receive anointments in a seemingly hasty arrangement at the time, shortly before the presidential run-off election, which eventually produced Mr. Weah as the winner.
In short, votes peddling has been a lucrative business for Prince Johnson in the past 16 years, up to and including the very last by-election of November 16, 2021 in Nimba County, in which voters in District One finally told the proverbial emperor that he was starkly naked, by walloping his preferred candidate, even though the kingmaker had reportedly received at least $50 million Liberian dollars to deliver the votes to the ruling Congress for Democratic Change government.
Independent candidate Samuel N. Brown, a local businessman, won that by-election. Interestingly, Mr. Brown would be replacing Senator Jeremiah Koung, whom Johnson handpicked and used fraudulent means to impose on Nimbaians, against the expressed will of majority of voters in the county.
However, in an April 8, 2021 ruling, the Supreme Court of Liberia acknowledging that frauds had occurred in Nimba County during the midterm contest, claimed at the time that there was no “sufficient evidence” to overturn Koung’s election. Like Mr. Brown recently did to Mr. Francis Maweah, another Prince Johnson’s handpicked candidate, Mrs. Edith Gongloe-Weh had trounced Mr. Koung in his own district (District One) during the 2020 senatorial midterm election.
In the OFAC media release, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jane L. Yellen is quoted as saying, “Corrupt acts take resources from citizens, undermine public trust, and threaten the progress of those who fight for democracy”, adding that her department “is committed to countering those who seek personal enrichment at the expense of the people who trust them to serve — especially in the middle of a global pandemic” and went on, “We are taking these actions today to expose and hold corrupt leaders accountable.”
Noting that her department’s enforcement of the Magnitsky Act had coincided with President Joe Biden’s Summit of Democracy, which was held from December 9-10, during which the U.S. president identified corruption as one of the insidious threats to democracy, Ms. Yellen, a former chairperson of the Federal Reserve—the U.S. central bank--continued that corruption “allows bad actors to abuse their authority and extract unfair gains at the expense of others.”
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, it is “equipped with powerful tools to root out corruption by targeting the financial systems and flows that allow bad actors to profit from corruption, and Treasury is committed to using these tools to protect and strengthen democracy around the world.” It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Government will actually impose sanctions against other notable former and current Liberian Government officials from the very top, especially those who have assets here in the U.S., pertinent to their shady roles in perpetual corrupt practices in the Liberian society.