Lofa By-Election: The Age of Consensus vs Political Manipulation

Stephen D. Kollie

Lofa County, Liberia’s third most populous political subdivision, which was highly regarded as the breadbasket of Liberia in prewar days, is now on the edge of yet another political rigmarole. 

For almost two years now, Lofa has had only one senator out of two, as required by laws, to represent the interest of Lofa County Citizens. This underrepresentation came on the heel of a long-haul legal battle that eventually forced former defense Minister J. Brownie Samukai to forfeit his elected senatorial seat.

It all began with a criminal conviction in Criminal Court C on March 24, 2020, which found Samukai guilty of misapplying over one million US dollars of AFL pension fund, even before Samukai decided to become an aspirant in the Lofa County on December 8, 2020 election. Things turned worse for Samukai when the Supreme Court of Liberia affirmed the decision of the lower court and ordered him jailed for two years after he and his co-defendants could not meet up with an earlier Supreme Court mandate to restitute 50% of the fund in six months. 

The Liberian Senate could later go on to declare a vacant seat in the county while Samukai's official whereabouts remain unknown, at least, for many ordinary Liberians, until April 16 when he showed up at the border between Bong and Lofa Counties in what was dubbed as a start of a countywide “thank you program.”

And again, the county is gearing up for one of Liberia’s highly publicized by-elections that will decide the county’s political, unity, and developmental future.

So far, the National Elections Commission has released a provisional list of aspirants for the upcoming election. Notable individuals among the provisional list include independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Kpator Jallah, Lofa County District #4 Representative Mariamu Fofana, former head of the Lofa County Sports Steering Committee Momo Cyrus, former Senator Sumo G Kupee, Montserrado County District #12 Rep. George B. Samah, and former Superintendent Galakpai Kortimai, whose ability to run on the ticket of the former ruling Unity Party is being heavily contested by other members of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of which UP is a ‘former’ member.

Over the years, especially in prewar days, Lofa County traditionally lived and operated under a common sense of consensus regarding every aspect of life including politics. For example, while the power to appoint a superintendent is exclusively vested in the president of Liberia per the constitution, elected officials and traditional leaders always played a major role in ensuring that the county superintendent was appointed based on consensus for a traditionally geographical balance of power both in the executive and legislative circles. 

Who could benefit from a consensus outcome?

Cllr. Joseph K. Jallah

Cllr. Jallah has managed to build and sustain solid relationships with a broader audience of Lofa County opinion leaders, which include the Muslims and Christians Communities; traditional sectors, chiefs and elders, Lofa County University Students Community, and women groupings. Cllr. Jallah has also shown superior skills in striking a delicate balance in his dealing with the successive central governments as well as major stakeholders. This will be a very big asset for him if he is elected senator of Lofa County. 

Cllr. Jallah has unsuccessfully contested three senatorial elections in the county – 2011, 2014, and 2020, yet he is unwavering and strongly believes this could be his time as he put it in one of his recent interviews on radio Kintoma: “I believe that the Lofa people will make up their mind this time to vote for me; President Buhari of Nigeria ran four times before becoming president of Nigeria. I have tried my best in this county, more than some of these people who are saying all sorts of things.”

He is the lone candidate contesting from the lower Lofa region which is historically the highest voting bloc in the county. Power has always changed hands between the Kissi and the Lorma ethnic groups. But this time around and in what is emerging as a Lower Lofa solidarity, it appears that this trajectory might change. 

Already, in what appears to be a concrete move to put an end to what has been viewed by many as electoral political conspiracy and/or discriminatory practices against other ethnic group or groups in the county, also widely believed to have been started and carried out under the watchful eyes of former Vice president Joseph Boakai, have started with Hon. Thomas Fallah and Chief Moses Y. Kollie visibly, leading the charge. 

The people of Lofa, of late, have witnessed at least three back-to-back reconciliatory meetings that took place, both in Kolahun and Foya, between the Kissi and their traditional Gbandi nieces and nephews just within a 45 days period, in a bid to cement outstanding differences. 

Sources say Rep. Thomas Fallah, who upon understanding the state of affairs in Lofa County, stepped in relentlessly to work on cementing peace efforts between the two tribes — Kissi and Gbandi. From the upper Lofa County end, former District #5 Representative Moses Y. Kollie has also not only taken a similar position to that of Hon. Fallah, but he has in fact pledged his total support for Cllr. Joseph Jallah. 

As things stand currently, CDC's top party hierarchies like Mulbah K. Morlu, Janga Augustus Kowo, Jefferson Tamba Koijee, Chief Moses Y. Kollie, and Thomas Fallah are said to be the leading proponents of what is now emerging as the all Lofa consensus’ agenda in their quest to unite sons and daughters of Lofa County by appealing to leaders like District # 2 Representative, Julie Fatorma Wiah; Sekou Korlleh, a prominent son of Quardu Gboni, to join hands for a victory for Cllr. Jallah. 

Other prominent names like A. Varmah Sayndee, Momo Siafa Kpoto, and Morris Saryon, among others, are said to all be lined up on the campaign trail for the May 10th senatorial election. 

Sources have hinted that the medium-term goal is that some of the leaders would like to see what would be the Upper and Lower Lofa County dichotomy, to reduce needless division during senatorial races in the county, and encourage the balance of power and coming together of citizens for speedy development.

With all of what is going on, Cllr. Joseph Kpator Jallah’s bid to the Liberian Senate appears to be well on course and his support base is said to be quietly but rapidly surging much faster.

Reports also confirmed that Rep. Julie Fatorma Wiah has already begun talks with her constituents for the official endorsement of Cllr. Jallah in the coming days.

Galakpai W. Kortimai

While Kortimai’s participation in the election remains questionable at the moment, as a result of the legal battle at the NEC, if he manages to succeed at the NEC, he faces a lot of uphill tasks. He finds himself among a pool of four contestants all from the same region and tribe — the Lorma from upper Lofa with low voter turnout. With Kortimai, Sumo Kupee, George Samah, and Momo Cyrus all from the Lorma side, Kortimai will have a lot of headaches to consolidate his voting base.

Kortimai is a former Superintendent of Lofa County and an on and off member of the Unity Party. He once broke away from the UP and joined the then opposition CDC after a futile effort to run on the UP ticket. A few years later, he resurfaced in the camp of former Minister, Brownie Samukai, as a campaigner to elect Samukai to the senate. His affiliation with Samukai could lend him the remnants of Samukai’s divided supporters in the upcoming by-election. Also, if he gets on the UP ticket backed by former vice president Joseph Boakai, that alone could give him some huge boost although some observers say that could not be enough to get him to the senate. 

Momo Cyrus

Cyrus is the new face on the political block who is trying hard to play the ‘I am the man of the people’ game, evidenced by running all over the political football field of Lofa County with heavy financial giveaways. His donations have helped him attract a number of followers, many of whom are among the young people in the Voinjama region. His supporters are also some visible supporters of the ruling CDC at the local level.

For most people in Lofa, Cyrus could make a good candidate but not necessary at this moment because he’s still struggling to build his political brand across the county. Could there be a consensus among the youth and elders of the county to take Cyrus into the senate? Political observers believe that is unlikely for now due to the fact that while he’s politically unknown he originates from the Voinjama District region in upper Lofa where the current Senator Stephen Zargo also hails from.

Mariamu Fofana

Finishing third in the 2020 senatorial race was a great feat that many did not see coming. Besides her dominant mandingo or Muslim followers, Lofa County District #4 Representative Mariamu Fofana continues to struggle in getting the wider support of Lofians across the entire county. 

Perhaps, her recent establishment of a community radio station in Voinjama could greatly help her convey her messages to a larger audience of the county — something that could give her some votes she desperately needs.

Fofana finds herself struggling to defend her record at the House of Representatives and her decision to run for the senate. Some say much of her impact on the House is yet to be seen or felt and that she could possibly make not much difference as a senator.