Today, twenty years ago, the sun was hot in Monrovia. There was no cloudy weather, neither was there any thunderstorm and Liberians were anticipating the implementation of a peace accord signed in Accra, Ghana.
The five-man Council of State had absolved leaders of the four warring factions and a civilian, and they were to rotate the leadership among the warlords until elections were held.
General Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J did not have a share in the council and many said he was seething with bitterness,because his rival, Gen. AlhajiKromah (leader of Ulimo-K) was seated, likewise his bitter enemy, Charles Taylor of the NPFL.
Back in January 1996, reports claimed that General Johnson’s forces had massacred 50 civilians. The Council of State, wanting to show strength to instill justice in the fragile arrangement, wanted Gen. Johnson to face justice for the alleged crime.
‘An enemy of an enemy’
Although Taylor’s NPFL, Kromah’s ULIMO-K and Johnson’s ULIMO-J had been bitter rivals and their forces had killed each other previous to the rotating arrangement, both Taylor and Kromah were comfortable with each other and were determined to punish Gen. Johnson.
With a broken justice system, the two Councilmen decided to use their unholy alliance in a marriage of convenience to punish the only man that they saw as a danger to their future success: Gen. Roosevelt Johnson, who until then had stood up against maltreatment of ethnic Krahns from the various factions.
The Council of State, now seated in Monrovia, ordered its forces to arrest rebel leader and one-time government minister Roosevelt Johnson — no relation to Prince Johnson — on charges of murder.
Johnson and members of his breakaway faction of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-J) occupied the Barclay Training Center (BTC) and waited for his enemies.
The date for the arrest was April 6, and the year was 1996, a day that turned out to be one of infamy, and brought war and destruction to Monrovia that until then had enjoyed a status of refuge for thousands who had lost hope. The humidity of the air in the capitol rose gradually and rushed to fill the city, as destiny waited for the fate of Monrovians.
Young men, armed with assault AK-47 rifles and other weapons, followed the instruction of the Council of State and marched on to the BTC, chanting. To them it was a war of liberation. Caught in the middle, Liberians sought refuge in unlikely places around the diplomatic enclave of Mamba Point and many saw US Marines, who were particularly guarding the United States Embassy, watching with apparent lack of interest in the war games outside the embassy’s walls.
Rocket propelled grenades, rocket launchers, and every weapon of death competed on that day, as civilians ran for dear life and many died doing so. Over one thousand Liberians, including women and children were murdered in the Council of State’s attempt to arrest one man to face their kind of justice.
Monrovia echoed with death and people cried for peace. As the war went on, Gen. Johnson’s forces responded and one of the most fascinating characters of the war, emerged: Gen. Milton Blahyi, known as ‘Gen. Butt Naked’ because he fought the war without clothes on.
Steeped in juju, Butt Naked, reports said, defied bullets during engagements, and armed with a cutlass, removed the heads of so-called government soldiers at will.
Day of infamy
Said James Torh, writing about events of April 6, several years later: “Taylor and Kromah have had their local police, filthy militias, thugs and mass murderers led by the late Joe Tate and Abraham Kromah…heavily armed to the teeth with guns, weapons and charms and participated in the blood-spattered event; an event that put mini-arsenal of weapons close to the hands of fragile child soldiers and volatile young men- other people’s precious children.”
Torh in his frustration recalled the following poem by English poet John Milton to celebrate the carnage of April 6, 1996:
“No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture and evil without end …
“Nineteen years on from Monrovia in the face of evil, tears, pains and horror that seized the mind of the world, we can say there is amazing grace, Liberia.”
The wanton destruction of lives and properties in Monrovia was described as the worst fighting in the capital, since the infamous siege began on April 6.
Though ECOMOG troops withdrew their presence and later intervened to drive the militia fighters off the streets, by then over 2,000 Liberians had hopped aboard on Nigerian freighter Buck Challenge to seek refuge.
Reflecting on April 6, is to remind Liberians about the day of infamy when personal interest, mixed with frustration and anger gained control over common sense that burned a city filled with thousands whose only recourse was to look to the Atlantic Ocean for survival.
Where are they now?
But the question that is worth asking is: where are the main actors from the April 6 mayhem? For a fact, Charles Taylor had his day in court and was convicted, albeit sins committed against the people of Sierra Leone. He is currently serving jail sentence in the United Kingdom. Having survived the April 6 attack survived the April 6 attack, Gen. Johnson left the country and died in October 2004, in Nigeria after a protracted illness. Alhaji Kromah and Abraham Kromah are still around, in and out of politics, though we are not sure if they are proud of their roles for the lives and properties destroyed in their unsuccessful attempt at capturing the head of Gen. Johnson. Gen. Joshua Milton Blahyi is believed to have had a miraculous encounter with God, repented of his crimes and renounced violence and is on a mission to win souls for Christ by reaching out to former combatants and others who could be positively inspired by his testimony.
This 20th anniversary of the infamous April 6 is an apt prelude to Liberia’s National Fast and Prayer Day, observed on the 2nd Friday of April (this year, April 8). We need to reflect on the tragedy of this day, two decades ago, and persist in our supplications to the Good Lord, not only to unite us, but also to give us the heart and will power to forgive each other of OUR SINS to able build a better nation for ALL OF US.