By Gloria T. Tamba, Robin Dopoe, Abednego Davis
Senator Prince Y. Johnson’s decision yesterday to endorse Senator George Manneh Weah for the November 7 presidential runoff was received with mixed reactions by a cross-section of Nimbaians including a group of traditional leaders and opinion leaders.
Johnson said his decision is in response to the collaboration by opposition leaders at the end of the Ganta Declaration last year to support each other against the governing Unity Party (UP) in the October 10 elections, which will be determined by the run-off on November 7.
His decision was announced barely after a day he returned from the much-publicized meeting he and Senator George Weah of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), held with popular Nigerian televangelist, T.B. Joshua.
In their reactions, some of the traditional leaders described Sen. Johnson’s action as ‘unilateral’ without their involvement. According to them, before his recent trip to Nigeria, they met with him to decide which of the two leading presidential candidates (Boakai or Weah) to give their support.
Traditional leaders from Nimba, who also endorsed Vice President Joseph N. Boakai yesterday afternoon at his residence in Paynesville, explained that Senator Johnson’s action was without their involvement.
A spokesman for the Head of Chiefs Council from Nimba County, Chief Peter Barloun, said that the decision taken by Sen. Johnson was not in their favor. He described the senator’s decision as a total disappointment to the political process, despite several discussions they had with him in which they reportedly agreed to support VP Boakai.
“Before taking such a decision as a son of the soil, Johnson should have consulted us, but he did not do so after he returned to the country from Nigeria.
“We were divided during the first round of the elections, because our son Prince was in the race. Now that he is going to the CDC on his own, and we will now go our separate ways by supporting the Vice President to the end. So we will run vigorous campaigns in Nimba County by going from house to house to ensure victory for VP Boakai.”
Sen. Johnson is the political leader of the opposition Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR). He is famously known as the political godfather of vote-rich Nimba County, who came 4th in the October 10 polls, accumulating 8.2 percent of the total votes cast.
He got 127,666 votes and his support in either direction is seen as crucial, because Nimbaians look up to his direction in such affairs.
The oldest Paramount Chief and head of the Elders’ Council, Robert Sehneah, told the Daily Observer that Sen. Johnson’s decision, “is not in favor of the majority of citizens of the county, but rather it is just one person’s crossing over to the CDC.”
According to Chief Sehneah, their delegation met with Senator Johnson before his endorsement and it was after said meeting that he told them he was resolved to support the CDC.
“What led to the massive support Sen. Johnson received was because he is our leader. But that does not mean the entire county will support CDC because of him,” Sehneah said.
“We, the elders of the land, have our voice and have resolved to vote Boakai at the end of the day. Our son was in the race that was why we were divided, now that he is no more part of the active process, we will not follow him to where he has shifted his political direction, because he is on his own,” the chief said.
Nimba County Senator Thomas Grupee, said the action taken by Sen. Johnson will not stop the Nimbaians from voting VP Boakai as President of Liberia on November 7. He said Sen. Johnson has shown to the world that “he is unpredictable.”
“We are not deterred, because it was this same Prince Johnson who said Weah was not prepared to lead the nation or else there would be bloodshed in the country due to the recent incident between CDC supporters and those of Liberty Party (LP),” Grupee recalled.
He pledged his support to Vice President Boakai and vowed to campaign for the UP along with other leaders of the county, adding, “I will stand with my people to vote and we will vote a man with integrity, because Prince Johnson has gone the way he wants.”
Madam Beatrice Lah, chairlady of the Elders Council and market superintendent of Nimba County, said the women will continue to support VP Boakai, “because we are not controlled by Sen. Johnson.
“Senator Johnson has brought division in the political process so as elders, we are prepared to take the right path by ensuring Nimba County is secure for VP Boakai,” she said.
“Sen. Johnson should understand that the county is not his personal property for him to individually shift the direction of our people to whatsoever way he wants us to go,” Madam Lah said.
Some chiefs with PYJ
Meanwhile, even the chiefs of the county are divided. Paramount Chief Franklin Toweh told our Nimba County correspondent, Ishmael F. Menkor, last evening that the decision of the elders to support Boakai was not the consensus of the chiefs.
Paramount Chief Toweh said he controls over 24 paramount chiefs and was not aware of the endorsement of V.P. Boakai by the other chiefs and elders. He however pledged his support to the CDC, saying that it is not prudent for one part to continue leadership for such a long term. “We need regime change to a different party,” he said.
PYJ’s own words
In his endorsement of Senator Weah, Senator Johnson said as he toured the 15 counties during the campaign, “I became more convinced than ever that Liberia needs change and a new government with a new vision. The roads linking our counties are deplorable and impassable.”
He said judging from the results of the first round and analyzing the results further, the majority of the Liberian people voted for change. “The message therefore was loud and clear and unavoidable.”
Senator Johnson said after holding a broadbased consultation with stakeholders and partisans from across the country and “our stronghold in Nimba County, including executives of the MDR and with their approval and consent, I have resolved to remian committed to the spirit of the Ganta Declaration of which I was the convener, host and architect-in-chief.”
It was consistent with that belief, he said he decided in the abiding faith in God and love for “my country, my full and unflinching support and collaboration to the Congress for Democratic Change and the candidacy of Senator George Manneh Weah as President of Liberia in the forthcoming Presidential runoff…”
He called on members and well-wishers of MDR and all signatories to the Ganta Declaration and opposition party leaders to join “me in endorsing and supporting Sen. Weah for the presidency of Liberia.”
Gongloe weighs in
Meanwhile, minutes after Senator Johnson endorsed the Coalition for Democratic Change for the November 7 presidential run-off, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, at a press conference, expressed his disappointment for his action. He said “Nimba County’s votes cannot be politically marketed or transferred by any one person to a political institution.
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, a renowned son of the county said he respects Senator Johnson, because he is a stakeholder in the county, but endorsing a political party without consulting with the people was wrong and it undermines his own integrity.
“As our leader, why did he not call us to get our views and to ask us for our direction, before making such a pronouncement?” Gongloe wondered, “But for him to sit somewhere and decide the fate of the county is to create division among the people. This is a divisive strategy, and that we are not going to accept it to take root in the county.”
“Sen. Johnson needs to respect us in the county, and must consult with us before making decisions on our behalf,” Gongloe said.
According to him, the CDC should not think that with the endorsement from Sen. Johnson, they would win massive votes in the county.
“No one should think that Johnson can decide the fate of the county, because that will be a complete mistake and we are going to campaign vigorously against our senator and the CDC,” Gongloe promised.
“We will ensure that the CDC does not get the votes they desire to receive from our people, and that they will not get what they are expecting from him,” Gongloe stated.
He said Sen. Johnson needs to respect people of the county, because the citizens have a high degree of respect for him, “but we are not going to follow the direction he has taken.”
Beh Mawigeh, a medical practitioner and political activist in a telephone conversation from Ganta, Nimba County, said Sen. Johnson’s endorsement of the CDC has divided the county and while the youths seem to agree with his choice, others have expressed disappointment over his decision.