It became clear that the 2017 presidential race will bring out “titans” in the Liberian political arena when a post-Ebola visit of Vice President Joseph Boakai to Lofa County turned into a joyful political rally.
The visit, according to the VP’s itinerary, was intended to thank the people of Lofa for working together collaboratively to flush out the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) from their county.
Lofa was the entry point and epicenter for the virus that crossed over from Guinea through a Liberian woman in March, 2014. With their level of hard work, the county was the first to halt the spread of the viral transmission.
The Vice President has, however, stuck to his agenda of going about expressing gratitude to Liberians on the eradication of the Ebola virus.
However, during a town hall meeting with residents of Salayea, the first major town in Lofa County, various citizens’ groups, including religious, community and women’s leaders, called on VP Boakai to contest for the nation’s highest office in 2017 when Liberians will be expected to head to the polls to elect a new crop of leaders in the general and presidential elections.
Come 2017, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s constitutional mandate as the President of Liberia will be nearing its end. Many contestants for the presidency are expected to emerge, one of whom might be the VP if he openly declares his intention to throw his hat into the race as desired by his kinsmen.
To that request, he is yet to say yes or no. However, he is touring Lofa for one week and at the end of his visit he will hold an interactive forum with the media perhaps to give an official response to his kinsmen and women’s request.
Nevertheless, in a brief interview to get his reaction to what the people of Salayea had requested of him, he told the Daily Observer that it was not yet clear what the people actually meant. But he added: “If the people are thinking big, than they should act big.”
Probably to further obtain clarity about what Lofaians want from him, the VP, at a Zorzor City Town Hall Meeting last Saturday, May 16, stated: “I am here and listening to what the people are saying about all of these ideas that are coming forward. I am sure when the small people start singing a song in a town the song maybe has been sung by the big people in the town. I am still waiting on the Superintendent to hear from him whether it is the same song that they are singing, too.”
VP Boakai promised the audience that before he departs Lofa on Saturday, May 23, he would respond to their request to him to contest the 2017 presidential election.
Everyone in the county refers to him as “Big Uncle.” This is so because in keeping with a strong tradition among the people of Lofa County, the Kissi’s are considered as their ‘uncles’.
The request for the VP to contest for the presidency was first raised by the female Paramount Chief of Salayea District, Madam Matorma Saryon, who stated: “We will stand behind you. Wake up and become the president of this land—Liberia.” Other speakers in both Salayea and Zorzor Districts, including the two Senators of the county, George Tengbeh, and Steve A. Zargo, want the VP to contest.
Only the Superintendent of Lofa, who is the Vice-Agent of the President of Liberia, is yet to openly speak about what other citizens are urging the VP to do. However, during the Zorzor meeting, Supt. George S. Dunor said: “Everywhere we have gone on this post-Ebola tour, people have called on the VP to stand up and run for the presidency in 2017. This comes with shared responsibilities.”
The VP, a Lofaian himself, since he hails from the Foya District, has always come back frequently to visit with his people. He was praised for visiting with them often during the height of the Ebola crisis and bringing in anti-Ebola supplies.
Hundreds of citizens turned out to greet the VP at the entry of every major town and city, including Zorzor and Voinjama. The crowd in Voinjama swelled so much so that the VP's security detail had to create a ring around him so that he could literally count his steps as everyone moved towards the Voinjama Free Pentecostal Church, where an intercessory service was held.
Rev. James Y. Koiboi, chairman, Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Lofa Branch, recounted that in times past, Lofaians comprised the bulk of Liberia’s security forces, especially the army. He described them further as being "loyal servants."
Rhetorically, he asked: "Are we satisfied with being servants only? It's time we stand up and aim for the highest." This and other comments drew thunderous applause from Lofaians who had packed the church.
Although he is a staunch member of the Effort Baptist Church in Paynesville, the Voinjama Free Pentecostal Church has been the VP’s church for many years when he worked for the government in a junior post.