An eyewitness account
By Gboko Stewart
Electoral violence can be very bloody and sometimes deadly, as Saturday November 17, 2018, has shown.
Cornelia Kruah-Togba’s tripartite caravan made their way into New Georgia on Saturday afternoon, November 17, 2018. I joined them at the New Georgia junction as they proceeded to the campaign headquarters at the Nigerian Shop community.
As they approached the campaign headquarters, there was a rallying call for the team to proceed into the New Georgia Estate to rally voters who couldn’t parade in order for them to turn out en masse on the football pitch to hear Cornelia speak.
I followed at a distance. The sun was mildly hot and I became tired in an instant from the walking. I sat under a zinc shade and rummaged through my phone for old messages to read in order to pass the time.
Soon I was joined by two journalists, one of whom I had called to cover Cornelia’s campaign rally for the radio. We chatted a bit about the rally and Cornelia’s chances in the elections.
Then suddenly we heard a thunderous roar that bellowed from our back. We jerked our heads and turned around. They were bedecked in blue berets, military boots and pants and what seems to be para-military like; they raised their hands and shouted in unison and I could tell they were militants of the CDC.
For a moment, it seemed like I was transposed into time to Nazi Germany, and the military like movement of the shouting men with their arms outstretched and raised in the air as if they were about to shout “Heil Hitler”, were all too real. In the thick of things, I saw the Mayor of the City of Monrovia, Jefferson T. Koijee, leading the men, shouting, not campaign slogans, but warlike slogans instead.
I had by then sensed that the situation was going to deteriorate into a free for all brawl. I got to my feet and told the guys I was heading back to the campaign headquarters as I did not want to be caught up in violence. Trokon Wrepue of Prime FM and his colleague decided they were “going into the storm” to cover from there.
Eventually, I found a bike, told him not to proceed further and asked him to take me back to Cornelia’s campaign headquarters. Straight ahead of me I could discern that people were already scurrying in several directions.
I immediately called Kelvin Demie of Prime FM and Daffae Senkpeni of FrontPage Africa to let them know what was unfolding. The black Acura-MDX SUV on which Cornelia sat atop waving towards her supporters and onlookers drove by with speed, veered on a small dusty road and took her to safety.
“Hurry up let’s get out of here my man,” I shouted to the bike rider. He sped. As we rode along, I spotted Rep. Solomon George and a group of ragtag men. They seemed primed and ready for “action”.
Arriving at the campaign headquarters, I quickly ran to my friend Ed of the government owned daily and told him what was unfolding. Shops and businesses had begun closing out of fear. Cars and bikes were no longer plying the small strip of road in New Georgia.
It seemed like war or all hell had broken loose. Then all of a sudden, stones began flying as Ed and I ran into a nearby house not far from Cornelia’s campaign headquarters for safety. The stones rained on the zinc roof. “I hope these people got strong zinc o,” I prayed.
After a little while things appeared to have subsided a bit. When I peeked outside, I saw one of Koijee’s men sporting a blue beret, swinging his machete at someone. The person ducked and ran between the houses. What followed later was a stone towards the guy who swung at him.
Apparently taking advantage of the brief lull, Cornelia’s supporters sprung from between the houses. A lot of them were bloodied. At an adjacent house, a female supporter of the tripartite alliance lay on the floor bleeding. She was allegedly stabbed in the stomach by one of the machete wielding men wearing blue berets, an eyewitness alleged. She was said to have later expired, although I could not confirm the veracity of the report.
“Jefferson Koijee will not leave from here today,” said some angry supporters of the tripartite alliance – UNITY PARTY, Liberty Party and Alternative National Congress. “He come spoiled our rally – he will not go free” New Georgia had by then become highly polarized.
I counted over 20 supporters of Cornelia who had been wounded and bloodied. In apparent reaction to Koijee’s rampage, old tree stumps were thrown into the roadway to prevent Koijee and his machete wielding men from passing. A man spotted wearing a CDC shirt was hit in the face with a rock by an angry tripartite supporter. He ran with his hand stuck to his forehead as if to prevent his blood from flowing. Stones followed him.
Moments later, a police pickup truck, with four riot police hanging outside, sped into New Georgia but was soon met by roadblocks. The officers disembarked and removed the roadblock but, by then, it began to dawn on me that their primary mission was to extract the Mayor of Monrovia and Representative Solomon George, and not to bring an end to the violence.
Soon, another round of stone-throwing began so I quickly made my way indoors. When it subsided, a little, I made my way to Cornelia’s house. There, I saw more wounded supporters. One of her security officers had been stabbed in the head.
I then called Cornelia by phone, inquiring about her whereabouts. She could not reveal but told me she was in hiding at a temporary safe haven. It was from there she did the live video, alerting the world of the violence led by the Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee.
Later, the press converged at her house for a statement. Cornelia came out from another location. I could see, from her eyelids, she had been crying. She however did appear unfazed by the commotion. At that moment, I suggested issuing a statement instead of fielding questions from journalists, but then realized that the media needed to see her to assure that she was unperturbed by the intimidation tactics.
After responding to questions from the press, we proceeded into the house following the press stakeout. We were joined there by Atty. Moriah Yeakula, a member of the Unity Party and a friend of Cornelia’s. Together we pondered on ways how we could sneak out of New Georgia with Cornelia and her family. But we harbored fears of being spotted and met with an onslaught of violence by supporters of John Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change.
About an hour later, the Inspector-General of Police, Patrick Sudue, arrived and asked to see Cornelia. But Cornelia retired to her room and, as Moriah suggested, we told him she was not around. The Inspector-General then quizzed Atty. Yeakula on Cornelia’s whereabouts, but Atty. Yeakula remained adamant that Cornelia wasn’t around. He then grew furious and began to grandstand.
“I, the number one man in police come to tell her we will send armed men to protect her and your hiding her.”
At that point, it wasn’t about whether or not Patrick was “the number one man in the Police.” It was about Cornelia’s safety to which, from the onset of the rally, the police seemed indifferent as they assigned two unarmed officers to Cornelia’s campaign. The men had fled when the violence raged.
Apparently being angry by our response, he stormed out, accusing us of hiding Cornelia, but he made sure to leave his call card with Atty. Yeakula as he stormed out. All at once, the danger we faced began to dawn on us. Darkness had then begun to set in and we pondered about ways to escape. Moriah went to Cornelia’s room and told her husband that we had to go. They packed a little suitcase. Our minds were in a state of disarray.
We then headed to the back of the house. An ANC pickup was parked outside and Cornelia and her family made for it. I advised against using it to escape because I felt the nearly faded ANC inscription on it could give us out, particularly as members of the CDC had observed its presence during the rally.
We have to use another car which no one saw today, I insisted. Fortunately, a stalwart of the Unity Party drove by at that moment with his truck and we made our way for it, escaping through the backend of New Georgia.
While on our way, we approached another truck filled with supporters of John Weah of the CDC. My heart skipped a beat; but, thankfully, our glasses were tinted. We had intended to go through Barnesville Estate but were advised that the road was bad. We then turned and headed for the Supermarket side of Gardnersville where we saw another SUV crammed with supporters from the rival party. We passed on, arriving on the main road and made our way to safety.
Gboko Stewart is a freelance journalist and serves as media liaison for Team Cornelia.