Sen. Prince Johnson Bows to US Pressure

Sen. Prince Johnson

Cites love for country as justification for turning over committee’s chairmanship

Senator Prince Yormie Johnson of Nimba County has resigned his position as chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense, Security, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs.

Sen. Johnson has of late been under growing pressure to relinquish the Senate leadership position because of the stigma he carries from his role as a warlord in the country's 14-years of civil war.  The United States, the major sponsor of the post-war Armed Forces of Liberia, strongly opposes Senator Johnson as Chairman on National Defense, Security, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs.

His election, which took place on May 18, came along with huge public protest and rebuke from the US Embassy near Monrovia.  However, Sen. Johnson defended his election and even questioned the rationale behind the criticism after he had served the committee before as its chairman without prior opposition from the Americans.

But in a twist of events, Sen. Johnson unexpectedly told his colleagues and the public that he was resigning his position, citing the interest of the country as the reason behind his decision.

“After giving much prominence to the matter in consultation with my family, I have decided to honor this request.  I, therefore, resign my post as chairman of the committee on National Defense, Security, Intelligence and Veterans Affairs of the Liberian Senate effective today,” Sen. Johnson's communication noted.

“Our traditional partner for more than two decades has resolved not to support the committee as long as I am the chair.  Liberia is bigger than any one man,” Sen. Johnson added. “The army, which is my alma-mater, needs support at this critical time of our national recovery; I will never want to stand in the way of support to the army in particular and Liberia in general.”

According to the Senator, his decision is predicated upon the need to protect and seek the interest of the country instead of standing in the way, especially now that the US has threatened not to work with the Senate Defense committee as long as he remains chair.

“In the same vein, I equally cannot afford to put the honorable Liberian Senate at odds with the United States of America, and I will do everything to work with them in ways that will improve relations and foster national development,” Sen. Johnson noted.

He noted further that his decision to tender his resignation was necessitated as the result of several visits paid to him by high-profile chiefs and elders of Nimba County, coupled with advice from his wife, his family, other stakeholders and executives of his political party.

It can be recalled that Sen. Johnson was elected unopposed in May to the post he had held during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, following the unceremonious eleventh-hour withdrawal of Lofa County Senator and then acting chairman of that committee Stephen J. H. Zargo.

Few days following his election, the US government issued a statement questioning the seriousness of the Senate after the election of Sen. Johnson as Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security. 

“While the U.S. government is proud of its longstanding partnership with the Ministry of National Defense and Armed Forces of Liberia, which will continue — we can have no relationship with Senator Johnson,” the US government said.

It added that Sen. Johnson’s gross human rights violations during Liberia’s civil wars are well-documented, and for the Senate to see fit to elevate him to a leadership role – “particularly in the area in which he has done this country the most harm — creates doubts as to the seriousness of the Senate as a steward of Liberia’s defense and security.” 

However, in a furious mood, Sen. Johnson argued that he is “Assumed innocent until the outcome of a trial in a court of competent jurisdiction; as such, the US was entitled to its opinion.”

Sen. Johnson then questioned the rationale behind the US government’s statement, especially after contesting four elections; both presidential and legislative elections, and successfully won two as Senator of Nimba County.

Meanwhile, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate Albert Chie on behalf of the Liberian Senate thanked the Senator for his services on the Senate Defense Committee and acknowledged receipt of his resignation by the Plenary of the Senate.

Meanwhile, Pro Tempore Chie has appointed Senator Zargo to act as Chair of the Defense, Security, Intelligence, and Veterans Affairs Committee pending the election of the Chairman by the Plenary. 

In a similar development, Pro Tempore Chie has also appointed Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung as Co-Chair on the Defense, Security, Intelligence and Veterans Committee while outgoing Chairman Senator Johnson has also been appointed to the Ways, Means, Finance, and Budget Committee as a member.