Monrovia – When the office of the Liberian presidency came out with a swinging reiteration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s support for the Presidential bid of her Vice President this week, it was evident to many political observers that the visible strains triggered on social media had reached boiling point and needed to be put in check.
Presidential press secretary Jerolinmek Piah made that much clear when he said: “Our initial thought regarding this issue was that it remains at the margins of the national discourse and not elevated because it represents triviality and a complete non-issue.
But because of the nature of our society, we have determined that it is of importance to be spoken to.”
Test I: Much Ado Over EJS Support
The issue in question is the repeated notion and speculation that President Sirleaf is not wholeheartedly supporting Mr. Boakai’s candidacy.
In recent weeks, speculations have been rife that the President was leaning toward throwing her weight behind football legend-turned Senator George Weah of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change.
Before that, it widely believed that the President had settled on Charles Walker Brumskine’s Liberty Party has her preferred successor. Murmurs of late have even pointed toward alleged quiet support to Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress.
Aides to Boakai have not helped matters with utterances on the social media and in talk show interviews suggesting they had not seen any visible assistance from the President toward the man who has been by her side for the past eleven and a half years.
Mo Ali, head of press and public affairs for the Boakai campaign, in an appearance on Capitol FM this week declared: “When President Sirleaf was going across the country to thank the Liberian people, when she was asked who she's supporting, the President said, when campaign starts she will tell the Liberian people who she is supporting; so we are awaiting the President to endorse the Vice President and make true her promise.
Since the start of the campaign, our former standard bearer has not been at the party headquarters; so we are waiting for the President to endorse the party standard bearer.”
Boakai himself has in recent time contributed to the perceptions out there, telling FrontPageAfrica, when asked about the perceived lack of support from Sirleaf, recently: “Maybe she’s waiting for the time, maybe she’s waiting for the occasion, but what I am saying is I have been elected standard bearer of the party."
"I’m under obligation to make sure that the party continues whether the President is supporting the party or not."
"I have the mandate to take the party and run with it. It is my job to make the Unity Party continue and make it that party that’s supposed to be until she decides she would come on board. Currently we have received no support so far.”
But Press Secretary Piah dismissed the suggestions this week when he outlined the various manners and form in which the President has been supportive of her vice President’s bid.
Said Mr. Piah: “This declared commitment by President Sirleaf has been supported in deeds and in actions well known to the Honorable Vice President himself.”
The Press Secretary explained that Sirleaf has personally made key introductions to regional and world leaders on behalf of Mr. Boakai.
“As it is customary among world leaders, President Sirleaf has informed all of her colleagues at the levels of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), the United Nations and others institutions that she supports the Presidential bid of the Vice President.
This has not changed! In fact, the Vice President has already met a number of leaders on bilateral levels through the kind arrangements and intervention of President Sirleaf.”
Mr. Piah said the President did not stop there. “On her recent and final trip to the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, President Sirleaf was accompanied by the son of the Vice for the purpose of being introduced to personalities of critical importance for bilateral and collaboration purposes.
She has also cooperated with and supported the Vice President in making the critical decisions of choosing a Running mate and constituting a Campaign Committee.
The President has further held consultative meeting with the named Campaign Manager of the Unity Party, Honorable Augustine K. Ngafuan to discuss the campaign of the party and other party-related matters.”
Critics of the Vice President say, he and his aides, perhaps overwhelmed by a wave of endorsements organized by his supporters and have become complacent, going as far as confidently believing that they will go where no modern politician in recent political history has gone, winning first round over a sea of nearly two dozen Presidential contenders.
While Sirleaf has not hidden her support for Boakai in recent utterances, she has also gone on record to suggest that he should fight for the presidency and not get it on a silver platter.
Said Sirleaf: “He is a Vice President who is running; the campaign is going to be his campaign."
"He will have to dictate how he wants it, how much he wants to build on the existing progress to which we have both contributed so much, will be his call, whether he wants to strike off and show that he has a different path that will be his choice and I am going to work with him whichever way he wants.”
Test II: Sherman Influence vs. Impeachment Chatter
Despite assurances and reassurances from Sirleaf, the visible strains and utterances from Mr. Boakai and his supporters have now reached a critical stage, compounded this week by an attempt by the lower house of the national legislature to impeach three justices of the Supreme Court.
The crux of the issue lies in perceptions that the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the controversial Code of Conduct was intended to remove a political hurdle for the opposition Liberty Party to allow Harrison Karnwea, running mate to Charles Walker Brumskine.
So, on Tuesday the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary submitted its preliminary report on the petition for the impeachment of his Honor Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Her Honor Jamesetta Howard-Wollokollie and his Honor Philips A.Z. Banks all three being associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
The House Judiciary committee in its report to plenary further stated that in the absence of any rules governing impeachment proceedings and given that there is no precedence for it, the Judiciary committee has drafted a resolution which sets out the rules for the impeachment of the three Associate Justices, giving them due process and the right to legal representation in keeping with the dictates of Constitution.
Ironically, both bodies have summoned each other to appear before the other on the same day, Friday, August 18, 2017 for a possible showdown over an embarrassing impeachment proceeding.
The issue has created a rift between the three branches of government – The Executive, Judiciary and the Legislative, spurring fears that it may lead to a government lockdown and possible postponement of the elections in October.
Several election-related matters are currently before the full bench and impeachment, legal experts say could throw a monkey wrench into the process.
More importantly, some Presidential aides are quietly fearing a conspiracy of sorts against the presidency owing to the fact that Boakai has not commented on the matter which is being pushed by a majority of the lower house lawmakers who have endorsed his presidency.
As second-highest executive official in the country, and one of only two elected executive offices along with the President, Mr. Boakai also serves as the President of the Senate and may cast a vote in the event of a tie.
His silence over a matter of grave importance is spurring fears within the Executive, that he may be part of the conspiracy to put the upcoming Presidential elections into a state of chaos.
Additionally, some Presidential aides fear that Boakai is being heavily influenced by Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, the former Chair of the ruling party who has had a long-standing beef with Sirleaf.
Cllr. Sherman is one of several individuals linked to the Sable Mining bribery scandal that were ordered to be prosecuted by President Sirleaf. The case was cut short after Sherman fell ill and was forced to fly out of the country after falling out while in session at the Capitol Building.
But the UP lawmaker, addressing only a select group of legislative reporters Wednesday dismissed the allegations that he is behind the ongoing impeachment push.
Cllr. Sherman countered: “This story is unfair to me. I am not a well man. I came back to the country, based on doctors’ advice… I can talk and speak intelligently, I have not lost my eyesight; this is why I came back to contribute and perform my duty as a senator,” adding, “Why will people think that I am behind the impeachment exercise?”
He added: “I don’t have the time and energy to be involved with the impeachment proceedings and certainly to be behind what is happening; that is not true.
You can remember that on May 1 of his year I fell off and was rushed to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center where I was in coma for several days before being flown to US, where I recovered.
This story that I am so powerful and influential to manipulate the other senators to petition for the impeachment of the justice is far from the truth,” Cllr. Sherman said.
The issue has also given rise in recent weeks growing out of expressed concerns by Boakai’s aides that the President’s perceived support to the opposition is due to fears that Sherman’s influence could press Boakai into going after her when her presidency is over.
In fact, some members of the opposition recently baited the ruling party suggesting that they would do a better job at protecting Sirleaf than her vice President.
Rep. Acarous Moses Gray posed on his page last week, a quote from Weah, stating: Patriot Weah, “Unlike Boakai, I will provide security for Ellen, her children and her family.”
Rep. Gray’s post was seen as a political jab to supporters of VP Boakai who stepped up their rhetoric. It is a perception that the Presidency was quick to put in check with Press Secretary Piah said that when it comes to the issue of integrity, President Sirleaf stands by her integrity and those of her family members. “Her integrity remains untainted and exemplary.
This is therefore an open challenge to those who think otherwise because President Sirleaf has absolutely nothing to hide and seeks no protection from anyone because her records are just clear and clean.
In short, President Sirleaf has done nothing wrong to warrant seeking protection from whoever takes over as President of Liberia following the elections.”
Test III: The Tribal Card
Mr. Boakai has also come under fire over his silence amid the repeated play of the Congau vs. Country Divide being propagated by key members of his campaign.
Quite recently, his campaign’s spokesman, Ali was slammed on social media by many including Mr. Boakais’ supporters and his own son, for pushing the ethnic line.
Joseph Boakai Jr. in a post said:
“Mo Ali, I am pretty disappointed with your post this morning. I had previously written on someone else’s page that this could never come from a person sensibly associated with the Boakai effort.
You are absolutely wrong in asserting that the UP ticket is the “Indigenous Ticket”. Aren’t the ticket and the leadership we propose for all of us – Liberians?
We have discussed this before on small and large scale. Joseph Boakai doesn’t believe in this message, his family doesn’t believe in this message, the people don’t believe in this message!
Being indigenous is not something anyone determines at birth, neither being Liberian.
However, loving your country and respecting all the people have been a conscious choice for him and everyone around him.
You are a young man with great fervor and I know many times we become frustrated with the lies and insinuations that come from those that attack us, but we must always remember the greatest binding force amongst us. That is Liberia.”
Ali, would later deny the post, stating that someone had hacked into his Facebook account and created a graphic of Boakai and Nuquay with the label, The Indigenous Ticket”.
While many commended Joseph Boakai Jr for his stance and defense of his father’s position on the issue, some critics say, the senior Boakai’s silence on the matter has been mind boggling.
Some for example have pointed to Mr. Boakai’s rivals who have in recent months, addressed controversies regarding their candidacy head on.
Talk show host Henry Costa told FrontPageAfrica Thursday that Mr. Boakai’s silence is due to the fact that he is quietly looking to benefit from the controversy.
Mr. Costa who supports the candidacy of Mr. Benoni Urey said: “Mr. Boakai believes in the indigenous card and is exploiting it to his advantage – and that’s why he is not addressing it.”
Some political observers are drawing contrast to Mr. Boakai’s rivals.
For example, when statement attributed to Mr. Urey in which he is alleged to have said, “It is time for the masonic craft to take over Liberia, Mr. Urey came out right away and said it was not true”.
When Senator Weah was bombarded with criticisms about his reported meeting with former President Charles Taylor, he also came out to address the matter, acknowledging that he had indeed spoken with ex-Liberian President, but denied having 'personal relationship' with the ex-warlord, who's currently serving a 50-prison sentence in Britain, for war crimes and other violations he committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
When Liberty Party’s Charles Walker Brumskine was taken to task over a statement attributed to him on a local talk radio morning show that if elected he would beat dumboy in the mansion, in reference to the preferred choice of cuisine for the Bassa tribe from which he hailed, Mr. Brumskine said: “I’m a Bassa man, should you elect me as your President I want to swallow dumboy every day, you think I’ll leave the Mansion and beat it on Broad Street?”
Cllr. Brumskine later clarified that he often identifies with every ethnic groups whenever he is on the campaign trial.
“I’m working 18 hours a day because people come to me and I go to them whether it’s in the village, in fact, I prefer being in the village because that’s where the real people are – no hypocrisy, there’s no sycophancy… I’m from a humble background.
ANC’s Cummings, also faced with criticisms about his nationality, and has on numerous occasions addressed the issue head on.
Test IV: The Conspicuous Silence
Mr. Boakai’s silence on a number of critical issue is not going unnoticed and many political observers – and even some of his closest supporters are beginning to tie the recent wave of exodus from the party that has seen the likes of former Pro Temp Gbezhonga Finley and Gender Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell take their exit, as a turning point in his quest for the presidency.
The resignation of Secretary General Lenn Eugene Nagbe has also added to the deepening divide between Mr. Boakai and President Sirleaf.
The issue has also triggered concerns of a division amongst appointees of Sirleaf, supporting Boakai and those still hanging on with President Sirleaf as the clock runs out on her presidency.
Additionally, the vice President’s critics have hammered him over his perceived lack of leadership in much in naming his running mate on time, and waiting at the last minute and on the eve of the deadline by the elections commission.
Many of his critics have charged that the long wait is a contributing factor to the negative publicity that is dragging the ticket.
But more importantly, some critics are taking aim at the vice President for not seizing control of the ongoing impeachment drive when majority of the house and Senate have endorsed his Presidential bid, compounded by his silence and lack of public statements about the stalling of the President legislative agenda in the legislature.
For the foreseeable future however, political observers say, the fact that neither the vice President who presides over the Senate or the speaker who presides over the house have taken a public position for or against impeachment, raises serious concerns and is likely to continue the lingering state of uncertainty over the state of the ties between Boakai and President Sirleaf.
For the immediate future, as the denials and counter accusations regarding support or lack of for Boakai lingers, the Vice President’s candidacy continues to be hurt by mounting questions about his silence over utterances by his aides that is contributing to the deepening divide between he and the President.
In the last 72 hours, multiple sources have told FrontPageAfrica that the VP camp has made some outreach to the presidency following the statement from Sirleaf’s office this week.
It is still unclear the extent of those discussions are going but one Presidential aide told FPA Thursday, the presidency has made it clear and provided details of how much the President has been there for Boakai.
“Boakai must now show leadership and address the wrong perceptions his aides are throwing out there.
“It is not good for his own candidacy, neither is it god for the relationship between he and the President,” the aide said Thursday, a point the President’s office alluded to this week when Mr. Piah said: “To those spreading the fake news about the President’s support to candidates other than Vice President Boakai, we call upon you to use the energy you have to gather the votes and make the case about the Vice President’s election instead of seeking to tear down and destroy the unity of the Unity Party and the relationship of the President and her Vice President.”