The Prince Johnson Conundrum in 2017: My Perspective


Recently, the Liberian political space, especially social media, went haywire with the news that Ben Urey and Prince Johnson had formed a coalition.

Without fully understanding the letter of the agreement that was signed, everyone believed that PYJ would be going as vice presidential candidate to Urey. It was the regular stereotype that leads many to conclude that PYJ would be Urey’s Veep. 

Urey’s chief propagandist, Henry Costa, even took to the airwaves trying to paint PYJ as a patriot even though defending him was difficult than Trump’s acceptance of the successes of Obamacare.

While some members within their ranks had hesitations, most of the Urey people believed that without properly reading the agreement. They assumed that Urey is superior to PYJ and so any merger or coalition would naturally dictate that that a ‘Prince Johnson” should be a VP to a “Urey.”

How condescending is that? Why wouldn’t they, for a moment, think that PYJ could be the Presidential candidate while Urey would be the VP? No! In traditional thinking, that is never possible. 

Well, it wasn’t too long when PYJ came to the public and inform them that the agreement only called for a coalition; an idea he believes in if the opposition is to have any chance of unseating the ruling Unity Party. And so, according to him, he was happy to sign it because there is nowhere in the document where it says, he (PYJ) will be VP to Urey.  

In fact if Urey and his people were paying attention, they would have listened to PYJ when he gave an interview to the VOA a few days earlier. In that interview, he was very clear that it was time for the majority “indigenous” to rule. He found it incomprehensible why the minority will continue to take the majority as VP.

He asked, why can’t we (the indigenous) ever be top of the ticket? I am not sure how those who are engaged in politics don’t pay any attention to their surroundings? Why don’t they read signs and signals? 

Anyway, that been said, I really don’t see any political value of a coalition between Urey and PYJ no matter who goes top or bottom of the ticket. It is a losing proposition from a political standpoint. Even both Urey and PYJ can go number one on the ticket (if it is allowed), there is no way they can have any political impact other than making a statement; whatever that statement is. 

Let me be clear here: PYJ does have a political following among the Nimba people. I believe he will be their senator for life. There is no other Nimbaian that can defeat PYJ even if we were to put two on them on a ticket against PYJ. 

That said, let it also be made extremely clear that PYJ doesn’t have a national appeal. There is no way on God’s green earth, that PYJ can become president of Liberia. However, for as long Nimba continues to register a huge number of voters and other Nimba politicians continue to cede the space to PYJ, he will continue to control the County. 

If one takes the time to look at past election results, you will see that PYJ is a strong Nimba politician but doesn’t have the national sway to propel him to the presidency. In fact, I will argue that putting PYJ on any part of your ticket will hurt you so bad that you will regret the day that the thought came to you. Don’t get me wrong, anyone will need PYJ on side so that they can get the Nimba votes to the extent that the Nimba people will listen to him. 

It has not yet been tested whether the Nimba will take political instructions and/or directions from PYJ or will only vote for him once he is on the ticket as a form of gratitude and solidarity for what he “did” for the County during the civil war.

We were not able to test this proposition in 2011 because the CDC pulled out of the second round. Besides, given that the Nimba people have no love for George Weah and then he compounded it by putting Winston Tubman on his ticket. Remember that Winston was the Justice Minister during the Nimba raid and sure the Nimba people have not forgotten that. 

I must admit that the Nimba people have been loyal to PYJ. They will tell you that “I cannot take my intestine from my stomach and replace it with rope.” They are very clear that once PYJ is on the ticket, they will vote for him. Of course he doesn’t hesitate to remind them if another war comes they will see who will defend them. 

Now, if the numbers are anything to go by, then you will see that PYJ is a solid only in Nimba and probably areas of the country where are huge Nimba populations. 

In 2011, it is true that PYJ came third owing to the decent showing in Nimba County and dismal performance by Cllr. Charles Brumskine. PYJ got 140,000 votes with nearly 110,000 coming from Nimba.

Important to note is that the total votes cast in Nimba County that year was 175,000 and imagine that PYJ got 110,000. He also got 16,000 from Montserrado county and you can argue that there is a decent Nimba population in Montserrado. 

When we go back further to 2005, you see that of the 100,124 votes in Nimba that year, PYJ got a whopping 81,820 to become the Senior Senator for Nimba County. And again in 2014, when 59,418 votes were cast, PYJ got another 37,932 to win re-elections. So no doubt the Nimba people believe in PYJ and will always support and those numbers are sufficient to make anyone president. 

So when Urey got all fired up that he had hit the jackpot and was on his way to the Executive Mansion, he needed to look at the numbers and investigate the political terrain a little more. 

Again, it is worth mentioning that anyone would be lucky to get PYJ on side so that he can direct the Nimba votes to that person but it means that the person must have a national appeal and only needs that chuck of votes to get them over the finish line and I am not sure Urey fits the bill. 

Now, let it be known that PYJ will definitely contest the 2017 elections as a presidential candidate and of course he will he have a decent showing. He has to contest as a presidential candidate so that he can continue to convince himself that he is still politically relevant and no one should take him as joke.

Remember, the major reason he ran in 2011 was to prove to Madam Sirleaf that the decision to boot him from the Unity Party in favor of Harry Yuan was a mistake. He wanted to prove that he controls the County and no one else. 

At the end of the day, PYJ will have decent showing but will go nowhere. And then in the second round, he will give his support to Joseph Boakai. 

 I want to remember a few things about the ensuing elections:

 The Unity Party will be in the second round

  1. That either CDC or Liberty Party will go to the second round with UP
  2. If CDC goes with UP, PYJ has no respect for George Weah and therefore will go with Joseph Boakai;
  3. If Liberty Party goes to the second round with UP, PYJ believes that it is time for an indigenous majority to rule and so he will go with Joseph Boakai;
  4. Remember that Nimba Elders though will not stop PYJ from running but will encourage him to support Joseph Boakai because the traditional relationship between Nimba and Lofa and PYJ respects the Elders of Nimba. So political commentators like myself, we can only sit afar and watch and illustrate the political malaise 

If the intervening variables don’t convince you to stop wasting your time and money, then you will learn an expensive lesson.  

Cllr. Brumskine, what is going on with your health?

Three long years ago, former President Obasanjo took off the gloves and launched a scathing attack on deceased President Yar’Adua and his then handlers for the “shoddy, tardy, unpatriotic, selfish, and reckless” way in which information about the former president’s health was withheld from the public. He contended that the former president was ill long before the campaign but opted to hide details about his health.

By the end of Yar’Adua’s time as president, Nigeria had spent millions of dollars on his health. Funds that could have been used to provide basic necessities for poor communities were unfortunately spent because someone was economical of the truth. The Yar’Adua’s brouhaha seems to be the same of its anti-corruption president, Buhari.

The latter, elected on the platform of honesty, seems to be dishonest to himself and such scale is now leading to a full scale treachery. It is now very visible that he’s very, very ill and has been again flown out of the country.

The dilemma of Yar’ Adua and Buhari is representative of what is going on with Presidential Candidate Charles Brumskine. Like them, the learned counselor is shielding his illness and even recently travelled to seek urgent medical attention.

His avid supporters are in the know that their man is sick. Even recent photos of Cllr. Brumskine are portraying a picture that he seems not to own.  He’s sick and if prayers are needed, he needs to come clean and tell the people of Liberia that he’s sick and need prayers.

Like President Buhari, Cllr. Brumskine is running a campaign about honesty. It seems he is the only candidate who has a plan about fighting corruption and his recent speech on tackling corruption meets basic standards in fighting graft. Even though his message resonates with political commentators like me, many Liberians are still ambivalent in the digestion of his anti-corruption message. He is surrounded my many with mesmerizing tastes for siphoning resources.

To be a messenger for corruption, people accused and convicted for stealing cannot be the ones carving campaign messages. It is plain deception. However, that is a different case and it will form a part of an upcoming commentary.

Cllr. Brumskine needs to wear the moral garment and say to us what’s wrong with him. I know he’s aging but age is not illness. There are healthy 80-year olds. The debate of him being an older person has little currency. I am aware that we all can get sick. I recently left for Ghana for an urgent medical attention. We all get sick. However, if you are running for public office, it is only fair to inform the public about the status of your health.

Many people reading these lines may be concerned on why am I picking on Cllr. Brumskine. Some may even be suggesting that I am hired gun. That I hate man and wants the walls around him to crumble. No sirs. The reason here is simple; when he’s elected he becomes a liability to the taxpayers.

It is Liberia that will pay his medical bills and not him. Funds meant for addressing healthcare and the provision of basic social amenities will be diverted to restore the health of an ailing president.

So, we demand information. It is the right for the public to know what his current health status is before we join the Nigerian dilemma. Yes, it is that serious and I’m being dead serious.  

The episode with Cllr. Brumskine is enough to get the state through the National Elections Commission to act. It may be only him under the radar now but there are several others with the similar complications. It is high time we developed strong guidelines to demand people seeking public offices to come clean about their health statuses.

Since we will have to defray the expenses attached to their medical expenses, it should be embedded in the available electoral laws. Liberia is not and has never been a welfare state.

Resources are scarce and the available funds should be used to intervene in the provision of affordable healthcare, procuring and distributing school supplies and in other pro-poor programs. Nobody should be allowed to milk the people in broad daylight.

Commitment to the state is paramount and it is so important to keep that commitment. 

Robin Lee Tarpeh is a Political Consultant and Strategist with the First Consulting. Email – [email protected]