Boakai’s Decision Fallout: Protests, Disbelief Over Liberia’s Ruling Party Presidential Candidate VP Selection
Monrovia – Prior to the recent endorsement ceremony in Grand Bassa County, Vice President Joseph Boakai, the candidate for the ruling Unity Party in the upcoming Presidential elections in Liberia reportedly had a laundry list of fifteen persons under consideration for his coveted running mate slot.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Now, there is a common saying that money cannot buy love. If it is true that Nuquay used money US$2 million dollars as it is widely being perceived now, for him to secure his vice Presidential nomination – of course I don’t think that will speak well for them.
if that is not the case and it is based solely on his character as a public servant – then we will see the reaction before the election – I mean before the campaign even start – Senator Thomas Grupee, (NUDP, Nimba County)
But according to multiple sources within the hierarchy of the party, the man tipped by Mr. Boakai last week, the Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Emmanuel Nuquay was not on that list.
In the days that followed however, as the vice President continued to hold his decision to his chest, it became abundantly clear as speculations heightened that Speaker Nuquay, who prior to becoming speaker headed the powerful and influential Ways, Means and Finance Committee, emerged as a key candidate under consideration.
That Mr. Nuquay suddenly surpassed the likes of former President Pro Temp Gbezohnga Findley of Grand Bassa County, rights activist Samuel Kofi Woods, Senator Peter Coleman (Grand Kru County) Senator Thomas Grupee (Nimba County), Rep Matenokay Tingbeh (District 9, Nimba County), party chair Wilmot Paye and a host of others, came as a shock to many, who until last Monday’s announcement were heavily leaning toward Boakai as their choice for the presidency.
Reactions to what is now being dubbed the controversial Boakai decision, has been mixed.
Fallout No. 1: Revisiting Strains With EJS
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has reportedly accepted but is said to have reservations about the pick although it remains to be seen whether she remains supportive.
Aides to the President who at first was believed to have played a major role in steering her vice President toward Speaker Nuquay are now quietly saying, that she had no role whatsoever in the selection and that in fact, she was notified two hours prior to last Monday’s announcement by vice President Boakai.
“The President felt a bit disappointed, in fact disrespected that her vice President came to her with a decision at the last minute, on the eve before the deadline for candidates to name their pick. She is not taking it well,” said the aide.
“She received a call that he wanted to see her and he broke the news. She heard it on the same day as the rest of the country.”
In fact, one source privy to the moments leading to last Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity told FrontPageAfrica that the VP Boakai was actually contemplating on going into the 10-day extension announced by the National Elections Commission and had planned to give himself a few more days before naming his running mate.
However, the source explained that some of the vice President’s closest aides resisted and urged him to go ahead and announce because it would appear to the public that the extension was put in place to give him an unfair advantage against other Presidential candidates in the race for the presidency.
For many skeptics, the idea that President Sirleaf was not in the know that her vice President and likely successor was leaning toward Nuquay is a tough sell.
After all, Pres. Sirleaf’s long-running strains with former Speaker Tyler paved the way for Nuquay’s rise to within striking distance from the presidency.
Nuquay didn’t help the fueling speculations as he paid homage to Sirleaf during his acceptance speech, crediting the President for his rapid rise at the pinnacle of the Liberian political landscape.
“I also want to extend to Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf my profound gratitude. “
“The astute leadership of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf laid the foundation for a lot of us young people to arrive at the national scene. We owe it to her. I’m indeed grateful to her for being a great mother and leader of our country.”
Speaker Nuquay assumed the position of speaker on a white ballot after a lengthy battle with former Speaker Alex Tyler.
His victory was eclipsed by concerns from many even within the corridors of the lower house who doubted his ability to unify the troubled and divided House centered around the incident with Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue who was not available during the election for Speaker.
Both he and former Speaker Tyler had been peers since January 2015.
Former Speaker Tyler rewarded the friendship by appointment Speaker Nuquay to the powerful Ways, Means and Finance Committee. When the pair fell apart, former Speaker Tyler removed him from the committee, replacing him with Representative Moses Y. Kollie of Lofa County.
In accepting his selection last week, Speaker Nuquay appeared determine to drown out the bad patches of his reign as Speaker and head of the Ways, Means and Finance Committee.
Describing his choice as a great day, made possible by God, Speaker Nuquay trumpeted his rise from obscurity to power.
“I was Mr. Nobody in the national legislature for one year, nine months. Thereafter I had the privilege of being elected on the white ballot by my colleagues some of whom are here.
Today, after serving as speaker of the House of Representatives for a little over nine months, I now have the privilege to be named as the running mate to his excellency Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, standard bearer of the ruling Unity Party.”
Added Speaker Nuquay: “I’m quite aware that it took many considerations before you could arrive at this decision. In a country of over four million people your search for a running mate landed at my doorsteps. We are grateful.”
Fallout No. 2: Nuquay ‘Caught on Tape’
In naming Speaker Nuquay, VP Boakai said last Monday that he put a lot thought into the selection and wanted to be certain that whoever emerges as the vice President in the upcoming elections, must be someone who shared his vision to drive a new agenda for Liberia.
Describing Speaker Nuquay as a true son of the soil, VP Boakai appeared to be playing into the perceptions many held prior to his selection that his campaign was towing the line of the ethnicity divide.
Critics of the pick were quick to question Mr. Boakai’s decision. A senior UP official told FrontPageAfrica shortly afterwards that the vice President already had the votes he hopes Speaker Nuquay would be bringing to the ticket.
Additionally, questions about potential breach of the ruling party’s constitution also dampen the decision because Nuquay was an outsider and not a member of the party.
In 2014, Speaker Nuquay established the People’s Unification Party along with fellow Senator Henry Yallah and former Senator Sumo Kupee, who joined the newly-formed party after he was defeated in the UP. The party won a single seat in the December 2014 Senate elections with the election of Jim Tornonlah from Margibi.
So, his selection forced the UP into a complicated political predicament, Speaker Nuquay was forced to pledge his membership to the ruling party before his selection had been finalized.
But it didn’t take long for Speaker Nuquay’s old ghost to come haunting.
As Speaker and former head of the powerful Ways, Means and Finance committee in the lower house, the speaker was responsible for much of the uneven budget expenditures and allocations which has deprived those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder, improvements in their lives.
But it was the recent 4-G passage of the multi-year tax break for the Farmington Hotel that drew tons of criticisms on the lower house.
Although the bill is currently before the Senate, Nuquay’s handling of the swift passage was an illustration to many that his pledge to refine the image of the dogged lower house was much ado about nothing.
This was heightened the following day after the Vice President’s selection when a leaked recording surfaced on which Speaker Nuquay appears to be raining insults at some members of his constituency.
The Speaker is heard saying: “People coming they want job but it’s not our business to give our job to them, to give our birthright to them.
So, we will never, never ever do that. If they come with rudeness, if they exhibit rudeness; but one thing I have said which I want to reiterate, let them bear in mind that whether it is one month from now, its two years from now, its three years from now, its five years from now, it’s ten years from now, they will pay the price for their rudeness.
I’ve said this and I’m saying this consistently and I will do it no matter heaven open, this is the time for them to exhibit rudeness? After October 11, it will be our time, from October 11 going, it will be our time.”
Several radio stations have been playing the recording repeatedly since it leaked to the public.
Talk show host Henry Costa, a supporter of Benoni Urey has dubbed the Boakai-Nuquay ticket “The Wicked Ticket” and has injected the recording as part of his morning show routine.
The speaker has not yet clarified to context to which he was speaking and the recording which is making the rounds not just on local radio stations but also on social media is poised to serve an unnecessary distraction for the ruling party’s ticket as the campaign period nears.
Fallout No. 3: The NimbaCounty Letdown
Already boasting representation in government in the Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, an Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh and a party chairman in Wilmot Paye, Nimba County supporters of the vice President were still hopeful of having one of their kinsmen being selected by the ruling party standard bearer.
When the name of Speaker Nuquay was announced, Nimba County residents did not take it lying down.
Senator Thomas Grupee(NUDP, Nimba County) told a community radio station in Ganta last week that he and many others from the county were a bit surprised.
While expressing congratulations to the Speaker for his preferment, Senator Grupee urged Nimbaians not to be perturbed or bitter about this pronouncement.
Said the Senator: “I personally will tell you in a realistic manner that I’m disappointed but I’m not disturbed for the mere fact that there were a lot of variables that worked out, that there were lot of factors to be taken into consideration – and those factors whether they are genuine or not, we just had to accept it.
To say that Nimba County had a Chief Justice and Associate Justice and also a party chairman therefore Nimba County cannot be given the number two spot on the Unity Party ticket, I don’t find that to be a genuine excuse but what I’m very appreciative about is the generosity of the people of Nimba.”
The Senator added: “The people of Nimba, for the five days that VP Boakai stayed in Nimba County; showed him love and generosity.
We, the people of Nimba County, have always been perceived as very kind, people that have the soul generated by love. And this is what we showed old man Boakai. Our chiefs and elders met with him.
He came and narrated the story of the four counties that were created in 1964 and he made the commitment that he will never forget about the rest of the counties as he went into this race. But after saying all of this, let me tell you this. This is not an election.
People are reacting to this issue as if to say the election is over. This is not an election. We came for awareness. This is like going into an engagement for a woman that you perceive to be your expected wife.
The way in which the engagement goes, that’s how the marriage goes. If the engagement is not right, of course the marriage will not be right.”
But the Senator is still holding out hope for some kind of negotiations or possible support for another party.
“As a politician and as a son of Nimba County, all what I have to tell my people is they should be focused and continue to do what they do best which is to support one from here.
We went out there and did the best that we could but we still have time ahead of us to take a somber reflection at how things happen the way it happened and what we are going to do from now on. “
But in a major charge, the Senator raised a matter of serious consequences for the Speaker when he made mention of a speculation suggesting money may have changed hands and factor into the vice President’s selection process.
Senator Grupee stated: “Now, there is a common saying that money cannot buy love. If it is true that Speaker Nuquay used money US$2 million dollars as it is widely being perceived now, for him to secure his vice Presidential nomination – of course I don’t think that will speak well for them – if that is not the case and it is based solely on his character as a public servant – then we will see the reaction before the election…I mean before the campaign even start.”
The Senator repeated his plead to Nimbaians, stating: “Let me used this medium to appeal to my people to remain calm and remain focus to see how things will unfold.”
“We have more than one thousand well qualified Nimbaians, so if someone will say that because we have Chief Justice, and associate justice with the chairmanship of a party therefore we cannot be No. 2 on a ticket, well so be it, Let us move on.”
Senator Grupee agreed that the reaction to the selection of Speaker Nuquay has been overwhelming and mixed.
“For the people of Nimba County I mean, once the news conference was unfolding, I started receiving calls, one of the thing that Ambassador Boakai did that might have been an error – on his part as a leader, since he came to Nimba County, and was his last stop and the Nimba County elders appealed to him- they did not call specific name or number but he knows that when he narrowed down the list, he had about three people in Nimba County that were still vying for the position.
If I was in his case as a responsible leader, I would call each of these people to tell them that gentlemen, I am sorry; I know you are all able and competent, but at this time, I have decided on somebody else. But you don’t take people by a complete surprise. For me, I believe that was of error.
Having said that the reaction has been mixed, we are trying to console our people that this is not the end. Things changed along the way.
Besides that the position of the vice presidency is not the only position in the government.
“There are so many other positions we can still vote for Ambassador Boakai and we can still negotiate for other positions that will satisfy us, that will empower our youths. So we should remain calm and move forward.”
The Senator said the entire ordeal has made him stronger.
“The Gio and Mano, we are one package, we should remain together and that is the only way we will be relevant to help decide what goes on in Liberia.
Basically, it has made me even stronger. Boakai decision makes me a very responsible politician and make me to know Liberia and how Liberians; it makes me to know my relationship with my people, how connected I am with the people, how they see us as their leader.”
Fallout No. 4: The Margibi County Dilemma
If Nimbaians are feeling the pinch, residents in Speaker Nuquay’s hometown of Margibi County also appear divided. Thanks to a long-running feud between supporters of district four Representative Ben Fofana (Unity Party) and legislative aspirant Francis Cooper (Peoples Unification Party).
Although Speaker Nuquay was forced to pledge loyalty to the ruling party before sealing the selection deal, he still had a small issue of the UP-PUP conundrum and its impact on the District No. 4 race.
Immediately after his selection, the ruling party made frantic efforts with Speaker Nuquay to withdraw his support from the PUP candidate and put his weight instead behind the ruling party’s candidate Fofana although it still not certain whether the PUP will still field Cooper as a candidate.
Both parties attempted a merger earlier in the year but it was never finalized. A lot of Rep. Fofana supporters had pledged their bets on whether Speaker Nuquay will support Fofana or not.
Both Speaker Nuquay and Rep. Fofana appear to have settled their differences.
Margibi has become a big player since it surpassed Grand Bassa into fifth place as the county with the most amounts of registered voters with 144,604.
Montserrado County has the highest number of registered voters with some 733, 312; Nimba County is next in line with 257,780 followed by Bong with the third highest number of registered voters with 195, 407; Lofa County with 149, 902 is fourth; and Grand Bassa County with 139,833 is sixth.
Although Speaker Nuquay hails from Margibi County, the county is still heavily split down the middle. Both Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party and Alex Cummings’ Alternative National Congress (ANC) are poised to do well.
The last time Sulunteh was on the ticket as VP candidate in 2005, he helped Cllr. Winston Tubman with Kpelle votes in both Upper Margibi and Bong counties.
Tubman and Sulunteh had the 43,348 votes in Bong County which was the highest.
The Tubman-Sulunteh ticket amassed 10,792 in Margibi County with majority of their votes in Upper Margibi County from Kakata to Bong County border.
There is also a strong possibility that Cllr. Charles Brumskine with his strong support in Lower Margibi County could make the County a dog-fight for supremacy come October.
Fallout No. 5: Protesting the Ticket
Besides the obvious disagreement from Nimbaians and Margibians, the ticket is also facing resentments in the southeast. But it was in Monrovia and Margibi at the weekend that some tension was seen.
VP Boakai and his entourage faced resentment in one of Senator George Weah’s stronghold in the Clara Town community.
The Vice President was on his way back from an endorsement program held by the Friends of the Future, 3F when protesters began their assaults.
The protesters complained that their action was against the assembly of several supporters of the Vice President in outfits of Unity Party within their political terrain.
The protesters set blockades in front of the VP convoy denying him use of the route leading to the main street of Monrovia.
Two days later in Speaker Nuquay’s hometown in Kakata, Margibi County, and similar heated exchanges ensued with supporters of several political parties said to be expressing anger and venting their frustrations against the Boakai-Nuquay ticket.
On Friday, Protesters, who gathered outside the Kakata City hall, venue of the program, with placards with inscriptions “Wicked ticket” promised to do all to ensure that the ticket doesn’t win.
“We will ensure that this ticket is defeated in October because making VP Boakai the next President and Speaker Nuquay as the next vice President will send a bad signal for our future,” one protester only identified as Patrick told FrontPageAfrica reporter.
The attack on the vice President has drawn condemnation and criticisms from all sides.
Senator George Manneh Weah (CDC, Montserrado County) told FrontPageAfrica at the weekend that wave of pre-election violence ahead Presidential polls in October was uncalled for.
Said Senator Weah: “I am seeing that a lot around here and it is not a good thing at all. In particular, I am concerned about the recent attacks on Vice President Boakai in Clara Town when rival supporters went up against him.
I do not encourage and I do not support or think we should be engaging in such a way. If you do not want to support a particular candidate then stay away but do not engage in violence.”
Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon of the opposition Liberty Party also added his voice to the debate, posting on his Facebook page Saturday:
“We should always allow people to freely express themselves whilst we brace ourselves to tolerate their expressions – for or against us – so long said means of expressions or actions are confined within the law.”
In Grand Bassa County, supporters of former Senator Gbehzonga Findley are also disappointed because he was not selected. Political observers say, the VP needs supporters of Sen. Findley to reduce Liberty Party’s Charles Walker Brumskine’s number like what President Sirleaf did in 2011. Many residents in the county sympathetic to Findley are likely to drift toward Liberty Party, paving the way for a repeat of 2011 in this October election.
Fallout No. 6: The Opposition X-Factor
Even amid what many see as a slip-up for VP Boakai, the fact remains, that the race to the Liberian presidency is far from over. What the choice has done, according to many political observers, is made the Presidential elections a wide-open playing field.
For the immediate future, as the nearly two dozen political parties brace for the start of campaigning, the key for many lies in how the opposition plays the VP Boakai slip-up to their advantage. After all, the splinter opposition has been a major reason why many appear leaning toward VP Boakai prior to his pick of Speaker Nuquay.
The opposition Coalition for Democratic Change is already drawing parallel between the ruling UP and the grand ole True Whig Party (TWP).
“We do not want a replica of the decadent True Whig Party to go for 24 years. We do not want that,” Youth League Spokesperson, Alvin Wisseh said last week.
According to Wisseh, Speaker Nuquay is an accomplice and chauvinistic promoter of bad governance; somebody who in less than eight months signed deadly, bogus and draconian concession agreements at the detriment of the Liberian people will not be given a micro inch to a breathing air.
“That is the reason why we are calling on all Liberians to rally their support behind the indomitable mass-based political movement, the CDC to ensure that Joseph Boakai and Emmanuel Nuquay be rejected,” Wisseh charged.
Love him or hate him, Nuquay has some die-hard supporters who are likely to ignore his reign over the controversial lower house.
“Speaker Nuquay is a great leader not only for District No. 5 where he represents as lawmaker but the entire Margibi County,” Clarence Theophilus Doe, a resident of the district lamented.
In reality however, what seemed a slam dunk for VP Boakai prior to the announcement of his selection, has created a sudden sense of apprehension that could take some time and efforts to convince voters like Jenkins Flomo and his wife Rebecca, who drove to Kakata from Firestone to see Speaker Nuquay last Friday, even though they said they are still “on the fence” about who to vote for.
Chief County Correspondent Selma Lomax Contributed to this report