Monrovia – More than a decade after Liberia’s brutal civil war, questions continue to troll Prince Y. Johnson. The leader of the erstwhile Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a breakaway faction from Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, is not surprisingly, one of the influential members of the upper house of Liberia’s National Legislature.
For many Liberians, those questions surround the unexplained reasons why Mr. Johnson, outside his justification for protecting the people of Nimba County, killed and maimed so many innocent men and women while luring and arming underage children on the frontlines of a war that killed more than a quarter of a million people.
Innocents Victims of PYJ
Among those allegedly killed by Johnson – or his forces were: Fred Blay, former minister of Labor in Samuel Doe’s government, Larry Borteh, a former member of the People’s Redemption Council, Michael Doe, a former employee of Hotel Africa, who, according to eyewitnesses, was thrown from a high upper floor to the ground at the hotel.
Eric Scott, a former Liberian Diplomat at the Liberian embassy in Washington and husband of Mrs. Debbie Scott, the proprietor of the School of Prime System (SPS), Tilma Momolue Gardiner, former Senior Security officer for president William V.S. Tubman and Acting Director of Police during the Administration of William Tolbert.
The list of Mr. Johnson’s victims also include musical icons Tecumseh Roberts, Gedeh Rooster and Robert Toe.
Madam Angeline Watta Allison, wife of former Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, was slapped during interrogation and later killed by Mr. Johnson.
Sam Tody, a former Managing Director of the National Housing Authority(NHA), also Commissioner of Customs was also among the victims of Johnson and his INPFL.
Mr. Johnson’s INPFL was also responsible for the execution of J. Gbarflen Davies, Jr. Who once worked for the Liberian National Police.
In spite of all his links to some of the most brutal killings of the civil war, Mr. Johnson remains adamant and defiant.
Vile Threats in the Senate
During a session in the Senate last Thursday, Senator Abraham Darius Dillion(CPP, Montserrado) stressed the need for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court during discussions surrounding the mismanagement of stimulus package funds during the outbreak of the COVID-19.
In his argument, Dillion said the War and Economic Crimes Court would be the only remedy to put in measures for people who manage public funds. “If we sincerely want to bring to check public officials who mismanage public funds we need to establish a war and economic crimes court,” Sen. Dillion said.
Senator Dillion’s recommendation triggered rage from Senator Johnson who staged a walkout from session, terming SenatorDillion’s suggestions as “an attack on his character.”
“Every time Sen. Dillion sees me, it is when he talks about war crimes court,” Sen. Johnson said. “What happened during the civil war was a revenge for our people who were killed in Nimba. Nimba county was declared enemy of the state; what did you expect us to do?”
Sen. Johnson said he would disrupt session if any of his colleague talked about the establishment of a war and economic crimes court.
“If you want bring war crimes court, bring your damn war crimes court. They always think war crimes court is about Prince Johnson. There are legal processes to bring a war and economic crimes court,” he said. I am a preacher, the Bible says Jesus turned tables outside down and I will turn Dillon’s tables outside down the day he mentions about war crimes court.”
In 2019, Senator Johnson raised similar issue with the Senate when he displayed a threatening text he claimed was sent to him by Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee. In the text, according to him Koijee, threatened to support a war crimes court if he attempted to swap support from the CDC to the opposition.
Senator Dillon, in a Facebook post at the weekend, recalled that in September 2019, President George Manneh Weah formally communicated to the Senate, “seeking the advice of the Senate on the issue of War and Economic Crimes Court.” The Senate received and read the communication in open plenary. Plenary voted to have the Leadership of the Senate to brainstorm over the matter and revert to the full Plenary for action on the way forward.
Since then, Senator Dillon averred, he has repeatedly reminded the Senate of the need to take a decision as a body in response to the President’s communication. “It is documented that every two weeks, I would raise this issue during adaptation of the Agenda for Session. And every time I raise this reminder in Session, I am told the Leadership is still deliberating,” Senator Dillon noted.
The Senator has vowed not to be content until the Senate takes a decision. “We must insist on the compelling need of establishing a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia. The culture of impunity must begin to end in Liberia and perpetrators, whoever they may be, must be brought to justice to serve as the deterrence.”
Contradictions of PYJ’s Executions
Witnesses to the civil war recall Mr. Johnson regularly playing his guitar and singing religious songs including his favorite, “By the River of Babylon” after executing innocent Liberians.
The irony of Mr. Johnson’s civil war atrocities is often based on his justification that Samuel Doe and his Armed Forces of Liberia(AFL) killed innocent citizens of Nimba. Thus, he and his men had to fight to defend the people of Nimba. However, a lot of those killed by Johnson and his INPFL were civilians, and not combatants. More importantly, a lot – if not all of those victims were not involved in any atrocity against the citizens of Nimba. Some were arrested and executed in Monrovia by Johnson or his forces.
As a result, the “Defending the people of Nimba” justification is wearing thin, and the clock is rapidly ticking on Johnson.
To Johnson’s own detriment, much of the casualties committed are well documented either on videos, photographs or gripping testimonies from eyewitnesses who watched as their friends, loved ones or families were murdered in cold blood.
For example, Tecumseh Roberts, the popular musician whose hit, ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Ma Susu’ were club bangers during his days, was killed by Johnson at the age of 39.
Eyewitnesses say, Roberts was murdered in cold blood by General Samuel Varney in the Caldwell Base that was serving as headquarters of Prince Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia at the time. Johnson, now the senator for Nimba, was there. He told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he didn’t stop Varney killing Roberts because, he said, Roberts was gay.
Caught on Tape was Johnson’s chilling interrogation and torture of Mrs. Angeline Watta Allision, the wife of late Defense Minister Gray Dio Allison, often serves as a chilling reminder of some of the many atrocities committed by Prince Y. Johnson, the former head of the erstwhile Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia(INPFL).
Taylor vs. PYJ
An angry Johnson is seen interrogating the late Mrs. Allison and going as far as stretching across from the interview table and slapping her on the face: “You do not know me right? You lying here to me and talking all kinds of bullshit, you do not know me, ehn?” the former INPFL leader is seen speaking on the video.
The former warlord was inquiring from Mrs. Allison whether she was convinced that her late husband went to the University of Liberia and open fire on students. The late Madam Allison, who was seated in a chair not far from Sen. Johnson; and she reacted, “Mr. Johnson, to my holy communion and my children I carried nine months, I do not know anything, it is just a plot to kill Gray. I was here, I was sick but I heard it when I came. I was sick.”
The former INPFL warlord then swung his hands across the table and slapped Mr. Allison, instructing an aide unseen in the video to ‘hand me my pistol’ before telling Mrs. Allison: “The man(Allison) walked to the University and killed students – with his bodyguards and you still say you don’t know.”
As Senator Johnson angrily threatens amid chatters and murmurs surrounding the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, many Liberians and international stakeholders remain baffled at Johnson’s audacity, especially when former President Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence in a United Kingdom prison for crimes allegedly committed in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor was sentenced in May 2012 for aiding rebels who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone during its civil war. Mr. Taylor was found to have supplied weapons to the Revolutionary United Front rebels in exchange for a constant flow of so-called blood diamonds and found guilty at his trial of 11 crimes including terrorism, rape, murder and the use of child soldiers by rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the vicious civil war of 1991-2002.
To date, most of the key actors of Liberia’s bloody war have been tried outside of the country as the government drags its feet on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC).
In 2009, the TRC determined and recommended that Criminal Prosecution for violations, Reparations and a “Palava Hut” Foru, it concluded were necessary and desirable to redress impunity, promote peace, justice, security, unity and genuine national reconciliation.
The TRC was agreed upon in the August 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Accra and created by the TRC Act of 2005. The TRC was established to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation,” and at the same time make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.
Both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Johnson were among the major actors of the civil war, blamed for “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”. However, only one is currently in jail while the other, lingering in impunity, appears defiant in spite of the many vacuums left in families of the civil war’s victims.