MONROVIA – To many ardent followers of religion, the pulpit is sacred, intended to guide and win souls and comfort the weary, but for President George Weah and his former ally, Senator Prince Y. Johnson, the pulpit has become the battleground for political challenge.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
Both statesmen own their separate churches and are self-acclaimed ‘Men of God’, but their messages to their congregation are often tied to their political maneuverings and responses to political opponents.
For President Weah, he often uses his pulpit as a channel to trumpet his government’s achievements and criticize his political nemesis.
So, it was no surprise when President Weah took to his pulpit on Sunday to debunk allegations that he is plotting to kill the Nimba County Senator.
Senator Johnson’s Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) Party recently accused the Weah-led government of plotting to assassinate him (Johnson).
The accusation followed the MDR’s announcement that it was disconnecting with President Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) because they have failed to live up to the agreement signed in 2017 that led Senator Johnson to throw his support behind the then Senator Weah in the crucial runoff- election.
Addressing the congregation at his Forkay Klon Jlaleh Church on the Robertsfield Highway, President Weah said he is not a murderer and was in no way planning to kill anyone.
He said if anyone should be accused of being a murderer, then it should squarely be Senator Johnson; judging from his past records.
He accused the self-proclaimed Godfather of Nimba County of having a tainted character, and being a divisive figure who manipulates people to get what he wants.
“Do I look like somebody who can kill anybody? Who are you for somebody to assassinate? You manipulate people every day. That’s why nobody wants to work with you. Are you infallible. You don’t know what you did in this country?” President Weah asked rhetorically.
Further rejecting the claim, President Weah said it could be the ghosts of those who Senator Johnson killed during the war that are haunting him.
In the wake of the President’s latest outburst, Senator Johnson’s MDR has vowed to respond. In a social media post, a stalwart of the MDR, Kelvin D J. Mattaldi posted: “The Movement for Democracy & Reconstruction will release a major press statement shortly… The battle lines are drawn. President Weah vs us.”
‘Don’t enslave yourself‘
While President Weah was speaking, the Nimba County Senator was also cautioning his Christ Chapel of Faith congregation to vote their conscience to change Liberia for the better.
“Don’t enslave yourself. Change this nation democratically through your votes and don’t be intimidated or threatened by anyone. Liberia depends on you,” he said.
In parting ways with President Weah and his CDC, Johnson said the Weah-led government has not only betrayed the MDR, but failed his countrymen. He said the government owes Nimba County millions generated from the county social development fund, and the government’s refusal to turn the money over to the county was one of the reasons he was withdrawing his support from the CDC.
Addressing his kinsmen via his pulpit, Senator Johnson said: “Defend us and pray for us. We are fighting to ensure that you benefit from your resources, those who exploit your resources and take your money and today you are not entitle to anything are plunderers.”
Dedicating most of his time recounting his war-time history, the self-proclaimed Reverend said he uses his pulpit to testify his atonement and the many miraculous work God has done for him, contrary to the belief that he is using it to shield his many atrocities.
“Whenever you are brought down, God raises you up. Whenever I stand to testify, people say I am a witchcraft. Prince Johnson is hiding behind the bible. No, I am not. I have been atoned.”
‘I am not Giving anybody money’
Senator Johnson was one of the fiercest rebel leaders during the first Liberian civil war. His group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), among many atrocities, tortured and killed President Samuel Kanyon Doe in 1990. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) accused him and his rebel faction of committed some of the worst atrocities during the war, and named him among several Liberians to face prosecution before a war crimes court.
Johnson’s support to then Senator Weah in 2017 was pivotal to Weah’s massive win during the runoff as his vote-rich Nimba, which had a history of voting the Unity Party in presidential runoff elections, broke rank and voted Weah.
In December 2021, Johnson was Sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for corruption. In a statement issued, the US Treasury alleged that Senator Johnson “is involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants.”
The Treasury Department also accused Senator Johnson of offering the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money and for receiving a government salary as an intelligence source even though he does not provide any form of intelligence reporting to the GOL. The statement further that “Johnson is reportedly being paid in order to maintain domestic stability”.
He has since denied the allegations. However, President Weah, who has also been accused of shielding Johnson from any future war crimes prosecution to get his backing for vote-rich Nimba in the impending elections appeared to have validated the Treasury Department’s claim that he was not in the position to dish out money to anyone in return of vote.
“Anybody that wants to vote for us will vote for us. And anybody that is going to ask me for money because they want to declare their support to my party, I rather give the money to the people of Liberia… This Government is not going to be tied down or blackmailed by anybody. If you don’t want to work with us, step aside.”
Mixed reactions to the GMW & PYJ’s pulpit war
The war of words between the two statesmen have garnered mixed reactions, with some supporting ether side, while others are calling on them to back off.
Former Montserrado County Senatorial Candidate, Shiekh Al Moustapha Kuyateh, speaking to reporters after attending service at Senator Johnson’s Church, said the Nimba County Senator is speaking the truth and is “far better than President Weah and his gangs of criminal.”
“I have come to listen to the voice of truth. I have come to listen to the voice of attestation. These things that Senator Johnson said, last week are things that I am talking about. He alleged that the auditors were killed; he alleged that they stole money from the coffer. Today, even a former Defense Minister attested that the people were killed by George Weah,” he said.
Continuing he said, “George Weah does not have political prisoners but George Weah has blood on his hands as a man who killed Liberian people. He killed young people, he killed auditors, he has stolen from our coffers. We entrusted him with everything but he led the Liberian people down. So, I am here to have a testimony that tomorrow I can used in international court against George Weah.”
Rev. Samuel Reeves, the President of the Liberia Council of Churches called on both men to stop using the pulpit to attack each other.
“Both men are political leaders – A sitting Senator and a sitting President should use their political offices, press conferences and rightly so, to present or respond to national issues by their rivals, and not the Pulpits of their churches or any other church for that matter on Sunday mornings,” he urged.
“As political leaders they must be cognizant of the current political environment and act responsibly by tuning down their rhetoric so as not to insight their followers. The pulpits of our congregations on Sundays should be use for Salvation, Justice, and Redemptive sermons, not the place to spew attacks on their political rival which has the propensity to encourage violence.”