Liberia: Rep. Prince Tokpa Wants Senator Prince Johnson Vindicate Himself From United States’ Sanctions List And War Crimes Allegations


NIMBA COUNTY – Nimba County Representative Prince Tokpa has called on his kinsman Senator Prince Y. Johnson to reconsider his ambition to contest the pending 2023 general and presidential elections and concentrate on clearing his name from the United States sanctions list.

Senator Johnson, who is a trusted political ally of President George Manneh Weah, was the head of the notorious rebel group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), which ousted, humiliated, tortured and killed ex-Liberian President Samuel Kanyan Doe on the Bushrod Island, outside Monrovia on September 9, 1990.

He was also named in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Report as having committed atrocities during the country’s first civil war.

He is the Political Leader of the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) political party in Liberia.

In December 2021, Senator Johnson was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department under the Magnisky Act for being involved into “pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment.”

Pay-for-play, sometimes pay-to-play or P2P, is a phrase used for a variety of situations in which money is exchanged for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities.

Global Magnitsky Act authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.

Additionally, the US government maintained that Senator Johnson receives an undeserved salary from the GOL as a salaried intelligence “source” though he does not provide any form of intelligence reporting to the government.

According to the Americans, Johnson is reportedly being paid in order to maintain domestic stability.

“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 pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars. Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money,” the US government stated.

It added: “Johnson is designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”

Despite the sanctions, Senator Johnson continues to claim political control of Nimba by showcasing his unwavering support towards the re-election of President George Manneh Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

But speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa via telephone on Wednesday, October 26, Representative Tokpa disclosed that the sanction imposed on Senator Johnson has brought a high level of disgrace to citizens of Nimba.

Representative Tokpa, who is a former National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) is serving his second term at the National Legislature.

In 2017, he parted company with the NUDP after he fell out of favor with Senator Johnson and contested on the ticket of the People’s Unification Party (PUP). The PUP is one of the political parties supporting the second term bid of President Weah.

Representative Tokpa noted that the latest move made by the US government makes it difficult for Senator Johnson to go out and rally the support of partners towards improving the living conditions of his constituents by addressing some of the challenges they are faced with.

“Yes, I will agree with people that the sanctions on Senator Johnson have brought a disgrace to the people of Nimba County because, as a Senator of this county and sanctions is placed on you, it speaks volume negatively. It means a lot if the Senator is sanctioned cannot go anywhere again. These are some of the things we know that the sanctions are doing and it is embarrassing the Senator.”

He said though the US sanctions have been directly placed on Senator Johnson, it has “negative implications” on Nimba County and its citizens.

Clear your name

Representative Tokpa encouraged Senator Johnson to clear his name not only on the US sanctions, but also crimes and other atrocities he was accused of committing during the 14 years civil conflict in Liberia.

“If the court comes or the time is appropriate, Senator Johnson should go and clear his side as to the roles he played.”

He said the move will make citizens of Nimba and others have a clear understanding or establish whether or not the sanctions and others crimes allegedly committed by Senator Johnson are factual.

Representative Tokpa maintained that the economic and war crimes court must be established in Liberia to accord those who have been accused of looting state coffers and human rights violations or atrocities exonerate themselves.

“The court is not coming for Senator Johnson alone; it is coming for those who created mayhem during the civil conflict. It should be for all those who took part in the war.”

“When your name is involved into certain thing that is not healthy for the nation, you must make sure you step aside and see how you can clear your name.”

Different country

Representative Tokpa observed that Liberia remains a peculiar country where people accused of acts of corruption and atrocities continue to hold onto their elected and appointed positions.

He said these individuals should have voluntarily resigned or step aside from their posts, instead of justifying, awaiting actions or public outcries before doing so.

He noted that these accused officials continue to cling onto their respective positions, caring less of any action to prosecute them for their alleged involvement into these acts.

“Beside God, the law comes second. If we do not respect our own laws, we will have civil disobedience and all kinds of things happening. In a civilized society, when these things come about, people immediately resign and go and vindicate yourself. But, it doesn’t happen in Liberia.  And so, we are finding it very difficult.”

PYJ not “godfather”

Senator Johnson has consistently presented himself as the political “godfather or kingmaker” of Nimba.

His professed action is due to the manner and form in which he ensured the ascendancy of few of his kinsmen in the 53rd and 54th National Legislatures and his supports given to presidential candidates in past elections respectively.

Senator Johnson supported the candidacy of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf twice during the run-off of both the 2005 and 2011 presidential elections.

As Standard Bearer of his newly established Movement for Democratic Reconstruction, he also endorsed the candidacy of President George Manneh Weah during the run-off of the 2017 elections, over former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai of the Unity Party (UP).

But despite these roles, Representative Tokpa believed that Senator Johnson is not the political “godfather” of Nimba.

“Whenever it comes to politics and you have huge followers, of course people think that you are the one that holds politics in that very locality. It’s the same with Senator Johnson. Lot of people called him the Liberator, godfather, but I look at him as the Senior Senator of Nimba.”

He said Senator Johnson remains an influential and respected citizen of Nimba due to his ascendancy to the National Legislature as senior Senator- a move that does not necessarily make him the godfather of Nimba even though he still has “good number of followers who believe in him.”

“For me, I see Senator Johnson as the senior Senator of Nimba and he plays that role. So, no one has rated him as the godfather, but we respect him as Senior Senator of Nimba County. I don’t think Senator Johnson will even think that the votes will go his way (in 2023).”

He stressed that Senator Johnson previous role played in Liberia in the past, remains contributing factor for his kinsmen show of love towards him.

He said though he has not conducted a survey to ascertain whether Senator Johnson’s morale has decreased in the country, he strongly believes that the citizens will make a better determination come 2023.

“Everyday things can change and politics is just like that. The sanction on Senator Johnson has given some people leverage to not vote for or support him. But there are other people who still maintain their position to support him regardless of the sanction.”

Representative Tokpa emphasized that Liberia’s next President will be decided by the people of Nimba, and not Senator Johnson alone.

“Our people are getting informed; they are travelling from one place to another. Technology is now into the leeward counties and they are getting informed. Politics in Nimba is changing every day and our people will decide their choice when it comes to 2023.”

Preferring Gongloe over PYJ?

Representative Tokpa disclosed that the current political landscape in Nimba is “cross-cutting”.

He said with the involvement of an eminent and respectable son of Nimba, Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, who is contesting the presidency, it is now clear that the votes from the area will be decided upon by the citizens.

He described Cllr. Gongloe as a respected, popular and experienced public figure in not only in Nimba, but Liberia at large.

He stressed that though Senator Johnson is not contesting the presidency in 2023, citizens of Nimba remain resolved to elect their kinsman to the highest position in Liberia.

“Tiawan Gongloe should not be overlooked even though he just coming into politics (or contesting the presidency) after serving in government for several years. Other people may take him for granted, but others who understand his platform and where he came from will support or vote for him.”

The citizens’ role

Representative Tokpa further called on Liberians to make a decisive decision against those US-sanctioned former and current officials contemplating on contesting in the pending elections.

He observed that despite being sanctioned by the US government, retaining Senator Johnson for a third term at the Liberian Senate, lies in the hands of citizens of the county.

He said the former rebel leader should also be willing to listen to his constituents if he is asked not to contest come 2023.

“When it comes to Nimba and citizens say ‘Senator, you have served us for two terms and because of this we want you to see how you can vindicate yourself from this allegation so that your honor can be given.’ That will be a good thing if he’s willing. But again, it left with Senator Johnson.”

Nimba Congress

Meanwhile, Representative Tokpa has called for the holding of a “Nimba Congress” to provide direction for the county ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.

He said the congress will provide the opportunity for citizens to hold discussions on the political future of the county.

He noted that Senator Johnson could also be accorded the time to give his definite position on the US government sanctions which has not only embarrassed him, but the entire county.

Still working with Weah

The latest call made by Representative Tokpa comes in the wake of reports that Senator Johnson, is still imposing names on President Weah for appointments in his government despite being sanctioned by the US government.

 FrontPageAfrica gathered that the Nimba County Senator has been behind a number of bad appointments and recommendations for key jobs in the Weah-led government.

This is reportedly raising concerns within leadership’s inner circle as the former warlord-turned Senator is said to be using vote-rich Nimba’s influence on 2023 elections in a bid to force allies into government despite being nailed on US Treasury Department’s Sanctions List.

Senator Johnson recently wrote President Weah to appoint Mr. Zotawin Titus, Commissioner at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) as the Chairperson of the LTA as part of the accommodation for Nimba County in the 2023 elections.

If this decision is yielded to, it will see Madam Edwina Zackpah, one of the few females holding a top post in the Weah-led government, being ousted as Acting chairperson of the LTA.

His request, however, has put President Weah in a fix as he is weighing between the Acting Chairperson and Senator Johnson’s request which is being rejected by many of his advisors.

FrontPageAfrica also gathered that Senator Johnson through his influence continues to ensure that Nimbaians remain in key government positions. Mr. Charles Gono, for instance, has been Deputy Commissioner for Technical Service (Division of Safety and Vessel Registration) since 2009 when Maritime was still a Bureau before being turned into an Authority. He has served more than two tenures as Deputy, yet, through the influence of Sen. Johnson, President Weah continues to maintain Mr. Gono at the Maritime Authority.

Sources close to President Weah also informed FrontPageAfrica that Mr. Sam Doe whose nomination as Deputy Managing Director for Operations at the National Port Authority has brought some embarrassment to the government due to his alleged criminal records in the United States was a recommendation by Sen. Johnson.

Senator Johnson, according to sources, along with the Nimba County caucus have been imposing names on ArcelorMittal for employment – often threatening the steel that their failure to employ his lieutenants would be detrimental to their smooth operations in the county.

Out of a total of 20 candidates in the race for the presidency in 2017, Senator Johnson was overwhelmingly voted for by kinsmen and women in Nimba County though President George Manneh Weah and Joseph Nyuma Boakai were the heavyweights at the time.

He attained 107,430 votes of the 200,791 votes that were cast. That constituted 53.5% of the overall votes in the county. The margin between Senator Johnson and Vice President Boakai, who came out second in Nimba was a 67,466 difference. VP Boakai obtained 39,964 votes. 

His support to Pres. Weah in the second round of the election saw Pres. Weah attain an overwhelming victory in the election.

Senator Johnson continues to feel entitled to the votes and support of citizens of Nimba as a result of the liberation struggle, he launched to provide protection and guidance for his kinsmen, especially members of his Gio ethnic group.

But with the involvement of another eminent citizen of Nimba in the race for the presidency and the US sanctions imposed, Senator Johnson’s popularity risk being diminished.

Influential or eminent citizens of the county, including business entrepreneurs residing both home and abroad, may stay clear of supporting his political ambition or loyalty to any other political party or candidate come 2023 for fear of also being enlisted for sanctions by the US government.

It remains unclear whether or not Senator Johnson will contest the 2023 general and presidential elections as a presidential or senatorial candidate in the wake of mounting calls from civil society actors, citizens, and others for US-sanctioned present and ex-Liberian government officials to be denied from contesting the elections.