Boakai’s Margibi County Dilemma: Liberia’s VP Endorsement of Feuding Candidates Spurs Tension


Margibi County – When talks about a potential merger between the ruling Unity Party (UP) and the People Unification Party (PUP) began surfacing recently, many predicted that the marriage was poised to be a match made in heaven.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected], Henry Karmo, [email protected]

The incumbent has the advantage.

For the PUP candidate Francis Cooper, he’s love by the young people but the support of Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay to him will make me unlikely to vote for him because Nuquay is known for practicing divisive politics.

You cannot say you want continuity and support someone else against a lawmaker from your county – Emmanuel Zinnah Motorcyclist in Margibi County

But unfolding developments in one of the emerging vote-rich counties ahead of this year’s Presidential and legislative elections appear to be redefining conventional politics with a lot at stake and everything on the table.

Things quickly went into overdrive following the recent endorsement of Francis Cooper, a candidate running under the banner of the PUP by Vice President Joseph Boakai.

The endorsement by Vice President Boakai, the ruling party’s Presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, of Mr. Cooper, is not going down well with Rep. Ben Fofana, the incumbent representative for District No. 4, Margibi County.

The UP recently unveiled their candidates for the upcoming legislative race with Ballah Zayzay (District 2) and Ben Fofanah (District 4) in Margibi County.

Political observers are still baffled over the complications as to why both UP and PUP are fielding separate candidates in the midst of merger discussions.

One reason, according to sources, is that the merger was never cemented in stone.

“We have a collaboration without a commitment or with no written agreement or resolution as done in the case of the CDC,” said a source familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity Saturday.

PUP was established in 2014 with Speaker Nuquay and Bong County Senator Henry Yallah at the helm.

They were later joined by Lofa County Senator Sumo Kupee, following his defeat in the Unity Party primaries. PUP won a single seat in the December 2014 special Senatorial election, with Jim Tornonlah elected in Margibi County.

The source added that earlier during the discussion, it was believed that PUP was advocating for the VP to pick a running mate from Bong County. But the Code of Conduct and integrity issues have been major obstacles to the VP choosing his running mate from the area.

Boakai’s endorsement of Nuquay’s candidate, Cooper, is partly due to Nuquay’s promise to campaign heavily for the VP in the county where the speaker has a lot of control and influence.

The challenge for the VP in that area could surprisingly come from Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh, the Vice Presidential candidate to former Coca Cola executive, Mr. Alexander Cummings.

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.

In Margibi County, Tubman and Sulunteh had 10,792 in Margibi County with majority of their votes in Upper Margibi County from Kakata to Bong County border. 

With the fight among the UP and PUP candidates and Sulunteh on the ticket with Cummings who may do well in Upper Margibi County, political observers say there is a strong possibility that Cllr. Charles Brumskine with his strong support in Lower Margibi could make Margibi a dog-fight for supremacy come October.

Nuquay, has in recent weeks spoken of his desire to tighten his grip on the county with an eye on maintaining his speaker’s post in 2018. 

In May, Nuquay, who won the speaker’s gavel following the ouster of former Speaker Alex Tyler,  asserted that he needs four lawmakers from his native Margibi County to present him to the next group of lawmakers in 2018 and has been working diligently to maintain his grip on the speakership.

During a recent campaign stomp for Cooper in the Jambo Village Community, Kakata, Nuquay said it would be unfair to have two lawmakers supporting him and two opposing him or three in his favor, while one is against him for the speaker post. T

his leaves Fofana on the verge of being pushed into the cold.

Nuquay fears that a crack in the county’s caucus could undermine his chances of being re-elected, Speaker.

Nuquay’s quest has put him at loggerheads with Fofana who has vowed to do everything in his power to boot Nuquay out.

Dilemma Tricky for Boakai

The complication is posing a particular political dilemma for Boakai largely due to the sudden rise of the county as a major player in the political landscape. Opponents and critics of the VP say, his support for Cooper could hurt his chances of doing well in Upper Margibi.

Margibi County, according to preliminary numbers from the National Elections Commission has pushed Grand Bassa County out of the fifth spot for the county with the most registered number of voters.

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; Margibi County with 144,604 is fifth; and Grand Bassa County with 139,833 is sixth.

In the 2005 elections, 1,012,673 registered voters cast their votes. While in 2011, turnout was recorded at 1,288,716.

Interestingly, in the 2005 Presidential elections, Margibi County recorded 58, 169 registered voters who actually cast their votes.

In 2011, the number of registered voters in the county increased to 86, 498.

VP Boakai and his supporters are aware of the looming issue which, according to sources, is a major reason why his planned endorsement from the country has been put on hold as major stakeholders look toward a resolution.

Boakai Planners ‘Not Inclusive’

Fofana, declined to speak on the issue when FrontPageAfrica sought a response at the weekend but did say a planned endorsement of Boakai in the county is at least for now, far from the reality.

“Commenting on this will give it undue credence,” Fofana averred. He added that the program according to him is postponed indefinitely because planners were not inclusive

Cooper, the PUP candidate appeared unmoved by the controversy Saturday, choosing instead to focus on his campaign.

“I am not aware of any such information what I am doing is try to do my work in the district.”

But across the county, residents were fully aware and nearly everyone our reporter spoke to on the weekend in the county alluded that there is serious tension between the two lawmakers.

Motorcyclist and taxi drivers including youths who gather every evening at some intellectual centers around Kakata City are never short of agenda items with the unfolding situation on the minds of everyone while stressing the need for a peaceful resolution.

For some residents, the tension only hurts the ordinary county dwellers who are feeling the pinch as a result of personal issues amongst feuding lawmakers.

Others say the feud will most likely prevent development initiatives intended for the county under the guise of showing how strong they are.

Motorcyclist Emmanuel Zinnah opined: “The incumbent has the advantage. At the same time, for the PUP candidate, Cooper, he’s loved by the young people, but the support of Speaker Nuquay will make me not to give my vote because Nuquay is known for practicing divisive politics. You cannot say you want continuity and support someone else against a lawmaker from your county.”

Like Zinnah, Jerry Noah a Taxi driver who plies the route to Kakata from Monrovia daily told our reporter that after living in Kakata for the past 15 years, he has come to understand some level of Margibi Politics. For him,  the situation between the two lawmakers dates as far back as 2003, long before both Nuquay and Fofana were involved in politics.

Noah says it is a known fact in the county that both men despise each other.

“They don’t speak well about each other. Ben speaks negatively of Nuquay and Nuquay does the same. So, this didn’t just start … it started long time my son.”

Last month Representatives Fofana wrote the National Police informing them that the Speaker Nuquay had threatened his life, a complaint the Speaker took exception to.

Fofana in his complaint to Police claimed that Nuquay had told some of his supporters that he will ensure that before the election, he (Fofana) will disappear.

Fofana also claimed that Nuquay is on a campaign against him and that he (Fofana) is a stranger and that the people of Margibi County are accommodating strangers.

Some local Journalists believe that the bad politics is hurting the county.

“This has always been the way Margibi Politics is practiced. In 2011, when Nuquay and Ballah Zazay decided that they were going to produce a Senator, they brought Jim Tornonlah(PUP, Margibi) and made him Senator.

So, you can’t underestimate their influence. But I think Fofana as incumbent and judging from his records has some edge,” one of the Journalist told FPA.

Patrick Kollie, Radio Manager of Joy Africa, Kakata, acknowledges that the tension is real.

“Supporters of Ben Fofana do not access Radio Joy because they believe it is own by Rep. Emmanuel Nuquay; while supporters of Nuquay do not access Radio Margibi because they believe it is own by Ben Fofana.”

Kollie, however, notes that it is far too early to determine how the issue will be resolved.

“Margibi politics is unpredictable. What I know is that the incumbent still has a ground and the PUP too can’t be overlooked because we have a history of Nuquay and Ballah Zazay producing a Senator Tornonlah. So, it is still early to call.

Last Friday, Nuquay was seen engaged in a lengthy meeting with Party Chairman Wilmot Paye at a local hotel, spurring speculations that VP Boakai was leaning toward tipping Nuquay as his running mate.

But sources later told FrontPageAfrica that the meeting was actually an attempt by both men to iron out the rising tension in the county which was presenting a roadblock for VP Boakai’s parade and endorsement.

For now, as the ruling party’s Presidential candidate race against time to decide on his running mate, the Margibi dilemma puts him in a rather difficult position: Accepting support from the influential Nuquay, while putting himself at risk of losing some support in Upper Margibi and Bong Counties largely due to another bad blood between Speaker Nuquay and Amb. Sulunteh, who is widely expected to fight hard to oppose the candidate Speaker Nuquay is supporting in the key District No. 4 race.