Liberia: How the U.S. Sanction on Sen. Prince Johnson Could Further Dwindle His Political Influence


MONROVIA – Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson prides himself as the ‘king of Nimba’ but to the U.S. Government, he is the king of “Pay-for-Play” in Liberia. And dearly they have made him pay for it – sanctioned by the Department of Treasury.

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.

On the observation of the International Anti-Corruption Day, the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia dropped the bombshell on the Liberian Senator – labeling him as a corrupt official hugely benefiting from government funds through a pay-for-play scheme with government ministries.

As part of the scheme, according to the U.S. government, 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. Additionally, 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.

The Nimba County kingmaker is also listed to have reportedly sold votes in multiple elections in exchange for money.

The one-time fierce warlord, known to be the one who brutally killed ex-President Samuel K. Doe, and a major opposition to the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security, Defense, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs. He was forced to resign the post after the U.S. Embassy expressed disappointment in the Liberian Senate for his preferment.

King of Pay-to-Play

Like him or hate him, Senator Johnson has politically ruled Nimba politics since the first post-war elections in 2005. His support to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the runoff of that election saw Madam Sirleaf who had trailed behind soccer legend George Weah in the first round of that election emerge as the winner, hence, Liberia’s first female President.

Minus Prince Johnson’s support in the first round, Madam Sirleaf gained 19.75 percent of the votes amid 21 contestants. However, Weah attained 28.7 percent which gave him an astounding lead in the first round.

Nimba County is the second most populated county in Liberia and happens to be Senator Johnson’s stronghold. With the support from Senator Johnson, Madam Sirleaf won runoff election by 59.40 percent while Mr. Weah came second with 40.60 percent.

In the 2011 election, the former rebel leader who came third in that presidential election, winning over 99 percent of his votes from his native Nimba, threw his weight behind Madam Sirleaf in the runoff election. It was her second and final term.

“She is the lesser of two evils,” he told the BBC in 2011. In that election, Weah went as running mate to UN Diplomat Winston Tubman on his party ticket.

In June 2017, prior to the elections that year, the popular Prince Johnson expressed interest in supporting former Vice President Joseph Boakai against George Weah. He said at the time that Mr. Boakai represents the majority of Liberia’s population.

“They fear that when I join Boakai and [there’s] nothing wrong with joining Boakai, that’s my oldman we will defeat those people who want to suppress this oldman,” Senator Johnson asserted.

Addressing a team of media practitioners Wednesday at his Duport Road residence in Paynesville, Senator Johnson noted that a Boakai presidency would put an end to the long rule of ‘minority rule’, thus providing the chance for native Liberians to have a feel of the presidency.

However, Senator Johnson made a sudden summersault in the runoff election, pledging his support to Weah though he had earlier said that making Weah President would plunge the country into chaos.

“I am calling on my supporters to join me in supporting George Manneh Weah for the presidency,” he said at the time.

Johnson has since been a key ally to Pres. Weah and Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change has never put up a candidate against any candidate preferred by Sen. Johnson in legislative elections in Nimba.

From the records and analysis, any candidate that wins the support of Senator Johnson is likely to emerge as winner of that election.

The county is the second vote-rich county in the country. From the numbers, a win in Montserrado, Nimba and perhaps three out of the remaining 13 counties projects you for a comfortable lead in elections in Liberia.

In the 2017 elections, through the influence of Sen. Johnson, President Weah for the first time won the Nimba County votes, accumulating 73,434 votes which represented 57.1 percent of total votes cast in the county.

In the first round of that election, Prince Johnson who contested the presidency accumulated 53.5% votes from Nimba County. This represented 107, 430 votes which catapulted him to come fourth place in the first round of the election.

Will PYJ Still Be Influential?

The sanction the ‘king of Nimba’ is indeed a big blow to his political career which has already began dwindling, judging from the defeat of his preferred candidate in the just-ended by-election. However, even if that was not the case, any presidential candidate who affiliates with Senator Johnson during elections is likely to face the wrath of the U.S. government – diplomatically. And this is something one may want to avoid at all cost.

Can He Be Shielded by Weah?

When Senator Johnson’s sanction was being disclosed by the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, President Weah was addressing world leaders virtually attending the Summit on Democracy hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

In his speech, President Weah called for the strengthening of democracy and “protecting” the fight against of corruption.

“In this regard, my government commits to fighting corruption at the highest level; we will seek legislative approval to amend the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act to grant that institution direct prosecutorial powers”, President Weah said as part of the Liberian Government’s continuing efforts in deepening the country democratic roots. He also announced the creation of a dedicated court for the “prosecution and conviction” of public officials and other individuals and institutions engaged in corrupt practices and financial offenses,” Pres. Weah said.