Monrovia – Love him or hate him, Senator Prince Y. Johnson has a firm grip on Nimba County. Despite his horrific human rights record from the brutal civil war; and his unconventional politics, the former warlord enjoys massive support in the vote-rich county which is why whenever he decides to weigh in on the happenings in the county’s politics, keen followers of the political sphere have no choice but to take him seriously.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Johnson hails from Nimba County in northern Liberia and led one of the country’s rebel groups, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia(INPFL), after breaking away from former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during the country’s first civil war between 1989 and 1997.
Numerous photographs and videos are still around depicting Johnson’s war-time atrocities. From his 1990 video showing the mutilation of the country’s former President Samuel K. Doe who bled to death to his slapping of the wife of former Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, who was later killed by Johnson’s men, Johnson remains as powerful as ever and beloved by his kinsmen and women.
It is the very reason, many presidential candidates often ignore the many atrocities committed during the civil war in courting his support for the Liberian presidency.
It is simply a no brainer.
By the numbers, Nimba is the second largest county in Liberia in terms of population. Before the civil war in 1989, there were over 313,050 people in the county according to the 1984 census. The most recent census increased to 462,026.
In 2005, Johnson secured 81,820 votes for 33 percent of the votes en route to clinching his seat in the Senate.
Six years later, Johnson put his name on the presidential ballot and came in an impressive third, securing 139,786 votes for 11.6 percent, most of those votes coming from the vote-rich county.
Johnson’s numbers were equally impressive in the 2017 presidential elections as he secured 127,666 votes and garnering 8.2 percent of the votes, enough for a fourth place finish.
The stats that never seem to go unnoticed is the fact that in each of the last three elections, except for 2005, whoever Johnson endorses in the second round, has gone on to win the presidency.
“When this boy [Rep. Koung] is voted as Senator, the county will benefit a lot in terms of development, see what he is doing in the district, his hand marks are everywhere”– Senator Prince Y. Johnson
In 2005, Johnson stood behind George Weah, who lost his second-round duel to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. But in 2011, the Senator’s support was pivotal to Sirleaf’s second round victory.
Similarly, his support of Weah in the 2017 took Weah over the top on his way to the presidency. “Judging from the result of the just ended first round or our presidential elections and analyzing the results further, the majority of the Liberian people voted for change; the message therefore was loud, clear and unavoidable,” Johnson said after throwing his weight behind the football icon.
The Senator went on to explain that his support of Weah was in keeping with the Ganta Declaration signed in September 2016, in which opposition leaders committed to ensuring an opposition victory for change in the 2017 election to unseat the ruling party.
As drumbeats begin to be heard ahead of Mid-Term Senatorial elections later this year, murmurs of multiple candidates have been in the air for weeks.
Among them is former Senator Adolphus Dolo. Dolo, like Johnson, won his seat in lopsided fashion in 2005 but lost in 2011.
He is hoping to make a comeback in the Senate later this year.
Despite being away for so long, Dolo still enjoys some support. Backed by Rep. Prince Tokpah(District No. 2). In terms of resources, Dolo, a businessman could prove a handful for his opponents.
Dolo came under fire from Senator Johnson last week. Appearing on OK FM in Monrovia via mobile phone, the senator who claimed he was placing every aspirant of the county on his political screen also referred to former senator Adolphus Saye -Tayor Dolo as failure who is ” not going anywhere”.
Senator Johnson also suggested that Dolo did not achieve anything meaningful during his first stint as Senator to warrant a second chance.
The incumbent-Senator, Thomas Grupee, has lost some team since he won the seat in 2011 but remains a force in the county, thanks to his strong support in his main base of Boe, Quella, Buuyao and Zoe Geh.
Illness in recent months has led many to believe that Grupee may not be a strong factor in the race. Some residents of the county have been unhappy with Grupees’ representation of the county. Grupee could suffer from split votes with another likely contender, Garrison Yealue.
Doldeh Yealue from the Gbehlay Geh, Tweah River, and Zoe Geh districts is slowly amassing support and could be a spoiler for many eyeing the coveted seat.
The lack of financial support could be a setback for Yealue despite his rising popularity in the county.
D. Dorr Cooper is another possible contender drawing attention although his support base has been dwindling of late with a number of defections from his team. Cooper also lacks a clear constituency in the county leading many to wonder whether he is in the race for the long haul or simply buying time.
Former Superintendent, Edith Gongloe Weh, is the only woman in the race for the county’s representation in the Senate. She has a strong support base among women and is a familiar face to voters having led the county has superintendent before.
Gongloe may likely run as an independent due to the uncertainty within the Coalition of Political Parties(CPP).
The four parties that make up the CPP – the All Liberia Party, Alternative National Congress, Liberty Party and Unity Party have split up the counties into various groups and assigned to specific parties. The breakdown was as follows: Benoni Urey’s All Liberia Party(ALP) was given Gbarpolu County, Margibi, Grand Gedeh; Alternative National Congress(ANC) was given Nimba County, Maryland County, Cape Mount, River Gee; Liberty Party(LP) was given Montserrado County, Grand Bassa County, Rivercess County while the former ruling Unity Party was given Bong, Lofa, Sinoe, Bomi. No space was allotted from Grand Kru where Senator Peter Coleman, formerly of the ruling CDC is the incumbent.
The ANC appears to be set on fielding Alexander Cummings’ favorite Taa Wongbe in Nimba, which could leave Gongloe in the cold and push her into an independent run.
Gongloe’s strong showing in the 2014 Senatorial race against Prince Johnson has led many to make a strong case for her candidacy.
Rep. Jeremiah Koung (District No.1) appears to be the favorite for now, owing to the backing of Senator Johnson.
Speaking last week at the dedicatory ceremony of J. W. Pearson High School Annex Two and other development initiatives undertaken by Koung, Senator Johnson said a lawmaker is a man who places the development of Nimba at the top of his heart and would make a valuable addition to the Senate. “When this boy is voted as Senator, the county will benefit a lot in terms of development, see what he is doing in the district, his hand marks are everywhere”, Johnson declared.
Johnson went on to throw jabs at the other contenders in the race, he says have done nothing tangible for Nimbaians.
Taa Wongbe, the projected candidate likely to head the CPP ticket due to the ANC lacks the constituency base needed to put him in strong contention against a solid field of more experience and familiar foes.
Wongbe’s biggest lapse is his inability to speak the mother tongue of the county and speaks none of the county’s six dialects, including the dominant Mano and Gio.
Wongbe was dealt a major blow last week when Senator Johnson dismissed him as a serious contender and described him as an “alien” who is very strange to the county’s political environment.
Political watchers say unless political parties rally forces around one or two alternatives, a lot of votes will be split along the way and Senator Johnson’s influence could prove to be decisive in the end.