Sherman Debacle and Implications For Unity Party’s 3rd Term Quest


Monrovia – The ruling Unity Party is facing what could be described as one of the most troubling moments in the recent political history of the country that could have huge ramifications for the party during the ensuing 2017 general and Presidential elections.

Vice President Joseph Boakai’s decision to cut short his trip to Turkey and call for a rational and thought-examined approach to issues affecting the country in wake of unfolding developments in the ruling Unity Party culminating with the arrest of his Cllr. Varney Sherman Suggests some strains over the positions between the VP and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf regarding the handling of the Global Witness bribery investigation. On the line is Boakai’s quest for the presidency, the ruling party’s baggage and an incumbent Achilles.

With Party Chairman Cllr. Varney Sherman indicted along with others on charges of bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation, the party has a big task at hand to fight public perception that the party is not a ‘criminal cartel’ based on the alleged involvement of party Chairman, Cllr. Sherman and two other senior party officials, Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah and Montserrado County lawmaker Henry Fahnbulleh in acts of corruption.

While the law will be allowed to determine the fate of the accused UP officials, the low public confidence in the credibility of the judiciary will play out should those indicted be acquitted and the implications from the voting public might be against the UP third term quest for state power.

Sensing the implications of the ongoing debacle, Vice President Joseph Boakai is cutting short his official visit to Turkey to return home in the wake of recent political and legal developments in the country.

In a statement issued from Antalya, Turkey, the Vice President called for a rational and thought-examined approach to issues affecting the country, urging that Liberians should in times like this fall back on their keen ability to unify and fight challenges no matter how daunting the odds may be.

Vice President Boakai says he intends to honor his commitment to address the opening plenary session of the Comprehensive Mid-Term Review of the Implementation of the Istanbul Program of Action for Least Developed Countries, set to open on Friday, May 27, in Antalya, after which he will depart for Monrovia.

Vice President Boakai, who is also President of the Senate, said much effort has been put into the revitalization of Liberia’s democratic institutions and system of governance and that it would be unhelpful for any Liberian to engage in acts that threaten the peace and stability. 

He urged national and opinion leaders in government, civil society, academia, religious and traditional settings, to exercise tolerance and patience as the nation strives to consolidate more than a decade of peace and stability, a statement from Antalya concluded.

The Vice President statement comes at a time the ruling Unity Party is facing what may be seen as the toughest moment so far for a party that has been enjoying state power for over ten years with partisans divided on the latest stance by the government to push prosecution against Party Chairman Sherman and others.

Several partisans of the Unity Party have taken the debate surrounding the government efforts to expedite investigation into a damaging report released by international watchdog group Global Witness as a continuation of internal rift between party Chairman Sherman and President Sirleaf which dates far back as 2011.

For some partisans of the UP they see the fast approach to probing the Global Witness report as an attempt to target party Chairman Sherman who is believed to have been having a sour relationship with President Sirleaf since disagreement ensued over appointments to key positions in government following the 2011 elections victory of the Unity Party.

Angry UP partisans visibly opposed the arrest of Sherman with party Secretary General Wilmot Paye, Youth leader Amos Tweh and other partisans voicing their anger at state security barricading of Sherman’s residence.

Although the case has now gone to court with Sherman indicted along with others accused in the report awaiting court proceedings but whatever way the case ends, public sentiments against the ruling party has gone from bad to worse with some ordinary Liberians now describing the ruling party as a ‘criminal cartel’ bent on pillaging state resources.

At the Temple of Justice where Cllr. Sherman appeared along with others, there were mixed views with some segments of the crowd shouting “rogue, rogue’ while supporters also sang songs of support for the renowned lawyer.

Two-edged sword fight

In the wake of the unfolding events the Unity Party is fighting at two fronts to maintain its position as a contender in the pending 2017 general and Presidential elections-an internal fight to protect party Chairman Sherman and also convincing the Liberian people that the party is not a ‘criminal cartel’ and its party chairman did not take bribe to compromise the interest of the Liberian people in a deal with investor.

Although Cllr. Sherman’s link to the Global Witness report involved an act performed in his capacity as a private lawyer but the implications are grave for the ruling Unity party push for a third term in office.

Already many believe that it is difficult to win a court case against Cllr. Sherman and if acquitted the public perception of his involvement in alleged corruption might not go away anytime soon.

The ruling Unity Party is likely to pay a heavy price in 2017 for the involvement of party Chairman Sherman and other senior in an alleged bribery scandal whether set free by the court or not.

One individual with more at stake is incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai who is caught between the scissors on fighting to maintain a clean unity party by opting for party chairman to survive the legal case while at the same time supporting the fight against corruption, a dying wish of the Liberian people.

While the Liberian public is applauding the government for acting swiftly in bringing individuals named in the Global Witness report to justice amid calls -both local and international to take the report seriously, Vice President Boakai has the most difficult position on the matter.

In his statement Vice President Boakai in a fine-tuned statement called for what he termed “a rational and thought-examined approach to issues affecting the country” failing to come clear on expressing support for the prosecution of Party Chairman Sherman and others which many will see as his willingness to fight corruption.

When Vice President Boakai was facing a difficult situation with President Sirleaf cool on expressing public support to become her successor, Cllr. Sherman recently publicly expressed support for the presidency of Vice President Boakai when he told FrontPageAfrica in an interview late last year that as a partisan of the UP he supports Boakai to become the party standard bearer.

“Our candidate in the upcoming election wills Vice President Joseph Boakai. The Unity Party will work to ensure that VP Boakai wins the election on a first round basis.

We will take the campaign across the length and breadth of the country and will make sure that our candidate will become victorious”, Cllr. Sherman told FPA in an interview.

As Cllr. Sherman finds himself facing indictment which is now a legal matter, Vice President Boakai who has a lot at stake in uniting UP partisans ahead of election finds himself in a position where supporting Party Chairman Sherman will be seen as endorsing corruption and at the same his support for the law to take its course is likely to anger some UP officials who think the indictment against Cllr. Sherman is politically motivated to further disintegrate the party.

UP vs LP

On top of the all the debates, the man heading the Special Presidential Task Force established to probe the Global Witness report, Cllr. J. Fonati Kofa was a sitting Chairman of the opposition Liberty party at the time he was appointed to the position of Minister of State Without Portfolio, something that is leading to bad blood between partisans of the two political parties.

Cllr. Kofa was first tipped to be appointed Justice Minister when news surfaced that his appointment to the position was allegedly opposed by Cllr. Sherman.

Immediately following his appointment, Cllr. Kofa first major assignment has put him in the position to probe the Chairman of rival Unity Party, Cllr. Sherman.

Speculations have been rife that Liberty party political leader, Cllr. Charles Brumskine and Vice President Boakai are locked up in talks over a possible collaboration before Cllr. Kofa of the Liberty Party was appointed to a position close to the presidency.

A local newspaper reported Thursday that partisans of the two political parties clashed at the Temple of Justice when Cllr. Sherman was taken to court, an indication of growing political division between the supporters of the two parties based on the involvement of their senior party officials of both sides of the ongoing saga.

Selective indictment?

Cllr. Sherman and three others including ECB Jones, Christopher Onanuga, Alex Tyler have been indicted along with Sable mining on five counts allegations of bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation.

The indictment is alleging that at intervening times during and between the period 2010 to 2011 or thereabout the defendants as a team through various communications and each being strategically placed in various positions in government within the Republic of Liberia with the support of Sable Mining criminally strategize and purposely, wilfully and intentionally request and was given more than US$900,000.00 to perform their official duties.

Other individuals named in the Global Witness report were not indicted along with the four that have already filled their valid criminal appearance bond to secure their release as they await court trial.

National Security Agency head Fombah Sirleaf, lawmaker Henry Fahnbulleh, Cletus Wotorson, Senator Morris Saytumah, Willie Belle and Dr. Richard Tolbert who were also named in the report are yet to be indicted.