Controversial Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson has tendered in his resignation as Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense, Security and Intelligence.
Senator Johnson is a former leader of the defunct rebel faction Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), which played a prominent role in the first Liberian civil war in which the group captured, tortured, mutilated and executed President Samuel Kanyon Doe, who had himself overthrown and murdered the previous President William R. Tolbert Jr.
The Nimba County Senator was elected to the Senate position unopposed in May 2021 but his resignation is apparently prompted by an immediate US Embassy statement wherein the Liberian Senate was condemned for entrusting the former rebel leader with such a sensitive position.
The US Embassy stated that Senator Johnson’s gross human rights violations during Liberia’s civil wars are well-documented, including his continued efforts to protect himself from accountability, enrich his own coffers and sow division.
The US Embassy believed that the Liberian Senate’s action to see it fit to elevate Senator Johnson to a leadership role – particularly in the area in which he has done this country the most harm – created doubts as to the seriousness of the Senate as a steward of Liberia’s defense and security.
“The US government is proud of our longstanding partnership with the Ministry of National Defense and Armed Forces of Liberia which will continue – but we can have no relationship with Senator Johnson.”
The statement added: “We note as well the continuation of Counselor Varney Sherman, sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury for corruption involving judicial bribery, as chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions. By giving Senators Johnson and Sherman these leadership roles, the Senate is effectively ensuring that corruption and lack of accountability flourish.”
Thereafter, the Liberian Senate responded to the statement from the US Embassy in which it said the Upper House acknowledged with thanks and a sense of appreciation the interest of the Embassy of the United States of America near the capital on the election conducted on May 18, 2021 to fill six of the 12 vacant positions on its leadership committee as reflected in its statement issued on May 19, 2021.
“The Senate takes note of the concern expressed by the US Embassy on the election of Senator Johnson as Chair on the Committee on Defense, Security, Intelligence and Veterans Affairs, who is being accused of committing war crimes and the retention of Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County who has been sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury for alleged bribery and corruption as Chair on Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions.”
The Senate indicated, “The Liberian Senate wishes to assure the US Embassy and other bilateral partners, multilateral partners and other members of the international community, local and international organizations, and institutions and the citizens of this country that in no way does it support the commission of war crimes, human rights abuse, bribery, corruption other domestic and international crimes and impunity.”
According to the Senate, in furtherance of the prolonged and historic relationship between Liberia and the United States, it would without delay seek the opportunity through diplomatic channels, to engage the US Embassy to seek clarity on its concern expressed in the press statement, provide the necessary information on the matter and find a way to address the concerns.
For its part, Senator Johnson’s political party Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) in a reaction said the characterization of its political leader by the US Embassy as “notorious warlord” is an affront to the people of Nimba County in whose interests he was defending during the civil wars.
The party also slammed the US Embassy for raising “unnecessary alarm” over the ascendency of Senator Johnson to such committee when he had served similar committee during the tenure of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and had a cordial relationship with former United States Ambassador to Liberia Linda Thomas Greenfield while serving on such committee.
“This is not the first time Senator Johnson has chaired this committee. In 2005, he chaired this committee and worked closely with former United States Ambassador to Liberia,” the release noted.
The election of Senator Johnson to chair the statutory committee in the Senate further generated debates in Liberia with many criticizing members of the Senate for allowing the Nimba County Senator elected unopposed.
The Liberty Party, one of four political parties making up the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), distanced itself from the 11th-hour withdrawal from the race of its partisan and Lofa County Senator, Steve Zargo.
Liberty Party Chairman Musa Hassan Bility termed the Lofa County Senator’s decision to withdraw in the 11th-hour, when he had already been assured of the slot by members of CPP, as a blow to the quest for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court.
Bility, in a press statement, said: “The Liberty Party is appalled by the eleventh-hour withdrawal of Senator Zargo from the race for the chairmanship of the Senate’s committee on National Defense, Intelligence and Security.”
He said Senator Zargo’s unexpected withdrawal, which paved the way for the unchallenged election of Senator Johnson to the position, is a disappointment to the CPP, especially so since, prior to the election the CPP Legislative Caucus agreed to support Senator Zargo as Chairman.
Bility said the party saw the Lofa County Senator’s action as downright push at the efforts of Liberians, both home and abroad, for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court.
But Telia Urey, daughter of former CPP Chairman Benoni Urey, described as a witch-hunt assertion by Bility. The daughter of the political leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP), another member party of CPP, took to social media to register her disgust with Bility, saying that the Chairman of Liberty Party is targeting the party’s former Chairman because of his support for Unity Party Standard Bearer Joseph Boakai.
She posted: “Musa Bility, please do not hide under War Crimes Court establishment to fight Senator Zargo for his support of Joseph Boakai over your preferred candidate, Alexander Cummings. You and your party don’t support the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court.”
She said: “The glaring truth is that, Musa Hassan Bility is fighting Senator Steve Zargo because of Zargo’s support for Joseph Boakai over Bility’s candidate Cummings. Hiding under support for War Crimes Court to fight Zargo is such a shame and must be condemned.”
Telia added: “I read the Liberty Party statement signed by Musa Bility against Senator Zargo and I must say that I am very disappointed by the level of deception by Bility and LP.”
She went as far as uploading a video of Bility wherein he’s heard speaking against the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court. In the video uploaded by Madam Urey, Bility said: “The Americans, the Europeans, when their civil wars ended, they didn’t ask their people to go after the people that perpetrated the war… so why are they asking you to do it.”
Urey said though she rejected the election of Senator Johnson as committee head and wanted a speedy establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court, she maintained that the insincerity within the ranks of the CPP needed to be seriously condemned and resisted.
“I will no longer sit quietly and allow our people to be deceived,” she said.