Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Sometimes back, I wrote about divisiveness in the Unity Party and I was attacked from all fronts by some partisans and party executives. In fact, I was labeled a paid agent. Today, not only are the signs being visible, but the pieces of evidence are in high definition.
With the internal fighting and wrangling escalating, thereby taking a new level, attacks have been directed at President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf by some members and executives of the party. The primary reason: lack of support by the former standard-bearer toward the candidacy of Vice President Boakai. This has been going on before and after the elections, and what surprised most people, was the attack on the President by the Party Chairman on her birthday! What the Unity Party fail to realize is, the attack on the President is like shooting themselves in the leg.
For any political party to win an election, the first factor that points toward success is cohesiveness or unity. With a long-running feud between the President and Senator Varney Sherman, lack of unity was the first downward trend that affected the party chances during the first round and might likely be the cause of them losing the runoff or rerun, whichever NEC or the court decides. As the adage goes, “A house divided cannot stand”. Division in the Unity Party is not President Sirleaf’s fault. If you will ask me whose fault is it, I would gladly say, Vice President Boakai. In every society or organization, people have personal problems with each other, as is the case with President Sirleaf and Senator Sherman. The Vice President is aware of the problem between the two and was supposed to do everything in his power to broker some kind of peace; even if it was going to be fake. He did not do that, instead, he aligned himself with the Varney Sherman wing of the party. Of course, when two parties have a conflict and you align yourself with one side, the other party may just add you to the issue. I am not trying to insinuate that it was what the President did, but Vice President Boakai at that point gave credence to the confusion or misunderstanding between the two. There are many other factors that led the Unity Party to where it is today, and I will address them below.
Firstly, prior to the election, President Sirleaf was very clear during an interview with a media entity that Vice President Boakai was going to fight for the Presidency the same way she fought for it. That statement was made more than a year to the elections. I wonder how did Vice President Boakai and the Unity Party understand the statement? Let me take you back a little: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has always stood up and been firm to her beliefs. Her yes is her, yes, and her no is her no. When serving as Assistant Minister of Finance under the Tolbert regime between 1972 to 1973, Madam Sirleaf resigned her position because she disagreed with governmental spending. Fast forward, after winning a senatorial seat in the 1985 elections, the Madam refused to take up her seat as a protest to fraudulent elections conducted by the then elections commission and influenced by the late Samuel Doe administration. Therefore, Madam Sirleaf’s statement about Vice President Boakai working toward his own ascension to the presidency was supposed to be taken seriously; and in earnest, the President was not wrong. Madam Sirleaf did not oppose the Vice President’s intent to contest the presidency. In fact, how will Unity Party partisans say otherwise when during their convention in Gbarnga where the Vice President was officially elected standard bearer, the President officially turned the mantle of authority of the party over to him?
Secondly, the overzealousness of Chairman Wilmot Paye, Varney Sherman and elements of the Liberia Action Party who were brought over to the UP during the merger in 2009 is another problem the party is faced with. After merger agreements were signed between the Unity Party and the Liberia Action Party led by Cllr. Varney Sherman, many young men who Sherman was sponsoring in Universities were absorbed into the party. These young men over the years benefitted immensely from governmental benefits; appointed positions, scholarships, travels, financial favors, etc., are some benefits they received. Most of these benefits were not even based on merits, rather, it was nepotistic. These young men have cemented some level of influence in government and subsequently, the party felt it was their time to showcase their influence and power. Their first course of action was to start sidelining people who they felt were too loyal to the President. A typical example is an issue that led to Eugene Nagbe resignation as Secretary General of the party. As SG of the UP, Nagbe was officially an Executive Committee member.
However, the Sherman clique in a quest to carry out a hostile takeover of the party started leaving SG Nagbe out of important meetings. Many times, meetings were held without Nagbe’s knowledge and after those meetings only was Nagbe informed about it and decisions that were made. Mohammed Ali, Assistant Secretary-General for press and public affairs and one of Sherman’s strong ally became the de-facto Secretary General of the Party. These actions by Sherman’s clique begun to raise eyebrows among partisans, especially those who felt that the President was still a major factor in the party. Nagbe felt disrespected and he subsequently resigned as Secretary General of the Party. The contents of his letter of resignation were only a courtesy to the Unity Party since he didn’t want to give the opposition an evidence of confusion within the party. Nagbe’s resignation was a major turning point in the party. It served as a proof to other partisans who doubted that internal wrangling existed within the party, and it also made the President Sirleaf loyalists feel more disenchanted. Thus, up to this day, there is President Sirleaf clique on one side and the Sherman-Boakai clique on another side.
Thirdly, the campaign message proffered by the Unity Party was a complete contradiction of itself. How in the world will you want to align yourself with President Sirleaf’s success but try to divorce the Vice President from her failure? And the Vice President himself put the icing on the cake during the presidential debate when he said that he was parked in the garage for 12 years. That was an awkward strategy and that message didn’t resonate with voters.
Lastly, the President’s refusal to open the government coffers as a financing tool for the Unity Party is what stimulated the attacks on her person by the Sherman-Boakai clique of the party. A fortnight ago, I wrote an article about the President’s support to the Liberty Party and subsequently the Coalition for Democratic Change. After those articles were published, the President decided to remain neutral in the whole electoral process; even while giving support to those parties, she was still bankrolling the Unity Party. However, their expectations of unlimited support and access to state funds backfired when the President in her quest to exhibit a stance of neutrality tightened the screws on all government expenditure and spending. This did not go well with many members of the party who are also officials of government. They depended on funds from ministries and agencies where they serve to finance their party campaign activities. This financial stagnation became a hullabaloo for the party and the best course of action by some party elements and executive, especially from the Sherman-Boakai cartel was to wage an all-out war on the President. Diatribes and all kinds of insults have been directed at her in the past few months and it has gained so much momentum in recent times, especially with the Unity Party beaten in the first round of elections by the Coalition of Democratic Change. To make matters worse, they are so broke to even campaign for a runoff, and that is the main reason why they are supporting the Liberty Party court efforts; not because they are in total agreement with Liberty Party insinuations of fraud. In fact, if it was the Unity Party who won the first round, they would have been battling the Liberty Party severely by now. The Unity Party is only portraying an attitude of “Ethical Egoism”; they are using the Liberty Party as a “means to an end”.
To conclude, attacks on the President by elements from the Unity Party is denting their chances in these elections. Lest they forget, the President still commands a very favorable outlook with the general population. She still commands a large following among women and it was her women base that made her win the two previous elections. What to also take into consideration is, in our Liberian society, a verbal or an attack on a woman instigate women solidarity. To make matter worse, you attack the President who is a female and who most women see as a mother? Definitely, you are going to have heavy losses among female voters and that is what happened. The president decided to remain neutral is not a crime. I think it was the best decision she made since in fact, this will be Liberia’s first peaceful power transition since 1944. Choosing a side or supporting Vice President Boakai’s presidential ambition could have made the process look like she is handpicking a successor. The President is only allowing the democratic process to go on.
What would the Unity Party be talking if she had come all out in favor of Boakai? In addition, the country’s money is no one person or party property. It is the Liberian people money and not that of the Unity Party or any other party for that matter. Real and loyal partisans of any party galvanize personal resources to support their quest to power, not the nation’s resources. For example, officials and members of political parties in Ghana and Nigeria rally around themselves and fund their parties. Even right in Liberia, the CDC is a prime example. CDC partisans will print their own T-shirts and walk miles to party functions. That is a sign of patriotism. Let everybody cry their own cry. Those rebels in the Unity Party need to stop the crybaby attitude and man up to their cause. Madam Sirleaf is not President for only the Unity Party, she is president for all Liberians. She has been accused of nepotism and many other things; she tries to take a stance and elements from within her own party are crying? Well, the President is not your problem Unity Party. You are your own problem. You shot yourself in the leg. Go and cater to your wounds.