Why Soldiers’ Wives Held Liberia Hostage for over 10 Hours

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Why Soldiers’ Wives Held Liberia Hostage for over 10 Hours
Why Soldiers’ Wives Held Liberia Hostage for over 10 Hours

WILLIAM Q. HARMON

Africa-Press – Liberia. Defense Minister, Retired Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, resigned from his post on Monday, just 10 days after being appointed by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and confirmed by the Liberian Senate, following the army officers’ mutiny that held the country hostage for over ten hours.

The resignation of Gen. Johnson, former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which came after intense consultations and lengthy dialogues with major national and international stakeholders, marked the first political crisis President Boakai had to face since he became President 24 days ago.

Officers of the AFL deployed their wives to hold the country hostage for over ten hours, making a litany of demands, the most important being the revocation of the appointment of the Defense Minister, Gen. Johnson. To ensure the success of their mutiny, the officers posted their wives at strategic locations across the country, practically crippling general movement across the country.

They set up roadblocks in Monrovia, Gbarnga, Zwedru, and other locations in the country. Passengers and drivers stuck in long traffic jams on the roads leading to the airport and other areas, opted to abandon their vehicles and continue their journeys on foot.

The mutiny led to the cancellation of the annual Armed Forces Day celebration, scheduled for February 11th, with impeccable sources telling the Daily Observer early Monday morning all the country’s barracks were on lockdown. The decision to cancel the event was made by officers who had been expressing their grievances through their wives who then staged the multiple roadblocks on major roads and arteries leading into and out of Monrovia and elsewhere across the country.

Protest against Maj. General Prince Johnson’s Appointment Intensifies

The army officers had been indirectly protesting through their wives against bad labor practices, low incentives, inadequate housing, and a lack of proper retirement programs for officers.

The officers have also accused the former Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, of corruption and embezzlement, with specific reference to funds that were intended for servicemen who were serving on Peacekeeping Missions, especially in Mali. They called for his nomination as Minister of Defense to be revoked, though he had already been confirmed by the Senate.

Last week, the soldiers’ wives stormed the grounds of the Capitol, urging members of the Senate not to confirm retired General Prince Johnson lll as Defense Minister. The protests, however, intensified across the country, spreading to barracks in Gbarnga, Todee, Zwedru, Robertsfield Highway, and other parts of the country.

But why were the soldiers and their women so angry?

The officers believe that Johnson was not a better leader for the past six years when he served as COS.

Some army officers who spoke to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity described their former Chief of Staff as a pure dictator. “He is heartless and only seeks his welfare,” one said. “He did not seek our welfare. He had no time for us. He was even the one suppressing us.”

In a WhatsApp message, Retired Maj. Gen. Johnson promised to return a call to the Daily Observer to fact check allegations against him, but we did not receive the call from him up to the publication of this story.

Along with their wives, the officers had multiple grievances for the protest, ranging from low salaries and pensions to a lack of social security, electricity shortages, and corruption within the armed forces.

Another officer said that the military earlier had a policy that ensured that every 18 months, officers in good standing were promoted. Johnson changed that, including a new policy that ensured promotion was done every five years instead.

“You are supposed to be promoted when you do not cause problems, no discipline issues. But when Prince Johnson came, he made it five years as a way of suppressing others from being promoted.

This is unlike of previous COS who promoted officers in good standing after every 18 months, a policy that hugely benefitted Johnson as he was promoted 9 times in his 17 years’ service in the military. He rose from Officer Candidate to Maj. General.

“He was promoted nine times in the army, but he never wanted others to have similar opportunities, so he introduced a new policy to deny others,” an officer said. “After he was appointed COS, he changed the policy to five years—meaning AFL officers could only be promoted every five years.”

“He came, and he drafted his own policy to suppress his subordinates. And he knows that the people he is suppressing are trained army people.

“You see, Weah’s decision to elevate him and Daniel Ziahkan was not wrong. This was a very inexperienced president, and he thought that these guys were from the service and they would have done the right things, but these guys became more corrupt than the plainclothes guys out there.

“Renovation work on the housing units and repairs of spoiled sewage systems in the barracks are carried out with funds contributed from the salaries of individual soldiers, though these should have been the responsibilities of the army.”

He said accommodations have never improved since he joined the force about 15 years ago. “There is no improvement in the welfare of the soldiers. The only change is that they took two people from in one room. Everyone is now entitled to a room…that is all, nothing else is improved on the units.”

“As close as he was with us here, nothing changed under Johnson here for the past six months. He did not seek our welfare here in the barracks. So is it that when he goes to the Ministry of Defense, where he is no longer closer to us, he will think about us? We think it will never happen. That guy is heartless.”

“When the protest began, Johnson met with the women and gave them L$1.5M, promising them that he would address their grievances when he became minister. He promised to increase the salaries of servicemen, make sure the retirement policy came into force, and women and improve conditions at the barracks, but the women could not budge as they noted that previous promises made were never fulfilled,” the officer continued.

“The retirement policy is one major issue. He said there were a lot of soldiers dying and their wives and children had nowhere to go. In that policy, it should be spelt out boldly what are due servicemen for the years they have served for.

Pension and gratuity

Johnson is reportedly making a whopping US$12,000 when the least man in the army barely makes US$200.00. “Security these days are not for play, especially when the men are well trained…you don’t mess with them,” he said. “They don’t know the danger of making fun out of educated people in arms.

“Corruption has taken over the army and that is what we are trying to get rid of. Let there be an equal distribution of everything, especially regarding retirement benefits.

“Women whose husbands died are treated worse. They are only paid three months after the deaths of their husbands and are subsequently thrown out of the barracks,” the officer explained.

One such woman is Ruthie Cole whose husband died recently. With five children left with her, Ruthie, who is on the verge of being thrown out of the Star Base barrack on Bushrod Island, has no means to cater to the kids as there is no benefit coming from the AFL for their father’s years of service in the army.

“This is wrong. This should not be happening to the wives and children of people who serve this country. So where are they expecting those women and children to go? Who takes care of them out there? They are not giving her any death benefits, they just want her to go,” the officer said. “And if we sit down and allow these things to happen, they will happen to us, too.”

“It is happening to Ruthie and the others today, but it could be in our shoes tomorrow…so there is no better time to stand up than now. We must stand up to the system so that the right thing can be done. We have suffered a lot.”

“Why are these guys so heartless? Prince Johnson’s wife is a Swedish woman. She was sick in Sweden a few years ago and Brownie Samukai gave him US$150K so that his wife could seek medical attention. That money came from the defense budget, so why similar allotment cannot be made for others?” he asked rhetorically.

Source: Liberian Observer

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