Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s Liberia: A scary place to live

Bodies of two kids reportedly victims of ritualistic killings Photo: Princess Gould

Bodies of two kids reportedly victims of ritualistic killings
Photo: Princess Gould

Judging from recent local newspaper reports as well as interviews conducted with people returning from Liberia, it’s evident that the country is no longer the way former interim leader Charles Gyude Bryant or indicted former Pres. Charles Taylor left it in terms of appreciable level of security for all as the state of general security has deteriorated for worse, perhaps than any other period in Liberia’s history; writes James Kokulo Fasuekoi

In recent months and years, the country once ruled by American black slaves for over a century has proven to be one of the most dangerous places in West Africa for living, often with the mysterious disappearances and deaths of not just teenagers of impoverished families but also key personalities, a lawyer, banker, politician, and now, a known government critic.

Harry Greaves as latest victim 

 Greaves, a former managing director for the lucrative Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, is the latest victim. His corpse, according to the Daily Observer and FrontPage Africa newspapers, was discovered by a pair of joggers on the morning of January 31, 2016 on a beach near Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s presidential residence at about the same spot lawyer Michael Allison’s body was reportedly found last year.

It took barely 48 hours for the top politician’s bruised body to be found after his personal driver reportedly dropped him off at the Kendeja Hotel where it is said he had a meeting.

‘Kendeja’ Again

His tragic story begins at the RLJ Kendeja Resort and Villas located in Kendeja along the Roberts International Airport road and ends in the backyards of the now presidential residence. But workers at the hotel have done very little to help provide any lead that could help investigators identify causes of Greaves’ death. Initial information given by a female attendant interviewed by FrontPage Africa added more confusion to the already complicated situation.

While she and her supervisor, said to be Ghanaian, insist Greaves never booked a suite, she explained she saw Greaves swimming in the hotel pool for a long while and afterwards walked away from the pool toward the ocean. Kendeja Resort, owned by US billionaire Robert Johnson, has been embroiled in a lingering land controversy plus its illegal use of the title “Kendeja,” named after the village that hosted icons of the former national ballet dance troupe. Now, the Greaves’ issue may yet be another.

 Horrifying Condition of the Body 

Staff of Front Page Africa, who said investigators allowed them to view close-up photographs of Greaves’ body weeks ago, wrote that Greaves’ stomach, legs, lips, as well as his anus, were swollen upon discovery. Based on the look of his anus, the reporters concluded Greaves may have been sodomized. A “visible mark” found on the deceased head “possibly a knife” wound, they said, suggests “the possibility of an attack.”

GOL’s Conflicting Autopsy Accounts 

However, autopsies carried out on Greaves’ remains by the government-owned leading hospital plus a government-hired team of American pathologists headed by one Thomas Bennett are all providing conflicting accounts as to what exactly led to the politician’s sudden death.

Thomas Bennett’s US Team

Recently, Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh released the following account from the Thomas Bennett team:  “There is no gross evidence of ante mortem traumatic injuries. Findings include multiple postmortem blunt traumatic musculoskeletal injuries and skin change consistent with prolonged immersion in sea water and impact on ocean rocks. There is no gross evidence of any anorectal trauma or penetration. Skin slippage was all over his body from the prolonged immersion in the water, and there is no evidence to suggest that acid or other caustic substance was poured on this man.”

The government-owned JFK Hospital

As interesting as it seems the John F. Kennedy Hospital provided the following version:  “The right side of his mouth was not intact. His lips were swollen, and tongue protruding. There were blisters-like lesions from his neck down to his chest. There was noticeable peeling of the skin. Both arms were very swollen, large, contracted and stiff. The abdomen was blotted, and the rectum was widely dilated and oozing blood. The lower extremities were swollen. There were no other noticeable lacerations or injuries.”

As a result of these conflicting autopsy reports Liberians are finding it harder to tell which one to consider credible; JFK’s or that of the corrupt government’s hired team? Meantime, the reported arrival to Liberia of a highly trained US pathologist hired by Greaves’ own family to conduct a third autopsy due to lack of trust in the findings of the GOL seems to be causing an opera in that authorities are said to have prevented the individual from carrying out an examination.

Second death in less than a month

Greaves is the second key figure to die under mysterious circumstances this year. In January 2016, Guaranty Trust Bank Manager, Dan Orogun, a Nigerian native, reportedly disappeared hours into a boat ride with his “best friend” businessman George Kailondo. In 2015, Michael Allison, a lawyer who was scheduled to testify in a bribery case that involved a highly influential Senate official was found dead on the beach and stark naked as Greaves.

Similar deaths of key other figures

Yet in two other nefarious incidents, Politician Fayah Saah Gbollie is reported to have been attacked and murdered in daylight at his own Congo Town home in February 2013 and his killers dumped his body outside his house. Earlier, Keith Jubah, former head of the government Public Procurement and Concessions Commission with the task to tackle corruption in public contracts was gunned down at point blank in his home upcountry.

Jubah’s murder like most others was believed to be connected to his job. Unfortunately, in almost all of these homicide related cases, no solid arrests have been made or reported by the police. There has been no prosecution in these cases to deter similar future occurrences. The heartbreaking news relatives of the victims often got from government authorities is: “the suspected killers have escaped the country” and nothing else thereafter.

Greaves as loyal confidant

Not in any way diminishing the pains of relatives of other victims, Greaves’ tragedy has brought old memories taking into account how he and current President Sirleaf struggled many years to oust two regimes, Doe’s and later, Taylor’s in order to make way for an Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf presidency. They both wanted the former dictators out of office and the costs didn’t seem to matter much to them; it was such desire that united them.

A loyal disciple and a close confidant to Ellen Sirleaf, Greaves’ name always came up whenever Sirleaf was mentioned, including subversive activities. He is even said to have accompanied Ellen Sirleaf to meet with late Brigadier General Thomas Quiwonkpa in Silver Springs, MD during which Sirleaf prevailed upon the former Liberian Army commanding general to stage a coup against Doe, a move that turned fatal November 1985, leaving Gen. Quiwonkpa dead.

Ellen Sirleaf rewards Greaves

When Sirleaf finally won elections 2005 and was sworn into office January 2006, she rewarded Greaves by appointing him her presidential advisor and later, managing director for the lucrative Liberia’s Petroleum Refinery Corporation. But Greaves was later dismissed by Pres. Sirleaf over allegations of bribery or alleged demands by Greaves for “kickback” in arranging government contracts. The dismissal crumbled their friendship turning a former Sirleaf “diehard” into a bitter foe.

A changed person

But what most including Greaves’ own adversaries will perhaps long remember and admire about him was his resolve to make good out of a bad situation. He became a changed person, preaching “repentance” and urged government officials including Pres. Sirleaf and her family members, hooked on misusing taxpayers’ monies to stop. The former New York Times financial comptroller also used his Daily Observer Newspaper column to advocate for cheap electricity for the poor.

Against all the odds in a country where the laws never work, where corruption and open bribery have become a way of life, Greaves managed anyhow and led a peaceful mass protest over the government’s attempt to monopolize electricity. Soon it became obvious that Greaves “unwanted” attention didn’t sit well with the first family.

‘A political murder’

A month after his suspicious murder, Greaves’ fans and critics of the regime are trying to piece the puzzle together. Many are suspicious his death could have a political undertone. In the February 5, 2016 edition of The News for instance, the paper quoted a source as saying Greaves was in the process of traveling to the US next April in order to serve as “prosecution witness in a war crime trial.” It is said that Greaves had first traveled to New York October 2015 and reportedly met investigator of the “war crimes court.”

It is not clear who he was expected to testify against. However, former NPFL Defense spokesman Tom Woewiyu, also a former associate of both Greaves and Sirleaf, is being detained by US immigration authorities for reportedly providing “false” statement in his immigration application. It is believed Woewiyu’s wartime activities could be part of reasons for his detention and the decease being an “insider” had access to information many think could be used in prosecuting top Liberian officials in connection to economic and war crimes in the event a war crimes court was set up.

Current President Sirleaf has in the past confirmed that she initially contributed $10, 000. to the NPFL war efforts, one of the rebel factions responsible for the massacre of large number of civilians during the country’s brutal wars.

Mafia-style execution

Already, the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has issued a press statement and termed Greaves’ strange death and “other recent deaths” as “mafia-style execution.” The party said further: “The emergence of a mafia-style execution strategy against any one Liberian constitutes a threat to every well-meaning Liberian.”

Liberians in US set to protest

Recently, a group of Liberians agreed they would carry out a peaceful protest at the UN Assembly in New York, come this September 2016. Their decision comes after a series of mass teleconference meetings connected with Harry Greaves death and participants included human rights supporters worldwide and political and social based activist Liberian immigrant groups in the US.

A news release circulated here Friday (Feb. 26, 2016) under the signatures of Messrs. Seyon Nyanwleh and Jacob Massaquoi said the move is intended to rally the country’s international partners and investors to support a war crimes court in Liberia. “We believe this will ensure accountability and end the culture of impunity that has permeated the fabric of Liberian society,” the release said. Massaquoi is head of New York based Concerned Liberians Against Corruption & Impunity (CLACI), while Nyanwleh servers as secretary for the Minnesota based Movement of Liberians against Corruption (MOLAC).

US Citizens Victims of Strange Death

Liberians and African counterparts are not the only victims of this nightmare that stretches far back to the Bryant-Taylor eras. Other nationals including American citizens have in the past fallen prey to what some now see as organized crimes in the post-war country. John Auffrey, 44, an American who previously worked for the US Defense Department was ghastly murdered May 2004 in his Mamba Point Hotel suite while in the country to help revamp the national army.

Credible sources have linked his murder to a Taylor’s network still roaming in the country. One Emmanuel Mulbah, a former Taylor fighter, accused of killing Auffrey is reported by police to have escaped Liberia and no information on his whereabouts is known. Around the period John Auffrey was murdered, another American died under mysterious circumstances at the Cape Hotel just next door to the Mamba Point Hotel. Both hotels are located less than a mile away from the US Embassy in Liberia’s capital.

Children raped and murdered

Alongside the murder spree, large number of vulnerable kids, mainly from poor families have often suffered all sort of abuses such as rape, and sometimes murder, or both and the suspects or the accused often walked away free due to the poor justice system in the country.

The painful case of 12 year-old Musu Fofana (January 2015) in Brewerville, remains fresh on the minds of many. Hours after being brutally raped by an adult in her neighborhood, Musu died of bleeding in addition to wounds apparently from a knife left in her neck by her attacker. In the same week, a man was arrested by police for allegedly sodomizing an 11 year-old girl and like Musu’s attacker, he was placed in jail but nothing has been heard of him.

According to local dailies, in just 11 months in 2014, the Ministry of Gender’s (Sexual and Gender based violent) statistics indicated there were 554 rape cases across Liberia. Of this total, Montserrado County, mainly Monrovia, carried the highest of 428. There is little doubt that this trend has changed for the better.

Kids as victims of ritualistic murder

Ritualistic murder has also become rampant under the current administration. The disappearances of kids at play in neighborhoods in Monrovia have become commonplace only to be found dead with key organs missing. The shocking discovery last December of the bodies of Reuben Logan, 7, and Alvin Moses, 4, in the backyard of one Ojuku Nmardi, a Nigerian, remains under probe. The bodies of the two were found in less than 24 hours after being reported missing.

Ritualistic murder is the kidnaping, killing of another human and extracting key body parts such as the heart and sexual organ for ritual purposes aimed to help the doer gain unmerited political power, wealth or special favor in the eyes of men. It’s a cruel practice steeped in superstitious belief and in spite of changes that have come with time the culture remains prevalent in most of Africa.

In the late 1970s, Liberia came in to worldview as a result of ritualistic murder after President William R. Tolbert put to death by hanging several elite Liberia-Marylanders including Allen Yancy and James Anderson after they were found guilty by the court in the ritual murder of little Moses Tweh.

Liberia’s complex problems

Liberia’s problems seem more complex like a Jigsaw puzzle. Besides the frequent disappearances and deaths of people armed robbery too has become a major problem for residents living in the capital and its environs which often result to murders, lifetime injuries and loss of treasures with no end in sight. What seems to compound it all is the recent revelation that some police officers are aiding armed robbery in especially the capital which could be the reason why it has survived so long under the present government. The arrest of the officers was recently confirmed by Police Chief Chris Massaquoi and it has at least brought a temporary relief to Monrovia residents.

The poor and middle class of Liberia have been the ones hit hard by this madness. Unlike Ellen Sirleaf and her family as well as most government officials who lived behind high-walls under the protection of United Nations troops, many poor and middle class people in Liberia cannot afford the means of paying for private security guards or erecting high fences.

Government’s crackdown on critics

As of the time of writing the nation was deeply paralyzed by fear and uncertainty and the atmosphere was tense after the arbitrary arrest of youthful political activist Vandalark Patricks who exercised his right to free speech. Earlier, opposition politician Simeon Freeman was forced to go underground when the regime sent its riot police to arrest him for similarly exercising his rights to free speech. Freeman had accused the regime of creating a “death squad” further alleging that the government had plans to secretly murder ten opposition politicians.

Amid the turmoil, the administration of Sirleaf hasn’t done much to help change or calm the ugly situation except to go after those who speak up. Under the prevailing condition, the feeble looking Sirleaf has turned her anger to the watchdogs of society. She blames her own failures at reviving the economy and providing national security on the local mass media, thereby falsely accusing journalists of tarnishing the country’s image.

But the press there has only continued to honor its responsibility by mirroring what Liberia has come to be under Pres. Sirleaf.

Sirleaf isn’t alone in her cry that the local media is out to frighten off potential “investors, despite the daily realities of armed robberies, rapes and murders of teenagers and adults. New Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, himself a journalist, has joined the chorus, calling local aggressive journalists as the “assassins of the pen.” Whatever the meaning, Minister Nagbe unlike Ellen Sirleaf, doesn’t deny the fact there are “some bad things happening” in the country.

Ellen Sirleaf’s hypocrisy

During the 1980s, Sirleaf undertook a vigorous smear campaign against then military dictator Samuel Doe with the aim to make Doe’s government unpopular particularly with the US. She accused his regime of corruption, misuse of Liberia’s natural resources, political power, and the practice of nepotism. She also accused him of doing very little to “preserve the people’s way of life” and further urged US Congress to hold back aid for Liberia.

At the helm of power for more than ten years now, ordinary Liberians argued Sirleaf has done more harm to the country than Taylor and Doe and many fear the worst is yet to come. Under her, corruption has reached its zenith with the “most powerful” joining the foreigners to plunder the country’s natural resources to the detriment of the population. And she has also topped the scale of nepotism in that she has awarded her four sons high-profiled positions despite severe criticism from opponents and some within the international community.

But as the overstressed United Nations troops prepare to finally withdraw from the war-torn country in a few months, panic stricken locals are worried as to who might be the next target of the elusive US-styled Zodiac killer in the capital.