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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Liberia: Boakai-Koung Strained Relationship Fuels Nyonblee’s Coup

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By Festus Poquie and E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor

Seemingly Low key relationship between President Joseph Boakai and his deputy Jeremiah Koung has spilled over to the Senate, rocking the ruling Unity Party legislative caucus as lawmakers take to separate factions.

The internal conflict has left President Pro Tempore Nyonblee Karnga susceptible with dimming influence.

Vice President Jeremiah Koung,46, and his Movement for Democracy and reconciliation Party partnered the Unity Party during the 2023 presidential elections, hoping he would get a free hand and play dominant role in administering the country’s affairs on account of the President’s advancing age.

After the Jan. 22 inauguration, reality has set in and expectation seems short-lived with the President in full control of the state along with a select cluster of aides and loyalists leaving the Vice President with little or no say.

The strained relationship between the country two most powerful men became palpable when the President demonstrated acts of disregard to his second-in-command by trashing his decision to extend deadline for the enforcement of Police regulations on motorcycle transportation across the Greater Monrovia area.

After Liberia’s brutal civil wars, the demand for affordable transportation in the West African country increased rapidly. Ex-combatants, often former child soldiers, quickly offered uncomplicated and fast transport services using motorcycles.

This phenomenon has been typical in many African post conflict and developing countries, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Due to the lack of reliable and sufficient formal public transport the number of motorcyclists in Liberia grew very fast.

Commercial motorcyclists are called Phen-Phen drivers in Liberia.

According to estimations of the Ministry of Transport, Phen-Phens are responsible for up to 60 % of all motorized transport in the center of Liberia’s near two million inhabitant’s capital Monrovia.

Commercial motorcycle transport offers a flexible service with trips on demand, while regular taxi transport in Liberia allows transport only on certain routes. According to the Transport Ministry around 250,000 motorcycles are used commercially countrywide.

The Boakai administration’s push to formalize this transportation sector and introduce new regulations has been controversial.

When the May 15 deadline to rollout the reform was approaching Motorcycle Unions were planning demonstrations since their appeal for extension was ignored.

The Vice President stepped in and reached a negotiated settlement that averted the planned protests.

The police issued the following statement after Koung’s intervention.

“The Liberia National Police (LNP) has restructured its ‘No Go Zone’ restriction which is expected to come into force on next Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

“The Liberia National Police through its leadership has also given a Three-month grace period to motorcyclists to regularize their status.

“The LNP took the decision on Thursday, May 9, 2024, through its Inspector General, Hon. Gregory O. W. Coleman following a fruitful meeting with the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, H.E. Jeremiah K. Koung, and Heads of the Federation of motorcycle and tricycle unions at the Capitol Building, in Monrovia.”

The police has since abandoned its revised policy following the President’s disapproval.

Who’s the Vice President?

Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence who heads the Senate as President Pro Tempore is considered in official corridor as the person wielding more power than the elected Vice President in Jeremiah Koung.

She enjoys the President trust and is regularly consulted on key national decisions. She went into the 2023 elections as embattled leader of the Liberty Party and chaired the national campaign of the Unity Party Alliance.

Following the party’s success in the Nov. 2023 vote, Nyonblee took to Facebook to announce she was vacationing in Istanbul Turkey.

Istanbul  is one of the fascinating places on the planet earth. The city’s charm lies in its unique blend of history, culture, and stunning architecture. The city spans two continents, offering a mix of European and Asian influences. Iconic landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, along with the Bosphorus Strait, contribute to its breathtaking beauty.

Also, it’s the home of Bea Mountain Mining Corporation, a unit of  Avesoro Holdings, which operates gold mines in several parts of Liberia. It was established in 2013 by Turkish billionaire Mehmet Nazif Günal.

Seen largely as Boakai’s emissary, the Senate leader used her influence to place allies and friends in key government positions to the annoyance of other alliance members.

Her proximity to the President has been discomforting to other politicians like Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson.

In one open Senate plenary session, Johnson referred to Nyonblee as the defacto vice president of the Republic of Liberia. This was in apparent reference to her overlapping role.

Following his 2021 sanctioning by the US Department of treasury under Global Magnitsky Act for alleged corruption, PYJ, the notorious warlord of the 1990s put his protégé Koung at the helm of his MDR to forge alliances that would protect his financial and personal security interests.

They joined the UP but has grown dissatisfied when he became hopeless and helpless in landing government jobs as many per his threshold to supporters and kinsmen. Anger  flared further when the President commenced the process of creating a mixture of war and economic crimes court that could see him surrender for prosecution on account of alleged atrocities committed during the first civil war.

Like PYJ, many Senators are unhappy about the manner in which the Vice President is being treated. While Nyonblee may be enjoying her proximity to the President, fellow Senators view her leadership as selfish and tasteless, according to insiders who have talked to the Oracle News Daily on condition of anonymity.

While Boakai is seeking a solid bloc in the legislature to support his agenda, the Senate is split right down the line with the lady in whom he is well pleased losing control in the upper chambers of the Legislature with a potential coup in the making targeting her position.

Experienced and hardline Senators like James Biney of Maryland County, former House Speaker Alex Tyler of Bomi County and former Pro tempore of the Liberian Senate Gbehzohngar Milton Findley and Emmanuel James Nuquay are sympathetic towards the Vice President, who is also the President of the Senate.

Nyonblee is left with traditional allies like Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon and Bong County Prince Moye. The bloc seeking the Pro Tempore removal are consolidating plans.

Report says that Senator Karnga-Lawrence’s main backing and predecessor Senator Albert Chie of Grand Kru county is moving away towards the middle, could serves as blow to her reign.

Her safety net could be the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change bloc. Caucus leader Senator Nathaniel Farlo McGill of Margibi is considered a strong supporter of the Pro Tempore.

He has put himself on record saying in chamber “Nobody can remove Nyonblee.”

The intricate web of alliances and rivalries in the Senate points to a brewing power struggle with implication extending towards 2029 political cycle.

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