President George Manneh Weah’s nationwide visit to the 14th county on the list has produced arguably the most memorable moments the nation has seen since. This is so not only for him and his entourage but also for the hosts—the Gbandis, Kpellehs, Kissis, Lormas, Mandigoes and other tribal residents of Lofa. Long before the tour hit the northwestern province, gossip mills, which were validated by some loose radio talks, had it that the President’s visit to Lofa would be cold-shouldered over lingering political issues that hold their origin in the county’s leaning to a political bloc headed by prominent citizens from there, principally former Vice President Joseph Boakai, who contested the 2017 elections that President Weah won and is seemingly poised to contest in 2023. Towards the build-up of the trip, there were therefore anxieties and trepidations in many quarters about unpleasant showdowns that would be seen throughout Lofa County. Eventually however the anxieties and trepidations turned out otherwise—the President has had what many pundits say is one of the most exhilarating times of his countryside tours. From Sanoyea on the entry border to former Vice President Boakai’s Foya enclave, citizens rose up in gargantuan numbers as ever seen before to lavish reception and hospitality on the President who collaterally returned so much love in words and deeds for Lofa County. The Analyst reports.
Until his triumphant entry and unprecedented welcome turned it into a myth, there were doubts, uncertainties and anxieties hanging in the air that Lofa County will present a hostile posture against President George Manneh Weah and his entourage when they attempt to visit the Northwestern county as part of his county tour.
The President had visited 13 other counties, without such anxieties and ominous predictions.
Trigger of then Looming Anxieties
There were two main assertions cited as possible reasons for the foreseen snub, one being remote and the other immediate: one that former UP Joseph Nyumah Boakai was a factor, as this goes as far back as to the 2017 elections when Mr. Boakai lost to Mr. Weah. Furthermore, the former VP is taking up a giant role as a possible presidential hopeful of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) where he may again square up against president Weah in 2023.
It is undisputable that Mr. Boakai pulled a sizable number of the total votes cast from the vote-rich Lofa County as a ‘son of the soil’, beating Mr. Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change with a wide margin in 2017.
Boakai is regarded godfather of the county and a man who arguably any day, anytime has the county under his total grip.
He demonstrated it during the last December 8, 2020 senatorial race when his endorsement got Mr. Brownie J. Samuka the votes needed to represent Lofa at the Liberian senate but lingering litigations have so far stalled the feat.
Going towards 2023, Mr. Boakai does not expect any of his opponents to have a facelift in a county that has been projecting him as the next president of Liberia; so less was expected of Mr. Weah to have a rosy welcome just like how the president had been experiencing in the other counties he has visited.
The second reason which is immediate borders on the delays by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to certificate Mr. Brownie Samukai, another prominent citizens of Lofa County, in line with the results from the last senatorial election in which he floored the other contenders.
There are those who believe the Samukai issue is being orchestrated and manipulated by President Weah as part of his anti-Lofa vendetta.
So with all the outstanding reasons that would have ordinarily made President Weah’s visit a nightmare, the people of Lofa extraordinarily put in place strategy that swayed this into unexpected, jubilant and earthshattering welcome for President Weah in the county.
There was a visible disequilibrium in thoughts within the Presidency to the extent that they may have toyed with so many options that could be feasible for the President to have a good outing in the county.
There was a postponement from the initial trip, then followed by a long suspense of knowing the next date, then came the date which eventually got everyone talking.
Melting the Myth
The first strategy which the organizers executed extremely well was making the President’s visit more of local content where the citizens in the county, and not those outside, were the main drivers of the event.
“We knew that normally when the President travels to a place, some other persons follow for other reasons as well. But we told ourselves the local people that whether other people, especially Lofans in other parts of the country, are coming here, we are the only hosts and no one else. We must step up to show the real and usual hospitality Lofa is noted and known for. That is why you saw everybody, be it the old, young, disabled, the high, the low, I mean just everybody came out in full to support this venture”, said Mr. Desmond Kollie, a youth activist who told the paper that he was deeply involved in the planning process from conception and will be until the final day.
Secondly, the impact of the much talked about 72 key officials in the present dispensation in the county swayed more enthusiasm in the people.
An official who told us not to have his identity printed in the paper when asked simply said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
He did not elaborate more than that but this lad, who simply called himself Jallah, told this paper that unlike what is being insinuated out there, there are more sons and daughters from Lofa that are in this government and there is no other way they would have told the President that the people highly appreciate the positions given to them if the citizens had not come out that way.
Then the program proper kicked off at the Voinjama City Hall. While the program was on, there were dancing by traditional women and students marching in and out of the program hall.
“Our people, the people of Lofa, have made us proud by the huge turnout in their numbers; that is an indication that what is been said about us and our relationship with the President in Monrovia is Monrovia talk,” the Chairman of the Lofa County Legislative Caucus, Senator Steve Zargo, noted in an electrifying statement while welcoming the President during the town hall meeting in Voinjama.
And indeed, the people of Lofa County came out in their numbers.
The reference of Monrovia in his statement cannot be side-brushed because days to the journey, there were so many stories, mostly from the angle of those who wanted to cash in the high wire politics of Lofa County has become to be part of lately especially the controversy surrounding the fate of Senator elect Brownie Samukai.
Senator Steve Zargo thanked the President for the visit and told the President that from all indications, he didn’t need to tell the President how happy the people of Lofa were to receive him and his entourage.
“Mr. President, our people have come out in their numbers; you have seen and heard; the choice is yours,” an elated Senator Zargo, also a known fiery critic of the Weah administration, told the jubilant crowd.
He told the President that since his arrival to the county, which is a beautiful and unique place, the entire people of Lofa have been in joyous mood to receive him adding that Lofans are a united people who are plain in everything they do.
“Our people of Lofa made us proud by the huge turnout in their numbers; that is an indication that what is been said about you in Monrovia is Monrovia talk”, he said amid cheers from the people, in apparent reference of the rumors in Monrovia at the time that the President and party will receive cold shoulder in Lofa County.
He reminded President Weah of the groundbreaking performed by the former President Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and him (Weah) for the construction of the Lofa Road in 2017 which remains undone and has left the contractors with a debt of $1.3 million.
He said because of this, the project is at a standstill and appealed to the government to pay the said amount so that the work will continue and end.
Senator Zargo who had earlier last month visited the project site and lamented the slow pace of the work done there told the President that Lofa county from time to time has been known as the breadbasket of the country and if the road is fixed the sky will be the limit.
Unlike other counties where the President had visited and people from different backgrounds made separate presentations, the people of Lofa County were united in such a way that a special statement was prepared and was read by the City Major of Voinjama City on behalf of the entire county.
The City Major of Voinjama City, Korto Harris thanked the President for the visit to the county and wished him and party a happy stay.
She also thanked the president for the water project sited in the county that is helping the citizens to have safe running water.
She then proceeded to give some of the activities and achievement accomplished by the local authority beginning with the settling of 4 land disputes which she said got the cooperation and support of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Varney Sirleaf, to whom she gave much of the credits.
She also mentioned that a land survey was conducted for the construction of a modern Sports Stadium which has so far gotten the keen interest and commitment of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA)
While stating that the local county authority and the people are supportive of the government Pro- poor Agenda, she took the time to make some requests to the President for his timely consideration, among which are construction of the road leading to Vahun District which is isolated the district from the rest of the county.
Others are the construction of the Voinjama City Hall which was started by the Tolbert Administration but abandoned over the years, the elevation of the Lofa County Community College from an Associate Degree granting institution to the Bachelor’s degree level, construction of an old folk home.
Also on the long list of requests are the establishment of a government – owned banking institution to cushion the effect of poor financial transactions in the county, the provision of solar panels and the need to support the decentralization of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) to have a central point.
The request for the construction of the Lofa Central Hospital to be located at a central place which will be accessible to all parts of the county and a new prison center to replace the overcrowded old prison.
The Superintendent, Mr. William Tamba Kama, presented Certificate of Appreciation on behalf of the county, which was signed by representatives of all the tribes in the county to President Weah in recognition of his visit and level of development he has carried out in Lofa and other parts of the country. Also on behalf of the people, he bestowed on Mr. Weah, the name TARNUE, meaning Town owner.
Speaking later on, President Weah, overwhelmed by the crowd that thronged the venue, thanked the people of the county for the reception and made special recognition of the Mass Choir of the county whom he said performed so excellently and promised that in the planned national mass choir competition, the Lofa team will be invited to take part.
Turning the various requests, he called on the Lofa county caucus to make sure that the $1.3m debt on the Lofa road be included in the budget and he will definitely sign it into law so that the project will start.
Senator Zargo also talked about the long standing friendship between him and Mr. George Weah (now President of Liberia) dating back to their elementary and junior high school days.
In response, President George Weah said: “Senator Steve Zargo said I came, saw, heard and the choice is mine. When God works for you, people will talk about you.”
That was in apparent reference to how some people thought that he would not have reached where he is today because he never went to school at all.
The President told the citizens of Lofa that all the projects listed as requested are all achievable if everyone would support them, especially the legislative caucus who are part of those with authority to approve allocations.
He called on the people to work with their legislative caucus so that they will be able to access the $16 million agriculture package and the $2 million meant for rural women in business as well as prevailing on their lawmakers to make sure that the $2milion gets to be approved annually in the national budget.
On other projects, he said, Lofa County, like the other counties, would not be left out and mentioned that the people should work with their lawmakers so that part of the 100 housing units for the county will be allotted to the various parts of the county so as to yield meaningful impacts.
He also disclosed that the county will benefit from the Hospital per county scheme under his administration, the statement that attracted much cheers from the people.
The president told the traditional council that their request for 2 pickups and 10 motor bikes is granted just like what did in the other counties. He also acknowledged that the stadium project has the backing of FIFA and that work will start very soon.
Turning to politics, he said he could understand why people would say he is against Lofa County because the county didn’t give him many votes.
The President said further: “Why should I be angry with you? During the election, I didn’t expect you to support me when your father and uncle was also in the election. But the votes you gave me at the time were added to my votes and I was elected. Besides, Lofa County is known for supporting the government in elections. Your father and uncle was the vice president at the time and that was why you gave him all the support. But now he is no more in government. I hope the people of Lofa will support me in 2023 as they normally do for people in government during elections.”
What brought more flavor to the program in Voinjama were the presence of traditional women singing and dancing continuously outside of the venue as well as students parading in and out of the venue defiling the scourging sun.