- Nat Nyuan Bayjay
Probably, he is not at all the kind of ‘devil’ that many might take him for. At least, this is not what most people in Caldwell think of the man who made their settlement feared during the early stages of the civil war in the early 1990’s.
Prince Johnson, alias PYJ, now the Senior Senator of Nimba County, for the first time Thursday visited Caldwell since he escaped the settlement that he had made his rebel base in the face of a desperate-Charles Taylor’s ‘Operation Octopus’ in 1992.
Eighteen years later, the residents of the Settlement gathered in their mass not necessarily to see one of Liberia’s next year’s presidential candidates, but to mainly catch a glimpse of the man who they only probably last saw in his rebel-form.
For those aged above 30, to say the least, sought to see PYJ’s current form obviously with many things running through their minds: ‘Will he return with his silver pistol?’ ‘Has he really changed?’ ‘Is he still the militant-disciplinarian he was?’ and probably the biggest question: ‘Is he still feared?’
For those aged below 20 or in their early 20’s, they were particularly eager to see the man about whom their parents and others may have told them so much about as they were either not yet born or too small to remember that PYJ was in control of the ‘Caldwell Base’.
Caldwell, located across the Stockton Creek across the Bushrod Island from the commercial Dualu District, is one of the original settlements that comprised the Commonwealth of Liberia in the 1839 Constitution as drafted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization equated to being the United States’ colonization arm that established what now Liberia is.
Leader of the defunct breakaway warring faction of Taylor’s rebel group, Johnson used the Settlement of Caldwell as a base for two years as he continued the rebellion against former President Samuel Kanyon Doe-a cause he subsequently succeeded in doing as he captured and ended Doe’s realm in September of 1990.
Throughout his control of the Settlement as well as the Bushrod Island from 1990 to 1992, Johnson’s Caldwell Base was greatly feared and sometimes referred to as the ‘Place of No Return’.
|Daniel Smith |
However, perceptions over his control of Caldwell had two sides: others, particularly his warring rivals and those perceived as such on one hand labeled it as ‘notorious’ while mainly residents of both Caldwell and the Bushrod Island on the other hand dubbed it as ‘a safe haven’.
Daniel Smith, resident of the settlement since 1986, referred to Johnson as the civilian hero: “During the time he was here, he was the hero for us the civilians. PYJ only dealt with his soldiers who used to harass us the civilians. I personally saw him quartered (flogged with 25 lashes) a general before me for maltreating a civilian. It was hard but he used to make sure to provide ways for us the civilians to get food.”
A jubilating Alice Zayzay who was just 14 years when Johnson and his forces took over the Settlement told FrontPage that she remembers him in her daily prayers: “I pray every day for him. God came first, Prince Johnson second. If they always talk about rebel leader, PYJ was different because it was not for this man during the war time, most of us were going to die. They say he was bad but only his soldiers he used to deal with”.
Janet Capehart, aged 32 added her voice: “When they arrested my pa and took him to kill him on the base, he told them to leave him and said that the man was his doctor”
PRAYERS FOR PYJ
Johnson’s exit of the base is well remembered by Smith who said, “I remember that day when he was leaving during the ‘Octopus’. He stopped right here on that road when the late Ellen Breeze asked him why he was leaving. He only told her ‘I am leaving because I don’t want to join Taylor to fight any more war’.”
Sights of PYJ’s former Caldwell Base still reflect the consequences of war, further explaining that jet bombers and fierce battles had their shares for the battle to take over Monrovia beginning there at times. Burnt houses add to the harsh economic lives of the locals in the area.
One group of people were however vividly seen during Thursday’s visit. Loyalists of the former warlord who still live in the township turned out in their mass and feared not being stigmatized as they openly disclosed that they were once fighters of PYJ’s defunct Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL).
As Johnson unfolded his political platform to them during his speech, they could but only cheered continually, apparently reflecting 18 years ago when he commanded them to go, shot, ‘tye-bail’ or ‘no retreat, no surrender’ during their ‘Scorpion Kingdom’.
President Samuel K. Doe captured by Prince Johnson