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En: Translate page to English

I am sorry I murdered the President DOE Samuel

Sunday times of july 06,2003
[July 07, 2003]

I'm sorry I murdered the president

Sunday July 6, 2003

In 1990, as his drunken henchmen stripped, tortured and cut off the ears of former
Liberian President Samuel K Doe, leaving him to bleed to death, Prince Yormie
Johnson made a home movie of the slaughter. Today the former warlord, now a preacher
in Nigeria, says he regrets Doe's death. Festus Eriye reports from Lagos

The fatal torture of former Liberian President Samuel K Doe has been well
documented. His killers - a gang of thugs led by notorious warlord Prince Yormie
Johnson who, together with Charles Taylor, rose up against Doe in 1989 - captured
the ghastly affair on video, edited the results, gave it a soundtrack and
distributed copies among themselves.

In Johnson's home movie, he is seated behind a massive desk, with a garland of
grenades around his neck. He is drinking a can of beer and a young woman fans him
with a cloth, occasionally dabbing his temple.

Opposite the desk, in a room crowded with drunk, shouting rebels, Samuel K Doe sits
on the floor. He is naked, except for his underpants. His hands are manacled behind
his back. Two rebels are shown holding him upright. Flesh hangs off his face. His
legs are bleeding.

An interrogation of sorts is taking place. Johnson threatens to kill Doe if he won't
talk. "I want information, I want information," he shouts. All Doe can do is plead
for his life.

Suddenly, Johnson pounds the table: "That man won't talk, bring me his ear!"

The camera jerks around to focus on a screaming Doe, who is held down as a rebel
carves off his left ear. Johnson hits the desk again, and barks out the order: "Now
the other ear, the right ear. . ."

The torture and interrogation continues. Johnson demands to know where he has
stashed the money that he stole from the Liberian people.

The video abruptly ends.

Doe bled to death later that night.

Almost 13 years later, I am seated opposite Johnson, now an ordained preacher in
Nigeria. He has, in a sense, my ears as well, as he professes a profound regret for
his role in Doe's murder.

The date was September 9, 1990. Doe, who had been trapped for weeks in his official
residence, the Executive Mansion, in Monrovia, made a rare trip to the outside world
to meet with the commander of the regional United Nations intervention force.

He was shot and wounded before being abducted by the rebels, as the peacekeeping
troops stood by. Johnson and many of his countrymen had thought Liberia could only
prosper without Doe. The reformed warlord now thinks differently.

"I must be very frank, I regret it," he confesses .

"I thought that the death of Doe would bring peace. But the death of Doe never
brought peace. I thought that after Doe there would have been a democratic
administration that would provide good governance. But the government we have in
Liberia is the worst in our history. If I knew it would be like this, I would have
preferred Doe to be there, than to remove Doe violently and put a monster in his

Johnson is 44 now and, apart from fleshing out a bit, doesn't appear to have aged
much since the violent coup that installed Taylor - also a former warlord indicted
by the UN for war crimes, and a president whose rule has once again subjected the
country to an orgy of bloodletting and violence.

Clad in white kaftan and red traditional cap, Johnson is sitting in the sparsely
furnished living room of his one-storey exile home, in the affluent Lagos suburb of

The cream-coloured house with peeling paint has been his home for 11 years. It is
surrounded by expansive lawns and tropical fruit trees - under which some of his six
children play.

The absence of security is unusual for this security-conscious neighbourhood. Behind
the high walls, the house looks like a poorer cousin to some of the neighbouring
mansions. Previously it was used as a guest house for Liberia's top government

Now Johnson is full of praise for Doe, in the past his sworn enemy.

"During Doe's administration, the international community did not stage embargoes
against Doe," Johnson says. "It was not like this [with the world demanding Taylor's
resignation]. Samuel Doe upheld international relations to the letter. He made
friends with his neighbours, but this administration has been accused by
Sierra-Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. So where do we stand?

"No country is an island - you need to interact with your neighbours. If you, the
president, are accused of fomenting trouble in the various countries bordering your
country, the citizens of your country are going to be given tough times in those

The enmity between Johnson and Taylor, once allies against Doe, runs deep. Johnson
was one of Taylor's most trusted commanders in the days when they operated under the
banner of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Taylor's ambitions, however, led
to an irreparable breach in their relationship in February 1990, and Johnson formed
the breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which at one stage
controlled central Monrovia. He even declared himself president - a stance which did
not please Taylor, who would refer to his former ally as "the late Prince Yormie
Johnson" in his propaganda radio broadcasts.

After Doe's death, the Economic Community of West African States felt that Johnson's
continued presence in Monrovia was an impediment to peace in the country. So he was
shipped into exile in Nigeria.

The recent peace deal that emerged from Ghana calls for Taylor to step down and make
room for an interim administration within 30 days. Dismayingly, Taylor was unmoved,
and on Friday said he would step down only after a US-led peacekeeping force was
deployed in the country.

To Johnson, this is a case of Liberian history repeating itself - with potentially
dire consequences.

"This whole issue of 'step down - I will not step down; step down - I will not step
down' is a playback of 1990," he says.

"Taylor is telling the rebels that he was elected, therefore he cannot be told to
step down. Taylor did tell Doe to step down. Doe was elected. Taylor demanded that
he must step down, and because Doe refused, he prosecuted the war. So the rebels too
are telling him to step down, what's big about it? The cup he gave Doe to drink is
the cup he is drinking from."

Worse, he adds, is the fact that Taylor is the only African president ever to have
been indicted for war crimes: "And because of that indictment, no country can ever
do business with a Liberia with Taylor as its head. So do we keep Taylor and the
people of Liberia suffer? Do we keep Taylor for Liberia to be internationally

Johnson is especially passionate when it comes to Taylor's plunder of Liberia's
resources. He claims that Taylor used to refer to the country as his "pepper bush" -
a honey pot in local parlance.

"The logo of the National Patriotic Party of Charles Taylor is a map of Liberia," he
explains. "Across the map is a branch, and sitting on the branch is a bird. So
Liberia has become Taylor's pepper bush, and he is the only bird sitting on that
branch, singing songs in the morning. How do you say a whole nation is your pepper

"Taylor is very wicked," he declares. "In the whole of Liberia there is not one
street light, no water, no good roads, no electricity, nothing. People are
suffering. You are a journalist - you heard just a few days ago that Taylor has
$1.7-billion in a Swiss bank account that has been frozen. If one man has
$1.7-billion in one bank, while his people are living in abject poverty, what do you
call that man? He is extremely wicked."

Johnson has a rather bizarre theory that Doe and Taylor's names offer clues as to
why the men have turned out the way they have.

"This man's name is Charles Ghankay Taylor. Do you know what 'Ghankay' means? It
means 'stubborn'! As if this name is not enough for him, when he became president,
he acquired a new name - Dahkpannah. You know what 'Dahkpannah' means? Chief of
devils! That is the actual meaning. I am not fabricating. That is the meaning of
Dahkpannah in Gola [dialect].

"This is a playback of the Doe administration. When Doe became the head of state and
converted himself to the civilian president, he adopted a name - Tanu - which means
'the leopard in the town'. Doe adopted a dangerous name. Charles Taylor too adopted
this kind of name - so I don't understand."

Johnson, who once ran with the "chief of devils", is now an ordained preacher. When
I address him as Reverend Johnson, he quickly corrects me: "It is Evangelist
Johnson, actually. An evangelist doesn't have a particular church."

After pastoral training, he was ordained at the Christ Deliverance Ministry, a
Pentecostal church in Lagos. Before that he was a regular at the popular Synagogue
Church of All Nations. It was at this church, two years ago, that Johnson staged a
dramatic reconciliation with Doe's widow, Nancy B Doe and her son, Samuel K Doe jnr.

God has changed the former warlord in many ways. Sources say he used to have a very
wild lifestyle . When he arrived in Nigeria, he did so with eight women in tow. Most
of the women fell pregnant and later left him, taking their children with them.
Today, he lives with one wife.

Johnson insists all this is history. "God has been working to transform me," he
asserts. "As I sit here talking to you, those days when I used to go to Bar Beach to
booze and womanise, and I had so many beautiful girls, I don't see them any more.
God has removed that. I don't drink no more, I don't womanise. Though I am not
saying I am perfect."

When I ask him if he is keen to return to Liberia, he turns to the Bible for an

"Moses killed the Egyptian and fled into Medina for 40 years. When God was ready for
him, He sent him back to Egypt to redeem his people. So 11 years is nothing compared
with that time of Moses. It is not even long to me. Those 11 years have been very
good. They have been 11 years during which God has been using me."

However, in 2001, Johnson did file an application to run for president in the
Liberian elections.

"If the Liberian people tell me they would need me to be president, so be it," he
now says.

"I have immense contributions to make to Liberia. You don't have to wait until
people ask you to make contributions." MSN 8 with e-mail virus protection service:
2 months FREE*

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