Hot on the heels of George Weah’s triumphant ascension to the Liberian presidency, a question of purported ‘spiritual’ involvement still lingers…
Local and international media is understandably agog with the news that George Weah has officially been declared the President-Elect of the West African nation of Liberia. Thus, let me do the dutiful and begin by offering my wholehearted congratulations to Mr Weah on his outstanding victory – a testament to the power of perseverance and sheer determination. If his political prowess has any semblance to his athleticism and football skills, I am assured Liberia will greatly benefit from his time in office!
However, the purpose of this particular article is not to regurgitate Weah’s inspiring ‘rags-to-riches’ tale, made all the more poignant by its seasonal timing. It is to x-ray the unusual role played by a controversial Nigerian Pastor in this whole saga.
In October 2017, Nigerian online news portal The Cable published an opinion piece titled, ‘Will TB Joshua become Liberia’s kingmaker?’ The premise of the article was that Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, a former bloodthirsty warlord who wields tangible political clout in Liberia due to the daunting loyalty of his constituents in the vote-rich region of Nimba, was seeking Joshua’s guidance on whom to endorse in the upcoming Presidential runoff.
Apparently, decades earlier when Johnson was in exile in Nigeria, he was converted at Joshua’s church, the cleric later mediating a public reconciliation between him and the family of Samuel Doe, the man PYJ was responsible for gruesomely murdering during Liberia’s bloody civil war.
Shortly after the article was published, Johnson appeared in Joshua’s Nigerian megachurch alongside Weah – an unlikely get-together that garnered intense media attention across West Africa. “My brother is here today because he loves his country and wants God’s choice for his country,” Joshua said of Weah in the service. “He is not here to impose himself,” he continued, adding in his customary parabolic manner that his prayers could not supersede God’s will.
Days later came the game-changing announcement that the Senator was throwing his weight behind the footballer, a political maneuver which effectively handed Weah his coveted chalice of power. Two months – and several legal hurdles later – Africa’s most decorated footballer has achieved his dream, with a smiling Johnson often seen at his side during the latter stages of his exhaustive campaign.
So, why on earth would I be isolating the impact of a single visit during an extensive presidential campaign that began for Weah as far back as 2005? Well, T.B. Joshua is an intriguing enigma and his influence in the African political sphere should not be quickly dismissed. His connections with African leaders – the most recent being Tanzania’s ‘Bulldozer’ John Magufuli – is quite remarkable.
The cleric was the cynosure of all eyes during Magufuli’s inauguration in November 2015, the President even meeting him upon arrival at the airport when the Nigerian made a rare visit to the East African nation. Rather than tout his relationship with the incoming leader, Joshua played the role of peacemaker, holding reconciliatory talks with Tanzania’s main opposition leader Edward Lowassa in the wake of mounting tensions over allegations of electoral malpractice.
The late Ghanaian leader, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, visited Joshua’s church just days after he became President, publicly thanking God for Joshua’s ‘prophetic guidance’ in his political aspirations. Then there’s Joyce Banda, the former Malawian leader whose regular visits to Nigeria to consult with the cleric attracted significant media attention in Malawi. Not to mention Zimbabwean’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai, South Africa’s firebrand politicican Julius Malema and the late Zambian President, Frederick Chiluba – all of whom have made their ways to the unlikely destination in Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos.
And it’s not just Africa. On his most recent visit to the Dominican Republic in November 2017, Joshua met with its President Danilo Medina, who later conferred the cleric with a national honour, similar to the recognition he received in Paraguay in August 2017.
It is understandable that some have arrived at the assumption such trips are merely tools of publicity and propaganda. However, it’s intriguing to note the cleric decidedly downplays his presidential visitors. When asked about the topic in an interview several years ago with Nigeria’s Punch Newspaper, Joshua tacitly responded: “It is no big deal. Except they obey the counsel given to them, it has no benefit. It is not something to be proud of. What is the essence of a president’s visit if he won’t follow what I will tell him?”
He went further to note he would receive a “query from God” for entertaining political guests. “I even prefer to spend my time with the poor than to be with the presidents… One soul is not superior to the other. Out of three presidents that may visit, there will hardly be one that will show good example of the counsel that they received from me.”
So, did Joshua play a potentially vital role in Weah’s eventual triumph? I guess it’s only time that will tell whether his visit to The SCOAN was a mere political ploy or an expression of genuine faith. Let’s hope Joshua’s counsel – which, going by his track record of humanitarianism, will assuredly revolve around raising the standards of living for the common Liberian – will be adhered to by Africa’s newest leader.
Tawia Acheampong is a journalist based in Accra, Ghana. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.