Liberia: Justice Minister Writes Election Commission to Halt Certification of Lofa County Senator-elect; as Citizens Protest, Calling for the Independence of the NEC

Monrovia — The Minister of Justice Cllr. Frank Musah Dean has written the National Elections Commission (NEC) requesting the halt in the certification of Brownie Samukai, in another blow to the Lofa County Senator-elect. 

By Selma Lomax, and Gerald C. Koinyeneh,

The Supreme Court a fortnight ago affirmed the verdict of the lower court convicting the Lofa County Senator-elect and two others to two years imprisonment or restitution of US$1.4 million.

Cllr Dean, in a letter addressed to NEC’s chairperson Davidetta Brown-Lasanah, said any person convicted of a felony, committed in connection with his employment as a public servant is disqualified from holding public office until the sentence is served.

“Herewith, inform you of the attached final Judgment of the Supreme Court Of Liberia, affirming the judgment of guilty against Messer Brownie  Samukai , Joseph J. Johnson , Myumah , Dorko  for the commission of the  crimes of Theft Property,  misuse public money, and criminal conspiracy,” Cllr. Dean said in a letter.

Dean’s letter comes exactly a week after he told the Senate plenary that he knew nothing about a letter written by Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrenius Cephas in which he mandated NEC to halt the certification of Samukai until he restitutes the amount of US$1.4 million.

“You will recall that prior to the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial elections, Mr. Samukai was found guilty by the lower court along with his co-conspirators for the same crimes. But took and appeal to the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia, which automatically stayed the enforcement of the convicted judgement,” Cllr Cephas wrote the NEC,” he said

Continuing, he added: “Therefore, the recent judgement by the Supreme Court of Liberia is not a novelty, and didn’t depart from the holding of the lower court’s judgement; which means Samukai together with his co-conspirators has been felon from the date the lower rendered judgement.”

“Accordingly, since the guilty judgement is the law controlling, and constitutes a finality of the matter, and by law is not appealable in this jurisdiction, it is considered my opinion that it will be inarguable allay any and all concerns that may arise, and you will therefore proceed not to certificate him.”

Calling for NEC’s Independence

Meanwhile, a group of people under the banner, Citizen Movement in Solidarity with Bownie Samukai staged a mass gathering at the national headquarters of the National Elections Commission (NEC) demanding the certification of Mr. Samukai.

The group, predominately comprising of citizens of Lofa County, gathered in their numbers with a pick-up truck load of giant-sized speakers played and danced traditional songs and chanted pro-Samukai’s slogans at the entrance of the NEC headquarters.

Speaking to reporters at the NEC headquarters, the group, through its Spokesperson said it has been almost a week since the High Court’s ruling but the NEC has failed to certificate their Senator-elect. They claimed that there is a sinister motive behind the delay of the NEC and vowed to continue their peaceful assembly until their request is granted.

“We know the whole game plan. The whole game plan is to weaken the CPP [Collaborating Political Parties]. They know Brownie is a heavy weight in Lofa politics. So, in order to weaken the CPP, in Lofa County, you have to get at the key people. We went to the hearing officer and we won the case. We went to the NEC Board, we won the case, we went to the Supreme Court, and we won the case. So, what else?” said Forkpa Gizee, the spokesperson of the Solidarity Movement.

When contacted for response, the Spokesperson of the NEC spokesperson, Henry Flomo told FrontPageAfrica that he could not speak on the matter.

The Citizen Movement in Solidarity with Brownie Samukai said the Court’s ruling was politically motivated and vowed to join the rest of the Lofa Citizens to raise the money for Samukai.

The group argued that the Supreme Court did not mention about Samukai’s election matters in its ruling, and as such there was no legal ground to deny the will of thousands of Lofaians who elected him as their Senator.

It called on the NEC to uphold its independence and certificate Mr. Samukai just as it had done to other Senators including Zoe E. Pennoh of Grand Gedeh County and Edwin M. Snowe of Bomi who have been cleared by the NEC and the Supreme Court.  

“The National Elections Commission should uphold its independence. We believe in the law. This is why we’ve been waiting on the Supreme Court, and the Court has spoken. We believe by now, our Senator should be certificated, said Edward Tamba, one of the supporters.

He continued: “This is why the Supreme Court said Brownie must pay the money, and Lofa County said they will pay. Brownie is right to get his certificate and must get his certificate. What belongs to Brownie must be given him, and what Brownie needs to pay, let him pay.”

Meanwhile, the jamboree-like assembly continue for several hours until they were asked by Rep. Francis S. Nyumalin (District #1, Lofa County) and some of the group’s leaders to leave the premises until an official response from the NEC.

Rep. Nyumalin said they had gone to seek audience with the NEC Chairperson Davidetta BrowneLansanah but she was attending a busy schedule and her staff had promised the NEC will respond to them later during the day on Monday.

History of the case

The nation’s highest court against Samukai is a huge blow to his re-emerging political career and the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) on whose ticket he got re-elected. Samukai, the former minister of defense had hoped to have been exonerated by the High Court after his conviction by the lower court in 2020.

Judge Yamie Quiqui of Criminal Court “C’ in March ruled him and two of his co-defendant, Joseph P. Johnson, former deputy minister or administrattion and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of National Defense guilty of the crimes of criminal conspiracy of theft of property, misuse of public funds and criminal conspiracy and awarded them separate prison term. 

Samukai was given a  two-year prison sentence while his co-defendants were given six months jail terms respectively but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they all restitute the amount of US$1.1 million in question over a one-year period.

A summary of the prosecution, in this case the Government of Liberia’s argument is that defendant Samukai and his co-defendants had no authority to use the AFL pension funds; that in fact said funds were private funds; and that the defendants issued checks in their own names for personal benefits. 

But the Defendants took appeal at the Supreme Court and they (serving now as appellants), justified that they acted in line with the Constitution and relevant laws. They claimed that they acted on the orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to procure materials and render other services for the soldiers.  They claimed that US$50,000 was paid on the instruction of former President Sirleaf as death benefits to the families of the late General Abdurrahman, the Nigerian army officials who served as the first post war first Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia.hey argued that President George Weah was also briefed about the expenditure of the fund and an agreement was reached between him and Sirleaf for the Government to repay the AFL fund, adding that it was based on this commitment that President Weah ordered an initial payment of US$460,000.

But reading the four to one opinion of the High Court, Associate Justice Yousif D. Kabah said the court did not find substantive evidence that Mr. Samukai and his co-appellants were authorized by the former President. But assuming they were given authorization, they should have declined because the action was against the law.

The Supreme Court also claimed that there is unrefuted evidence gathered from the records of the case that the soldiers of the AFL compulsorily contributed to the fund lodged in the AFL Pension Account established at Ecobank Liberia Limited, and as such the said account is not a public account intended for the operational use of the Ministry of National Defense.

Excerpt of the Court’s opinion: “That the evidence culled from the records shows that the appellants were fiduciaries of the soldiers of the AFL Pension Account; hence, every withdrawal from said account should have been by authorization or consent of the soldiers of the AFL. Therefore, the unrelated expenses of US$1,147,656.35 on the instruction of the former President of Liberia was without the pale of the law, and the appellants are held personally liable for the unauthorized expenditure on the accounts.”

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