Voinjama, Lofa County – In the midst of legal setbacks and bottlenecks over the certification of their Senator-elect, several citizens of Lofa County have called on Mr. J. Brownie Samukai to be prepared and ready to complement their efforts by single-handedly paying the balance of funds he “misapplied” while serving as Minister of National Defense during the administration of ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf after their individual contributions and support.
Mr. Samukai, who was a candidate of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) in the December 8 2020 senatorial election, was declared the winner of Lofa after he accumulated 20, 431 votes, over his closest rival Independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah who received 13,968 votes.
Few weeks after he was declared the victor, the Supreme Court of Liberia in February 2021, upheld a March 2020 ruling from Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ against Mr. Samukai and two other co-appellants and sentenced them to two years in prison each for misapplication of US$1.1 million intended for the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
Mr. Samukai and former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense were found guilty of the crimes theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy.
Though they were given separate jail terms of six months and two years if they failed to restitute the amount within a one-year period, the High Court ruled that the prison terms could be suspended if the convicts restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.
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.”
Following the verdict, citizens of Lofa under the banner: “Movement of Lofa Residents in Solidarity with Samukai”, vowed to ensure the payment of the money “misapplied” .
The group believes that the verdict was intended to “disgrace, intimidate and dehumanize Samukai through a mere propaganda and sensational court case”.
Of recent, the High Court temporarily halted Mr. Samukai’s certification by the National Election Commission (NEC) in keeping with the new electoral law, just a day after a formal ceremony failed to take place at the commission’s headquarters in Sinkor, Monrovia. The action was triggered following the issuance of a Writ of Prohibition filed March 2,2021, against Samukai’s certification by O’Neil Passewe, chairman of the opposition Movement for Progressive Change (MPC).
Speaking in an exclusive interview with FrontPage Africa in Voinjama Lofa County recently, the citizens disclosed that though they remain committed to fight against the imprisonment of their senator-elect, he (Samukai) should be willing to pay the balance or add up to whatever amount they have collected to reach the exact amount “misapplied”.
They pointed out that their unwavering commitment is to show solidarity to Mr. Samukai who they stood in the rain and sun to cast their votes for and to help ensure that their “efforts and votes cast do not go in vain”.
They maintained that though they do not understand the rationale behind the speedy trial of Mr. Samukai just few days after he was declared the winner of the senatorial seat in Lofa, and do not intend to question the opinion of the Supreme Court, they are willing and prepared to go the extra mile to solicit funds to ensure that their county is fully represented at the National Legislature.
Anthony Kpadeh, 30, claimed that the decision reached by the government through the court to compel Samukai to pay the money “misapplied” is not in the interest of the county and its people.
He added that though the decision has been reached, it is prudent that citizens of the county see reason to support the payment of the money because; they overwhelmingly elected Mr. Samukai during the December 8 senatorial election in the county.
“Though it is the decision of the government (on the Samukai case), whatsoever the citizens of Lofa will come up with, that’s what we will do. Since they have already decided that we the citizens should contribute, whatsoever contribution or what I get, I will do that”.
He maintained that for the betterment of the county, citizens should rally around and guarantee the payment of the money into government’s coffers since in fact, Mr. Samukai represents their county.
“The man (Samukai) has already been elected and he’s our Senator. I want my fellow citizens to contribute. For the betterment of the county, let’s contribute”.
Kpadeh, however, expressed uncertainty over the possibility of citizens of the county generating the US$1.1 million in totality on behalf of their Senator-elect within the specific timeframe given by the Supreme Court.
“I don’t think the citizens will raise all that money; we are only contributing. Whatsoever we will come up with — he (Samukai) will pay the balance. We are in sympathy with him even though I am not a CPP member. I am a CDC member. It has already happened and for the betterment of the county, we should contribute whatever we have”.
He described Mr. Samukai as a “humble and good citizen” who has love for Lofa, and as such, citizens should not leave him along the wayside.
Kpadeh further expressed optimism that Mr. Samukai will not turn his back on the county when he his certificated by the NEC and subsequently seated at the Liberian Senate.
Kebeh Kemmie, 22, states: “It has already happened and what we need to do is to help our senator-elect to pay the money back-even whether it is true or not. We want him to be freed from that trouble and given the certificate to be Senator for Lofa County. We are humans, we are not perfect and so, we just have to do so and build that trust in him”.
“If they say we should contribute, I don’t have much but the little I have, I will give it. I advise my partisans and our citizens to help him to pay back the money to take shame from his (Samukai’s) face”.
David Seimah, 45, believed that the current situation which led Samukai into trouble with the government is “personal”, but he welcomes the move by citizens of the county towards the payment of the money “misapplied”.
“I support the call for citizens to pay back the money, they can pay it even though it is the decision of the government. The man has been elected already; even though this is his personal issue.
Weedor Forkpah, 46, is a Liberian mother and a resident of Lofa County. She termed as a “fine idea” the decision reached by citizens to pay back the money.
“We are sorry for him and it will be alright for us to help him pay back. I will pay too because, we want the man to sit down (take his seat) so he can bring development to us. Let’s help the man to pay the money”.
“As for me, I still believed that Mr. Samukai’s trial was a witch hunt intended to make him to not take his seat. Ever since the thing happened, the government didn’t investigate the matter with speed. They waited until NEC announced the man winner”, Tarnue Sackie, 60, stated.
For her part, an elderly woman who only identified herself as Ma Siah vowed to go the extra mile by selling some of her belongings to make a contribution towards the payment of the money “misapplied” by Mr. Samukai.
“If it caused for me to sell my lappas or anything, I will do it because, I don’t want my vote to go in vain. Whether he misapplied or ate the money the fact here is that, we voted for him and we should not sit down here and allow the people to spoil our votes or make us not to get Senator in the House”.
With nearly three months since the commencement of the 4th Session of the 54th National Legislature, Lofa County remains underrepresented at the first branch of the Liberian government as vast majority of citizens of the county care less about the issue of morality and upholding the 1986 Liberian constitution.
They remain eager to see the certification of the newly elected and pronounced Senator despite the latest stay order placed on Mr. Samukai’s certification by the Supreme Court.
The latest vow made by citizens of Lofa comes barely few weeks after their kinsmen who are in solidarity with Senator-elect Samukai paid the initial amount of US$10,000 to the court as part payment of the money to be restituted.