Whether he survives the multiple legal wrangling that has characterized his bid to ascend at the Liberian Senate and even threatened his political future and personal character, Lofa County convicted senator-elect J. Brownie Samukai will have a lengthy task to overcome his ordeal and turn a new page.
The controversial election of Samukai at the senate has created yet another rooted atmosphere of division, tribalism, and a growing number of political intricacies in Lofa County.
How did we get here?
On March 24, 2020, Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ ruled against Mr. Samukai and his former deputy for administration, Joseph Johnson as well as former comptroller Nyumah Dorkor, who is also believed to be his first cousin. They were found guilty by the lower court for theft of property, misused of public money, and criminal conspiracy. All three defendants were asked to restitute the amount of US$687,656.38 to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) pension savings account and US$460,000 to the Government account.
After the court’s ruling, Samukai and co-defendants filed an appeal to the Supreme Court hoping the highest court would overturn the lower court’s verdict. However, on February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower court and sentenced them to two years in prison each. The high court however 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.
Justice V.S political witch-hunt
While Samukia is left with no other alternative but to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Lofa County senator-elect and his supporters say the ruling from the lower court and the Supreme Court is politically motivated. They say Samukai is being targeted by the CDC regime, something the government has denied.
For observers who are closely monitoring the proceedings, they believe justice is being served and someone must account for the misapplied amount.
“This is the same Supreme Court that allowed Samukai to run for senator when many people even in the CPP strongly opposed his candidacy. Because the ruling from this same court is not in his favor this time around, Samukai and supporters now say the case is a witch-hunt. Why should people only accept justice when it is in their favor?” Joseph B. Akoi, a student at the University of Liberia said.
For Musa Korlleh, Chief of Office Staff in the office of District #4 Representative Mariamu Fofana, punishment should not be underestimated.
On Mar 2, he wrote on Facebook: “If somebody stole money [they are] arrested and the money is taken back from him, does that free such a person from punishment? Are you saying that just by restituting the money is a punishment in itself or punishment is still required as in the case of [the] street zogos?”
He continues: When a street zogo steals money and he’s arrested, the money goes back to its owner and the zogo still goes to jail as a means of punishment. I need answers based on jurisprudence. The government might be in absolute error, I think,” he concludes.
The “Lofa will pay” solidarity
Soon after the supreme court of Liberia upheld the guilty verdict of the lower court to compel Samuaki and co-defendants restitute over 1.1 million US dollars set aside for the Armed Forces of Liberia or risk going to jail for two years, several Lofians, mostly political actors of the county quickly stepped in to commit to the restitution effort.
What became more alarming for many Lofans both at home and the diaspora is the action of District #2 representative Francis Nyumalin and a member of the Lofa Legislative Caucus to publicly announce on national radio that Lofa will repay funds intended for the welfare of the AFL but misapplied by Samukai and co-defendants.
Political analysts say most of the ring leaders of the Samukai’s restitution campaign effort are mostly individuals leveraging his situation for political dividends.
For example, a key member of the Samuaki team, former Lofa County Superintendent Galakpai W. Kortimai is rumored to be seriously contemplating contesting the 2023 senatorial election – hoping that Samuaki and his supporters will pay him back for his current support towards Samukai.
Opposition isolating Lofa?
While Lofa County did not widely support President George Manneh Weah and his CDC in the 2017 elections, Weah however has incorporated a lot of Lofans at various levels of his government. What concerns many people is the slow pace at which the Weah administration is taking to initiate or beef up solid developmental projects in the county. Many political analysts attribute this sluggishness to the unwillingness of members of the opposition community especially former vice president Joseph Boakai and his Unity Party or CPP to work with the Weah administration to bring needed development projects in the county.“Joseph Boakai spent over forty years in government including twelve years as vice president. What has he or the opposition community done so much that Lofa County is benefiting from? They are bent on making Lofa look like we are against George Weah or his government. This is why the county continues to be left behind in everything, James Kamara, a resident of Voijama wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
Violence and intimidation tactics
In recent days, there has been notable cases of arson attacks on individual and institutions directly involved with deciding the political future of Samukai. First, the home of Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe was attacked with petrol bomb which led to the destruction of vehicles and other properties in his yard. Then on Mar 16, the National Elections Commission came under similar arson attack leaving one of its vehicle seriously burnt.
All these attacks by unknown men started to take place a few days after the Supreme Court Justice in Chambers Joseph Nagbe sustain a petition from the Movement for Progress Change to prohibit the National Election Commission from further certificating Samuaki as Senator of Lofa County.
While there has been no public arrest of the attackers. Many people are pointing fingers at Samuaki and his supporters for allegedly masterminding and carrying out what they described as “acts of terrorism.”
Some say these attacks are clever attempts by Samuaki and his supporters to pressure or intimidate the NEC and the Supreme to swiftly ensure that Samukai is certificated by all means,
“So am sleeping and Samukai and his hoodlums [are] dropping bomb on the city? This can’t be true. D law is D law,” posted Moleek Kpanan on Facebook.
For others, it’s time for the government to swiftly take action.
Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon wrote on Facebook: “Be it car bomb! Petrol bomb! Pipe bomb! Cluster bomb…are they not bombs? When do we call it terrorism? Are they not terrorists?”
As Samukai and the National Election Commission battle yet another legal challenge from the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), the political future of Lofa, particularly at the senate remains uncertain. Will Samukai get a final green light to enter the “house of elders” even as a convicted felon? Will Lofa see a re-run or a by-election anytime soon? It all remains to be seen in the coming days.