Tolbert Nyenswah Is Exonerated By The Court; Writ of Ne Exeat Republica Dismissed


ON OCTOBER 18, 2019, Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, County Attorney for Montserrado, obtained a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica, issued against Mr. Tolbert G. Nyenswah, then Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, “without saying what the basis of the request was.” The writ was then “apparently served on the Bureau of Immigration to be circulated to the various borders”.

ON WEDNESDAY, June 3, 2020, Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay, Sr., Assigned Circuit Judge of Criminal Court “C”, declared the Writ of Ne Exeat Rebublica against Tolbert Nyenswah “Null and Void without any legal effect” and suspended the matter. This was due to the fact that when the writ was issued and served on the Bureau of Immigration, Mr. Nyenswah had already traveled out of the country on official duty, making said writ “moot or void without any legal effect.” Judge Gbeisay dismissed the writ, noting that Tolbert Nyenswah “is declared free and he is at liberty to return to Liberia at any time.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS: On October 9, 2019, Tolbert G. Nyenswah, then Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), submitted his letter of resignation in person, to President George Weah, due to extenuating circumstances and family obligations. His letter of resignation gave the

President a window of notice of the severance of his services, with effective date set at November 27, 2019. This was necessary, to give the NPHIL Board of Directors, the time to advertise, identify, vet and select a candidate to be presented to the President for approval and appointment as the Director General, a process required professionally and by law (The NPHIL Act December 2016).

NPHIL WAS officially established on January 26, 2017, by an Act of the Legislature, to prevent and control public health threats, post the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic that devastated Liberia’s public health system, resulting in over 11,000 cases and about 4,800 deaths by the time WHO declared the outbreak over in 2016. Tolbert Nyenswah, was appointed the first Director General by, then President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, because of the critical role he played as the Incident Manager of the Incident Management System, responsible for leading and coordinating Liberia’s National Ebola Response activities that brought the epidemic to a halt.

MR. NYENSWAH was cognizant of the fact that the President could elect to reject or accept his resignation and reject the notice period. He expected that the decision would have come directly to him, through some official form of communications. Therefore, he continued working until the notice period elapsed or the official response from the President was received, whichever came first.

MR. NYENSWAH was scheduled to attend a regional disease surveillance meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He left Liberia through the Roberts International Airport on Friday, October 18, 2019, at about 2 P.M. Before leaving, he chaired NPHIL’s regular National Early Response Committee (NEPRC) meeting, a meeting of local and international partners, in which the country’s epidemic prone diseases surveillance reports are presented and other Public Health concerns of the week are discussed. From Abidjan, he traveled to the United States to resolve urgent family issues and intended to remain there until early November, to attend the meeting of African Society of Laboratory Science in Washington, DC. Nyenswah was scheduled to return to Liberia after these meetings, to have a final meeting with the President and, to turn over to the Deputy Director General, who was now the acting Director General.

ON OCTOBER 21, 2019, the Executive Mansion Website published the following announcement, from the Office of the President:” His Excellency President George Manneh Weah has accepted the resignation of the head of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah. President Weah further thanked Mr. Nyenswah for the time he served the people and Government of Liberia and wished him well in his new endeavors.”

WITH HIS RESIGNATION accepted as published on the Executive Mansion’s website and disseminated widely by the media, the curtains were officially drawn on his services to the Government of Liberia, thereby making him a free man. Service to country is the best gift to humanity and to be recognized and appreciated for services rendered is the best reward one can ever get. However, that feeling was short lived as Tolbert received the greatest shock of his life…the news of the Writ of Ne Exeat Republica issued against him by the court on behalf of the Government of Liberia.

THE FACTS ARE CLEAR: Tolbert has never been the subject of any criminal investigation, was not aware of the issuance of any ill-gotten Writ of Ne Exeat Republica, nor was he served any writ of arrest or summons, or an Indictment from any Court of competent jurisdiction in the Republic of Liberia. Most of all, he did not flee the country!  Based on these facts, a 6-count petition was filed, with a motion to quash and dismiss in the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court (Montserrado County) Criminal Assizes “C,” sitting in its May term 2020, before His Honor, Yamie Quiqui Gbesay, Presiding Circuit Judge. Counts 1-6:

Since the issuance of the Writ of Ne Exeat Republica filed October 18, 2019, the Government of Liberia has taken no further action; and, there is no evidence of prior action pending in this court or in any court in this jurisdiction, alleging a complaint against Mr. Nyenswah for the commission of a crime.  

TWO SUCCESSIVE TERMS of court have now elapsed—November 2019 and May 2020 Terms—since the said Writ was issued. Government has failed to proceed with an indictment or a formal complaint for the crime as alleged. The Criminal Procedure Law of the Republic of Liberia (Chapter 18.2) states:  “Unless good cause is shown, a court shall dismiss a complaint against a defendant who is not indicted by the end of the next succeeding term after his arrest or an indictable offense or his appearance in court in response to a summons or notice to appear charging him with such an offense. Unless good cause is shown, a court shall dismiss an indictment if the defendant is not tried during the next succeeding term after the finding of the indictment. A court shall dismiss a complaint charging a defendant with an offense triable by a magistrate or justice of the peace if trial is not commenced in court in response to a summons or notice to appear.”

THE NATURE of his previous position in Government made my client a frequent traveler, and he departed the Republic of Liberia legally, prior to the issuance of the Writ and was completely unaware of any criminal investigation being conducted, nor was he informed directly or through legal counsel of any such investigation. Notice was never served upon him or through counsel; nor was he given the opportunity to be heard, in keeping with due process of law, nor was he ever brought under the jurisdiction of this court or any court prior to the issuance of this Writ. This, is a clear violation of his constitutional rights.

TOLBERT NYENWAH is a law-abiding citizen and Counsellor-At-Law. His service to the nation as head of the Incident Management System (IMS) during the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, as Assistant Minister, Deputy Minister of Health, Acting Program Manager, Deputy Program Manager of National Malaria Control Program and, most recently, as Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), spanned 20 years. He is a respected Liberian citizen, who resigned his post as Director General of the NPHIL and legally departed the country for the United States, on official duties and, due to “extenuating circumstances, family reasons.

FOR HIS EXEMPLARY leadership, the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, named him Grand Commander, Order of the Star of Africa Redemption, for his role in bringing the Ebola crisis under control and saving the lives of Liberians. Upon his resignation, the President of Liberia, George M. Weah, publicly accepted his resignation, thanked him for serving his country and, wished him well in his future endeavors. 

AT NO TIME DID Tolbert Nyenswah escape the boundaries of the Republic because of fear of being arrested, nor was he any flight risk and therefore, files the application to quash said writ, which has caused serious damage to his reputation, his character and professional standing.

The Court’s ruling: “On the 18th of October 2019, the County Attorney for Montserrado, Cllr. Edwin K. Martin, prayed this court for a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica to be issued against Mr. Tolbert G. Nyenswah, former Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, without saying what the basis of the request was. The said writ was issued and apparently served on the Bureau of Immigration to be circulated to the various borders”.

THE COURT’S RULING continues: Wednesday, June 3, 2020, May Term, A.D, 2020, “The fact that the time of the service of the writ, the Respondent, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah had departed the bailiwick of this Country, in the mind of the Court the said writ become moot or void without any legal effect. The said writ is therefore hereby order set aside and dismissed and that since the perimeter of the writ not being to prevent, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah from returning to Liberia, Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, is hereby declared free and he is at liberty to return to Liberia at any time. Under our constitution, a citizen of this Country has the right to return to his motherland when he/she desired to do so”.

“WHEREFORE, and in view of the above facts and circumstance, the Writ of Ne Exeat Republica issued by this Court is hereby declared Null and Void without any legal effect as of today’s date. It is hereby so ordered. Matter suspended.” 

WE CONCLUDE WITH the words of Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, President, Liberian National Bar Association, under the captioned, “Culture of Impunity Threat to Peace.”  “No amount of pressure from the President of Liberia, Minister of Justice or any other official of Government and no amount of public sentiment including street protests should form the basis of making a decision to prosecute anyone accused of a crime without being in possession of admissible evidence”.

WHAT HAPPEN to Mr. Nyenswah should never have happened. He served this country diligently for twenty consecutive years, and, with distinction. He should be celebrated. We need to celebrate our best or we lose them to other countries, as is the case with Tolbert Nyenswah.

THE JUNE 3RD RULING is a victory for our legal system. It signifies that justice has been served. Tolbert Nyenswah, has now been officially exonerated.