Daughter of Fallen Armed Forces of Liberia’s Soldier Laments Being Denied Her Share of Father’s Death Benefits
Monrovia – FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the only surviving daughter of the late Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldier who died on a peacekeeping mission in Mali has not received her share of the benefit given to the next of kin by the United Nations and the Government of Liberia.
Corporal Ousma Sheriff, who was assigned with the 23rd Infantry Brigade, died in May 2017 when the United Nations camp in Mali’s troubled town of Timbuktu was attacked by Islamist militants.
In the wake of his death, the UN gave US$70,000, as its international peacekeeping death benefit to the next of kin- the deceased’s wife, Fatim Sheriff and daughter, Fatumata Sheriff.
At that time of her father’s death, Fatumata, who happens to be the step daughter of Fatim, was 16 years old, and lived with her maternal uncle and his wife.
The check was delivered by the Liberian Government through the authorities of the Ministry of National Defense and the High Command of the AFL to the next of kin in the present of some family members on Tuesday, May 29, 2018.
At the time of the presentation, the Chief of Staff of the AFL, Major General Prince C. Johnson III, said that the presentation of the US$70,000 brought to a closure several benefits that the next of kin have received from the Ministry of National Defense and the AFL which includes death benefit, the fallen soldier’s compulsory saving and insurance benefit.
However, more than two years later, Fatumata, now 18, said her stepmother has refused to give her share of all of the benefits including the US$70,000 despite the court’s intervention.
“My stepmother decided to take all of my father’s benefit all because there is nobody to stand up for me. She has a father who boast of being connected to top officials of government and he said as long as he’s alive, his daughter can do whatever she wants and nothing will happen to her,” she said while sobbing.
Stepmother’s Escaped under Court’s Watch?
In her explanation, Fatumata said the check was given with the understanding that the money will be divided equally, with each party taking US$35,000. But her stepmother only gave her US$6,000 on grounds that she was an illegitimate child. She refused the money and when she heard that Fatim had planned to escape with all of it, she sought help from the Army Chief of Staff.
Major General Johnson offered lawyers and she sued her stepmother at the Probate Court presided by Judge J. Vinton Holder to get her just benefits. In the verdict handed down in February 2019, the judge stated that Fatim’s claims that her stepdaughter is illegitimate was “untenable and unreasonable.”
Excerpt of the ruling: “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, this court holds that the petitioner is entitled to half of the death benefit which the respondent has admitted to being in her possession. The respondent is hereby ordered to account for the death benefit she received consistent by law. The respondent is hereby given 72 hours to fully comply with this order of court as on the date this ruling is entered. Therefore, the petitioner’s application is hereby granted.”
Disappointed In Probate Court
It is nearly 20 months since the verdict was handed down but Fatumata says she has not received her share. Fatim, on the other hand is nowhere to be seen. Fatumata, along with her guardians, have hired the services of an advocacy group, the ‘Movement against Injustice and Bad Labor Practice’ to help her get justice.
Fatumata and the Executive Director of the group, Harris Carto are blaming the court for allowing Fatim to disobey its order and going with impunity.
She said after the three-day ultimatum expired, she and her guardians tried reaching out to her lawyer and the ALF’s Chief of Staff but they were not successful in getting their attention.
“We went up and down. Each time I called the AFL Chief of Staff, he will tell me that he was busy and I should called the lawyer. But when I called the lawyer, he will not answer the phone and sometimes if he answers, he will tell me to go the court,” explained Fatumata.
Mr. Carto also blamed Fatumata’s lawyers for being complacent in the process. According to him, Judge Holder and Fatumata’s lawyers have requested the family to search for the escapee and if she is found, they should alert the court to arrest her, something he said was annoying.
“The judge told us that we should go and look for the lady and if we find her, we should come tell the court to get her arrested and pay the money. That got me annoyed and I told him that we don’t have the authority to do that. Why will you tell us to go and look for a person you have already ruled guilty? How did she get out of the bench? Are we living in a lawless country? It can’t be. We are not responsible. This is not an amateur court,” he said.
However, the Chief of Staff of the AFL, Major General Johnson said the army was ‘very instrumental’ in prosecuting Fatim; and with the help of the lawyers provided by the army, the court has issued a writ of arrest for Fatim but she is nowhere to be found.
“As a military we have done our best by reaching the case to the court. But as a military, we are not clothed with the authority to arrest civilians,” he defended.
“We don’t want to be like the old AFL that you know about. The matter is now before the court and you don’t expect the AFL to execute the court’s mandate because that’s a different branch of government. The court has issued an arrest warrant for Fatim but she is nowhere to be found.”
‘Living with Pain and Stress’
Fatumata says the ‘inhumane action’ of her stepmother by denying her the share of her late father’s benefits has left her hopeless and miserable. At the time of her father’s death, was ninth grade student and had a dream of one day becoming a soldier in the army serving as Medical Doctor.
But she says that dream is now fading as she has no hope to continue her education. Despite her Uncle and wife’s continued support, she said life is tough for her. She now sells cold water between cars in the streets to help her family make ends meet.
She lamented that she feels betrayed and cheated by both her stepmother and father’s friends in the army as they have failed to live by all of the promises made to her at her father’s funeral.
“I decided to join the army to continue my father’s dream and legacy where I will be a doctor in the army to help save lives. But the way I am treated, I am being discouraged. And there is no hope of me reaching that far even if I still want to continue my dream because all I am getting from my father’s sacrifice is pain and stress,” she said, while struggling to hold back her tears.
She, along with her attorney and uncle’s wife are calling on the President, human rights lawyers and well-meaning citizens to help her get justice.