Justice in Chambers Ruling Leaves Lofa County Senator-elect Samukai Hopeless
Voinjama, LOFA COUNTY – Former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai faced another hurdle in taking his seat as Lofa County’s senator last week when the Presiding Justice in Chambers granted the government of Liberia a petition for the Writ of Prohibition to disallow the National Elections Commission (NEC) to certificate him.
Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe, who ordered the clerk of the court to issue the peremptory writ of prohibition, has sent a mandate to the NEC disallowing the certification of Samukai until his disability imposed on him by his conviction is removed according to law.
The government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Justice, filed a writ of prohibition on March 29 to prevent Samukai from being certificated by the NEC.
Mixed rulings trail Samukai’s election
Samukai, of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), received the most votes in the December 8, 2020 senatorial election. Of the 11 candidates who vied for the Lofa County senatorial seat, Samukai received 20, 431 votes, followed by Independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah with 13,968 votes.
Samukai has experienced mixed rulings with the Supreme Court since he won the senatorial seat in Lofa.
On February 24, 2021, the Supreme Court of Liberia ruled in Samukai’s favor in the electoral dispute case filed by three of his rivals, claiming irregularities and fraud in Lofa County District No. 4.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samukai and mandated to the NEC to proceed with the matter.
On February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld a criminal court’s verdict in the corruption case involving Samukai and a former deputy minister and the former Comptroller at the Ministry of Defense.
On March 24, 2020, the Criminal Court “C’’ found Samukai, Joseph F. Johnson and former Deputy Minister for Administration and J. Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense guilty of misappropriating US$1.3 million from the Armed Forces compulsory contributing fund that was deposited at Ecobank Liberia.
Samukai and his lawyers appealed the case. In his ruling, Judge Yamie Gbeisay, said the government did not produce sufficient evidence to convict Samukai and his two deputy ministers of money laundering and economic sabotage.
But the Supreme Court in its decision upholding the lower court’s guilty verdict said all public officials and employees shall obey all lawful instructions issued to them by their supervisors and they shall be held liable and responsible for acts of commission or omission as in the case of the corruption verdict.
The Supreme Court ruled that the sentence will be suspended if the defendants shall restitute the full amount of US$1,147,456.35 or 50% thereof within the period of six months and plan with the court to pay the remaining portion in one year.
Failure to pay will result in the defendants’ incarceration in the common jail and there in until the full amount is paid or liquidated at the rate of 25 USD per month as provided by law, the Supreme Court ruled.
Lofa County under-represented at the Senate
It has been more than six months since NEC announced Samukai as winner of the December 8, 2021 elections. But the county has been under-represented by Samukai’s absence in the Senate, which continues to raise concerns in the country. A group of Lofa Concern Citizens in the Diasporas believes the decision by the government through the Supreme Court to deny Samukai of his seat at the Liberian Senate is yet another political ploy.
In the views of J. Patrick Flomo and Dr. Sakui Malakpa, two elite members of the group, said the prolonged delay in the certification of Samukai is a gross violation of the constitutional rights of the people of Lofa County.
Pushing further argument, the group said it is the responsibility of the government to certify anyone who wants to contest for any public office, according to the constitution, wondering why the government didn’t bar Samukai from contesting if they had issues against him.
‘We believe that the government created this constitutional crisis and bears the full responsibility to resolve it with deliberate speed,’ the group said.
‘We, the people of Lofa County, are constitutionally entitled to two senators, and we do here petition you (the government) to fulfill your constitutional responsibility.’
‘If the government of Liberia genuinely believes in representative government and the rule of law and reveres the constitution as the sacred document of the Republic, she must take the action necessary to bring this issue to immediate resolution.’
The group urged residents f the county to rise up against what it terms as a political witch-hunt aimed at silencing the voice of the county at the Liberian Senate.
‘The question is no longer a partisan question but that of full legislative representation for the county.’
‘We urge you to form a united front and to use the influence of your positions, endowed upon you by the people of Lofa County to serve their needs.’
‘We call on all Liberians to join the people of Lofa County to urge the government to restore our rights to full senatorial representation as clearly stated in Article 45 of the Liberian Constitution.’
‘Victim of political witch hunt’
Residents of Lofa County have denounced the move as the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician” under the presidency of George Mannah Weah.
According to a group of Lofa residents under the banner Movement Lofa Citizens in Solidarity with Samukai, the aim of all this is intended to “disgrace, intimidate and dehumanize Samukai through a mere propaganda and sensational court case”.
“We are equally very disappointed and frustrated in the ruling handed down against Samukai. We, therefore, term this as politically-driven and a witch hunt against our leader,” the group’s statement said.
“Document showing payment of medical bills for Armed Forces of Liberia Sergeant, Titus, who got wounded in peacekeeping mission in Mali and was flown to India for medical treatment, which cost over US$ 100, 000 was paid and further payments made for his upkeep,” the group’s statement said.
“Titus was dying and he was a soldier wounded in the process of serving his country. Would you have loved him to die, what if Titus were the Chief Justice’s son or the president’s son? How can the former Minister of Defense pay such a money, if this is not witch-hunt?’
Addressing reporters, the citizens said the dossier containing the allegations of the misapplication of pension funds of the Armed Forces of Liberia was a hoax which had been dreamt up by the Executive Branch to harm the reputation of Samukai.
The group claimed the ruling against Samukai is more political than legal because of his reported refusal to join the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President Weah prior to the December 8 Special Senatorial Election.
“Before the election last year the CDC made several attempts to lure Samukai to the CDC but he refused and that’s why angering the Executive Branch through the Supreme Court to dehumanize our Senator-elect,” the group said.
The target of most of the citizens’ anger was Liberia’s Supreme Court, which the group accused of being out to disgrace Samukai.
“The manner in which the Judiciary Branch of our Government has been dispensing Justice in recent years, especially under the Weah-led government, has made Liberians to question the neutrality and integrity of that body,” the group said.
“During the trial, the Defense argued that they were authorized by the former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, then Commander-in-Chief of the AFL and presented an authorization letter to the effect. How then the former minister of defense was guilty of executing the order of the Commander-in Chief”?
“Let the word go forth that we, the thousands of Lofa citizens who believe in the Senator-elect and voted him overwhelmingly wish to inform the Supreme Court that we are against the ruling”.
What does the future hold for Samukai?
Some residents of Lofa County had embarked on a campaign to raise the money on Samukai’s behalf, but they fell short as they couldn’t raise five percent of the amount the former defense minister reportedly embezzled.
With the Presiding Justice in Chambers granting the government of Liberia petition for the Writ of Prohibition to disallow the National Elections Commission (NEC) to certificate Samukai, it seems the Lofa County senator-elect’s political life may all but now be over.
Would he raise the amount to salvage his political life? His failure to restitute said amount could disenfranchise him from contesting future elections in the country because the court might come back to haunt him.