‘My Nationality Is Liberian’ – Nominee to Head the National Elections Commission Opens up Over Controversy Surrounding His Appointment

Cllr. A. Ndubusi Nwabudike was nominated by President Weah over the weekend to head the National Elections Commission and would oversee the 2020 midterm elections and the 2023 presidential and general elections

Monrovia  – Cllr. A. Ndubusi Nwabudike, appointed by President George Manneh Weah to head the National Elections Commission has been swirling in a sea of controversy since the weekend’s announcement of his appointment. Now entering his third job in less than three years, the former chair of the Governance Commission, and current head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) sat down for an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica, a day after his nomination to talk about the controversy surrounding his nationality, his Nigerian roots and why Liberians should give him a free pass to conduct two of the most anticipated elections in recent memory.

Interview conducted by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s begin with the issue that is on everyone’s mind at the moment – other than the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic, that being, your appointment as head of the National Elections Commission. Before we get there, let’s talk about your two previous roles getting to this point – your appointment as head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and that of the Governance Commission. What did you to at those two places that you feel prepares you for this role?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: When I got to the Governance Commission; I was very lucky to inherit a qualified corps of employees. What I did was try to use the resources that was available there and we managed to restructure the staff to make them responsive to new polices as you understand when one person moves, a new person comes in to redirect human resource to these polices – that was the key thing.

During my period, some initiatives that Dr. Sawyer had already put in place, I was able to push that to completion. The Governance Commission has the first and I think, most modern resource center today in the Republic of Liberia. It was first initiated under Dr. Sawyer’s administration and completed under my administration. We were also able to complete agenda polices during that period. We were able also to launch the revenue sharing formula which was initiated before I got there and was concluded – and you know the relevance of the revenue formula arrangement. So, we’ve been very instrumental in decentralizing some polices which is the core elements of Good Governance. Those are things that we undertook. There were new initiatives that we were working on and the President said, let’s look at LACC.

Well, I got to LACC two months ago, the first thing I did was to resurvey the area, to examine the problems, the challenges and my first consultations with both the World Bank, Civil Society and Legislature, we all agreed that we need to have a national dialogue and design a new strategy to fighting corruption – and so we set up a technical committee involving all the integrity institutions – and we just completed that work and honestly, that national conference was supposed to take place this month, but for this virus problem. The intent was that we design a policy, assign roles – then we can say, legislature, “this is your role for anti-corruption, judiciary, this is your role, executive, this is your role, civil society, this is your role, integrity institutions, – name all these, the LACC would drive it.

Hopefully, I believe that even if I move from LACC, this initiative would still be brought to fruition. So, in two months, we’ve done many things. As an anti-LACC, I was able to audit the accounts of LACC, the Auditor General is completing that audit because I wanted to start with a clean slate and in two months, that’s a lot to achieve – and it’s an indication that we have planned as you are aware, within this period, the Supreme Court has given opinion in the Munah Sieh case, holding her liable for corruption which Liberia Anti-Corruption argued. I was not there but it was argued – and I did the closing argument in the Brownie Samukai case. And for the first time in the history of LACC, the chairman of LACC was in court, personally arguing a case. That’s an indication that my style is not sitting down in airconditioned room and telling people to go and do the work – I was personally involved.

If I get to NEC, if our people confirm me. That will be my experience, I would not be the chairman that would say I got the Executive Director, I got this and that, I would be involved, because I know that ultimately, I will bear the responsibility.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Since your appointment by the President, there’s been a lot of noise, firstly because of your name – people consider you to be a foreigner, in fact, a Nigerian. Tell us a little history about yourself – where do you come from? Who’s your family?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE:  My nationality is Liberian, let’s settle that and my name is ugly, let’s settle that, this is not the first time. It’s hard to pronounce, but it’s Ndubusi Nwabudike and my parents come from Delta State in Nigeria. My father was here, first in 1946. My father had a master’s degree, he came here because his wife, the grandmother of his wife, a Gola woman, she wanted to know her history because she was never in Liberia. So, my father came here to trace that lineage. Unfortunately, he came with only a picture, there wasn’t too much history because the lady in question died young, I think  she was 28 or 30. So, after staying here for a while, he started a relationship with President Tubman as a consultant. He also worked for Firestone as consultant. He was in Liberia, he naturalized, became a citizen, some of his crowd at that time were the Jones, Wariebi, Adhigibe, people like Brown, Edwin Kaleku, a whole bunch of them, that class. He stayed here until 1960 when Nigeria got independence 1960, 1961 he went back. He was in Nigeria until the civil war in Nigeria started I think 1967. 1968 he came back here.

The civil war in Liberia ended 1971, 1972, he went back to Nigeria. So, he was a citizen of Liberia. When I was born, I was born to a father who was Liberian already. And by our constitution, I really don’t need to naturalize. Our law provides that if one of your parents Liberian when you are born, you are a Liberian citizen.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, you were born in Liberia?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: No, I was born in Nigeria but we came here during the Nigerian war, my mother brought me here as a baby during that war and immediately after that civil war. So, our law provides that if two of your parents are two nationalities, you can keep two of the nationalities until you are 18 to decide the one you want to be. I decided to be a Liberia and naturalized in my own right as a Liberian citizen – and that made me Liberian.

So, the question of my nationality is really not in context. It’s a matter of law which is settled. In this Supreme Court opinion, my nationality is there because when you apply to sit the bar exam as Counselor at Law at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court will investigate you. They will validate your nationality before you are admitted in the bar. It is already written in the volume, so that issue is settled.

What is happening now is sentiment, that sentiment is –“This man, his name looks foreign, so he cannot be Liberian. I don’t care if I’m born 200 times in Liberia, so long as my name don’t sound like Brown or Jones or something, some people will have problem with that, but that’s not our law. Our law is not sentiment, our law is clear on what is nationality. So, I’d like our people to please look up to the law and judge me, not by the ugliness of my name but by quality of service I will render to the people. I can understand that the position of NEC chairman has political implications, I can understand that politicians are a little bit worried, not because there’s reason for them to be worried but the point is they don’t really know what side I belong to.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, what side do you belong to?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE:  I don’t belong to any side, I’m neutral. I’m neutral.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you have any relationship with McGill, Tweah – or any of those close people to the President?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: Personal relationship? No!

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: There’s a lot of speculations in town that you have very close relationship with these people who are in power?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: I don’t have a personal relationship with any of them. McGill doesn’t know where I live, the President don’t know where I live. So, I’m not that type of person. It’s true, somebody would have seen me visit Mr. McGill but that would be for official purposes. It doesn’t mean that he’s my buddy.

This lawfirm, my lawfirm, the lawfirm I associate with until I was appointed to government position, is Sannoh & Partners. This lawfirm was opened by Joseph Boakai, the Unity Party standard bearer. Ok? During the 2017 elections, I argued in the Supreme Court. The case of Elections Commission vs. Edwin Snowe, when they wanted to deny him the right as representative in Bomi. I argued that case for him, as a Unity Party, partisan. So, will you call me a Unity Party partisan, so, will you call me a Unity Party person? No! Will you call me CDC? No!

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: So, in the last elections, 2017, you were the lawyer for CDC?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: No! I was not a lawyer for CDC. Like I told you, I argued a case for Edwin Snowe which is Unity Party, ok? CDC never had a case in the last election, remember? It was Unity Party and Liberty Party vs. Elections.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: And what side were you on?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: No side!I was not in that case but my colleague, Benedict Sannoh was representing Unity Party in that case. However, you know how that case was, all the lawyers entered that case individually, they did not put their lawfirms in. Like Varney Sherman, he was in the case but he didn’t say Sherman & Sherman. Benedict Sannoh was in the case but he didn’t say Sannoh and Associates, and everyone went there as individual lawyers. Cllr. Dean was on the other side. He and Hananiah Zoe, they were all there as individual lawyers.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: But weren’t you with Cllr. Frank Musah Dean at one point who was the lawyer in the case?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: No! I was not with Dean; my name was never on the record. But it is correct that at some point I shared opinion with Cllr. Dean – on issues relating to that elections. But I was never announced as counsel on record. I also provided, maybe some advice, ok But it was never in an official capacity at all.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Cllr. Nwabudike, can you as head of the National Elections Commission, oversee, supervise, orchestrate a free and fair elections in Liberia?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: There is no reason why not. When I was in the law school, Louise Arthur Grimes, I was the Chairman of the Elections Commission at Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law. I supervise, I believe, the most credible student elections, there. You can go check the record. Former Presidents like Morris Saytumah, Murphy Kanneh, those who were there at the time, ask them my record. In that capacity, it was the first election, at Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law where five students were certificated, just like National Elections. So, there’s no reason why anyone would doubt my neutrality or my capability or credibility to conduct a free and fair election. It’s hard, I’m not the kind of person that people swing easily or buy over easily. There’s no reason why. I look up to people, I look up to the interest of the common people whom I serve. Once I’m confirmed, if the people confirmed me, I will look up to serving the people, not individuals.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA:  A lot of Senators are concerned about this – and some like Senator Abraham Darius Dillon and Sando Johnson are already threatening to reject your confirmation. How do you convince those people on the other side, to believe what you’re saying?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: Please quote me on this. I really don’t think that Senator Dillon will vote against me. Dillon is my very, very very close good friend. He’s said that to me many times. Unless he’s changed now that he became Senator. But we’ve been – from when Dillon was an assistant to TC Gould, we’ve known each other. We’ve been friends. We’ve worked together up to now, Dazo(Senator Johnson). I’m shocked that he would say that. These are individuals that I know. If other people vote against me, these two people will not. Because they know me personally, they know that I’m not somebody who can see truth and say lie, or see lie and say the truth – that’s not in my nature. The two individuals that you mentioned, I’m convinced that they will not vote against me because they know me personally. If they vote against me, well, it’s not because of me that they are voting but it is because of some other reasons.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you see as the best solution to this. People are divided – on social media the aisle is split regarding your nomination.

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: I agree, many people have called me and say Cllr. Nwabudike, do you hear what people are saying, you’re not Liberian. All I can say is please, give me the opportunity to serve  and judge me by the quality of work that I do. That’s all. And remember that being confirmed is not set in stone – I can be removed; I can be removed  – just the way the Senators put me in office they can remove me.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The reason for all this noise, I’m sure you will agree is that two major elections coming up. This year we have the 2020 Mid Term elections and we also have the 2023 elections coming up. What guarantee can you give Liberians that these two elections – when they judge you in the future, they will look back and say, you made the right decision?

 CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: Let me say human beings naturally, we don’t have patience. Let’s do the 2020 By-elections and let them judge me by that. If they feel that I didn’t deliver to them, the true wishes of the people, let them make sure that I don’t get to 2023. I mean, God set it like that. Please, they have a litmus test. Give me just few months to deliver. What I deliver to you. If you’re not sure that it represents the true wishes of our people, then don’t let me go to 2023.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What do you know of the other people on the Commission appointed by the President.

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: I worked with Davidetta at the United Nations; I know she’s a very, very good, honest woman; I know she’s very hard working, Ernestine is my Catholic sister, I’ve known her for  quite some time –  and I think she’s very credible. Floyd, I also know, not very close but I know he’s been very, very good with the IT work at NEC. With his guidance, you know, I believe – and you know, the key area where most problems come from is this IT, data information. That’s the first place we need to sort out. And with him on board as a commissioner I believe that we will address that problem very soon.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Your predecessor had some major problems with funding. In fact, before he left he said that there were some funding for the 2020 elections that did not come in – and it may affect the results of the 2022 elections. How hopeful are you that you will get the money you need to deal with your first major test – if confirmed?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: My first reliance will be the legislature themselves, they must take definite, positive steps to ensure that elections commission is funded. Funding for elections commission is not the president’s job. The elections commission reports directly to the legislature. They too must make sure that funding is available. If a certain amount is allocated or appropriated for elections, they must call the Minister of Finance and say what needs to be done. But that being said, we will reach out and knowing the extent of our country, we will reach out. I have twelve years of service in the United Nations. I have substantial amount of connection within the international community. We will reach out. Liberia has friends and we will reach out to them. I have received, since last night, some small signals, messages, congratulations indicating that people are standing by to work with us. What they insist on clearly is please make sure that your team is not political – and we will support you.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How do you ensure that they are not political?

CLLR. A. NDUBUSI NWABUDIKE: Well, I’m going to say this in a very, very diplomatic language. I will be very firm with every commissioner. The role of the commission, our job is not political. If I see that you are political, I will proceed to the legislative committee that has oversight  – and they will have to deal with that . Commissioners are not supposed to be involved in any politics – or any political party. I will also reach out to friends in the sub-region. Look, the growth of our democracy is really not our business alone, the growth of democracy in Liberia is the growth of ECOWAS. It’s the business of AU, it’s the business of United Nations because they all suffer to see that peace is attain and they won’t want to see us go backwards, they cannot allow us to stagnate because of money. So, I think we will raise the money that is required. We may not have all the money required but we will raise the money that is required.