Fighting Graft is A ‘Patriotic Duty for All Liberians’ – Says Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Chairman-Designate

Cllr.  Ndubuisi Nwabudike says he is developing an Anti-Corruption Road Map Strategy which is aligned with the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity Development

Monrovia – The Chairman designate of Liberia’s premier anti-graft agency (LACC), Cllr.  Ndubuisi Nwabudike, has said that if confirmed by Liberian Senate, he would “focus his energy on enhancing the efficiency and impact of LACC in the fight against corruption”. 

He indicates that he is developing an Anti-Corruption Road Map Strategy which is aligned with the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity Development, the major development agenda of the government. He also assured that he will focus on the long term strategic development plan of LACC which is structured upon three pillars: compliance, investigation and enforcement as well as prosecution.     

He argued that although the Commission has had a few rough patches over the years, but its staff are thoroughly dedicated to combating corruption. There have been concerns that the LACC has been essentially dormant in recent years. 

At the tail-end of former Chairman Cllr. James Verdier’s regime at the LACC, there were accusations and counter-accusations about fraud and improprieties between Chairman Verdier and Vice Chairman Augustine Toe. 

This has prompted the LACC Chairman designate – though not confirmed yet – to request comprehensive auditing of the Commission’s records before he assumes responsibilities if confirmed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, responding to “erroneous” perceptions about his nationality, Cllr. Nwabudike says he owes his allegiance only to the Republic of Liberia and will be committed to curbing corruption when confirmed by the Senate.

Cllr. Nwabudike – who is now Chairman of the Governance Commission – says his Nigerian lineage should be seen as an asset and not obfuscated with his qualification and commitment to serve his country, adding that he brings to bear his wealth of knowledge and expertise in the interest of the country. 

“There is no public figure in this our country that has not been accused of having dual nationality, in particular, of not being American Citizen and a Liberian at one and the same time. “It is the law that qualifies you as a citizen not public opinion,” said Cllr. Nwabudike during a recent interview in Monrovia. 

Cllr. Nwabudike’s father, the late Chief P.N. Nwabudike of Delta State Nigeria, came to Liberia in 1946. He naturalized as a Liberian and worked as a policy consultant – consulting for Firestone and later for President Tubman. He went back to Nigeria immediately after the independence of Nigeria in 1960 but returned to Liberia briefly during the Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970.

Cllr. Nwabudike, who has naturalized as a Liberian in his own person, says there’s no way anybody can raise any Legal issue against his nationality.

“I believe that my appointment is consistent with law – my loyalty is not in doubt. I think I should be judged upon the quality of service I’ve delivered for my country and not based upon perception,” he said.

He urged Liberians to be more concerned about the “qualification and integrity” of an appointed public officials rather than stereotype individuals because of their ethnic background because “we’ve had experiment with that and there’s nowhere you can point to and positively assert that only  natural born Liberian can truly serve the best interest of Liberia and Liberians”.

No Role in Vessel Saga

Meanwhile, Cllr. Nwabudike has again denied media reports linking him to controversy surrounding the sinking of the M/V Pots Express – a Nigerian vessel that came to Liberia back in 2003 and sank five years later. 

Four Nigerians, who were crewmen on the vessel, recently claimed that they were left stranded in Liberia after a prolonged litigation followed by the sinking of the vessel. The crewmen accused several others including Cllr. Nwabudike of abandoning them thereby causing them to become stranded for more than a decade. But the LACC nominee has strongly denied these allegations, telling FrontPageAfrica that he was never a lawyer in the case as being alleged.

“I was never representing any party in that case – I was never a counsel of record in that case, so I had no interest whatsoever. I don’t see how a none existing interest will conflict with any other interest. Please investigate the records in our entire judicial system and produce any document that associates me with that matter.”

He recalled that in 2007, while attending a short term certificate training program at the University of Northern Ireland in Maynooth, as an employee of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), he was contacted on the phone and asked by a workmate to recommend a lawyer to represent the owner of that vessel. He then suggested the late Eminent Cllr. T.C Gould.

“What happened to the vessel is that the crew wanted to sell the vessel, they started using the vessel illegally and those who were the owners decided to go to court,” he explained during a previous interview with FPA, while denying any “ethically or personally” wrongdoing regarding the vessel saga.

“In the human nature, I have not done anything that impeaches on my integrity as a   person; my integrity as a person is not in doubt. It’s not in question and my record speaks for itself.” 

A Critical Personality? 

Despite the critiques, Nwabudike has been hailed for conducting the special investigation into several corruption scandals. His recommendations are supported by both national and international civil society organizations and have ruffled feathers amongst his own friends while, at the same time, aiding the Asset Recovery Team to probe alleged corruption.

“I have done several investigations that relate to the issue of corruption and misappropriation and I have done those jobs without any blemish and nobody affected will say that I was not firmed, was not resolute, or I was not focused,” he said.

Cllr. Nwabudike, who served as Secretary General of Liberia National Bar Association for over three years (2002-2005) during the leadership of Cllr Macus R. Jones as President and the late Justice Ismael Campbell as Vice President and also formed part of UNMIL’s consultative team of lawyers who constructed the initial drafted of the LACC Act. 

Since then, he has worked with the LACC, the Legislature and civil society organizations to broaden the scope of LACC’s mandate and to pass the Witness Protection Act. 

Back then, he worked on the UNMIL’s Board of Inquiry to investigate claims against the Mission. Before that role, he had worked with the War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone for two years as consultant investigator to screen and authenticate claims by victims. His report formed a very crucial component for the prosecutions at The Hague.

He has been hailed for critiquing the work of his Professor and senior partner, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh of the Sannoh and Partners. Cllr. Sannoh developed the National Oil Company of Liberia’s policy that allows government officials, who are members of the board, to get hefty board fees.

“I disagreed with that opinion and I wrote a counter opinion on that subject matter even though two of us work here – but I disagreed with him. In my considered opinion, t the Attorney General’s Opinion appears to be at odds with Article 90(b) of our constitution,” he said.  

“The pertinent issue that he had argued was that a cabinet minister is entitled to be paid board fees – which are against the Constitution, because it is clear that a government official should not request or benefit on account of any other service requested of him by the government.”

That recommendation has necessitated a pending Act by the Legislature to outlaw payments of board fees to cabinet ministers, he said.

“I was given a job to investigate government officials and I have done that job regardless of my personal relationship with that person; and I did it with frankness, seriousness and where it involved me disagreeing with people whom I respect – I did.”

‘No Clash With The President’

Despite his optimism, public perception about corruption in government is surging as inklings about the LACC rigidity to investigate and prosecute individuals remain perceptible. 

There were doubts about the performance of LACC under Cllrs. Frances Johnson-Morris-Allison and James Vadier because of the intermingling of politics with the battle against corruption.  

However, Cllr. Nwabudike is optimistic that he’ll be given the “political will” by President Weah “to fish out” corrupt government officials where ever they may be. 

According to him, “The President intends that any government official, no matter how highly placed, no matter what branch of government you are in, the president expects me to be able to reach in there and fish out the bad eggs”.

“I have my own record which I would not want to be tinted, and I think the President knows the experience and competence that I bring,” he added.

The former LNBA Secretary General has a long term service with the United Nations. His Vice Chairperson designate, Cllr. Kanio Gballa, is also a long term staff member of the UNDP. Cllr. Nwabudike insists that their combined experience would be translated into productive result to the benefit of the Liberian people. 

He also refutes speculations that he will impose his dominance on the running of the commission at the disadvantage of the other commissioners. Though he confirmed that, upon conformation, there would be some structural and personal readjustments to enhance the achievement of the strategic goals set by the government (the PAPD) and donor agencies.       

“I’m just going to be one of five commissioners. I’m going to provide leadership, direction, and examples but the job will be done by all of us as Liberians,” he said, adding that his role is to provide strategic directions for the team to deliver the best.

Recalibrating GAC

While he has been debunking “misinformation” about his character, the LACC nominee is also keen on reforming the Commission which will include augmenting the compliance and enforcement sections of the LACC. 

“For the moment, I’m developing a strategic road map for the work of the commission on how I expect my team to work. When we get people to comply with the law, enforcement will be easy. I’m hoping that we will be able to re-enforce two important units in the commission – Investigation and enforcement unit, and the litigation unit.”

Under his watch, he says, the commission will not “wait until people commit corruption” before taking action. “We will make sure that people focus on complying with the law. If the law says this is what you’ll do in order to award contract, this is what we will get you to do before you award that contract. “If the law says you will have to declare your personal asset that is what we will do to make sure you comply with the law. 

“When we conduct investigation, we hope that the quality of that investigation must withstand the rigor of law, adding that we are not going to do an investigation that will be thrown out of court.” 

“I have the assurances, I have the free hand to do my job and that I will be judge not by the President but by the people based on the quality of the job that I will do for the people.