Liberia: Senator Steve Zargo to Lead a Boycott of the President’s State of the Nation Address
MONROVIA – Lofa County Senator Stephen Zargo has vowed to lead the campaign to boycott the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President George Manneh Weah along with other colleagues hailing from the county, in protest of the high level of dissatisfaction among citizens of the county due to the delay in the trial involving Senator-elect Brownie Samukai.
President George Manneh Weah is expected to give his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Liberian people via the National Legislature in keeping with Article 58 of the 1986 Liberian constitution.
Article 58 states that: “The President shall, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic. In presenting the economic condition of the Republic the report shall cover expenditure as well as income”.
According to Senator Zargo, the decision is in straight adherence to a mandate from those who elected them at the National Legislature.
He made these comments when he appeared as guest on the OK Morning Rush show in Monrovia on Tuesday, January 18.
He noted that the action is intended to display the high level of unhappiness among vast majority of citizens of the county over the delay in the final adjudication of the case involving Mr. Samukai.
In February 2021, the Supreme Court of Liberia upheld a lower court’s ruling against Senator-elect J. Brownie Samukai and two other co-appellants and sentenced them to two years in prison each for misapplication of US$1.1 million intended for the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
However, the court ruled that the prison terms could be suspended if the convicts restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.
Judge Yamie Quiqui Gbeisay of Criminal Court ‘C’ in March 2020 ruled him and two of his co-defendants, Joseph P. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense guilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy and awarded them separate prison terms. Mr. Samukai was given a higher two-year prison sentence, while his co-defendants were given six months jail terms each but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they all restitute the amount of US$1.1 million in question over a one-year period.
A summary of the prosecution, in this case the Government of Liberia’s argument is that defendant Samukai and his co-defendants had no authority to use the AFL pension funds; that in fact said funds were private funds; and that the defendants issued checks in their own names for personal benefits.
But the Defendants took appeal at the Supreme Court and they (serving now as appellants), justified that they acted in line with the Constitution and relevant laws. They claimed that they acted on the orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to procure materials and render other services for the soldiers. They claimed that US$50,000 was paid on the instruction of former President Sirleaf as death benefits to the families of the late General Abdurrahman, the Nigerian army officials who served as the first post war first Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, who was declared the winner of the senatorial by-election in Lofa on December 8, 2020, has not been certificated by the National Elections Commission (NEC) since the ruling was upheld by the High Court.
Senator Zargo added that legislators from the county will not engage into the throwing of stones or settling barricades as means of showcasing their unhappiness, but they will stay away from the President State of the Nation Address to show to the world that their constituents are disenchanted.
He maintained that President Weah should take cue from the planned boycott as citizens of the county are getting impatient over their inadequate representation at the national legislature.
“I support it (boycott) 100%. I will lead it because, I am their servant. Lofa is gradually getting tense. Our people are unhappy because there are too many uncertainties. I have gotten assurance from the leadership of the Lofa legislative caucus”.
“I will lead in adherence to the people of Lofa County. We will not jump in the streets or hijack the process, but as a sign of our people unhappiness which they have brought to our attention, we will boycott the President State of the Nation Address so that he takes cue if he is sensitive”.
He noted that though some of his colleagues who have already joined the ruling party may attend the SONA, he will boycott the event in keeping with the mandate from his citizens.
According to him, citizens of Lofa will be represented at the Capitol Building during the SONA to observe their lawmakers who will flagrantly go against their request.
“Those who will attend, those who will not attend, will get their reward”.
Senator Zargo pointed out that it remains the responsibility of the Liberian Chief Executive to ensure that justice prevails in the case involving his kinsman Samukai.
He claimed that the Weah led-government is becoming more insensitive to the plights of citizens of Lofa, who constitute almost 30% of Liberia’s population.
He said the under-representation of the county is greatly affecting and depriving citizens of the needed benefits.
Remains LP Chairman
Speaking further, Senator Zargo maintained that he remains the legitimate chairman of the Liberty Party, despite the recognition given to Mr. Musa Bility by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Senator Zargo is on record for openly opposing the ascendancy of Mr. Bility as Chair of the party. He claimed that “hidden hands” were supporting Mr. Bility’s takeover of the party to execute their alterior motives.
He declined from vying for the Chairmanship of the party during the last convention, but later accepted the position following the declaration made by Standard Bearer Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence.
Senator Zargo termed as “germane” reasons stated by Senator Lawrence for the return of the party to status quo ante.
He noted that his decision to return to the chairmanship of the party is also in keeping with the Farmington Agreement reached last year.
Senator Zargo recalled that it was established at Farmington that the LP’s constitution was allegedly altered by the Bility’s fraction of the party.
He justified that the LP has taken issues with the NEC because; the body does not have the authority to delve into judicial matters.
He claimed of conspiracy and alliance between the NEC and Mr. Bility. But the commission has denied any wrong doing.
For nearly a year now, the LP has been embroiled with leadership crisis. It stemmed from the individual show of support for the standard bearer position of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) to the political leaders of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and Unity Party (UP), Mr. Alexander Cummings and Mr. Joseph Nyuma Boakai.
National Executive Committee (NEC) members and other partisans and supporters have been split by pledging loyalties to either Mr. Bility or Senator Lawrence.
The rigmarole within the LP appears to be far from ending as the party, which was once regarded for upholding the rule of law and integrity now has two chairpersons and political leaders.