Liberia: Why Boakai Distanced Himself from WhatsApp Chatroom in Ongoing Cummings Trial
MONROVIA – The WhatsApp Messenger App seems to have a key role to play in the ongoing trial of Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), his party chairman, Senator Daniel Natheen and Secretary-General Alloysius Gould. It all began with the omission of several portions of chats between July 2 to July 19 by the prosecution. The prosecution would later say it was inadvertent, but that was after a strong fight by the defense to have those chats reflected in the submitted evidence. The prosecution described the omission as “suppression of evidence”.
The chats in question were conversations in the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) leadership WhatsApp chatroom where all information pertaining to the CPP was placed for fast information dissemination.
Members of that WhatsApp chatroom included the political leaders of the four constituent political parties and members of their respective party leadership.
Having the omitted chats back on the court’s records as part of the evidence was key to the Defense team because they contained evidence that Mr. Cummings shared a copy of the final Framework Document – the matter of contention – in the chatroom for everyone to have a copy for perusal. This was after the CPP lawyers headed by Cllr. Benedict Sannoh had revised the May 19, 2021 document which was heavily criticized by the public for being discriminatory.
The chat history shows that when Mr. Cummings placed the document in the chatroom, he was highly commended by his colleagues, including those leveling the allegation of forgery against him, for a ‘job well done”.
In the view of the Defense team, the extraction of the conversations from WhatsApp in the submission of evidence by the prosecution was only intended to tamper with the evidence, and such needed to be investigated. They hammered that the extracted portion was key evidence for the exoneration of Mr. Cummings and the co-defendants.
Now, the prosecution’s star witness, former Vice President Joseph Boakai who was also chairman of the CPP when everything began to crumble told the court he never discussed any matter of importance in chatroom. According to him, he is on record for saying that no major decision should be made in chatrooms.
Mr. Boakai said, “I discourage communications being posted about major issues and documents to be on WhatsApp because it takes too long to read and is not the best method to making decisions.”
Mr. Boakai in his testimony attempted to prove that he was never active in WhatsApp chatroom, therefore, he did not pay attention to the Final Framework Document submitted there by Mr. Cummings.
“I don’t follow approval and discussion of important documents in the chatroom,” Boakai said while responding to issues that the amendment was forwarded to investigative reports and never seen after lawyers’ review and passed it over and was never seen.
Meanwhile, screenshots of messages from Amb. Boakai in the same chatroom calling for National Advisory Council meetings have emerged, raising eyebrows on the sincerity of his testimony to the court.
A legal luminary who preferred not to be named as the matter is still in court opined, “Amb. Boakai is working with the prosecution. The goal is to discredit the WhatsApp chat as key evidence. So, he will do everything to show that he was not frequent in the WhatsApp chatroom and possibly did not come across the document there.”
The lawyer added, “The prosecution did not succeed in omitting the key WhatsApp conversations from the evidence, therefore, there is the need to divert attention from the significance of those conversations.”
Boakai and Cummings were uncompromising rivals seeking to head the CPP presidential ticket ahead of the 2023 presidential and general elections when an allegation of altering the CPP Framework document was raised against Cummings by the government.
Cummings has consistently maintained being innocent of the allegation of forgery leveled against him by the All Liberian Party. He alleged that the allegation is trumped with the support of President Weah as a means of tightening his grip on the presidency.
The CPP was formed by the ANC, LP, ALP, and the UP with a common aim of unseating George Weah as President in the 2023 elections through a united formidable force.
Following the allegation of tampering by the ALP and subsequent withdrawal, the Unity Party and a faction of the Liberty Party also backed the allegation. The other two also withdrew from the Collaboration just months to the convention which would have seen them elect a standard-bearer for the CPP 2023 ticket.
Mr. Boakai during the press conference to announce the withdrawal of the UP from the CPP said, though he took over the CPP leadership with a good feeling of opportunity to reconcile the fractured collaboration and mend relations, all his efforts proved futile.
Amb. Boakai squarely blamed the inability to mend broken relationships in the CPP on the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, whom, despite being accused of altering the CPP Framework Document, failed to attend meetings to resolve the issue.