How Can We Truly Be Free Citizens? – An Open Letter to the Liberian Senate
Mr. President Pro-Tempore, and Distinguished Members of the Honorable Liberian Senate:
I present compliments, and respectfully inform of an open letter to the President of the Republic of Liberia in which I requested His Excellency to consider withdrawing his nominations to the National Elections Commission (NEC), for a host of reasons, which included the lack of prior consultations with relevant political, civil society and other stakeholders, which the spirit of the law would require. I also expressed concerns about the timing of these nominations, coming as it did, on the heels of the terrifying announcement of the confirmation of a troubling third case, and the declaration of a package of stringent preventive measures. I opined that the unfortunate timing portrays an unwanted message to the population that at the highest levels of our government, we may not be attending the quality of attention and focus to fighting the pandemic, our effective response requires. This infects an already distrustful population with more doubts, and undermines our collective response to this global pandemic.
I assure your distinguished selves that none of these reasons were made with prejudice to the nominated individuals. I reached out, as I did, in keeping with my citizen’s duty to my country, being as I am, fortunate to be involved in negotiating the successful end to our years of fratricidal conflict, which among its many shameful causes, also included missteps in the conduct of our democratic elections, and ultimately shrouding the electoral outcome with public doubt.
As already begun, the nominations have landed the nation in an unwanted place of controversy. A new composition of the NEC can do without such controversies. At the same time, we owe a duty to ourselves, and our emerging democracy, to continue to act not only in acknowledgments of our difficult past, but more importantly, in decided ways to ensure we do not return to those dark days but rather actively advance the peace and democratic health of our nation.
Interestingly, a much higher resonance of public controversy is being reserved for the nominated chair. And so in my letter to His Excellency, I drew attention also to two riding public concerns about the nomination of the chair. The first, which I believe will be no less important for the consideration of the Liberian Senate, and to which I beg to return shortly in further elucidation, is the roving effect of the presidential consideration of the nominated chair. The second concerns his nationality and allegiance.
Admittedly, our freedoms should allow us to disagree on many things, if not all things. However, we should never be lowered into xenophobia, and or discrimination, nor should we settle for the wrong temptation to question the patriotism of another Liberian.
I faithfully submit no such considerations are motivating my concerns about the naturalized citizenship of the nominated chair. I know we are a better country if we continue to be inclusive and tolerant, including in disagreements, not just of each other, but also of all brothers and sisters of negroid descent, as our law guarantees, and especially, as our history commands us to proudly do. Furthermore, I hope we can motivate ourselves to be even more ambitious to open ourselves to all men and women, of every color, who seek freedom and opportunity. After all, we were born out of the search for freedom and equal opportunity.
The truth also is that while we must never discriminate against naturalized Liberians, we must similarly, if not more determinedly, guard against the discrimination of Liberian brothers and sisters who are natural born. It seems even more reasonable and expected, that at all times, individually and collectively, we must act to preserve a sense of intrinsic value for being born a Liberian – a valuation to be found and cherished nowhere else on our planet more than we can, and must do, for ourselves in Liberia.
Whether one is born in a village or in a city across our country; whether we take on other citizenships or hold dearly onto only being a Liberian, there must be no sin or shame in being born a Liberian. It confers a special identity, and should envelop us in a sense of unique pride, which we are apt to find nowhere else, from our cradles to our graves.
Therefore, the application of the goose and the gander test is relevant here. This same deliberative body, cannot agree, as it did in its approval of the proposition on dual citizenship, to proscribe Liberians by birth from serving in high positions of trust, including the chairmanship of the NEC, in the land of their proved nativity and birth, because they took on another citizenship, for whatever reason, and yet act to confirm a naturalized Liberian, with proved dual citizenship, into the position of chair of NEC.
Certainly, the lack of a singular allegiance to our country was the priority reason for the senate’s consent to proscribe natural born Liberians who took, and concurrently holds onto the citizenships of other countries, as they avail themselves for appointments to high offices of trust, including the chairmanship of the NEC. If this reasoning is right for born Liberians, it must be similarly right for naturalized Liberians.
Mr. President Pro-Tempore and Honorable Senators, the nominated chair is not just an exclusive subject of Liberian citizenship and our laws by reason of his naturalization. He also happens to be the legal subject, and has the right to claim all rights and protections provided to born citizens of Nigeria. This guarantee of his citizenship rights and protection are variously enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Chapter III, Articles 28 (1) and 29 (1), of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is cited below, confers upon the nominated chair, even after the award of the Senate’s confirmation, all the rights, privileges and protections of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as that Government courageously and rightly does for all of its citizens of that sisterly nation.
28(1) Subject to the other provisions of this section, a person shall forfeit forthwith his Nigerian citizenship if, not being a citizen of Nigeria by birth, he acquires or retains the citizenship or nationality of a country, other than Nigeria, of which he is not a citizen by birth.
29(1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.
Taken together, these important provisions on citizenship in the Nigerian Constitution have unquestionably passed to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a primary claim of citizenship, and its accompanying allegiance and protection, of someone the Liberian Senate is considering for chairmanship of the NEC. It means, the Government and people of Liberia cannot exercise any exclusive right over the nominated chair of Liberia’s National Elections Commission, to answer to the Liberian people, for his stewardship of the most sacred process of our democracy, should we need to require him to, any time in the future.
Additionally, not only does his Liberian naturalization not undermine this fact in any way, but there is yet to be any evidence introduced into the public record to testify to his renunciation of his Nigerian citizenship, and the priority claim on him, as well as guarantee of protection from the land of his birth and nativity. Let it be clearly understood: that the nominated chair has taken on the citizenship of Liberia does not subtract from his first, and it is reasonable to argue, primary citizenship which he acquired at birth in Nigeria. Although he may claim to be loyal to and love Liberia, his naturalized home, by not denouncing his original and primary citizenship, he retains the right to be safely protected thereby, against all others including the Government and people of Liberia, for which he has a right, under Nigerian Law, to take up.
Do we really want to knowingly surrender the chairmanship of the NEC, the body responsible to oversee the most sacred process of our democracy, into the hands of an individual with proved concurrent allegiance and citizenship to two countries?
Without prejudice to the nominated chair, might the wise men and singular woman of the Liberian Senate not wish to give themselves a bit more time to ponder this weighty decision, reflect on our checkered history with democratic elections, and its regretted consequences for all of us? Might the Senate not wish to slow itself, and not let itself be rushed, as currently appears to be the case by even conducting hearings on Saturday?
Are we wrong to consider the experience of the Government and people of Peru, in which its President Alberto Fujimori fled the country and initially resisted arrest and trial by the Peruvian Government and people, by returning to the safe sanctuary of Japan, his ancestral home? Fujimori was only arrested and made to answer to the people of Peru, whom he had led for ten years, when he left Japan to travel to Chile.
Now let me return to the effect of the roving nature to which I previous referred. Here, perhaps wholly unintended, lies an unsettling impression for our democratic governance. In my letter to the President, I questioned the footprint of performance left by the nominated chair in his brief oversee of the Governance Commission (GC), and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). However, there appears to be more to this than I had initially considered.
The Chairmanship of both the GC and the LACC are tenured. Amongst its many valued considerations, in no small priority, is the preservation of the independence and ability to discharge faithfully the important duties of a tenured office exempt from executive interference or other political influences. In effect, tenured positions are to be insulated from the ebbs and flows of political influences, especially from the Executive. Once appointed, tenured officials are protected from whimsical and arbitrary removal, except for proven performance-based causes.
“If, increasingly at home, we cannot freely think through our challenges and allow ourselves to reasonably compete on the basis of our ideas and the values of our experiences; where else would we do so? If enmity and designs of threats await us for sharing our experiences to help us do the right things; how can we truly be free citizens? If we cannot motivate ourselves, and each other, to do the right things for our country; who will?”– Lewis G. Brown, Former Information Minister, Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Honorable President Pro-Tempore and Honorable Senators, by agreeing to confirm the nominated chair, the Liberian Senate would have, perhaps without a deliberate intent, established a precedence by which tenured authorities can be removed, not for cause, but by being appointed to other posts, which may or may not be tenured, or may or may not require legislative consent. May I suggest that this will undermine the underlying value of tenured positions and conclusively, even if unintended, bring such positions under the political control and authority of the Executive, as no law on tenure was intended. This can extend to threaten our democratic system of checks and balances.
It is publicly documented that approximately three months ago, the Liberian Senate confirmed the nominated chair to head the important Anti-Corruption Commission, tenured for at least 5 years. To again lend him your confirmation authority, after less than three months, may not only question and trivialize the relevant use of your constitutional authority to confirm, but also lends the use of your constitutional authority to unwittingly undermine the tenure process itself, and its underlying relevance in the promotion of good governance.
With the establishment of this precedence, should the Liberian Senate proceed to confirm; what safeguards would we have to constrain a President, who in disagreement with the Executive Governor of the Central Bank, for instance, or any public official serving in a tenured position, from being removed by a nomination to another governmental position? What would stop a President, who concludes that a chair or a member of the NEC may not ‘be cooperating with the wishes of the Executive from being simply reappointed to another tenured or non-tenured position? If we stretch this line of reasoning, what could stop a President who is intent on undermining the dispensation of justice in the country from reappointing a judge, an associate justice, or even the the Chief Justice to a tenured or non-tenured position? What will be there to secure any tenured position from the overreach of the Executive through the use of an otherwise abusive appointive authority?
As you know, Honorable Pro-Tempore and Distinguished Senators, some decisions may seem easy to make on face value – they may even seem convenient for the presenting moment – but they can bear long-term dire consequences for the governing health of the nation. The situation of nominations to the NEC presents the making of one of such decisions.
This is why I feel compelled to reach out to you, Mr. President Pro-Tempore and Honorable Members of the Liberian Senate, pleading for a pause in these confirmation hearings, and for deeper considerations of all of the attending tangential and consequential ramifications of the decision the Senate is authorized by the Constitution, to faithfully and deliberatively make on this matter, which is now before you.
Finally, it is not lost on me that we are in a difficult moment and a divisive political environment, which make it increasingly challenging to publicly disagree, however reasonable the issue of disagreement may be. However, I do so knowing that I am not immune from partisan backlash, including on my integrity and person. I am however overcome by love for the only country I am proud to always call home, and for which I am a citizen, not by want of any favor, but by birth.
If, increasingly at home, we cannot freely think through our challenges and allow ourselves to reasonably compete on the basis of our ideas and the values of our experiences; where else would we do so? If enmity and designs of threats await us for sharing our experiences to help us do the right things; how can we truly be free citizens? If we cannot motivate ourselves, and each other, to do the right things for our country; who will?
Please accept, Honorable President Pro-Tempore and Distinguished Members of the Honorable Liberian Senate, the assurances of my highest esteem.
Ambassador Lewis G. Brown, II