Liberia: Analysis Of How Amb. Joseph Nyumah Boakai & The Unity Party Landed In ‘A Tangled Web’ – Twist Of Fate?
Some call it karma. Sir Walter Scott called it “a tangled web”. Says Scott, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” Simply put, the universe spins in such a way that if one lies or behaves dishonestly toward others, one is likely to set off problems and complications, which are likely to run out of ones control. Enter Former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and his Unity Party (UP).
Beginning in 2019 and working through a lengthy formation process along with three other registered political parties, the UP agreed to be enjoined into the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of Liberia. The other parties included the All Liberian Party (ALP), the Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
On July 14, 2020, registration documents, which included signed and notarized resolutions of the four parties, and a Framework Agreement (FA) bearing the signatures of the Political Leaders and Chairpersons of the four parties, all of which were consistent with Section 8.5 of the New Electoral Law, were filed with the National Elections Commission (NEC), Liberia’s electoral regulatory body. On August 14, 2020, the NEC issued a Certificate of Accreditation to the CPP.
Among other things, the FA established how the CPP would be led by a rotational chair; that its Headquarters would similarly rotate according to the frequency of the 8-month rotation of the chairs, so that if the head of a party was chair, the same party’s headquarter would be used as the recognized headquarter of the CPP and the same party would lead the secretariat, executive committee and the national advisory council, the highest decision making authority of the CPP outside its convention. The FA also determined how the four parties would jointly contest for elected offices, in the name of the CPP.
On December 8, 2020, the four-party CPP jointly fielded candidates and contested in the Midterm Senatorial Elections winning a number of important seats including in Grand Bassa, Lofa, Montserrado, RiverGee and CapeMount Counties. Except for Lofa County in which the Supreme Court intervened on a non-related election matter to stop the certification and seating of the CPP winner, all other CPP victories were certificated by the NEC and successful candidates seated in the Legislature.
Also in the name of the CPP, the four parties have jointly filed actions before the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia against the National Elections Commission of Liberia and the Executive Branch. In at least one case, the CPP prayed and sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to compel the branches and agencies of the Liberian Government to perform their constitutional functions. In another, the four-party CPP filed an action with the Ecowas Community Court, which sits in Abuja, Nigeria, to ensure compliance by the Liberian Government of election-related laws and good-practice procedures so as to avoid relapse into conflict.
For the better part of a year and six months since its public certification by the NEC, as it was intended to do, the CPP operated under its FA. Suffice to say, each publicly compliant action and activity of the CPP can be legally construed as further indication of mutual consent and public ratification of obligations to the CPP by the four constituent parties.
Some public ratifications included adherence to the fielding of candidates jointly in public elections in the name of the CPP, compliance with the rotational headquarters and leadership so that after the ANC, the leadership was passed on to the LP, after which, it was taken over by the UP on October 15, 2021. Others, as already indicated included filing court actions as CPP, the four-party creature recognized by and existing under the laws of the Republic.
On December 20, 2021, while leading the CPP as Rotational Chair, the UP privately signed and passed a resolution of its National Executive Committee declaring itself to have withdrawn from the CPP. In its resolution, the UP admits that “by absolute majority of its membership”, it “did sign and file with the National Elections Commission, a resolution to form an alliance with the ALP, ANC and LP”. However, the UP informed the NEC that it “cannot be bound by the Framework Document filed with the NEC because the party did not sign it and same is a product of fraud”. This information was dated February 16, 2022, and received by the NEC on February 17, 2022.
Citing Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution, the UP claimed in its letter that “the right to associate or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions or other organizations is a fundamental right that cannot be enjoined.” Hence, it was informing the “National Elections Commission of its withdrawal from the Collaborating Political Parties to refocus on the ideals and objectives for which it was established”.
Although it admits signing and filing a resolution with the National Elections Commission (NEC) to form an alliance with three other parties, and during the period it fielded candidates in the name of the CPP and further proceeded to takeover the rotational chairmanship as prescribed by the same Framework Agreement, yet the UP claims the Framework Agreement which dictated all of these to which the UP was publicly compliant, and therefore acted in public and constructive ratification of the self-same Framework Agreement, it can no longer be bound to the CPP because the FA is “ a product of fraud” as the UP “did not sign it”.
The UP asking the NEC and the Liberian people to believe it complied and acted jointly with three other parties to obey and enforce on itself, for at least a formal period of 18 months, an agreement it did not sign. To this, suspension of reality, Sir Scott would aptly scream: “Tangled web!”
In any case, the allegation of fraud is within the province of the courts to determine. And until it is judicially proven, it remains an allegation. A mere allegation is no acceptable legal basis for the UP’s “withdrawal” or the self-award of any excuse from obligations it freely and agreeably entered into with others, and from which it has already benefited.
Fortunately for the UP, the claim of “forgery and criminal conspiracy” is currently being litigated in the courts against the leadership of the ANC by the Government of Liberia on complaint of the ALP. Pending its conclusion, the UP’s claim of “fraud” is a nullity, and therefore without legal efficacy.
Charged with overseeing the regulations of the activities of political parties, the NEC cannot but continue to hold the four parties to its Framework Agreement until “fraud” shall have been judicially determined, especially in the event other member parties of the CPP are challenging the NEC to do so. As such, all the terms and obligations contained in the Framework Agreement filed with the NEC, and variously ratified through the public actions which indicate mutual consent of the four parties, are binding and enforceable on the four parties, as they freely agreed and instructed the NEC to referee their actions and activities thereby.
In Article 7 of the Framework Agreement, the four parties declared that its Framework Agreement “shall remain in full force and effect until six (6) months after the conduct of the constitutionally scheduled Presidential and General Elections of 2023 at which time the signatories hereto may proceed to integration or merger.”
Cited in full, Article 8.5.1 (ii) states:
Withdrawal: A constituent party desiring to withdraw from the CPP shall first exhaust the dispute resolution mechanism stipulated in this framework document. if the constituent pats which has satisfied the dispute resolution mechanism is not satisfied with the outcome, it shall file a resolution to withdraw from the CPP signed and duly executed by two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of its National Executive Committee, it being understood, however, that a party withdrawing from the Alliance prior to the next Presidential, legislative and local elections shall not feed candidate in its name.” (emphasis supplied)
An expansive and detailed “Internal Dispute Resolution Mechanism” is contained in Article 12 of the Framework Agreement. This section covers Complaint of Constituent Party Against the CPP/Alliance, Complaint of Constituent Party Against Member of the CPP/Alliance, Setting-up of the Ad-hoc Grievance Council, Composition of the Ad-hoc Grievance Council, Workings of the Ad-hoc Grievance Council, Appeal Process and Procedure, and External Mediation When Disputes May Appear Intractable Within the Framework of its Internal Dispute Resolution Mechanism.”
The UP has presented no evidence to the NEC that it has fully complied with the terms of the Framework Agreement in keeping with either the Internal Dispute Resolution Mechanism and or provisions for withdrawal. By its ‘information of withdrawal’ to the NEC, the UP is seeking to illegally excuse itself from obligations it freely entered into and imposed on itself and others, after benefiting from such obligations. Common sense and the authority of the law, for which nothing less than the Liberian Constitution is applicable, are right to strongly disagree with this position of the Unity Party.
The articles of the Liberian Constitution ought not to be read or interpreted as contradictory but rather reinforcing in meaning, letter, spirit and intent of the whole. Therefore the right to free association as contained in Article 17 is not a contradiction of Article 25, amongst the shortest and most succinct, which states, “Obligation of contract shall be guaranteed by the Republic and no laws shall be passed which might impair this right.”
In the exercise of the rights granted under Article 17, when a party contractually obligates itself to others, and benefits from such contractual obligations, it can no longer seek refuge under Article 17, from which it already waived its right not to associate by not just actually associating, but also in furtherance to its right to freely associate, actually proceeded to obligate and contract itself with and to others. A contract, whose basic elements for legal enforceability include mutual consent, consideration, capacity and legality, is defined as an agreement between parties which creates mutual obligations that are enforceable by law.
Until judicially proved to be “a product of fraud”, the CPP Framework Agreement obligates the four parties and contains all of the essential elements to make same legally enforceable. This legal enforceability extends to the provision that no withdrawing party can field candidates in the name of their party in any election until and including the expiration of the agreeable life of the CPP, same being six months after the 2023 Presidential and General Elections, after which the parties “may move to integration or merger.”
Importantly also, unless “fraud”, as alleged, is judicially proved, as marks of public identification, the names of the four member parties of the CPP, which necessarily extend to all of its publicly identifiable features including logo, flag, slogan, color and symbol, have all been agreeably and contractually obligated to the CPP until six months after the 2023 Presidential and General Elections. Only after this period can any of the parties exercise any right to withdraw same, decide not to continue in membership, or may decide to continue in membership toward either an integration or merger.
Simply put, the UP is in quite a mess. It cannot field candidate in the Lofa By-election, and nothing which may extend to publicly identifying the Unity Party can be used in any public elections, until and including six months after the Presidential and General Elections in 2023. This contractual obligation of the four parties, again unless proved to be the “product of fraud”, proscribes the parties from taking steps to shield itself by the use of any of its publicly identifiable features, in any other collaboration, alliance or coalition, up to and including six months after the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and General Elections in Liberia.
The UP is in a “tangled web”. In partnership with the Government of Liberia, it must judicially prove “fraud” or all of its public huffing and puffing will not blow the CPP away. As long as the CPP is not blown away, the UP cannot legally absolve itself from legal enforceability of its constitutional obligations of contract, to which the Unity Party and its Political Leader, Former VP Joseph N. Boakai, freely and willingly entered into with three other parties. Certainly, the absolution claimed by the UP is not legally obtainable by merely acting privately and informing the NEC thereof.