Liberia: Citizens in Lofa Express Dissatisfaction over Supreme Court Ruling to Incarcerate Senator-elect Brownie Samukai

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VOINJAMA, Lofa County – The latest ruling from the Supreme Court of Liberia on the case involving Lofa County Senator-elect J. Brownie Samukai and two others has been greeted with disappointments and frustrations among citizens and residents of Voinjama, bulk of who have staged a hungry strike, with a call for presidential pardon to avoid disgracing and intensifying division among residents of the country’s bread-basket.

The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of justice in Liberia

On Thursday, January 27, it ordered the incarceration of Mr. Samukai and two others for their alleged failure to meet up with the 50% payment of the US$1.1 million money of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) money which was misapplied by them.

Mr. Samukai, who is the former Minister of National Defense, Joseph Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and James Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller were foundguilty of the crimes of theft of property, misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy.

Senator-elect Samukai was ordered jailed for two years, while the co-defendants were given six months jail terms each but with a condition that their sentences shall be suspended if they restitute 50 percent of the fund within six months and make full payment within a year.

Though Senator-elect Samukai claimed to have paid his portion of the money through his supporters, the High Court mandated his imprisonment in its latest ruling on grounds that the 50% payment has not been met by the trio in its totality.

But despite the court’s mandate which has intensified division among the locals, citizens still see Mr. Samukai as one who is poise to “deliver” the county when he is certificated and subsequently sworn in as Senator.

Hunger strike

Damawah K. Soko, 30, is a petty trader who vigorously canvassed to ensure the election of Mr. Samukai during the campaign period of the senatorial election in 2020. She carries a scar on her left leg as a result of the actions.

Madam Soko disclosed that she has staged a hunger strike as a result of the court’s action.

She observed that the ruling has dashed the hopes and decision taken by thousands of citizens who stood in the rain and the sun to elect Mr. Samukai.

“Since yesterday [last Thursday] and up to now I feel hurt and disappointed from the ruling. We went from village-to-village to campaign and vote for Brownie Samukai with our willing heartsbecause we love him and we knew that he will advocate for us and change Voinjama. I think you can see the sore mark on me – it was during his campaign I got this mark on my feet. I have not put food in my mouth since last night. I am even angry because we voted and they can’t give him the power. We are really disappointed”. 

“I will not eat until I can hear good results that my daddy (Brownie Samukai) has been given his seat. I called this morning and they said they weregoing to meeting and maybe good results will come from there”. 

Madam Soko, claimed that she paid towards the collection of the initial amount presented on behalf of Mr. Samukai by the locals and others in the diaspora, but wondered why the court reached such a decision when it was reported that the LofaCounty Senator’s portion of the money has been paid.

Disgrace and Weight on Zargo

Madam Soko pointed out that the imprisonment of Senator-elect Samukai will not only bring disgraceto him and his family members, but citizens of the entire Lofa County.

She added that it will also be a waste of citizens’ efforts and precious time applied during the electioneering period and from the onset of the filing of the case against Mr. Samukai.

She observed that current Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo has been overloaded with addressing the challenges confronting the county and its people, due to the under-representation of Lofa at the National Legislature.

She said citizens now are casting blame and consistently expressing disappointment in the leadership of Senator Zargo because, they are not feeling the impact of developments across the county.

Madam Soko blamed the situation on the presence of only a lone Senator representing the entire Lofa at the Senate.

She predicted that things will move from bad to worse for citizens of the capital if Lofa remains under-represented for a prolong period of time, noting that, “one Senator cannot solve Voinjamaproblems”.

“The man (Samukai) did not eat the money; but they went to the court and he was able to pay his own of money. We don’t want him to go in jail because it will not be good for Lofa County and it was the former President who told him to use the AFL people money. There was no way he could say no”.

Conspicuous silence of Ellen

The citizens expressed serious concern over the conspicuous silence of ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on the matter.

They believed that the failure of the court to accept a request from Mr. Samukai’s lawyer for Madam Sirleaf to testify is a clear indication that the case was more political than legal.

“For example if President George Weah tells Jewel Howard Taylor to go and do something, will Jewel Howard Taylor say no? I don’t think she will say no. This is what grabbed Brownie today because Ellen told him to do something and he was not there to say no. But now, Ellen is sitting down and seeing this kind of thing happening and she doesn’t want to talk anything. But we leave everything with God. That God will fight and take Samukai from inside”, Madam Soko stated.

Anthony Fombah stated: “For me, I blame Ellen and the court because, when she was going to agree to testify on behalf of Samukai, the court was not going to order him jailed. This is straightly political and the people really want for Samukai to go in jail to spoil our votes”.

Against protest

Madam Soko further called on citizens of the county to remain calm and avoid staging protest actions as a result of the court’s ruling.

“If it was different county, the people were going to do different thing, but for Lofa, we are traditional people and we do not believe in violence. If Lofians wanted violence, it was going to be so from the beginning. We are not holding any protest and we will leave it as it is. We can’t fight government”.

Division

“Most people are against Brownie Samukai and so, they are trying to find ways to get him out. Why he was allowed to register and run for the seat? Now he has won, they don’t want him to take his seat”, Elijah Jackson, 25, stated.

He stated that citizens of the county will continue to be divided as a result of the court’s ruling.

The hidden hands

Since the case against Senator-elect Samukai, citizens and residents of Lofa have pointed fingers at the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government for being the masterminds behind the court’s action.

They continue to make reference to the case involving CDC Representative Abu Kamara of district # 15 in Montserrado County.

It can be recalled that in May 2019, the LACC launched an investigation into a report that Representative Kamara was criminally and clandestinely receiving double salaries and benefits while serving as Deputy Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) and from his previous job as Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.

In the agency’s leaked report which went viral on the social media at the time, Representative Kamara was accused of receiving the amounts of US$$8,164.70 and LD 271,114.74 as salaries for the portfolio of Assistant Minister for the Ministry of Post, including a 14% interest which amounts to US$1,002.68 and L$33, 294.90.

The LACC’s report pointed out that on May 28, 2019, the CDC lawmaker “acknowledged receipt of salaries from the Government of Liberia under the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications at the time he (Abu) no longer worked there”.

In another statement dated May 29, 2019 and addressed to LACC, the report added that, Representative Kamara “admitted” to defrauding the government and committed himself to a monthly payment of US$500” commencing from the 25th of June 2019” at the time.

The LACC, in its conclusion warned that Representative Kamara should be charged in keeping with “Sub chapter D. Theft and Related Offenses. 15.50 Consolidation of theft offenses. 1. Construction of sections, Conduct denominated theft in Sections 15.51, 15.52 and 15.53 constitutes a single offense designed to include the separate offenses heretofore known as larceny, defrauding and cheating. Obtaining money under false pretense, embezzlement, extortion, blackmailing, receiving stolen goods, and the like” if he fails to restitute the stolen monies in keeping with the payment plan agreed upon.

Despite the LACC’s action, President George Manneh Weah and other executives and supporters of the governing CDC vigorously canvassed for lawmaker Kamara to ensure his election to the House of Representatives of the 54th National Legislature in a by-election held in July 2019.

But the commission somersaulted In March 2021 when it reported that it has finally cleared Representative Kamara because he has fully restituted the money he criminally received from government.

Citizens of Lofa expected the case involving their kinsman Samukai to take the trend of the CDC lawmaker’s case.

“We expected the government to accept Brownie Samukai and for him to pay back the same way Abu Kamara was paying back small, small toowhen he took office”, Harris Manobah, a commercial motorcyclist stated. 

“Samukai is not the first or second person to take government money and so, the same way they did Abu Kamara case was what we wanted for them to do with Brownie’s case”. Madam Sokoadded. She continued: “If they force it and put him in jail, we will not do anything because, we do not have power and we are not above the law. We know this is political”.

“This government hand behind this because the Supreme Court said they should give the man the seat before after he paid some of the money. But I know something was under it because one Representative Abu Kamara ran his campaign and won before he paid the money he was oweing the government”.

Kormassa A. Zenneh, 42, also believed that the just ended case of Senator-elect Samukai was politically driven.

“Brownie Samukai’s case is not a petty case and we know all the big hands that are behind it”, she stated.

Fear

She observed that as a result of the court’s latest ruling against their kinsman, family members, friends and loved ones of citizens of Lofa residing or working elsewhere are expressing unwillingness to return or pay a visit to the county.

Madam Zenneh added that these citizens are skeptical that chaos or violent protest would erupt upon their return.

“More people feeling disappointed to even come Lofa because of the ruling. The trace we saw in this man (Samukai), we knew that if he will take his seat, he will be one of the persons that will deliver Lofa and fight our battle”.

She added that President Weah should go a step further by demonstrating the love he claimed to have for citizens of the county when he paid a visit during his nationwide tour.

She recalled that despite the lawsuit which wasinitiated against Mr. Samukai during the visit of the President, sons and daughters of the county overwhelmingly welcomed, celebrated andprovided the necessary supports to the Liberian leader and his officials, and as such, he (Weah) should pardon Mr. Samukai as a payback.

“Mr. Samukai did not eat that people money; every one of us know that thing was a setup and we know power passes strength. I paid some of the money that went to the court for me and my three children. We paid because we know that the allegation against him is not true; we know that politics and we don’t want that disgrace on LofaCounty”.

“If only President George Weah knows he has Lofa County at heart and he wants this county to really be for him, let him forget about Brownie Samukai”.

Despite the claims being raised by the locals in Voinjama, the office of the Liberian Chief Executive has consistently denied the involvement of President Weah into the trial of Mr. Samukai and the two others.

But Madam Zenneh noted that the failure of the Liberian leader to act in line with the appeals from the citizens would lead to confusion within the county.

Break Silence

She used the occasion to urge ex-Liberian President Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to break the silence and prevent disgrace from coming to citizens of Lofa and their unborn generations.

“This county is so big and the developments that we need is not coming because we have only one Senator for years now. We want to appeal to Madam Sirleaf to please rise up in this thing here so disgrace can’t come to Lofa County”.

“The news from the court really killed Lofa. Everywhere you go, you will see or hear people talking. Only the oppositions are celebrating because, they do not have Lofa County at heart”.

Appeals

Citizens of the county have realized that their persistent protest actions, including the recent one staged by traditional leaders and chiefs of the county have not yielded fruitful results.

They see President Weah to be “above” the justice system in Liberia, and want him to intervene to put smile on their faces by ensuring their full representation at the National Legislature.  

“We are just appealing to the government through President George Manneh Weah to have mercy on we the Lofians because if Brownie goes to jail, it will be a big blow to Lofa County”, Madam Zenneh stated.

She maintained that it is quite disappointing and frustrating to see a leader, who thousands of citizens have trusted to lead and advocate on their behalf, being placed behind bars as compare to a common criminal.

“Since this news hit Lofa County yesterday, villagers and other people are feeling disappointed”.

Madam Zenneh underscored that President Weah should have in mind that all Liberians will not be for his party-the CDC, but for the sake of peace, he should take decisions that will be in the interest of the country.

“Everybody will not be for CDC. We did not vote for George Weah, but after everything he won and we consider him to be our President. Not everybody force to vote for one person or party”.

Kangaroo ruling

The Friends of Samukai in Lofa plays a pivotal role towards the election of the convicted Senator-elect. But it appears that the latest ruling from the court has no effect on the group.

Jacobson Kollie, Chairman, disclosed that the group has welcomed the group from the “political” Supreme Court of Liberia.

“Our woes have not deepened; it has lessened. It’s very unfortunate that we still consider the Supreme Court as a Supreme Court. We need to have a different nomenclature for that court”.

He noted that the decision taken by the court was a “kangaroo ruling” intended to please the ruling party.

Mr. Kollie claimed that the court was allegedly remote controlled to hand down its ruling against Mr. Samukai.

Wrong precedence

He emphasized that for the court to rule against Mr. Samukai and the pair for taking actions based upon a mandate from Madam Sirleaf, who was the former Commander-In-Chief of the AFL, sets a wrong precedence in the post-conflict nation.

He said Mr. Samukai did no wrong by adhering to his boss’ mandate to ensure that AFL soldiers were happy and peaceful during their peacekeeping days in Mali.

“The Supreme Court is a political court because the like of Joseph Nagbe can’t be on that bench and you call it Supreme Court. It’s more of a political court controls by the likes of AcarousGray and Syrennius Cephas”.

The case involving Mr. Samukai was filed by the Movement of Progressive Change (MPC) political party of renowned Liberian businessman Simeon Freeman. 

But Kollie observed that Mr. Freeman’s party, which has not been able to win a single “polling center in Liberia”, was being allegedly used by hidden hands to accomplish the conspiracy against Mr. Samukai.

He termed the court’s ruling as a political witch-hunt due to the alleged refusal of Mr. Samukai to accept an offer to contest on the ticket of the ruling party during the senatorial election in 2020.

“His refusal to contest on the CDC ticket was what haunted him. This is something that we expected. We didn’t expect Samukai to be vindicated”.

Samukai not liable

Mr. Kollie pointed out that the decision taken by citizens and friends of the Lofa County Senator-elect to solicit and pay portion of the money to the court does not in any way imply that Mr. Samukaiwas liable.

He added that citizens and friends were only paying back to show love and act in keeping with the previous “kangaroo” ruling from the Supreme Court.

“Sometimes we abide by the court’s ruling not because it was justifiable or rational, but it is the ruling; it’s political and kangaroo. So, Samukaiabided by the court’s ruling. The court is being played on; it’s not working independently. They are power drunk people. The court had beensetting wrong precedence since the inception of the George Weah government”.

He maintained that despite the court’s ruling, Mr. Samukai’s political ambition has not been tainted or ended.

He noted that Mr. Samukai remains a hero of Lofa, eventhough the court has ruled against him.

Mr. Kollie indicated that the Lofa County Senator-elect is still being seen as a “major threat” to the re-election of President Weah, ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.

He pointed out the payment of Mr. Samukai’sportion of the money to the court as evidence that he is being allegedly witch hunted by the government.

Not ruling out protest

Mr. Kollie disclosed that though members of his group remain law-abiding citizens, their right to peacefully assemble to protest has been guaranteed under the 1986 Liberian constitution.

“Protest is our right and we will continue on that path. Whatsoever is lawful or in the confine of the Liberian law, we will continue those things”.

Not forcing Presidential clemency

He maintained that his group does not in any way intend to call on the President to grant executive clemency to Mr. Samukai.

According to him, the Liberian leader can go ahead to do so if he wishes.

Mr. Kollie added that the Friends of Samukaibelieve that their political leader did no wrong, and as such, they cannot appeal or beg the Liberian leader to pardon him.

“President Weah is the biggest hand behind this thing; he’s just using Syrennius Cephas. We are disappointed, but not surprised. Our people are going about their normal businesses”.

Samukai still here

Mr. Kollie denied reports that Mr. Samukai fled the country prior to the ruling from the Supreme Court.

It was reported by some local media institutions that Mr. Samukai has departed Liberia for fear of being jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison with other common criminals.

Since the ruling, Mr. Samukai has not been seen in the public.

“He’s in the country and I will give you his number so you can talk with him”.

Following the court’s ruling, scores of residents of Voinjama were spotted gathering and holding discussions at their respective homes, business centers and other areas.

Others are peaceful and calm, going about their normal businesses, but the capital appears unusual following the handing down of the ruling by the High Court.

As citizens, particularly supporters of convicted Senator-elect Brownie Samukai remain frustrated and disappointed as a result of the court’s mandate, the Lofa County legislative caucus is expected to give a definite position on the matter very soon.

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