MONROVIA — The Supreme Court of Liberia has sustained an alternative writ of certiorari filed by Liberty Party Chairman Musa Bility against Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, Emmanuel Azango, and the National Elections Commission (NEC), after Justice in Chambers Yusuf Kabba ordered the NEC to resume jurisdiction over a pending case containing disagreements on certain provisions within the Liberty Party’s constitution.
Chairman Bility argued that only a court of competent jurisdiction has the authority to preside over fraud relating to tampering and/or altering the constitution, which is a legal instrument. Bility’s argument stands from Justice Kaba’s decision to dismiss a decision from both the NEC Hearing Officer and Board of Commission, favoring Bility, following a writ of certiorari filed by Senator Lawrence and Azango.
However, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, April 13, that the NEC lacks the power and authority to investigate the complaint which partakes of issues or inference of fraud relating to tampering and/or altering legal instrument(s), or make declarations regarding its legality as in this case, the LP’s Constitution. “We further hold that the Board of Commissioners of the NEC decision in this case being final, res judicata will certainly lie. WHEREFORE AND given THE FOREGOING, the alternative writ of certiorari is Sustained and peremptory wrt ordered issued.”
The appeal emanates from the ruling of Judge Yusu D. Kaba when he served as Chambers Justice during the October A.D. 2022 Term of this Court. Justice Kaba delivered an exhaustive ruling in favor of petitioner Karnga-Lawrence and Azango, for which an alternative a writ of certiorari was filed by Mr. Bility, Martin F. Kolah, et al. of the Liberty Party as complaints against the NEC, Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, Emmanuel Azango, et al., as defendants, which this Court was called upon to review, dissect, and make its final determination.
The certified records show that on October 3, 2022, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and Emmanuel Azango filed a complaint against the NEC and Musa Hassan Bility and others. The National Elections Commission (NEC) contended the objections to the alleged unwarranted actions of the Bility and the NEC and their persistent partial and biased conduct and the complicity of the NEC in fueling irregularities and confusion which aided and abetted the Bility of illegally conducting the affairs of the Liberty Party outside the legal framework of the Party.
The aggrieved contended in their complaint that on the 20th day of September 2022, NEC through its Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah, communicated with Mr. Bility in which she referred to him (Mr. Bility) as the Chairman of the Collaborating Political Party (CPP), and that before this communication, the Political Leader of the Liberty Party, Madam Karnga Lawrence, had earlier written to the NEC disassociating the Liberty Party from any further engagement with the CPP given the circumstances surrounding the Liberty Party’s internal conflict that the NEC has become and/or made itself a party.
The complainants also contended that Section 5.5 of NEC’s Rules and Regulation, captioned False statement to the Commission, provides that “it shall be a violation of these Regulations and Guidelines for any Political party, coalition, Alliance Aspirant, Candidate, or others acting on behalf of a political party, aspirant or candidate to submit false information
The complainants also contended that Section 5.5 of NEC’s Rules and Regulations, captioned “False statement to the Commission”, provides that “it shall be a violation of these Regulations and Guidelines for any Political party, coalition, Alliance Aspirant, Candidate, or others acting on behalf of a political party, aspirant or candidate to submit false information or statement to the Commission”. According to their complaint, the NEC was also obligated to vet, check, verify, and compel any political party submitting any document to NEC to verify it before accepting the document or denial of said document.
The aggrieved contended that the provisions of the NEC’s laws were deliberately ignored and set aside by the NEC for the sole purpose of aiding and abetting Bility’s illegal conduct to impose himself on the Liberty Party as its chairman. According to them, the conduct by the NEC and Musa Bility violated the NEC’s statutory duties and responsibilities, as Mr. Bility cannot by himself commit the Liberty Party to any compact and/or alliance in the absence of the Liberty Party’s leadership. They maintained that the substance of its complaint included, but was not limited to, the series of specific and general unlawful and illegal conduct by which the NEC and Bility separately, jointly, and collectively threatened the continued existence of the Liberty Party and put into total disarray and distinction the smooth operation and function of the Liberty Party.
Under the authority granted to the Political Leader under the 2015 Constitution of the Liberty Party, she convened and presided over a Special Convention held in Gbarnga, Bong County on January 23, 2021. After the adjournment of this Special Convention, Partisan Emmanuel Azango filed a complaint to the Political Leader and Chairman of the Special Convention, contending that the entire electoral process was poked and riddled by constitutional violation and procedure breaches, citing V, VI, and XII of the 2015 Liberty Party Constitution, under which the convention was held.
Accordingly, Senator Lawrence and Azango filed a complaint to the NEC hearing officer, citing their contention, and having listened to both parties in the LP crisis, the Hearing Officer ruled in favor of Bility, which spurred Senator Lawrence and Azango to pursue redress at the NEC Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners ruled that the hearing officer did not err and ordered the hearing officer to proceed with the hearing and determine the case on its merit.
Being dissatisfied with the Board of Commissioners ruling, the aggrieved, Senator Karnga-Lawrene, and Azango, who was being suspended by the Party’s Chairman, Bility, then filed a five-count petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the Justice in Chambers Yusuf Kaba, as contained in their motion to dismiss.
Justice Kaba nevertheless ruled, granting the Writ of Certiorari and ordered the Clerk of the Court to send a mandate to the NEC to resume jurisdiction over the case and enforce the ruling, but this was halted by a subsequent petition for a writ of Prohibition filed by Bility.
On the other hand, Bility and others sought an appeal to the high court as the final arbiter of justice in the country. Having reviewed the records, listened to oral arguments, and considered the law, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 13, ruled that according to the court record, a challenge to the LP’s constitution ought to have been made in a court of competent jurisdiction to determine the certainty surrounding that document. “The NEC, as a repository of political parties, alliances and/or coalitions documents can only rely on the non-appealable decisions in a court of competent jurisdiction and nothing more.”
Based on the court record, it appears that the Liberty Party’s challenge to its constitution should have been made in a court of competent jurisdiction. The National Elections Commission (NEC) can only rely on non-appealable decisions in a court of competent jurisdiction. The appellants failed to appeal the decision, and the doctrine of res judicata will bar re-litigation of the same issue before the same NEC.
The court found that the certified records before it revealed that the appellants filed a new complaint before the hearing officers of the NEC, raising the same issue of fraud and irregular submission of the LP’s amended Constitution. The hearing officers denied the motion to dismiss and ordered the case to proceed with its merits. The Board of Commissioners confirmed and affirmed the hearing officers’ ruling and ordered them to proceed with the hearing of the case on its merits.
The Justice in Chambers raised several issues and ruled in favor of the appellees, including the doctrine of res judicata. The court record indicates that the exchange of letters between the commission and the parties is not the exercise of a quasi-judicial function of the commission. Therefore, the court’s function is to correct substantial errors of law committed by a judicial or quasi-judicial tribunal. As a result, the Supreme Court has ordered its Clerk to send a mandate to the NEC to resume jurisdiction and proceed in keeping with its judgment.