Why Sannoh Resigned: Mishandling of Harry Greaves, Victoria Zayzay Death
Monrovia – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf last Friday accepted the expected resignation of Benedict Sannoh as Minister of Justice, falling short of explaining why the man many regard as the most controversial and polarizing Attorney General in the Sirleaf administration was shown the door.
Although the President, in an Executive Mansion statement heralded Cllr. Sannoh’s “extraordinary legal talent” while expressing appreciation for his performance during the course of his duties as Minister of Justice and Attorney General; a series of events leading to the exiting minister’s demise, set in motion his exit from the Sirleaf administration.
Many political analysts agree that Sannoh will infamously go down in the anal of history alongside the late Jenkins K.Z.B. Scott whose iron fist reign during the Samuel K. Doe presidency instilled fear amongst the press and ordinary Liberians.
Sannoh, firebrand human rights during the Charles Taylor-led era, according to Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon on his Intellectual Exchange Facebook discussion board, “violated more human rights and he cannot recall a serious case he successfully prosecuted and won on behalf of government under his administration.”
For Sannoh, it started with one of his first acts as minister when he ill-advised the President into in 2014 into signing Executive Order 65 which came under public ridicule and had to be revoked because of its undemocratic and unconstitutional contents.
The debate surrounding the controversial order was amplified after critics accused the government of orchestrating the order in a bid to give the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf an edge over football legend George Manneh Weah who went on to win the Montserrado County senatorial seat.
The Executive Order No. 65 ordered all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results.
In March this year, the Supreme Court finally came down with a ruling on the matter, when Chief Justice Francis Korkpor clarified that there is no violation of the separation of power on the issuance of writs.
He said that the Supreme Court, the constitutional court has the inherent authority, pursuant to its judicial review, to determine and declare whether or not an act is in consonance with the manifest tenor of the organic law.
The Chief Justice stated that Article 65 of the constitution provides that “the judicial power of the Republic of Liberia shall be vested in the Supreme Court and such subordinate courts as the Legislature may from time to time establish. ”
He further stated that Article 66 provides that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases, whether emanating from courts of records, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority.
During his reign, Cllr. Sannoh failed to release preliminary or any form of report detailing the circumstances that led to Mr. Greaves’ death, relying instead, on pathologists’ report conducted under questionable circumstances.
Sannoh also came under fire when he threatened to prosecute journalists who engaged in reporting falsehood and rumors, referring specifically to the death of Greaves and the level of reporting by the media on the issue, amid fumbling by the government and conflicting accounts relating to the incident has again increased his attack against the media.
Following the publication of an internal medical examination performed by the John F. Kennedy Medical Hospital on the body of the late Greaves which corroborated media reports that the late Greaves had cuts on parts of his body, the Justice Minister moved a step further with his attack against the media, this time describing the reporting as reckless and irresponsible.
In the Michael Allison case, Sannoh raised eyebrows at a news conference to announce the result of an autopsy when he veered off the agenda, to reveal that the name Michael Allison was a fake identity that was being used by the late Atty. Michael Allison.
Sannoh told journalists that the actual identity of the late Allison was discovered during the period of investigation surrounding his death, when they found two passports bearing his picture and name Nkrumah Mozia Madin Mulmin, which traces him to being an American but fell short of detailing the actual cause of the lawyer’s death.
Many were also taken aback when Sannoh again ill-advised the President into pardoning a number of convicted offenders last December, particularly, the pardon of Shirat Nawladda, a Ugandan woman who was convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to four years in prison.
Nalwadda, 26, was arrested on board a Kenyan Airways flight, in December 2013 with 2.5 kilograms of heroin at the Roberts International Airport (RIA). The heroin was valued at US$30,000 equivalent to L$2m
Her pardon raised a lot of eyebrows with many suggesting that it sent the wrong message to the rest of the world that Liberia has become a soft tissue for governance, accountability and transparency.
The pardon compounded Sannoh’s problems at justice with a twist of irony. The Monrovia Central Prison currently holds some 999 prisoners, 62% of them charged with serious crimes such as rape, murder, armed robbery, while 178 of the prisoners are already sentenced. The freed prisoners were being held of offenses such as ‘simple assault, aggravated assault, burglary, criminal facilitation, among others.
Releasing a convicted drug offender while many remain in jail with very little chance of trial drew criticisms on Sannoh who came in to the position with some big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Cllr. Christiana Tah parted company with the Unity Party led government in August 2014, citing what she termed as “complete collapse of the rule of law” in the country.
President Sirleaf in a recent FrontPageAfrica interview addressed the issue, stating that she can only pardon after conviction as required by law.
“So somebody has gone to court, they were judged, for example they filed an appeal as in one or two cases that are active right now before the Supreme Court, I can do nothing until their case is finished.
In one or two cases like the Ugandan, she has been convicted, she has served certain terms as a foreign national, and she is woman. So I pardoned her so that she can return home. It is very selective. I say it is only when it has reached the end of the road, they have exhausted the legal system as required by law.”
Sannoh was the fourth Attorney General appointed in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration since 2006. The other four – Cllr. Christiana Tah Cllr. Philip A.Z. Banks, now an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court of Liberia and Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris.
His background in drafting several pieces of legislation, including the Independent Human Rights Commission Act; the Financial Institutions Act, and the Act creating the Central Bank of Liberia was seen as a plus to a credential badly needed to introduce reforms in the justice system and address the backlog of cases lingering at the ministry.
With President Sirleaf leaving the door open for a possible return for Sannoh who has been asked to remain available to serve his country in other capacities as the need may arise, Sannoh will more than likely land on the board of some company as others before him has, or head of a commission; but his tenure at justice has left much to be desired with a lot of missed opportunities at changing the tide of justice in a post-war nation battle unanswered questions in a system in a lingering and recurring state of uncertainty.