At least about 1,609 citizens of Lofa County have signed a petition in a writ of Mandamus filed before Chambers Justice Joseph N. Nagbe requesting the superior court to compel Senate Pro-tempore Albert N. Chea and the entire House of Senate to declare their county senatorial seat vacant.
The seat was won by former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai in the December 8, 2020, Special Senatorial election, but legal battles have hindered him from being certificated by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to take his seat in the Senate.
The legal battles stemmed from his March 24, 2020 conviction over the misappropriation of about US$1,147,656.35 soldiers’ pension money, whilst he was serving as defense minister under former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The situation has left the county underrepresented and has also created some leadership gap amidst diverse political views and commentaries.
In a 54-page petition filed by prominent Lofa citizens amongst them Mr. Vamuyan M. Kanneh, Kesselle Gayflor, Sengbe T. Kawala, Sumor Sannoh, former Justice Minister Koboi Johnson, and registered voters of the county who participated in and voted in the December 8, 2020, special election, the petitioners request that the court compel Pro-tempore Chea and members of the House of Senate to adhere to Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution.
Article 37 states: “In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
Chea and the entire senate are expected to appear (by filing their returns) before Chambers Justice Nagbe on October 4, 2021, which is next week Wednesday.
Former Defense Minister Samukai, along with his two former deputies: Mr. Joseph P. Johnson and Mr. James Nyumah Dorkor were convicted of multiple criminal charges and ordered to restitute US$1,147,656.35 in relations to funds they withdrew from soldiers’ private pension saving account on Tuesday, March 24, 2021, nearly 9 months before the special senatorial election.
The former officials were indicted in 2020 for alleged theft of property, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, misuse of public money & money laundering. But Samukai and others took an appeal.
The AFL pension fund was established as a compulsory savings scheme in July 2009, where soldiers’ salaries were deducted and placed in an account as supplementary pension benefits for assistance to wounded soldiers and deceased soldiers’ families.
Before the election
While the appeal against their conviction was before the Supreme Court, a group called Consortium of Lofa Citizens petitioned the NEC to deny Samukai’s bid to contest the senatorial election in the County on the basis of his conviction in a criminal trial.
On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the Board of Commissioners of the NEC upheld the ruling of its hearing officer giving Samukai a green light to contest in the December 8 midterm senatorial election.
Unhappy that the NEC would take a decision to qualify Samukai to contest the 8 December elections, the group sought the Supreme Court’s intervention.
On Tuesday, 17 November 2020, the Supreme Court rejected the petition seeking to overturn the NEC’s decision to allow Samukai to contest in the 2020 senatorial election.
After the election
Immediately after the December 8, elections, three of the defeated candidates: James K. Marley, Hamet Kromah, and Gayflor Tarnue filed a petition before NEC citing irregularities and fraud. They further requested NEC not to certificate Samukai. But NEC ruled in Samukai’s favor.
Not satisfied with the NEC ruling, the aggrieved parties petitioned the Supreme Court to halt Samukai’s certification.
While this matter was pending, on February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling convicting Samukai and his two former deputies.
However, the Supreme Court ruled in the corruption case that the sentences shall be suspended provided that the convicted former Defense Ministry officials restitute the full amount of US$1.147, 656m or (pay) 50 percent within the period of six months, and following that, make appropriate arrangement to pay the remaining percentage in one calendar year
Following the ruling in Samukais conviction appeal, Lofa County Electoral District #1 Representative Francis S. Nyumalin, Sr., said Lofa citizens who believe in their son were going to help raise the money that he has been ordered by the Supreme Court to restitute.
Then on February 24, 2021, the Supreme Court issued its ruling into the election fraud and irregularities dispute, again upholding the NEC ruling as it did before the election, giving the electoral house the green light to go ahead with Samukai’s certification.
Then come Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus asking NEC not to certificate Samukai.
On March 3, 2021, the Supreme Court placed a stay order on Samukai’s certification following the filing of a writ of prohibition by the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) against his (Samukai’s) certification.
The MPC said its petition was against the background that Samukai was found guilty on criminal charges.
The Chambers Justice cited NEC, Samukai and the MPC to a conference on Tuesday afternoon, 9 March.
“By directive of His Honor Joseph N. Nagbe, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby cited to a conference with His Honor on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at the hour of 2:00 p.m. in connection with the above case.”
On May 4, 2021, Justice in Chambers Joseph Nagbe grants the MPC petition for a writ of prohibition ordering the NEC not to certificate Samukai until the disability imposed on him by his conviction is removed according to law.
June 28, 2021, diaspora-based Liberians from Lofa County demanded that the government fulfill its constitutional responsibility by ensuring that Samukai is seated in the Liberian Senate as a way of restoring their rights to full senatorial representation in line with Article 45 of the Liberian Constitution.
July 9, 2021, Justice Nagbe grants an approval stamp to a Justice Ministry request to disallow Samukai’s certification by NEC.
July 21, 2021, Samukai appeared before the full bench of the Supreme Court to try and overturn the separate petitions filed against his certification at the Supreme Court.
Thursday, August 19, 2021, citizens of Lofa paid US$191,000, of the former defense minister’s initial 50 % portion of the soldiers’ money following an initial deposit of US$18,000.
Friday, August 20, Supreme Court ordered NEC not to certificate Samukai until the disability imposed on him based on his conviction for a felony is removed according to law.
Thursday, August 26, 2021, the lower court which convicted Samukai and others says it had two motions pending before it, one requesting an enlargement of schedule for the convicted persons and a bill of information from prosecutors.
Thus, the writ of mandamus filed before the Chambers Justice opens another frontier into Samukai’s legal journey as he battles to take his seat.
By New Dawn.