Another Shameful Chapter in the History of the Liberian Judiciary?

Supreme Court of Liberia.

According to a prominent retired judicial official, another shameful chapter has unfolded in the history of the Judiciary but most especially that of the Korkpor Bench, under which respect for the rule of law has diminished significantly, thus casting the Court in a very negative light to the public.

By its ruling in the Nwabudike affair, the Korkpor Bench, in the eyes of many lawyers, appears pliable, corrupt and is exposing the Liberian judiciary to public ridicule. After it was/is an open secret that Nwabudike, accused by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) of fraudulently obtaining Liberian citizenship, was/is a friend of President George Weah or enjoyed his confidence.

Thus it was by no means surprising that after his removal from the Governance Commission under a cloud of controversy, he was subsequently named as Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission by President George Weah.

Earlier, the LNBA, after conducting a search of official court records, found no evidence anywhere to back up his claim that he was a naturalized citizen. On April 3, 2020 the Liberian Immigration Service in response to queries from the LNBA, wrote a letter informing the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the LNBA that it had no record, neither on Nwabudike’s legal residency status, nor his purported naturalization.

Three (3) days later, on April 6, 2020, the LNBA’s Grievance and Ethics Committee obtained a certificate from the Clerk of the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Court ‘B’ at the Temple of Justice, stating that it had no records neither of Nwabudike’s residency nor his naturalization status.

Further investigation showed inconsistencies in the documents he submitted to substantiate his claim to citizenship when he filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the Civil Law Court. For example the certificate of naturalization which he presented to the Liberian Senate during confirmation hearings was done under the authority of Criminal Court B at the Temple of Justice on May 13, 2021.

On the contrary, the Court was at the time referred to as the People’s Criminal Court by the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), and any document purporting to have been issued under its authority would have reflected the name of that Court. More to that, his numerous passports reflected birth dates as October 2, 1960, October 19, 1960, October 2, 1963, October 2, 1965 and October 2, 1969 while his Liberian National Identification card carries the birth date October 2, 1969.

Lastly, his marriage certificate application, dated January 11, 1992, carries the birth date as October 19, 1960, and states his nationality as Nigerian. In its conclusion, the BAR stated the following:

“In view of the information received from the Liberia Immigration Service and First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Assizes ‘B’ that there is no record to support Cllr. Nwabudike’s claim of Liberian citizenship, the existence of information showing gross inconsistency in his dates of birth and names, as well as the fact that, in his application to the Marriage Registry, he declared in his own handwriting in 1992 that he was a Nigerian Citizen, the only valid, logical and common-sense conclusion that could be reached by the Grievance and Ethics Committee was that he became a member of the Liberian National Bar Association through fraudulent means. It is a well-settled common law principle that fraud vitiates everything.”

More to that, the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) is the accrediting body for lawyers wishing to practice law in the Republic and not the Supreme Court. It is certainly not the Supreme Court that sets criteria for membership in the Bar; neither is the Chief Justice the appointing authority of the President of the LNBA. The Supreme Court argues that the action taken by the LNBA to expel Nwabudike from its membership is tantamount to disbarment which is the sole prerogative of the Supreme Court.

But in the view of several lawyers spoken to, the Supreme Court’s argument that the LNBA’s decision to annul Nwabudike’s membership of the LNBA is tantamount to disbarment which, in their judgment, only the Supreme Court can do, is a warped interpretation of its own mandate and is accordingly fallacious.

The Supreme Court, according to the lawyers, cannot function in the absence of lawyers because lawyers constitute the arms of the Court. Further they maintain that after completion of law school, any individual aspiring to practice law before the Courts of Liberia must first pass an exam administered by the BAR.

And in the instance where that individual fails the BAR exam, he/she cannot practice law before any court in the Republic. In such an instance, according to the lawyers, not even the Supreme Court can confer membership of the BAR on that individual.

This alone suggests that it is the BAR that has the power to accredit lawyers and not the Supreme Court. Correspondingly, if it is discovered that the accredited individual fraudulently acquired its membership, the BAR can revoke his membership. It is a completely “different cup of tea from disbarment” they maintained.  

Some lawyers have even threatened to boycott the Courts should Nwabudike, whose claim to Liberian citizenship is fraudulent, be allowed by the Supreme Court to practice law in Liberia. This decision by the Supreme Court strongly tends to erode not only the law but also the confidence and trust of the public in the country’s judiciary, already plagued by the scourge of corruption.

Corruption in the nation’s judiciary has long been highlighted in several US State Department Human Rights Reports. Only recently, the US Department of Treasury slapped sanctions on Cllr. Varney Sherman, accusing him of bribery of judicial officials.

The US State Department Human Rights report made scathing remarks about the Judicial Inquiry Committee, which the State Department slammed for foot dragging on the disposition of matters pending before it.

This recent decision by the Supreme Court is provocative in the eyes of a number of lawyers spoken to. In their view, such a decision strongly suggests subservience to Executive diktat and it could prove counterproductive, especially if lawyers make good their threat to boycott the Courts if Nwabudike is allowed to practice law in Liberia.