Liberia: Protesters Halt Boakai’s Appearance in Court

Former Vice President of Liberia, Joseph N. Boakai, left and former Coca-Cola executive, Alexander B. Cummings.

... Supporters of the Boakai and that of Alexander Cummings engaged in unruly behavior that forced the Monrovia City court to postpone the proceeding indefinitely. 

The Monrovia City Court has postponed the testimony of former Vice President Joseph Boakai, who is a state witness in the criminal trial against Alexander Cummings, after their supporters disrupted the court proceedings. 

The former Vice President’s appearance was in response to subpoenas from the Court, which compel him to appear and testify, to his knowledge, whether the framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties was altered by Cummings, political leader of the Alternative National Congress, and two senior officials of the party — for which they are being prosecuted. 

However, Boakai's testimony could not take place as protesters from both the Unity Party and ANC stormed the premises of the Temple of Justice, where the court is located, and disrupted the session with battle cry slogans. 

The incident came after Boakai and Cummings, accompanied by their respective lawyers, were denied the right to disembark vehicles for the court session due to the large influx of partisans whose presence left the court entry overcrowded. 

The exchange of taunts and insults were heard from both sides, including "rogue, rogue becoming the order of the day."

And despite such unruly behaviors, the Court did not order armed riot security to calm the situation. Instead, the court approved a request by the Solicitor General, Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus, for the court, to postpone the trial due to the security threat posed by the protesters.

Cephus, in his presentation, informed the court that due to the safety of his witness, Boakai, and the insecurity caused by supporters of the two politicians, it was unfeasible for the trial to continue as it is unsafe for the state’s principal witness in the person of the former Vice President, who is the standard-bearer of the opposition Unity Party, to testify.

Thus, he added that his request was to allow the government to step up security and provide additional police for crowd control at the Temple of Justice.

The request to step up security is likely to include the screening and cut down the number of political party supporters attending the trial, which has entered the fifth month without any significant progress.

After Cephus’ argument, Magistrate Jomah Jallah of the Monrovia City Court approved his request and postponed the trial indefinitely, pending the deployment of additional police to guarantee security at the Temple of Justice.

However, state security officers who are usually assigned to the case claimed that their absence was due to Cephus’ continued failure to pay for the services they have provided to the case.

“Cephus is to be blamed for the lack of police presence at the court today because he continues to lie to us that he would compensate us after we had protected the case,” the officers said.

“After using our services, sometimes Cephus would tell us that the government did not allow any funding for our operation,” the officers quoted Cephus. “Cephus will tell us that our assignment is part of the salaries we were collecting from the government. This is why we decided not to provide any more security for the trial.” 

The latest postponement of the trial means, since the former Vice President was subpoenaed to testify, he is yet to take the witness stand as the principal witness the Solicitor General had hoped for.

Magistrate Jallah's action is the latest of many times the trial, which has so far lasted for several months, has been postponed.

The ANC supporters had gathered in the hundreds at the court on grounds that they were doing so to prevent the recurrence of last week's alleged assault on their political leader, by UP partisans who called him a rogue.

Cummings, his party Chairman, Senator Daniel Naatehn of Gbarpolu County, and the party Secretary-General Aloysius Toe are on trial for alleged forgery and criminal conspiracy, having been accused by Benoni Urey of the All Liberia Party (ALP) of allegedly altering the framework document of the CPP.

The three accused ANC stalwarts denied the charges and described the protracted trial as bogus and politically motivated by Urey’s All Liberian Party, in cahoots with President George Weah, to thwart Mr. Cummings’ presidential bid in 2023. 

The forgery and criminal conspiracy charge is a misdemeanor and, according to Liberian law, should be tried and dispensed within 30 days by the Magisterial Court.

The trial, which started on January 3, 2022, entered the fifth month without delving into the merit of the charges. Cummings, considering other options to salvage his reputation, has hired a London based internationally reputable law firm, headed by Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, along with Alaco, a leading business intelligence, and investigations firm, also based in London and operating globally, to conduct an independent forensic investigation into the CPP framework document alteration accusation.

Meanwhile, the defendant's lawyers vehemently rejected the postponement as a false alarm by the state and said it was part of the continuous ploy to delay and baffle the trial, due to a lack of tangible evidence to warrant prosecution.

Cllr. Or shall Gould, one of the defendants’ lawyers, said the action of Solicitor General Cephas to evoke a petition on grounds that the Temple of Justice was unsafe for his witness to testify is only intended to further delay a case that should have lasted for a maximum of 30 days.

“What Solicitor General Cephus is doing is pure gangsterism and human rights violations because all the accused persons are entitled to a speedy trial. But Cephus and his people are intentionally delaying and giving flimsy excuses every day because they have no evidence to convict the accused,” Cllr Gould said.

The ANC lawyer noted it was unthinkable that the Solicitor General would cry that the grounds of the Temple of Justice are unsafe for former Vice President Boakai to testify when national security is in the hands of the State.

He noted the accused ANC officials go to the court every other day to clear their respective names in the forgery and criminal conspiracy case but Cephus, for political reasons, deliberately brings up all kinds of bottlenecks to delay the trial.

“This is unacceptable and a human rights violation. These are some of the things that the international community documents against Liberia when they come out with their human rights reports. The country is always painted negatively due to the action of people like the Solicitor General who wants to abuse the rights of political leaders of an opposition party,” Cllr. Gould averred.