Liberia: Who Controls Liberty Party – Karnga-Lawrence or Bility?

(L-r) Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and  Musa H. Bility.

It may seem like a football match whose referee is at large – leaving the two opposing teams to duke out their differences in the full glare of spectators.  The only thing, though, is that the two teams – one led by Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and the other led by Musa H. Bility are supposed to be on the same side – the Liberty Party.

But the two leaders have had a long-running brawl – each trying to wrestle the party from the other, to the point where, Bility as Chairman, has “suspended” Karnga-Lawrence and in return, the senator, as political leader, has nullified Bility’s chairmanship. 

Is either action more valid than the other? That is the question whose answer might likely come from nowhere else but the supreme court of Liberia since neither side seems willing to concede. 

At a press conference held on December 9 to announce the “nullification” of Bility’s chairmanship, Sen. Karnga-Lawrence claimed that her action was based on a report by a Special Investigative Committee, which uncovered that the election that brought Bility to power was ‘marred by procedural errors’.

“We must take responsibility to make the necessary corrections in line with our value of following the rule of law. Given the findings of the Special Investigation Committee which incorporated testimonies of the major actors in the planning and execution of the Convention, and acting in line with Article Five Section 1 (d) of the 2015 Constitution which designates the Political Leader as the Convener of the Special National Convention, we hereby declare the Convention of January 21-23, 2021 nullified,” the ‘suspended’ political leader declared. 

However, prior to the ‘nullification’ of Bility’s chairmanship, he (Bility) had declared Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence ‘suspended’ from the position of political leader, for being in arrears of party dues, to the tune of some US$18,000. He threatened to expel her from the party if the full amount was not paid within in for the period January — December 2021.

Bility claimed that his action is backed by Article IX of the Liberty Party’s 2021 Constitution.  

Senator Steve Zargo, according to Senator Karnga-Lawrence’s complaint, was the presiding, and that the convener of the convention has nothing to do with Bility who was not the Presiding and the chairman at that time.

“This makes me the principal witness in the case on behalf of the party and all investigation has shown that we did not have quorum and should not have had the convention without quorum. What else can the law say or do,” Sen. Kanrga-Lawerence told the Daily Observer in an interview.  “If the party says yes, we did the wrong thing, let’s make some corrections and redo it. Which one of the courts will say no, that you stick to the violations? LP is only doing what is right in the interest of our party.

“The party returns to status quo ante. Senator Stephen Zargo assumes the leadership of the Liberty Party as Chairman,” Senator Karnga-Lawrence said. “In the coming days, the Chairman will convene a meeting of all stakeholders, including Musa Hassan Bility, who reverts to his previous role as Chairman of the National Advisory Council, to decide the future of our party.”

The report, which the Senator is relying on, finds that “requirement for Article 1, section C, provides that the National Convention shall be composed of three categories, whose due paying member of the Party and registered voter of Liberia was completely ignored.

“This requirement was completely ignored. Chairman Zargo informed the Committee that there was no election of County delegates to the Convention. Further, there is no evidence on the records that these delegates were registered at the Convention. This, the Committee says, denied participants in the 73 political districts the right to vote on the Constitutional Amendments and the election of Officers,” an excerpt from the report disclosed. 

If the report is anything to go by, it vindicates Sen. Zargo, who claimed that the process leading to the primary “was riddled by constitutional violations and procedural breaches” and, as such, he could not contest.

However, it is yet to be seen how Sen. Karnga-Lawrence’s mandate will be enforced since chairman Bility appears to control a large segment of the party, probably equal to her.

And the fight about control over the party might only be decided by the National Elections Commission and possibly the Supreme Court of Liberia, and will likely escalate the tension between the two sides.

Chairman Bility and his team of elected officials, who have refused to accept the “suspended” political leader’s action against him, termed it as a bluff.

Martin Kollah, the party’s “ousted” Secretary General and whose election was also nullified, has questioned the authority of Sen. Karnga-Lawrence to use it when she has been “suspended.”

“Senator has no such power in the construction to nullify the Special National Convention held in Gbarnga, Jan 2021. The only authority body to do so is the convention itself,” said Kollah in response to questions from the Daily Observer. “The political leader has no such power to dissolve or nullify the executive committee. Our party is not a one man show or a so-say-one, so-say-all party and this is what the reform is about.”

Kollah then boasted that the party's January 2021 constitution, which he claims is filed at the National Elections Commission, remains the legitimate one. Other than that, Sen. Karnga-Lawrence “is impersonating as she and others are currently suspended from their positions. She could face a greater penalty if she doesn't desist. And she is acting out of desperation for the position of Vice Standard Bearer promised her by former Vice President Joseph Boakai, so she doesn't care even if she gets it without the support of the party,” Kollah added.

Meanwhile, Kollah has rejected the Senator's claim that the January conventions that brought them to power were marred by flaws and violated the party’s 2015 constitution. 

What the real problem in Liberty Party

The Liberty Party, at one point appeared in a kind of tie-breaker in the feud that ensued between Joseph N. Boakai of the Unity Party and Alexander B. Cummings, of the Alternative National Congress. 

Both men are vying for the chance to head the presidential ticket of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP). And while Senator Karnga-Lawrence was inclined to sway her party's support to Mr. Boakai, Bility, then chairman of the Liberty Party, came in with his own direction – support for Mr. Cummings. 

The All Liberian Party (ALP) of Benoni Urey was, by this time, firmly aligned with Boakai. But with Bility moving the LP toward favoring Cummings, who Karnga-Lawrence had viciously accused of tampering with the CPP’s framework documents, the thought of aligning her party with Cummings could be nothing shy of embarrassing. And she would not give in without a tug-of-war with Bility. 

While Sen. Karnga-Lawrence has been tested politically and won two elections, Chairman Bility is a political guru who knows has to maneuver his way and get the support he needs. With his cash, the businessman who deals in oil and gas is now widely supported by lots of Liberty party members including executive committee members who have joined him to complain that Sen. Karnga-Lawrence has “damaged the party because of her quest to be Vice President.”

Bility, upon ascending to the LP chair position, flexed his financial muscles by rescuing the party from eviction to new headquarters after being evicted for rent arrears at the previous location and cars for operation.

The widening rift is a spillover of Senators Karnga-Lawrence and Dillon, as well as Daniel Sando, an assistant to the party’s political leader, open accusation that the party’s chairman Bility and secretary-general made dubious changes to the party’s constitution.

Then chairman Bility and secretary-general Martin Kollah denied the allegation but took revenge by suspending Sen. Dillon and Sando for “making several unauthorized public utterances, derogatory statements against the chairman and executives.”

Bility Suspension

Chairman Bility, earlier last week, suspended the political leader along with party's executives including Senator Abraham Darius Dillon for failure to pay their dues.

His action reopened wounds of past internal crises and rehashing of old dirty politics, ranging from allegations of anti-democratic behaviors to fraud, which might soon lead to political inertia, undermining the party’s ability to raise its voice against bad governance, corruption, and poverty.

But Sen. Karnga-Lawrence fired back and denied Bility’s claims of unpaid arrears – and threatened to have him expelled for not respecting the rules and norms of the Party – deepening the root cause of their fierce struggle for political power that dates back more to the day the LP chairman took office this year.