The fate of a senior staff at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), who has been battling illegal dismissal, intimidation and threats on his life, remains in limbo as the institute has refused to adhere to reinstate and pay him several months of salary and benefits.
CARI’s Officer-In-Charge Paulette Findley, has since last year denied Dr. Nykoi Jomah, the institution’s director of livestock, aquaculture and inland fishery, from getting the full amount of more than US$15,000 and L$500,000 in salary and benefits after being accused of theft of property, misapplication of entrusted property, forgery and misuse of public money in a lawsuit.
A lawsuit was filed against Jomah in September last year. Prosecutors alleged Jomah forged the signatures of the head of natural resource management, David P. Tokpah, and Comptroller, Esen Joe Amara, and withdrew L$10,000 from the institution’s finance office for animal feed and purchase of building materials but later diverted the money to repair his vehicle.
Few weeks later, CARI wrote the United Bank for Africa (UBA) a letter asking it not to pay Jomah until further notice. The letter was addressed to the bank’s branch manager Lionel Massaquoi, signed by Financial Comptroller Amara and approved by Findley. Jomah has been denied access to his office since October, 2019. He claims he was forcefully chased out of the institution’s domicile by a group of ex-militia fighters, armed with knives and clubs, acting on the alleged orders of Findley.
But the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Bong County however dismissed the charges last month because prosecution failed to proceed with the case. “The defendant is therefore discharged by court from further answering to the charges levied against the defendant by the state on the premise that the matter is dismissed without prejudice to the state,” Judge A. Blamo Dixon stated in the June 12, ruling.
Jomah is yet to be reinstated despite the court ruling. He received only two of the 11 months of salary arrears owed him on July 9, 2020 — US$1,230.40 — following months of the standoff. “Thanks to all well-meaning Liberians as well as international partners through their intervention…” Jomah wrote in a Facebook post. “Kindly, Madam Paulette Findley [pay me] the remaining nine months (October 2019 to June 2020).”
Findley filed another lawsuit against him at the Monrovia City Court on July 2 for criminal coercion, menacing harassment. “All law enforcement officers in the country should arrest Jomah and turn him over for prosecution,” the court filing says. “He has gone into hiding.”
“My action to remain indoors reflects threats to have me murdered and or take me to Mrs. Paulette E. Findley’s location, according to three unidentified men with weapons on July 2, 2020,” Jomah said in a Facebook post on July 4. He added he would only go to court if escorted by personnel of the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC), members of the diplomatic corps and justice advocates.
CARI’s “illegal” dismissal of Jomah violates the Decent Work Act of 2015, a landmark law that came into effect to protect employees and employers and not only bring sanity to the workplace nationwide, but also provide protection and better workspace for employees.
Section 14 of the law, among other things, states that, “If the Ministry or a court determines in a hearing or proceedings under this Act that an employee’s employment was not terminated in accordance with this Act, the Ministry or the court, as the case may be, may order: i) that the employee be reinstated in their employment; ii) that the employer pay to the employee an amount of compensation; or iii) both reinstatement and compensation.”
Findley is yet to respond to queries from the Daily Observer for comments on the issues raised. Her phone rang continuously with no answer. A few times she responded, she postponed interview with us. And we got no replies from a number of text messages over the past weeks.
Dr. Jomah, who earned a Doctor of Philosophy in veterinary medicine from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, has been working at CARI since 2012. He is also a fellow of the McArthur Foundation based in Chicago, Illinois.
Sleep-in Protest on Capitol Hill
Before slipping into hiding, Jomah protested opposite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which temporarily hosts the office of the President of Liberia. Between May 2 and June 15, he went on a hunger strike, sleeping in his vehicle he covered with a number of placards, brandishing inscriptions such as, “Mrs. Findley is corrupt. She ignores good governance and fails to accept reforms at CARI. EU and America need to act now.”
He hoped to grab the attention of President George Weah; however, he did not meet the President or any official of the Liberian government.
Despite that, Jomah said he is determined to continue his protest.
His protest has now been extended to the United States embassy, where he submitted a petition to the US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy, pleading for an asylum if he is not reinstated and paid by July 20. “I passionately request the United States government to grant my asylum to enable me and my family survive as free persons, free of threats, fear, molestation and denial of the right to coexist,” he said in the petition.
Jomah said he has received threats against his life.
“I will make your life miserable,” said a woman who Jomah alleges is Findley, in an audio recording of a phone call around the same time his salary was frozen. “You’ve done nothing yet. I will f*** with you and f*** with you your daughter. You don’t know me. I have money. You [don’t have] sh**. I will make you crazy in this town,” she can be heard adding before a flurry of invectives. Jomah then wished her goodnight, to which she replies, “You can have a miserable night; it is just starting.”
The saga is taking a toll on Jomah’s three children and wife and life has become unbearable, he told Daily Observer.
“Members of my family are suffering the economic and the psychological effects of the wicked actions of Findley that is being meted against me,” Jomah said. “My family is running out of basic necessities due to lack of finance—all because CARI has deliberately decided to hold on my pay.”
The embattled vet has sought the interventions of civil society groups, the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC), religious organizations and the Peace Building Office but, from available evidence, Findley has not responded to any of the aforementioned interventions.
“The INHRC wishes to remind you that you have seven days to respond to these very grave allegations of human rights violations brought against you,” the Acting Chairperson of the commission Rev. Bartholomew Colley, wrote to Findley back in April, after she did not turn up for a meeting on the matter. In the letter, the commission reminded her it had quasi judicial power and could subpoena her. Findley has yet to appear.
A senior staff of the Peace Building office, Eddie Mulbah, said negotiation is ongoing, and expressed hope to resolve the situation.
History of Conflict Between Jomah and Findley
Jomah and Findley have been at loggerheads for some three years now. It all started in September 2018 when an investigation by then Director General Dr. Marcus Jones into looting at CARI found several people, including Findley, who was serving as an administrator. She was accused of illegal sale of several 40-foot containers and other equipment given to the entity by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Some of the items were materials worth thousands of United States dollars. She was subsequently dismissed.
However, Findley later resurfaced as officer-in-charge of the institution following the sacking of Dr. Jones by President Weah last year. Since her return last year, Jomah noted that Findley embarked on the purge of employees she blames for her previous exit.
He said the OIC frequently boasts of being an aide of the Minister State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, and goes after employees with critical views.
“With the knowledge of Minister McGill, she uses former combatants of the NPFL to target employees who expose criminal acts at the institution,” Jomah said. “I do have recording in which she said it was Nathaniel McGill who sent her back to CARI and if anybody stands in her way, she will get them out.”
Minister McGill did not respond to numerous calls and text messages for comment.
Upon Findley’s return as officer-in-charge, she has failed to account for US$93,000 and L$3 million received for staff’s salary and benefits, as well as US$70,000 for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) project, according to Jomah. IFAD is an international financial institution and specialized United Nations agency that invests in rural populations, empowering them to increase their food security, improve the nutrition of their families and increase their incomes. The group is also known as the UN’s food and agriculture hub.
Jomah charged that Findley’s inability to account for the fund were some of the major issues that led to the crisis between him and his boss.
“I was demanding for transparency and accountability. I was asking the hard and relevant questions that she could not answer,” he told this reporter. So the best she can do is to get at me with false accusations.”
Jomah has vowed to continue his protest from his hideout.
“I will not rest until I get justice in this case. Madam Findley must be brought to book. She is killing CARI, driving all the highly educated and competent people underground because of fear for her. But I’m one person who will stand up and seek justice not just for me alone, but others who she is also marginalizing.”