The Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Supreme Court, the body that is clothed with the authority to hear and decide any unethical behavior of lawyers, has opened an investigation into the case surrounding the citizenship of the chairman of the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC), Nbudusi Nwabudike, with calls on former justices to appear to testify.
Nwabudike, a Nigerian whose alleged false claim to Liberian citizenship came to spotlight after President George Weah nominated him for the chairmanship of the National Elections Commission early this year, claims to have obtained his naturalized here as required by the law but with conflicting pieces of evidence, including his multiple dates of birth and his claim that he naturalized below the legal age for a foreigner to declare Liberian citizenship.
It is based on the controversy about this citizenship that the Liberia National Bar Association, an organization with the mandate to regulate the conduct of lawyers in the country, expelled Nwabudike’s membership from the association, although that decision is yet to get the backing of the Justices of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, it was the Supreme Court that granted Nwabudike the right to practice law before the highest court of the land as Counselor At-Law.
Since the committee began collecting testimonies from several witnesses including the President of the LNBA, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and Nwabudike himself, it is now time to invite some of the Justices of the Supreme Court, either current or former, who were part of the decision that granted Nwabudike the status of a Counselor-at-Law; which action, if proven, violates an established law that only Liberian citizens can practice law before the Highest Court of the land.
The appearances of the justices are very significant as Nwabudike had repeatedly argued that the issue of his citizenship was now “moot” since the issue was not raised when he was admitted as an Attorney-at-Law and subsequently as Counselor-at-Law.
Nwabudike also argues that he had not violated any provision of the Code of Professional Ethics governing the conduct of lawyers, and that his citizenship is given by the Government of Liberia and it is only the Government of Liberia that can challenge or revoke it.
Nwabudike, when he appeared before the senators, said he had been naturalized in 1982 at age 17, which is in violation of Section 21.3 of the country’s Aliens and Nationality Law.
Section 21.3 of the law says no person can file a petition for naturalization before the age of 21.
“When I had my declaration of intent, I was a minor and because of that, I was required to bring a parental consent and an adult to stand to take the oath behind me,” said Nwabudike.
In counter-argument, the LNBA said: “The legal profession is unique among professions in the country because it is the only profession that is given protection by the 1986 Constitution as provided by Article 21(I) that there shall be absolute immunity from any government sanction or interference in the performance of legal services as a counselor or advocate.”
“The doubt raised by the Senate over his citizenship cast a very dark cloud over the integrity and credibility of the Liberian Bar Association and the judiciary in evaluating applicants for admission into the legal profession,” Gongloe had said previously.
According to the Bar, Nwabudike allegedly failed to honor citations sent to him by the Bar’s Ethics Committee probing the validity of his citizenship. The also Bar wrote the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) on 3 April, which replied that it had no record on the lawyer’s residency or naturalization status.
Additionally, the Bar pointed out that the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Assizes “B”, Temple of Justice, also wrote the Committee informing it that it had no record of his status.
Criminal Court is responsible to handle naturalization issues.
Meanwhile, the LNBA President did not disclose any information regarding his statement to the committee, likewise Nwabudike.