In an unusual move, Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus on Tuesday, March 9 appeared at the Supreme Court to pledge his government full support against the certification of Lofa County Senator-elect Brownie Samukai.
Cephus’ apparance was triggered by a complaint filed by the opposition political party, the Movement for Progressive Change, asking Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe, current Chamber Justice of the Supreme Court, to prevent the National Elections Commission (NEC) from certificating the NEC declared winner of the December 8 special senatorial election.
The MPC’s argument was that Samukai is a convict and should not be allowed to take his seat at the Legislature to serve his people of the county.
Similar request was made by the government to the NEC earlier, but seemed not to have held water until the Supreme Court came out with its decision following the filing of the writ of prohibition.
Samukai and two other persons were adjudged guilty by Criminal Court ‘C’ of misapplying over US$1 million from the bank account belonging to soliders of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). By then, Samukai was the Defense Minister when the money was misapplied.
The court later authorized Samukai and his co-defendants to restitute the money or face two years imprisonment if they fail to.
Samukai rejected the judgement and appealed against it before the Supreme Court, which also confirmed and affirmed the lower court’s judgement, but determined some consideration for Samukai to pay portion of the money within six months period. The Court also suspended their prison sentence only if the money was paid within the six months time.
The hearing was intended for Nagbe to understand the merit of the MPC complaint, if there were genuine concerns to maintain the order and subsequently forward the matter to the Full Bench of the Supreme Court for determination.
Meanwhile, a highly placed source informed the Daily Observer that Justice Nagbe maintains the stay order.
What appears to be the government’s interference came about when Cllr. Cephus attempted to find his way to the Chamber Justice while the conference was ongoing, but was denied access.
Being knowledgeable that he should not have been there at all, Cephus’s attempt to enter the conference room made onlookers and legal experts to presume that the Executive is fully interferring with the work of the Judiciary and this separate branch of government, whose work should be independent, but does not seem to be any longer.
Cephus was prevented by some supporters of Samukai, particularly his party, the erstwhile ruling Unity Party (UP), who themselves were refused entrance to Nagbe’ s Chamber.
They were seen in group right before the entrance at Nagbe’s Chamber door, perhaps waiting to hear the outcome of the hearing.
Information gathered from the meeting was not favourable for Cephus, thereby making him to take up ethical issues with one of NEC’s lawyers, Cllr. Wilkins Wright.
Cephus, though, has absolutely nothing to do with the matter, was told that Cllr. Wright dealt seriously with the decision of Justice Nagbe to stop NEC from certificating Samukai.
Hearing that information, Cephus, outside of Justice Nagbe’s Chamber, told journalists that Cllr. Wright was in pure conflict of interest because he was one of Samukai’s lawyers during the trial at Criminal Court ‘C’, where Samukai and two other persons were found guilty.
Previously, the government, through Cephus, wrote the electoral body not to certificate Samukai on the basis of being pronounced a convict by the Supreme Court, which in their argument prevented Samukai from taking his seat at the Legislature as Lofa County Senator.
Nevertheless, the request to halt Samukai’s certification was thrown out by the NEC since the Supreme Court had declared earlier that the Lofa County Senator-elect should be certificated.
Perhaps it was the NEC’s refusal to accept the government’s request that necessitated the MPC’s involvement in the matter.
According to a highly placed source, Wright challenged the legitimacy of Nagbe’s stay order, because the Full Bench of the Supreme Court had already authorized the NEC to proceed with its function which includes the certifications of Senators including Samukai and Representatives elected during the just ended December 8, Special Senatorial and Representatives By-Elections.
Cllr. Wright’s argument was that the action of Justice Nagbe was ‘Erroneous and tempering’ with the decision of his majority colleagues, including Nagbe, himself.
Despite Wright’s caution to Nagbe, the Chamber Justice at the end said he was convinced that he would uphold the stay order and forward the matter once more to his colleagues for deliberation.
Immediately after the hearing, Cephus informed journalists that he was going to file a complaint of ethical breach against Cllr. Wright.
In his concern, Cephus argued that Wright’s action to represent the NEC during the conference was purely a conflict of interest. “This act of Cllr. Wright is very serious and he needs to be punished, because he onced served as a lawyer for Samukai at Criminal Court ‘C’ and the Supreme Court on the same matter.
“And, therefore, he should have recused himself from handling the case,” Cephus argued.
Cephus does not have any role in this case, but said his interest was to protect the use of government resources by public officials like Cllr. Wright.
“Cllr Wright is a government official and is paid by the state to defend and protect its interest, but he is collecting government’s money while at the sametime going against the very government,” Cephus claimed.
He added: “Cllr. Wright’s action is wrong and he will be punished for that.”
Cllr. Cephus argued further that Wright should step down from the NEC post, claiming that he can no longer stand with a clear conscience to lead the NEC legal team. Outside of the Chamber Justice’s conference room, Cllr. Wright declined to speak to journalists who gathered to get his response to Cephus’s accusation.