Hearing into the stay order on the certification of Lofa County Senator-elect, Brownie J. Samukai, ended in confusion on Monday, March 29, when Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe declared one of National Elections Commission’s lawyers, Cllr. Wilkins Wright, that he was not fit to plead on behalf of the NEC in the case.
The proceedings came to an abrupt halt on Monday evening when Justice Nagbe prevented Cllr. Wright’s representation of the NEC and subsequently requested him to serve on the legal team of Samukai, though NEC had contracted Cllr. Wright to represent its legal interest in any matter that would arise from the December 8, Special Senatorial Election.
The last-minute fight over Cllr Wright’s representation followed a recent accusation by Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, a stalwart of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), who earlier resisted Wright’s representation of NEC in the Samukai case.
Not just dropping Wright from the NEC legal team, Nagbe also canceled all the legal Memoradua filed by Cllr. Wright on behalf of the NEC and issued a forty-eight-hour ultimatum to the electoral body to refile all of the legal documents without the signature of Wright.
Initially, citizens of Lofa and other supporters of Samukai had accused the Weah led administration of interfering with the certification of the Lofa County Senator-elect and vowed to pay the amount for which Samukai was convicted and given ultimatum to restitute.
Political commentators view the Monday event as a situation that could extend the proceedings and further delay a decision by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court on whether or not Nagbe’s stay order and mandate will be lifted to proceed with the certification ceremony of Samukai.
Countering Nagbe’s action, another NEC lawyer, Cllr. Augustine Toe, had earlier opposed the call for Cllr Wright’s recusal from handling the matter, arguing that the case with Samukai at Criminal Court’C’, by then, had a criminal nature, but the current case with Justice Nagbe is a civil matter and that there is no legal ground to ask Wright to step aside in the case brought by the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC).
Justice Nagbe did not set any date for the resumption of the proceeding.
The MPC contended that though the Supreme Court affirmed the guilty judgment of the lower court, Criminal Court ‘C’, against Samukai and two others, the law prevents convicts from ascending to any elected public position until after five years of serving the punishment of which the person was convicted.
The Supreme Court affirmed that judgment with a modification, suspending Samukai’s prison sentence announced by the lower court and subsequently requested him to pay fifty percent of the over US$1 million misapplied from the pension account of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) within a six-month period.
Samukai, with the support of his people, had paid US$10,000 against the amount in compliance with the court’s mandate.