‘We Prepared 1986 Constitution in Military Regime’s Favor’

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Retired Associated Justice Philip A/Z. Banks

Associate Justice Banks Reveals

Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, who served the 1986 Constitution Committee as director of its legal department, last Friday publicly confessed that members of the commission, including its chairman, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, inserted certain provisions into the document to favor the People’s Redemption Council (PRC).

On April 12, 1980, Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe led a military coup that killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr., in the Executive Mansion and twenty-six of the president’s supporters, including his cabinet ministers who were made to walk publicly around Monrovia in the nude and then summarily executed by a firing squad on the beach, near the Barclay Training Center (BTC).

Before their execution, the men were put on trial without lawyers to plead their case, and there was no right to appeal the verdict when they were sentenced to death.

Justice Banks, who served as a keynote speaker at the celebration of the recent Law Day, said despite what were clearly human rights abuses committed by the military, the Commission placed into the document Article 97, which was referred to as “Transitional Provisions.”

“We call those provisions transitional so that no PRC member could be held liable for all that was done during that period and they were some of the conditions set forth by the PRC in order to return the country to civilian rule,” Banks emphasized.

CHAPTER XIII TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS provide that Article 97
a) No executive, legislative, judicial or administrative action taken by the People’s Redemption Council or by any persons, whether military or civilian, in the name of that Council pursuant to any of its decrees shall be questioned in any proceedings whatsoever; and, accordingly, it shall not be lawful for any court or another tribunal to make any order or grant any remedy or relief in respect or any such act.

b) No court or other tribunal shall entertain any action whatsoever instituted against the Government of Liberia, whether before or after the coming into force of this Constitution or against any person or persons who assisted in any manner whatsoever in bringing about the change of Government of Liberia on the 12th day of April, 1980, in respect of any act or commission relating to or consequent upon:

(i) The overthrow of the government in power in Liberia before the establishment of the government of the People’s Redemption Council;

(ii) The suspension of the Constitution of Liberia of July 26, 1847;

(iii) The establishment, functioning and other organs established by the People’s Redemption Council;

(iv) The imposition of any penalties, including the death penalty, or the confiscation of any property by or under the authority of the People’s Redemption Council under a decree made by the Council in pursuance of but not limited to the measures undertaken by the Council to punish persons guilty of crimes and malpractices to the detriment of the Liberian nation, the people, the economy, or the public interest; and (v) The establishment of this Constitution.

Justice Banks said though the people at that time did not know how bad those provisions were, they overwhelmingly voted for their passage, “just so we could see the transition of the country from military to civilian rule.”

He said he played a major role in the crafting of the Constitution, although, according to official records, he was neither a member of the Constitutional Commission nor a member of the 59-member Constitutional Advisory Assembly which military strongman Doe had personally appointed to review the draft Constitution. Banks however served as a resource person and administrative head of the Commission but that did not necessarily mean that he was party to decisions taken by the Commission which were made by consensus or by voting, according to sources.

“We were not satisfied with the composition of the document and though we were under military the ideas that we taught should have been there but did not find their way into the document because we were under obligation to please the military,” he said. But it can however be recalled that the displayed reluctance of military strongman Doe to return to civilian rule led him to set up a hand-picked Constitutional Advisory Assembly to remove what was considered by the military, detestable provisions from the draft Constitution.

Thus for instance, provisions for the establishment of an Ombudsman Commission amongst others, were removed to correct what the late Dr. Edward Binyan Kesselly referred to as “Sawyer’s bloody surgery” on the Constitution. Kesselly’s strong rhetoric, in the eyes of many Liberians Kesselly’s comments were unfounded considering that the Constitutional Commission counted in its ranks eminent individuals and lawyers including former Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes, Cllr. J. Emmanuel Berry, University of Liberia law professor, David Kpomakpor, former Supreme Court Justice Robert Azango, Albert Porte, Episcopal Bishop George D.Browne, amongst others.

And according to observers at the time, Kesselly’s harsh rhetoric was clearly intended to appease military strongman Doe whose intentions to contest the 1985 elections were hidden in plain open view. It was during this period of review that the impunity clause for members of the Peoples Redemption Council was entrenched in the document, according to sources close to the Commission at the time.

Justice Banks also claimed that they agreed to reform the constitution in the future to have make what he described as the necessary correction. He also said since 1986 there has not been any effort by the government to make the necessary amendment. In the view of a prominent Liberian lawyer, the facts bear Banks out in this case especially considering the fact that the Gloria Scott led Constitutional Review Commission did not even list amongst its propositions for change, the scrapping of the immunity clause barring accountability for members of the Peoples Redemption Council.

Banks said he was mentioning the issue because that was the same problem that they have with the Circuit Courts that needs urgent reform.

“The assistance from our international partners is, in most cases, not what we want and because we are unable to make the necessary reform we have to use what our partners give us,” Banks stated. “They don’t understand the issue confronting our legal system.”

Authors

5 COMMENTS

  1. Of course, the 1986 Constitution was prepared with provisions to protect the military. But the 1847 Constitution was not only prepared by the settler class, it served as blueprint for their political and economic domination, with American fire power, of a land they had only spent about twenty-seven years on. Anyway, the record speaks for itself: Supreme Court Justice Philips Banks is one very smart lawyer whose mistakes-ridden performances, twice as Justice Minister and now as Supreme Court Justice, bely the brilliance of his brain.

    Without comparative analysis of the 1847 and 1986 constitutions; the latter isn’t only a great improvement on the former, but, most importantly, it envisions a more democratic political space where the social and economic rights of all, not a privileged ethnicity, are ensured. Moreover, no constitution is perfect or permanent, and Counselor Banks had enough time to help correct the PRC influence of the present one.

    No wonder, then, our country has been stuck in backwardness for over a century and half years. Some of our celebrated brightest and best are so under the bondage of outsized egos and pocket books that they would rather repeat incendiary razzmatazz whenever it doesn’t affect their bottom line. The whole display of Justice Philip Banks at the event was embarrassing – what a missed opportunity for a beautiful mind, my, oh, my, ‘mehn’!

  2. So Justice Banks is lying that he was a member of the Constitutional Committee? Yes!!! Where is his name? COMPLETED THIS 19TH DAY OF OCTOBER, A.D. 1983
    IN THE CITY OF GBARMGA, BONG COUNTY, REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA
    BY THE CONSTITUTIONAL ADVISORY ASSEMBLY
    Edward Binyah Kesselly (Lofa County) Chairman
    Charles H. Williams (Grand Bassa County) Deputy Chairman
    Archibald F. Bernard (Montserrado County) Secretary General
    Richard K. Flumo (Bong County) Assistant Secretary General

    Montserrado County
    Stephen H. Kolison, Sr., Member
    James Nagbe Doe, Member
    James N. Nagbe, Member
    Rocheforte L. Weeks, Member
    Pearl Brown-Bull, Member
    Jonathan E.M. Gibson, Member
    Zoe Ethel Norman, Member
    Walter Yedebabuo Wisner, Jr., Member

    Marshall Territory
    R. Francis Okai, Jr., Member

    Bomi Territory
    Samuel Dwelu Hill, Member
    K. Ballah M. Davis, Sr., Member

    Gibi Territory
    David S. Menyongai, Member
    Flomo Shadrach Daniel, II, Member

    Grand Bassa County
    A. Wilmot McCritty, I, Member
    Abba G. Karnga, Member
    Thomas L. Griggs, Member
    Joseph L. Barchue, Sr., Member

    Rivercess Territory
    T. Gbegbe Roberto Dole, Member

    Sinoe County
    Nelson Wm. Broderick, Member
    Charles N. Wiah, Member
    Lawrence S. Bestman, Member
    Jenkinson T. Nyenpan, Sr., Member

    Sasstown Territory
    Dennis J. Weagbe, Member

    Maryland County
    Nathaniel Bleh Seton, Sr., Member
    James Klaba Giko, Member
    J. Barney Taylor, Member
    Christian A. Baker, Member

    Kru Coast Territory
    Carles Barzee Coffey, Member

    Grand Cape Mount County
    A. Kini Freeman, Member
    Christopher K. Kandakai, I, Member
    Ernest K. Metzger, Member
    Victor Lamina Yates, Member

    Grand Gedeh County
    Harry T. Faber Nayou, Member
    Philip Koryeyon Deah, Member
    Robert Bloh Toe, Sr., Member
    Emmanuel B. Neewray, Member
    Doquinee Jarpee Andrews, Jr., Member

    Nimba County
    J. Patrick K. Biddle, Member
    John Wiemi Bartuah, Member
    James W. Zotaa, Jr., Member
    J. Gharmie Sahn, Member
    Jenkins G.W. Wongbe, Member
    Peter A. Gbelia, Sr., Member
    Stephen B. Daniels, Sr., Member
    Samuel B. Wogbeh, Member

    Bong County
    John Flumo Bakalu, Sr., Member
    James Y. Gbarbea, Member
    Walter T. Gwenigale, Member
    Salome Giddings-Hall, Member
    Manyu M. Kamara, Member

    Lofa County
    Edward S. Mends-Cole, Member
    J. Edward Koenig, Member
    Frederick K. Gobewole, Member
    James M. Hargrave, Member
    Keikura Bayoh Kpoto, Member

  3. Mr. Banks,
    I am curious to know why it took 26 years in order for you to burst the bubble?
    What is exactly learned from that bullying experience that you and your colleagues were subjected to?

    Your PRC inspired constitution needs to be trashed. Liberians need a Liberian constitution, not a bullying PRC inspired document.
    The original constitution was written and inspired by freed American slaves. In the that original constitution, racist language played a divisive role throughout its existence. As a consequence of that, Native-born Liberians and the Settlers didn’t really have a good working relationship.

    When are we going to get it right?

  4. Mr. F. Hney,
    This an apocalyptic revelation by Mr. Banks. When the Draft Constitution Commission was completed in Gbarnga, I was about 4 years of age. Later, I read extensively on Liberian politics and past governments affairs. Mr. Banks was not part of that group that drafted the revised constitution. He served under the late Jenkins Scott, and became the boss of Emmanuel Gbalazeh at the justice ministry. I m little bid too young to weigh in on his competence, however; from what I gathered from your comment, is the constitution prior to 1983, was heavily lace with injustice and prejudice against the indigenous of Liberia. I love to read your comments sir, there is always something I learn from your writings. Thanks for your enlightenment.

    His ( Mr. Banks) revelation comes at a time in our country history where the ‘old guys’ are fading and giving way to new breed to steer the affairs of Liberia. I m wondering where was Mr. Banks when the junta leader introduced the infamous decree “88 A”. I was told that this decree abolished all public comments and criticism against the government at the time. Can anyone throw a little light on this decree and the impact it had on the people of Liberia at the time. I m grateful to hear, and learn.

  5. Bah,
    I am always ecstatic to read your comments. A few days ago, you laid out the significance of bone-scanning technology in a way that was constructive. From all indications, I was left with no doubt that your reference to bone scanning technology pertained to the U-20 games that were underway in Liberia. Like you, I became incredulous of “some” of the Under 20 players. Knowing our people in Africa, it is conceivable that some of the Under 20 soccer players were actually O-20 or Over 20! Because no one bone scans in West Africa, we’ll never know the truth. Finally, I will write a letter to you, God willing, via the university you attend in Sidney. I am kind of busy. But, be assured that I will get in touch with you.

    As matters relate to Banks’ recent revelation about the re-write of the 1980s Liberian constitution, I am flabbergasted. Why would a sitting judge tell a falsehood? Is he senile? Or is he grumpy? If not, he is philistine!

    You and others have exposed the bigotry of a man who has disgraced himself. In reality, the re-write constitutional participants may not have been influenced by the PRC government at all. Guess what? Professor Sawyer who officiated the 1980s constitution is in the US to receive Indiana University’s prestigious award. I am sure he’ll straighten Banks out when he returns.

    Bravo.

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