Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied — The Case of Oumu Hage

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“Liberia is a sick country, one day it may get well,” is a statement attributed to American historian and diplomat, Raymond Leslie Buell. This quip is reported to date back to the 1920’s and it was reportedly made on observation of discriminatory practices being meted out to ordinary Liberians mainly of indigenous stock by the Americo-Liberian dominated ruling establishment.

It was noted at the time that our state institutions were weak and virtually non-responsive to the needs and aspirations of the masses of people of tribal origin who had been incorporated into the state structure. Access to opportunities for self-actualization and upward social mobility for ordinary people has not significantly changed since the 1920’s.

If one considers the fact that education is a functional tool for upward social mobility and, going by statistics provided by UNESCO, it can be safely said that after over 150 years of independence, with Liberia’s overall literacy rate standing at 46.7 percent, males at a little over 60 percent and females at about 27 percent, the state has failed the people. Liberian women in general have been dealt a raw deal. As regard their participation in national governance, history recalls that it was not until 1947 that women gained the right to suffrage.

Access to justice has been a longstanding problem dating back to the founding of the Liberian state. The lack of access to justice for redress against gross human rights abuse was perhaps the major issue that brought Liberia before the League of Nations and led to the resignation of President Charles D.B. King in 1930.

Today, access to justice for most Liberians remains a major issue of concern. The courts are acknowledged to be very corrupt with justice being on sale to the highest bidder.

The annual US State Department Report on Human Rights has frequently cited the problem of corruption in the nation’s judiciary.

Currently, there are a number of cases pending litigation before the ECOWAS Court, primarily because individuals have been denied justice and frustrated by the local courts. One of such cases is that involving one Amos Brosius who has complained of unauthorized withdrawals by court officials from his US dollar bank account, held in escrow, amounting to hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

In another instance, a Nigerian national won a case against the GoL at the ECOWAS Court for failing to restitute money which had been seized from him at the Roberts International Airport. The GoL was ordered to make restitution.

In this latest instance a Liberian woman and widow is being dragged through the courts simply because some powerful individuals covet the properties she stands to inherit  from her late husband valued at several million US dollars.

Mrs. Oumu Hage was married to the late Milad Hage and had lived with him for over 27 years prior to his death in 2010. She is now being challenged and effectively preventing from exercising her inheritance rights. Under Liberian law, a woman whose husband dies without leaving a will is entitled to one-third of all real property which he may have owned at the time of his death.

However,  this is not the case of the embattled Oumu Hage. Her late husband executed a will which was read in open court leaving most of the properties to her and her three children fathered by Hage. This should have closed the matter; however, the sheer value of the income being derived from the chain of stores at the Red-Light business hub is proving too tempting.

False claimants to the properties have popped up at every step of the way including a foreign businessman.

Recently, according to Mrs. Hage, she was imprisoned for a number of days at the Monrovia Central Prsion  after she refused to sign a document which, according to her, the court had ordered her to sign. She refused and was imprisoned allegedly under a contempt charge of Court.

Mrs. Oumu Hage believes she is being persecuted in order to coerce her to surrender her rights. And it appears that the allure of money — huge rentals being generated from the properties is proving too much to greedy individuals including some unscrupulous court officials.

Disappointingly, female organizations who mouth a lot about supporting, advocating for and protecting women’s rights have not lived up to their measure or much vaunted role as defenders of women’ rights. Their failure to act vigorously in defense of the rights of Oumu Hage, appears to convey a distinct impression that these organizations, including most civil society organizations, have abiding interests in following the money — that is restricting their advocacy to those issues of interest to their funders/donors. It is a “he who pays the piper calls the tune” syndrome not peculiar to Liberia alone.

As is commonly said, “it takes two to tango”, it must not go unsaid that civil society is not living up to the noble duties and obligations to which they proclaim to subscribe either through omission or commission. That the Liberian Judiciary is corrupt is indisputable but, not often do we hear criticism of the Judiciary coming from Liberian lawyers. In proclaiming themselves as the arms of the Courts, which in a strong sense they are, they use it as a convenient subterfuge under which they shirk their duty and obligation to ensure the integrity of the courts and the dispensation of free and unfettered justice now monetized in our courts.

For example, an aggrieved individual seeking redress from the Courts of first instance (the Magistrate Courts) first has to pay an amount of US$10 to the bank and obtain a flag receipt after which the individual proceeds to the Court to have the case registered. At today’s exchange rate, US$10 is equivalent to more than LD$2,000. Just how many Liberians can afford to pay such an amount?

Liberia’s judiciary is imperiled. It is failing the Liberian people and Mrs. Oumu Hage’s latest ordeal is a glaring example: for, “Justice delayed is Justice denied”!

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