“... until the disability imposed on him as a result of his conviction for a felony is removed,” the Supreme Court says.
The citizens of Lofa County might have to wait for months or maybe years before their county can be fully represented in the Senate.
This is because of last Friday, August 20, a decision of three of the five justices of the Supreme Court to prevent the first appellant, the National Elections Commission (NEC) from proceeding with the certification ceremony of Lofa County’s Senator-elect and second appellant, Brownie J. Samukai.
Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, joined by Associate Justices Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh and Yussif D Kaba, wrote in their opinion (judgment) that, “the petition for the Writ of Prohibition (stay order) filed by the second appellee, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is granted, the alternative writ issued is sustained and the peremptory writ prayed for is granted.”
Korkpor, Yuoh and Kaba also instructed that, “the first appellant, the NEC, is ordered not to certify the second appellant, Brownie J. Samukai, who was elected Senator for Lofa County during the Special Senatorial Election conducted on December 8, 2020, until the disability imposed on him as a result of his conviction for felony is removed.”
Associate Justice, Jamesetta H. Wolokollie, was the only justice to have withheld her signature from her majority judgment. Surprisingly, Justice Wolokollie was not given the opportunity to explain her opposing views for not signing the opinion. The other justice, Associate Justice Joseph N. Nagbe did not participate in the hearing and determination of the case before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court, and so he did not sign the judgment.
The reason is that Justice Nagbe presided in the Chambers of the Supreme Court where he had initially issued the first stay order on Samukai's certification, a decision which Samukai's legal team rejected and appealed against before the Full Bench.
Samukai, then former Defense Minister, together with two of his deputies, Joseph F. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration and J. Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller, without any authorization, withdrew the amount US$1,147,665.35 from the pension fund belonging to soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
The three men were later declared guilty of multiple crimes including misuse of private funds and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison each, and also ordered to restitute the money within a year by the Criminal Court ‘C’. The judgment was later modified by the Supreme Court after Samukai and the others appealed against it to the high court.
In the modification, the Supreme Court said it was suspending their prison term on grounds that, if they were to pay fifty percent (50) of the judgment amount of the US$1,147,665.35, which is $573,832.68, within six months period, which expired by August, 26, they would avoid Imprisonment. Unfortunately, Samukai is the only person among the three who had paid US$173,276.05 against the fifty percent, as demanded by the judgment of the Supreme Court that suspended the two years of prison term prescribed by the justices, until the fifty is completely paid.
It was the Supreme Court suspension decision that the opposition political party, and first appellee, the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) of businessman Simeon Freeman, prayed Justice Nagbe for a Writ of Prohibition against the first appellant, NEC, from certificating the second appellant, Samukai, a request which Nagbe granted that resulted in the two appellants appealing before the Supreme Court.
Besides, the MPC, the Ministry of Justice also filed a similar request to Nagbe who wasted no time to accept it, and, again, NEC and Samukai appealed before the Supreme Court.
In the Ministry of Justice argument, Korkpor, Yuoh and Kaba wrote that the suspended sentence, such as the sentenced imposed on the second appellant, Samukai and others, is a sentence susceptible to revocation based on non-compliance with the conditions set, thus the second appellant and others could still be incarcerated if they failed to comply with the terms and conditions of the sentence as prescribed by law.
The majority justices also said, the second appellants were convicted for felony, have not served the sentence and satisfied the penalty imposed on them as per the dictate of the law. Therefore, “it would be utterly wrong and illegal for the first appellant, the NEC, to certificate Samukai, in the face of the disability imposed on him by his conviction for felony, which disability has not been removed.”
“The writ of Prohibition,” they added, “will lie to prevent the first appellant, NEC, from certificating the second appellant, Brownie J. Samukai, as the winner of the Special Senatorial Election held in Lofa County on December 8, 2020.”
Korkpor,Yuoh and Kaba also wrote that the MoJ is authorized by law to represent the sovereign Republic of Liberia, its organs, agencies and officers, whenever there is a matter before any court of the Republic of Liberia, especially where it is said, as in this case, that the law will be violated by an agency of the Government by the performance of an act, hence, “the MoJ has the standing to file this petition for the Writ of Prohibition.”
For the first appellee, the MPC, the majority justices wrote, “the MPC’s claim of standing to bring the petition for the writ because it is an embodiment of a group of citizens of the Republic of Liberia, whose organic law would be violated by the certification of Samukai is, too remote and far-fetched and does not constitute a particularized injury suffered by the first appellee to confer standing on it to file this action, especially given the fact that, as a political party, the first appellee did not field a senatorial candidate in Lofa County during the December 8 Special Senatorial Election.”
Therefore, the majority justices said, “the petition for the Writ of Prohibition filed by the first appellee, MPC, is denied and dismissed and the alternative writ of Prohibition is quashed and the peremptory writ is denied.”