Liberia: Nominee to Head Elections Commission Addresses Neutrality, Nationality Controversy

Monrovia — The appointment of Cllr. A. Ndubusi Nwabudike as the new Chairman of the National Elections Commission, replacing Cllr. Jerome Korkoyah has raised a few eyebrows with many once again raising concerns about the nomination of the Nigerian-born to his third position in three years by President George Manneh Weah.

Cllr. Nwabudike is the current head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and previously served as head of the Governance Commission, in a position he was never confirmed by the Senate.

Now tasked of overseeing two crucial elections, the upcoming Senatorial Mid-Term elections this year and the 2023 Presidential and legislative elections, Cllr. Nwabudike, speaking in an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica Sunday, pleaded with Liberians to give him a chance and judge him by his handling of the upcoming Senatorial elections. "Let's do the 2020 By-elections and let them judge me by that," the nominee said Sunday. "If they feel that I didn't deliver to them, the true wishes of the people, let them make sure that I don't get to 2023. I mean, God set it like that. Please, they have a litmus test. Give me just few months to deliver. What I deliver to you. If you're not sure that it represents the true wishes of our people, then don't let me go to 2023."

Nominations Trigger Cheating Speculations

At the weekend, President Weah named Nwabudike along with Davidetta Browne Lansanah Co-Chairman, Cllr. Ernestine Morgan-Awar Commissioner, Floyd Sayor Commissioner, Barsee Kpankpa Commissioner and Josephine Kou Gaye Commissioner.

The nominations have already triggered murmurs that the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change government is craftily putting in place a plan to steal both the 2020 and 2023 elections. But Cllr. Nwabudike, speaking Sunday said cheating is not in his DNA.

Questioned whether he is capable of overseeing, supervising and orchestrating a free and fair elections in Liberia, Cllr. Nwabudike said he sees no reason why he should not be, citing his role conducting free and fair elections at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. "When I was in the law school, Louise Arthur Grimes, I was the Chairman of the Elections Commission at Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law. I supervised, I believe, the most credible student elections, there," the nominee noted.

Said Cllr. Nwabudike: "You can go check the record. Former Presidents like Morris Saytumah, Murphy Kanneh, those who were there at the time, ask them my record. In that capacity, it was the first election, at Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law where five students were certificated, just like National Elections. So, there's no reason why anyone would doubt my neutrality or my capability or credibility to conduct a free and fair election. It's hard, I'm not the kind of person that people swing easily or buy over easily. There's no reason why. I look up to people, I look up to the interest of the common people whom I serve. Once I'm confirmed, if the people confirmed me, I will look up to serving the people, not individuals."

Rejection Threats from Senators

Despite Cllr. Nwabudike's assertions, at least two current Senators up for re-elections later this year have voiced their opposition to his appointment. "For me I will support the denial of this newly nominated appointee for position of the National elections commission of the republic of Liberia. Because this is about Liberia's future," Senator Sando B. Johnson(NPP, Bomi) Said Sunday. "I will go public on this matter, just as I did during the political trial and the illegal removal of justice Jan'eh . We must stand together as a unit , to prevent this dangerous move made by president. Or else mama Liberia will go down and very down. "We must fight legally and politically. To deny this appointment made by our president regarding the position of the NEC chairman of the board of commissioners of the NEC."

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado County), for his part accused President Weah of using the attention being paid to fighting the deadly Coronavirus pandemic to nominate what he describes as 'cronies" in government, especially the elections commission. "President Weah will not get those he wants at NEC if we (Senators) do not agree in majority. We are waiting," Senator Dillon averred.

Cllr. Nwabudike insists that he will convince Senators, including Messrs. Dillon and Johnson, that he is the right man for the job. "Please quote me on this. I really don't think that Senator Dillon will vote against me. Dillon is my very, very very close good friend. He's said that to me many times. Unless he's changed now that he became Senator. But we've been - from when Dillon was an assistant to TC Gould, we've known each other. We've been friends. We've worked together up to now, Dazo(Senator Johnson). I'm shocked that he would say that. These are individuals that I know. If other people vote against me, these two people will not. Because they know me personally, they know that I'm not somebody who can see truth and say lie, or see lie and say the truth - that's not in my nature. The two individuals that you mentioned, I'm convinced that they will not vote against me because they know me personally. If they vote against me, well, it's not because of me that they are voting but it is because of some other reasons."

Nwabudike: 'My Nationality is Liberian'

Addressing the issue of his nationality, Cllr. Nwabudike explained that he is a Liberian, although nationalized. "My nationality is Liberian, let's settle that and my name is ugly, let's settle that, this is not the first time. It's hard to pronounce, but it's Ndubusi Nwabudike and my parents come from Delta State in Nigeria."

Cllr. Nwabudike said his father migrated to Liberia in 1946 because of his wife; the grandmother of his wife was a Gola woman. "She wanted to know her history because she was never in Liberia. So, my father came here to trace that lineage. Unfortunately, he came with only a picture, there wasn't too much history because the lady in question died young, I think she was 28 or 30. So, after staying here for a while, he started a relationship with President Tubman as a consultant. He also worked for Firestone as consultant. He was in Liberia, he naturalized, became a citizen, some of his crowd at that time were the Jones, Wariebi, Adhigibe, people like Brown, Edwin Kaleku, a whole bunch of them, that class. He stayed here until 1960 when Nigeria got independence 1960, 1961 he went back. He was in Nigeria until the civil war in Nigeria started, I think 1967. 1968 he came back here."

Cllr. Nwabudike explained that when the civil war in Liberia ended 1971, his father returned to Nigeria in 1972. "He went back to Nigeria. So, he was a citizen of Liberia. When I was born, I was born to a father who was Liberian already. And by our constitution, I really don't need to naturalize. Our law provides that if one of your parents is Liberian when you are born, you are a Liberian citizen."

The nominee said he was born in Nigeria but when his family migrated to Monrovia, his mother brought him as a baby during the war in Nigeria. So, our law provides that if two of your parents are two nationalities, you can keep two of the nationalities until you are 18 to decide the one you want to be. I decided to be a Liberian and naturalized in my own right as a Liberian citizen - and that made me Liberian."

Cllr. Nwabudike said the question of his nationality is really not in context but rather, a matter of law which is settled. "In this Supreme Court opinion, my nationality is there because when you apply to sit the bar exam as Counselor at Law at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court will investigate you. They will validate your nationality before you are admitted in the bar. It is already written in the volume, so that issue is settled."

The nominee says what is happening now is based solely on sentiments. "That sentiment is -"This man, his name looks foreign, so he cannot be Liberian. I don't care if I'm born 200 times in Liberia, so long as my name don't sound like Brown or Jones or something, some people will have problem with that, but that's not our law. Our law is not sentiment, our law is clear on what is nationality. So, I'd like our people to please look up to the law and judge me, not by the ugliness of my name but by quality of service I will render to the people. I can understand that the position of NEC chairman has political implications, I can understand that politicians are a little bit worried, not because there's reason for them to be worried but the point is they don't really know what side I belong to."

'No Close Ties' to President, McGill

Cllr. Nwabudike also dismissed suggestions that he will rig the upcoming elections because of his closed ties to the presidency and close associates of President Weah. "I don't have a personal relationship with any of them. McGill doesn't know where I live, the President doesn't know where I live. So, I'm not that type of person. It's true, somebody would have seen me visit Mr. McGill but that would be for official purposes. It doesn't mean that he's my buddy."

Explaining further, he said, the lawfirm, Sannoh & Partners which he is a part of was started by Joseph Boakai, the Unity Party standard bearer. In fact, he explained, during the 2017 elections, he argued in the Supreme Court. "The case of Elections Commission vs. Edwin Snowe, when they wanted to deny him the right as representative in Bomi. I argued that case for him, as a Unity Party, partisan. So, will you call me a Unity Party partisan, so, will you call me a Unity Party person? No! Will you call me CDC? No!"

The nominee also dismissed speculations that he has represented the CDC before. "I was not a lawyer for CDC. Like I told you, I argued a case for Edwin Snowe which is Unity Party, ok? CDC never had a case in the last election, remember? It was Unity Party and Liberty Party vs. Elections."

Even in that case, he says he was neutral. "I was not in that case but my colleague, Benedict Sannoh was representing Unity Party in that case. However, you know how that case was, all the lawyers entered that case individually, they did not put their law firms in front. Like Varney Sherman, he was in the case but he didn't say Sherman & Sherman. Benedict Sannoh was in the case but he didn't say Sannoh and Associates, and everyone went there as individual lawyers. Cllr. Dean was on the other side. He and Hananiah Zoe, they were all there as individual lawyers."

Commissioners apolitical

On how he intends to deal with the issue of funding which posed a serious problem for his predecessor, Cllr. Nwabudike said he hopes to lean on the legislature for guidance and direction. "They must take definite, positive steps to ensure that elections commission is funded. Funding for elections commission is not the president's job. The elections commission reports directly to the legislature. They too must make sure that funding is available. If a certain amount is allocated or appropriated for elections, they must call the Minister of Finance and say what needs to be done. But that being said, we will reach out and knowing the extent of our country, we will reach out. I have twelve years of service in the United Nations. I have substantial amount of connection within the international community. We will reach out. Liberia has friends and we will reach out to them. I have received, since last night, some small signals, messages, congratulations indicating that people are standing by to work with us. What they insist on clearly is please make sure that your team is not political - and we will support you."

Cllr. Nwabudike promised not to politicize the elections commission and would work to weed out commissioners leaning that way. "I will be very firm with every commissioner. The role of the commission, our job is not political. If I see that you are political, I will proceed to the legislative committee that has oversight - and they will have to deal with that. Commissioners are not supposed to be involved in any politics - or any political party."

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