Liberia: Look Before You Leap, Mr. President!

President Weah's recent nomination of Cllr. Ndubusi Nwabudike to serve as chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC) continues to attract public criticism with many calls for his rejection by the Liberian Senate when he appears before that body for confirmation anytime soon. The Elections Coordinating Committee(ECC) has called on President Weah to withdraw his nomination as well as the nomination of Floyd Sayor to the post of Commissioner.

Stressing that the nominations were done without consultation with political parties as well as civil society, the ECC chairman Oscar Bloh observed that while Cllr. Nwabudike's nationality as a Liberian (naturalized) is established, Bloh pointed out that what is legal is not necessarily expedient and because Nwabudike is in the first instance a Nigerian citizen, "it is not morally prudent for him to serve as head of such a sensitive and critical national integrity institution. Besides, Nwabudike has character issues which cannot be dismissed. He has been accused of involvement in shady deals involving crewmen of a Nigerian vessel.

Sources told the Daily Observer that he has also been accused of breach of fiduciary duties and responsibilities appertaining to the vessel (MV Pots Express) and crew. He has also been accused of violating the law by previously serving in two different official positions to which he was never confirmed. According to legal analysts, Nwabudike has been acting in breach of the Constitution and laws of Liberia, having been rejected twice by the Senate, although he continued to perform official functions illegally.

Also adding voice to the chorus of rejection calls is the President of the Nigerian Community in Liberia who has described Nwabudike's narrative as a bunch of lies and has called him "a crook" on local radio 95.5 FM.

Most recently, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has added its voice to calls for President Weah to withdraw the nomination. Speaking at a press conference on 25 March, CENTAL Executive Director, Anderson Miamen, noted: "We remain disappointed in the unilateral appointment of officials to public integrity institutions with limited or no inputs from stakeholders".

Had President Weah sought inputs from civil society including political parties, he would have, without a doubt, been apprised of the character of the individual he was nominating to serve as Chairman of the National Elections Commission. As regards, another nominee, Floyd Sayor, the ECC correctly observed that he is not fit and proper to serve as NEC Commissioner simply on account of his involvement in acts indistinguishable and analogous to outright fraud beginning from the 2017 elections and the recent District 15- by-elections.

Another individual also nominated to serve, Josephine Kou Gaye, according to reliable sources is reportedly a confidante of Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Chie and, in the minds of the public, by virtue of her relationship to Chie, she becomes unfit to serve. Again, had President Weah consulted civil society, such embarrassment would have been avoided because he would have been fully apprised of developments.

What President Weah needs to know and understand is that the NEC as a key and critical national integrity institution cannot and should not be manned by individuals with questionable characters. The future peace and stability of post-conflict Liberia will to a large extent depend on the unquestionable character and integrity of NEC officials.

Recalling history for example, the 1985 elections was marred by fraud with the military incumbent Doe going all out to ensure that the results of elections were in his favor. And in order to accomplish this, he named as head of the Elections Commission an old, cunning and crooked politician and lawyer, Emmett Harmon. Burned ballots and a whole range of fraudulent activities were conducted to accomplish Doe's objective to cling on to power at all costs.

Only one month later following the declaration of the October 1985 elections results which were heavily rigged in Doe's favor, the nation awoke to announcements on public radio on that fateful day of November 12, 1985 that military leader Doe, had been overthrown in a coup d'etat. The coup attempt was however foiled by state security and its leader General Thomas Quiwonkpa killed.

In the wake of the failed coup attempt, reprisals against Quiwonkpa's ethnic Nimba kinfolk soon followed. The tide of national ill will set into motion by the brutal and official state repression that followed squarely set the nation on the path to 14 years of bloody civil conflict.

President Weah needs to draw lessons from history. Doe's Storm Trooper squads, consisting of what was called the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) Task Force, led by Prince Toe, later burned down the home of former Secretary of State and eminent statesman, J. Rudolph Grimes.

And later, his (Doe's) death squads, led by Nyonblu Tailey, systematically eliminated scores of ordinary and well-known individuals in and around Monrovia particularly, in the Sinkor area. Tailey has since been killed but the same Prince Toe, aka, "The General" has bounced back and is now part of state security in the Weah government.

At the end of the day, Doe's army and security which he used unsparingly to intimidate and eliminate political opponents proved to be of little help to him and, at the time he was in greatest need of their help, they were no where to be found. And Doe met his fate alone at the feet of his nemesis, Prince Yormie Johnson, begging and pleading for mercy which would never come his way. Today, he lies buried in an unmarked and unknown grave known perhaps only to Prince Johnson.

All these references to history aim to drive home the point that Liberia is a post conflict country and that seeking to impose a leadership not wanted by the people is a recipe for trouble. And from the look of things, President Weah is planting, perhaps unconsciously, seeds of conflict by nominating non-credible individuals to the NEC only for the sole purpose of ensuring his victory at the polls in 2023.

This is like taking a plunge into the abyss. "Look Before You Leap", Mr. President, is an old wise saying which is true today as it was yesterday.

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