Liberia: Several Controversial Issues Hang Over President Weah's Nominees to the National Elections Commission

opinion

Monrovia — Qualifications issues, including experience, competence and academics are some of the obstacles that might likely hamper the chances of all or some of President George Manneh Weah's latest nominees on the Board of the National Elections Commission (NEC).

On Friday, March 20th, President Weah nominated Cllr. A. Ndubusi Nwabudike as Chairman, Cllr. Davidetta Browne Lansanah as Co-Chair, Mr. Floyd Oxley Sayor, Atty. Ernestine Morgan-Awar (Esq), Mr. Barsee Leo Kpangbai, and Madam Josephine Kou Gaye as Commissioners respectively. If confirmed they are to stay in their tenured positions for seven years.

But some of these appointees now face uphill battles as they are being grilled by senators on how qualified they are for the post to which they were nominated by the President. One was grilled on role in previous election that he played a major part in.

The Senate's Committee on Autonomous Agencies and Commissions chaired by Sinoe County Senator Milton Teahjay, has begun its confirmation processes of the nominees by calling them in at a time to be questioned on what is each bringing to the post.

NEC Chair-designate

Cllr. Nwabudike's nomination is by far the most controversial as it has generated lots of debates on social media. If confirmed, it is going to be his third senior governmental post in less than two years.

One of the controversial things that have now dogged the NEC Chair-designate is his nationality. Even though he is a naturalized Liberia, he has a Nigerian root, which his critics think should not allow him to head such a vital institution of the Liberian Government. These people think such post should only be exclusively reserved for a born citizen and not a naturalized one.

Last Sunday, March 22nd, Cllr. Nwabudike, who is presently the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), told FrontPageAfrica in an exclusive interview that he is a Liberian.

"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. My father was here, first in 1946. My father had a Master's degree; he came here because the grandmother of his wife, 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 [William V. S.] 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.

"The civil war in Nigeria ended 1971, 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."

He further stated that his Liberian nationality had to be proven before the Supreme Court of Liberia could allow him to practice law.

"So, the question of my nationality is really not in context. It's 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.

"What is happening now is sentiment; 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."

Cllr. Nwabudike's apparent only experience with election matter is him serving as chairman of the Elections Commission at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. "I supervise, I believe, the most credible student elections, there. 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."

Cllr. Nwabudike is yet to appear before the Senate's committee for confirmation.

Among the six nominees, Cllr. Brown-Lansanah is the only one, who has got vast experience with elections-relation matters at the level of the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission. She was nominated in elevated role at NEC than what she had previously.

When she appeared before the Senate Committee over the weekend, Mrs. Browne-Lansanah, who has served the Commission for the past seven years as a commissioner, promised to use her experience acquired at NEC to exhibit professionalism and honesty. She also promised to be a transparent commissioner. She is now being nominated to a higher position as Co-Chair of NEC.

She also told the Senators on Saturday, March 28, that confirming her to the new post will help speed up the process of the Special Senatorial Election in 2020 and the Presidential and General Elections in 2023.

Cllr. Ernestine Morgan-Awar

According to Commissioner-designate Cllr. Ernestine Morgan-Awar, her history of Liberia's bitter past as a child that came about due to electoral dissatisfaction during the 1985 will give her more reasons to take serious her job as one of the NEC commissioners. Cllr. Morgan-Awar promised to exhibit integrity and honesty while serving the Commission. "I am from a generation that has an impact in the negative in the year of 1985. I am a victim of a father who went missing. As Commissioner, I will work to give our people due diligence through the conduct of elections."

Like Cllr. Lansanah, she also told Sen. Teahjay-led Committee that confirming her to nominated position could help speed up the process of elections in 2020 and 2023.

Floyd Oxley Sayor

Mr. Floyd Oxley Sayor, one of few who have appeared before the confirmation committee, is one of two personalities, who their critics think are controversial: the other being Cllr. Nwanbudike.

There are serious negative perceptions about Sayor's role in the handling of previous elections' results that he was directly involved in. When he appeared before the senators, he told them that public perceptions about him are wrong. He insisted that he is the right man for the job, boasting 16 years of experience in conducting elections.

Despite his boast, the Chief Elections Dispute Hearing Officer of the NEC was forced to call for a re-run in last August District #15 legislative elections between Telia Urey and Abu Kamara because of something he had done. Cllr. Muana S. Ville stated how he (Sayor) had compromised the integrity of the District #15 polls by failing to obey instructions from his immediate boss, to quarantine ballots from the polling places where irregularities were said to have occurred and withhold the inclusion of votes from those areas from the final tally, until all such complaints had been addressed.

Cllr. Ville explained: "The hearing officers, having asked witness Floyd Sayor to state the date he began the counting upon the close of the voting centers, he did not. Additionally, the hearing officers were informed by witness Sayor that he disobeyed the order of his immediate boss, Emma Togba, when he was told to quarantine the polling centers said to have had some problems as claimed by Telia Urey and her campaign team." On Saturday, Sayor, who is currently the Data Director at NEC, where he has worked for the past twelve years, insisted that he is qualified for the job. "Honorable senators with the level of work I have done at the NEC and my experience I think I am qualified and ready to serve."

Sayor has been a controversial figure often accused of manipulating data at the NEC against certain individuals who for some reasons felt cheated in every electoral process in the past decade. In 2017 Sayon was made to appear before the court as expert witness in the case Liberty Party versus the National elections

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