Liberia’s Due Process Wallops From Above
By: Ekena Wesley
Amidst Liberia’s hastened declaration of independence coupled with its attendant political and social character of marginalization cum class struggle, which was dismally worsened by the military intervention that gave rise to a bloody civil strife – and with an attempt to reinstate a dethroned hegemony, some semblance of ‘rule of law’ obtained. What obtained could not have been the best in any case. This is so because justice had always favored the privileged.
It was because our justice system failed to live up to the test of time and solidly in defense of the Constitution that Liberia was taken to the International Court of Justice because of state-sponsored slavery during President King’s administration, which allowed its own people to be taken to the Fernando-Po. Indeed a disgrace to a country that sought to challenge racist South Africa through legal action given the untold sufferings and crimes against humanity.
Smartly enough in 1986 and as an interesting judicial phenomenon, for the first time a process required by constitutional instruments, which did not see the light of day as a democratic tool surfaced when Samuel Doe’s chosen preference for the post of Chief Justice, Cllr. Chea Cheapo was subjected to the most rigorous vetting process in Liberia’s legislative history by the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary.
As expected and owing to a legacy of Executive interference, Cllr. Chea Cheapo was confirmed as Chief justice of the Republic of Liberia. Liberia and the leadership at the time did not see the writing on the wall when Presidential nominee for the post of Associate Justice, Cllr. Nelson Broderick declined his appointment as in his words: “Cllr. Cheapo is too temperamental.”
Significant as Cllr. Broderick’s calculation was, we all sat unconcerned and failed to look beyond our noses. Of course that assertion by one of Liberia’s finest legal minds was never proved wrong.
In the event, Cllr Cheapo appeared to have run faster than his shadow in cleaning up what was seen as ‘mess’ in the judiciary. The principle was 100% wisdom-driven but the approach controversial. Yes! Liberia needed to clean up her judicial mess. When did the learned Counselor come to that realization? Was it after he had served this country as Justice Minister? Only heaven knows. However, in an attempt to ward-off a tempestuous climate of uncertainty, the Chief Justice resigned although ungraciously.
His successor was named in person of Cllr. James N. Nagbe, who along with the entire bench was coerced to unceremoniously resign. Sardonically, Associate Justice John Africanus Dennis bemusingly claimed he was studying the president’s letter. His study was short-lived as anticipated. To date the basis for the dismissal of that entire Supreme Bench remains a misery. Such was our dismal judicial past.
But there are signs that the past is seeking to re-invent itself having done so unhindered throughout the bad old days of Charles Taylor. Our justice system was shrouded with sheer disrespect, abuse and violations while the efficacy as to the ‘rule of law’ was brutally dispensed at the whims of Ghankay. Activists Kofi Woods, Tiawon Gongloe Frances Johnson-Morris as well as journalists Thomas Kamara, Al Jerome Chedi and Hassan Bility were amongst graduates of Taylor-inspired state-sponsored injustice against humanity.
Congruent to Liberia’s pursuit of the option of Republican democratic framework the compelling need as to the separation of powers got a unanimous backing of all in the name of democracy. Worst a political phenomenon and catastrophic an economic mess like the National Transitional Government of Charles Gyude Bryant, at no point did his factionally baptized Chief Justice imagine the use of ‘Emergency’ power or at any time choose to ‘Lord’ over party litigants through bullying tactics.
Elementary as one’s legal understanding might appear, the Chief Justice is knowingly our most critical factor when constitutional matters tend to be at cross-roads at least in a democracy and not an autocracy. Had the Chief Justice not been a docile, he would have squarely told the Chief Executive the constitutional implications of her decision to go to court in the case against belligerent-styled propagandist turned democratic crusader Thomas Woiwoyu. Thank God our religious leaders acted swiftly not as lawyers though but as right-thinking members of society and we salute the president for having listened.
All eyes across the globe particularly Africa has been fixed on Liberia in the historic and symbolic realization of a political jinx that has been demystified. Liberia has produced Africa’s first female head of state ever elected. Liberia is keenly and closely been watched by the world at large. In this mirror, we shall find a calibration of the recovery strategies; the virtues of good governance, economic resuscitation and national re-orientation, development, etc.
The deliberate intolerance and over-reaction of the last couple of days from the head of a critical organ of government who should in the first place concern himself with indisputably interpreting the laws of the land constitute a setback for this government’s minimum but staggering stride towards recovery.
It my opinion the initial transactions could not have warranted and possibly did not require His Honor’s input. The Finance office at Temple of Justice in any case has oversight responsibility as such. His Honor would have done the good people of Liberia and honorable thing had procedural protocol ensued.
The sad but politically hideous event depicts the case of Bellview Manager today – lest we forget a replication could engulf another person. In this era of so-called democratic dispensation, let us all seek to be our brother’s keeper. We can draw solace from what appeared a repentant spirit on the part of former president Charles Taylor in the heat of the 1997 elections. “My soldiers came through your villages and towns; kill your goats, cows, sheep and chickens, beat you up, burn your towns, rape your women and children and even kill your brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. My people, I have come to say sorry ya.” And Taylor won that election massively according to the National Elections Commission (NEC). How? We can leave that to historians to conclude the analysis. Since no one is above the law, an abject apology certainly must matter in the absence of punitive action.
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