Speaker Resigns Amid Duel Between Lawmakers and Law Practitioners

The Perspective

October 3, 2001

Just a few days ago, the President of the Liberian National Bar Association, Counselor Emmanuel Wureh, was placed under detention where he has been for about a week. Last Monday, the Liberian House of Representatives ordered the detention of the Bar President for a statement he allegedly made against Representative Abel Massaley, during the house probe of charges and counter charges of corruption made by Mr. Massaley and the House Speaker, Nyudueh Morkonmana. Counselor is to remain in incarceration until the end of the 5th session of the 51st legislature - around the end of December, 2001.

A crisis appears to be looming between the Liberian National Legislature and the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA)! The Liberian lawmakers, comprising of 64 members none of whom is said to have any legal training or is a lawyer, representing fifteen political subdivisions of Liberia, are going up against some of the nation's seasoned and experienced lawyers, represented by the LNBA.

The statement allegedly made by Mr. Wureh, is said to have been disparaging and condescending to members of the house. Mr. Wureh served as legal counsel to the Speaker of the House who is currently being investigated by a House Committee headed by Representative Francis Garbo. It can be recalled that, just two weeks ago, the Speaker was accused by fellow member and former majority leader, Abel Massaley, for embezzling funds and for allegedly falsifying his academic credentials. Pending investigation of the charges, the speaker was barred from traveling and many of his functions, such as presiding over the house, were taken away by his fellow legislators. The Speaker has, however, denied the charges.

But the arrest and detention of Counselor Wureh immediately prompted the Liberian National Bar Association to issue a statement demanding the immediate and unconditional release of its President. The September 25th statement said that the house had sentenced Counselor Wureh without due process as provided for in the Liberian constitution. The lawyers also called for the boycott of all courts and administrative agencies of government including that of the national legislature, until their President is released from further detention.

The duel between the national legislature and the national Bar Association has not only created tension and a philosophical struggle on the interpretation of the constitution between the branches of government - the legislature and the judiciary. This has also caused a backlog of court cases and might lead to a breakdown of the court system. This situation has generated concern within the Liberian civic society, which has begun to urge the need for an amicable resolution.

The press Union of Liberia (PUL), for example, in a release issued, pleaded that "The House of Representatives and the Liberia National Bar Association are under moral obligation to ensure that the Liberian people have unhindered access to the court in order to seek redress to their grievances and problems," The Inquirer reported. PUL statement further noted that, "anything short of this could lead to the breakdown of law and order, and a recipe for chaos in the society."

After having being subjected to tremendous pressure by members of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), the speaker submitted his resignation yesterday. In resigning from the speakership, Mr. Morkonmana said, "I am relinquishing my position in the interests of the government, the National Patriotic Party and the people of Liberia." The ex-speaker who represents Grand Kru county in the Legislature said the he would, however, keep his seat.

Mr. Morkonmana's successor has not been elected yet, but The News newspaper in Monrovia reported on Monday that, "three persons are being eyed as possible replacer. Representative Peter Hne of Maryland County and Deputy Speaker Patrick Williams are high on the list. The third is Lofa County's Francis Garbo. The trouble at the Capitol began following the removal of Cape Mount County's A. Momolu Massaley as Majority leader of that body and his replacement by Lofa County Stanley Kparkillen."

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