LP’s Political Leader Dissolves Elected Officials -Senator Zargo To Take Over As Acting Chairman

The intra-party crisis rocking the opposition Liberty Party took a twist over the weekend when the Political Leader of the Liberty Party, Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence took a decision to nullify the outcome of the 2021 Special National Convention of the party, which includes the election of its current national officials and the adoption of the revised constitution of the party.

Addressing a press conference on Saturday, December 11, 2021, Senator Nyonblee who has been in a long running battle with the Chairman of the party, Musa Hassan Bility on decision making differences said she took the action based on the report of the Special Investigation Committee that received, reviewed and investigated all the procedural issues surrounding the holding of the special convention, citing specifically the complaint filed by a partisan Emmanuel Azango  which said “the entire electoral process was riddled by constitutional violations and procedural breaches citing Articles five & seven of the 2015 Constitution – the Constitution under which the Convention was held.

“In view of the findings of the Special Investigation Committee which incorporated testimonies of the major actors in the planning and execution of the Convention, and acting in line with Article Five Section 1 (d) of the 2015 Constitution which designates the Political Leader as the Convener of the Special National Convention, we hereby declare the Convention of January 21-23, 2021 nullified. The party returns to status quo ante.  The Honorable Senator Stephen Zargo assumes the leadership of the Liberty Party as Chairman.” She said.

Senator Lawrence, while announcing the decision, provided the narrative of the series of problems the party has been going through starting  with the untimely demise of the political leader of the party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, when there emerged a power vacuum created in the aftermath of the unfortunate situation, the special convention in Gbarnga and its controversies , her face-off with the Chairman of the party, Mr. Musa Hassan Bility and its implication on the future of the party especially as it relates to its place within the Collaboration of Political Party(CPP).

“Two years ago, we, partisans of the Liberty Party, found ourselves in the wilderness of despair, as the arrow of death struck deep in our midst, snatching away a great Liberian legal luminary and a political torchbearer of distinguished statute. Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine and others of like minds, had, during one of the difficult periods of our political history, stood the test of time to birth an institution that was meant to produce an alternative to political governance in our country”.

Senator Lawrence said that following the death of Cllr. Brumskine, the National Executive Committee of the Liberty Party was saddled with intra-party conflict manifesting from the 2017 endorsement saga, among other issues. She said a retreat held in Buchanan made a proposal that the constitution of the party needed to go through revision and that though others opposed it that it could not go ahead outside of the constitution others also argued that the process could start with a constitution review committee whose work would come in the form of a proposal to be taken to a convention for endorsement by constitutionally qualified delegates.

. She said and based on their report that all provisions of the constitution were followed, the Special Convention took off on January 22, 2021 with the revision of the proposed new language to the 2015 Constitution. She added that the Constitution was adopted and election of new national officers was subsequently held on January 23, 2021

Senator Lawrence stated that the current crisis in started breeding within the party when upon their return to Monrovia from the convention the newly elected Chairman Bility and Secretary General Martin Kollah began dodging her from submitting the conference report  after her frantic efforts to get the documents from both of them especially the records of proceedings of the Convention including the final compilation of the constitution for review before being submitted to the National Elections Commission(NEC). She said this went on for two months until she got a tip off that the constitution and the proceedings of the convention had already been submitted to NEC and she swung in action to request for the copy which the electoral body obliged to do..

“On closer examination of the constitution I received from the NEC, it was detected that contrary to what delegates had approved at the Special National Convention, both the Chairman and the Secretary General had proceeded to reword the provision of Article VI Sections 1 and 2, affecting the functions of the Political Leader and the Executive Committee headed by the National Chairman”.

To prove her point, she said as per what was approved during the convention in Gbarnga, she quoted the version in relation to the political leader thus,

“The Standard Bearer/Political Leader, in consultation and collaboration with the NEC, shall formulate policy and procedures to implement the decisions of the National Convention, call Special Conventions as provided for in Article VIII, and take such other actions and proper measures that he/she may deem as necessary to advance the best interest of the Party”..

She said as altered by the Chairman and Secretary General, the version reads “The National Executive Committee, in consultation and collaboration with the NEC, shall formulate policy and procedures to implement the decisions of the National Convention, call Special Conventions as provided for in Article VIII, and take such other actions and proper measures that he/she may deem as necessary to advance the best interest of the Party”.

The Grand Bassa County Senator said she immediately informed the National Chairman about this and requested that action be taken to correct the changes made in the Constitution but both the Chairman and Secretary put up stiff resistance, arguing that as far as they were concerned, the constitution they had submitted to NEC was the proper constitution, and that nothing would be done about it.

Still being dissatisfied with the posture of the two executive members of the party she said “So, convinced of the fact that the Constitution logged at NEC did not represent what was adopted in Gbarnga, the office of the Political Leader, the convener and Presiding Officer of the Convention, addressed a communication to the National Elections Commission (NEC) requesting withdrawal of the instrument and raising question as to procedure regarding the submission of the Constitution..

She said in an honest effort to derive a resolution to the intra-party tension, the National Advisory Council (NAC) on August 26, 2021, met with Chairman Bility and her and extracted from both of them commitment to set up an independent committee of seven (7) lawyers to be charged with the responsibility of reviewing the proceedings of the Gbarnga Convention with a view of determining what needed to be corrected, if any. She furthered that their commitment also included a moratorium on media engagement referencing the constitution and an agreement to seize exercising any function under the controversial constitution other than those related to the CPP, pending the submission of the independent committee’s report within one week

She said  consequently, as  a way of breaking the impasse that was being created, the NAC held a subsequent meeting where it was agreed by a majority decision of its membership that a follow-up communication be sent to Mr. Bility advising him to sign the MOU so as to facilitate setting up the committee to do its work but Mr. Bility launched additional rounds of media propaganda, pouring out uncomplimentary comments against her contrary to what had been agreed in the mediatory meeting with the NAC.

Speaking on the Farmington Memorandum which has sparked off some controversies between Bility and her, Senator Lawrence said on October 2, 2021, Mr. Bility and her met at the Farmington Hotel under the auspices of the National Advisory Council where a thorough review of the video recording of the Gbarnga Convention was done. She said during the review, it was abundantly established that indeed, provisions of Article VI of the Constitution had been altered which she said in summary, the role of the Political Leader had been swapped with that of the National Executive Committee, thus creating the impression that Mr. Bility was well on course in executing the decisions he had executed within the period the Constitution was kept at NEC.

She said the 10-hour Farmington meeting consummated yet another memorandum of understanding acknowledging the changes that were made in the Constitution following its adoption by the Gbarnga Convention, and agreed that the necessary corrections would be made, using the facts that were now available from the video recording. She stressed that it was further buttressed by the NAC’s report on the Farmington meeting count 2 of which reads, “That two Articles of the Constitution submitted to the NEC under the signatures of the Secretary General and the National Chairman, did not reflect what was adopted at the Gbarnga Special National Convention. Those two Articles have been edited as is reflected in the MOU signed at the retreat.”

She contended that Mr. Bility is a signatory to the memorandum with Madam Wadei Powell, signing along with him as his resource person while she signed as political leader and Senator Abraham Darius Dillon signed along with her as resource person and that all members of the National Advisory Council members in attendance attested to the memorandum.

She said consistent with the advice of the National Elections Commission (NEC) that this matter be handled using the party’s internal mechanism, she submitted formal information to the NEC by way of the memorandum of understanding and the report of the National Advisory Council on the Farmington meeting. “In effect, on November 15, 2021 we withdrew from the NEC, the revised 2021 Constitution as submitted by the National Chairman and the Secretary General. In this regard, all actions by Mr. Bility capitalizing on the unauthorized changes he made in the Constitution, are nullified. Where necessary, the appropriate actions will be taken”, she said.

Senator Lawrence further stated that while she was  in the process of dealing with the problem of the Constitution, she was  on October 30, 2021, handed a follow-up complaint by Partisan Emmanuel Azango along with copy of a ruling from the National Elections Commission to the effect that partisan Emmanuel Azango had filed a case with the Commission, alleging that improprieties (ranging from the use of wrong delegates to an incomprehensive list of delegates, among others) marred the 2021 Special National Convention. She said the complaint was first brought to her  attention following the Gbarnga Convention and that she had, over the period, tried to seek an internal resolution, urging Mr. Azango to take advantage of the internal party mechanism.  “It was not until lately that I received his second complaint attached to a NEC ruling directing him to use his party’s internal mechanism, as NEC would not adjudicate a case that is before another jurisdiction.  On the merit of this matter, we notified the National Advisory Council and as well informed the National Executive Committee”, she said.

Senator Lawrence noted that because the recalled constitution is not structured in its proper context as was adopted by the delegates, it could not be used to adjudicate the matter so she appointed a three-member committee to look into the veracity of Mr. Azango’s complaint and the committee submitted its report.

Among the major findings of the report which she read at the press conference was that on 23 January 2021, Partisan Azango sought the intervention of the Political Leader and Presiding Officer of the Convention because “the entire electoral process was riddled by constitutional violations and procedural breaches citing Articles five & seven of the 2015 Constitution – the Constitution under which the Convention was held as per the attachment marked “B”. The following events occurred thereafter.

That On 26 August 2021, Partisan Azango filed a formal Complaint to the Board of Commissioners of the National Election Commission seeking nullification of the outcomes of the January 22-23, 2021 on allegations of fragrant violation of Articles V of the Liberty Party Constitution; the appointment of ten (10) individuals as super delegates; the appointment of the heads of the Youth and Women Wings as delegates; violation of Section 3.4 of the National Election Committee Guidelines; amongst other.(Exhibit “C”). The Chairperson of the NEC forwarded the complaint to Mr. Ignatius B. Wisseh, Director of Political Affairs for NEC, that based on Partisan Azango’s Complaint, Mr. Wisseh of NEC cited parties for a conference scheduled for 6 September 2021. At that hearing, Liberty Party was represented by Mr. Musa Bility (Exhibit D) and that upon hearing the matter, Mr. Wisseh ruled invoking Chapter III, section 3.3 of the NEC’s Regulations and Guidelines relating to Political Parties which requires that Intra-Party dispute must first be heard within a political party and thereafter an appeal may be perfected to the Commission. (Exhibit D2)

Other aspects of the report has it that not being satisfied with the Political Officer’s Ruling, Azango’s appealed to NEC Board of Commissioner (letter misdated 23 January 2021 but received by NEC on 16 September 16, 2021), indicating that the decision of the Political Officer regarding the utilization of the internal dispute resolution process narrated in Count 4 above on the ground that the current leadership is the product of the fraudulent process he is challenging; and that the Constitution which was adopted at the Gbarnga Convention is also being challenged (Exhibit E), and that On 5 October 2021, Partisan Azango’s wrote a follow-up letter to the NEC Board of Commission asking for an expedited trial. (Exhibit F).

The report then gave the situational requirements for holding of national convention and did its analysis on the points considered from where the findings drew its conclusion. To begin with Article 1.c provides that the National Convention shall be composed of three categories and defines an accredited delegate to the Convention to be a registered due paying member of the Party who is also a registered voter of the Republic of Liberia.

The report cited Category 1 of its requirement for membership: “Members of the Party in each electoral district of a county within the Republic shall select a resident of the district, who is otherwise qualified, as a delegate to the National Convention; Party members of a membership group in a foreign country, consisting of at least five hundred registered, due-paying members of the Party, shall select a member who is otherwise qualified, as a delegate to the National Convention; (Members of the Party in the Diasporas who may not meet the five- hundred membership requirement in the foreign country in which they reside, may combine their membership number with that of one or more other membership groups in the Diasporas for the purpose of achieving the minimum five-hundred membership requirement and electing a delegate to the Convention.)”

The report stated its analysis that this requirement was completely ignored. It said Chairman Zargo informed the Committee that there was no election of County delegates to the Convention. Further, there is no evidence on the records that these delegates were registered at the Convention. The Committee says, denied participants in the 73 political districts the right to vote on the Constitutional Amendments and the election of Officers.

On category 2 of the membership, it quoted as “Every elected national and county officers of the Liberty Party, who are otherwise qualified: and Party members who are members of the Legislature, Party members who are ministers or deputy ministers of government or equivalent.

“The emphasis is on elected national and county officials and must be taken in the context of Article VII in its entirety but with particular emphasis on section 6 which requires the holding of elections of officers at least 3 weeks prior to the National Convention and by extension to the Special National Convention. Notwithstanding, the election for these officers was not conducted.

Twenty-four (24) National Officers are listed in Article VI of the 2015 Constitution. Additionally, Article V provides for the positions of a Youth Wing Congress and a Women Wing Congress, the heads of which are eligible for accreditation (+2). Specialized Committees shall include the National Campaign Strategies Committee, the Presidential Campaign Strategies Committee, and the Committee on Information, Research and Propaganda – the heads of which are also eligible for accreditation (3). This is a total of at least twenty-nine (29) elected officers at the National Level.

Senator Lawrence used the concluding part of her press conference to dwell on the issue of due payment which prompted the decision of the Bility led National Executive Committee to suspend her from her position as political leader. She said was not personally bothered by the information of her suspension flying around but she was under obligation to protect the image of the party and the others who have contributed so much to the party but listed for suspension because according to her, some of the members of NEC of the party under Mr. Bility decided to give a wrong information about them and their status in the party

She said that due to the lack of clear direction, the party could not enforce the due payment policy on the party but even more to that was the fact that the National Treasurer of the party was requesting that people made their payments into her personal account. She said Mr. Philip Suah, the Vice Chair for International and Diaspora Affairs had to deposit, at one point, his due into the personal account of Madam Powell, who is the national treasurer of the party. She said secondly, Mr. Bility and Madam Powell proceeded to unilaterally change all bank information without making the information available to those they considered their men-of-war.

“With this reality of the due payment regime, our major contributors were encouraged to invest in other equally important projects of the Party until both the constitution and the bank account issue could be resolved. For example, Senator Steve Zargo paid for two years on our Lofa office and has ensured that everything needed to keep it functional and active are there. Senator Kaipay is engaged with the Bassa Office making contributions such as face-lifting of the facility, ensuring some cash is available to provide compensation for party workers. Senator Dillon is engaged with our Montserrado team by acquiring an office space for the County. Mr. Debar Allen, the Chairperson of our National Advisory Council, is a two-time Campaign Manager who has invested hugely to the financial cost of Liberty Party from its very inception. Former Deputy Speaker, Hon. Hans Barchue single-handedly undertakes projects that keep LP’s image booming outside of Montserrado County”, she said.

She further said that there are people in this party whose due cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents. “Talking about the Political Leader? The Financial burden we bear on a daily basis is immeasurable. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to help sustain our institution including a total of thirty thousand (30,000.00) to rent our former headquarters at Catholic Junction from 2018-2020. During LP Chairmanship of the CPP, I single handedly sponsored all activities including the turning over ceremony and other events on behalf of LP.  Not to mention funds spent to assist with LP activities including retreat and conventions”. She further said that a little over a year ago, the Liberty Party was blessed to receive into membership Mr. Nathaniel Barnes, whom she said, as people  know, comes with so much value to the Liberty Party. “Is this an individual Mr. Bility will refer to as not being able to pay due, therefore proceeds to publish his name?, ”She asked rather rhetorically.

Speaking further about the contributions made to the party by some individuals which were far above due payment, she said when LP was in arrears at its former national headquarters, it took, Senator Zargo, Senator Dillon, Mrs. Carmena Abdallah, her  and other stakeholders, to save the party by collecting up to $40,000  to offset the arrears stressing that at that time, Mr. Bility was nowhere around. Also, Grand Bassa made the highest deposit in our party account that was unilaterally changed by Wadei Powell.

“As I am mandated, by the strength of the 2015 Constitution, to give political direction to our party, I shall act within the limits of such authority to protect the image of our dear party from being derailed by any particular person or group of persons. I want to thank you my fellow partisans, for standing with us over last few months as we struggled to set Liberty Party back on track”, she concluded.  See full text of Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence’s press statement  in The Analyst’s Monday December 13, 2021 edition.

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