At Confirmation Hearings, Citizenship of NEC Chair Designate Placed Under Question

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The citizenship of George Weah’s pick for the chairmanship of the National Elections Commission came under serious questioning during his confirmation hearing at the Senate on Monday.

Ndubusi Nwabudike failed to provide a valid certificate of citizenship, although Sen. Milton Teahjay of Sinoe said the nominee was notified to present all documents to prove his Liberian citizenship.

Teahjay, who heads the Senate Committee on Elections and Autonomous Agencies, announced at the public hearing that his committee received all of Nwabudike’s credentials except his certificate of citizenship, which was required to prove his Liberian citizenship.

Nwabudike, who was born in Nigeria, claimed that he had become a naturalized Liberian citizen at the age of 17 in 1982.

He said he did not include his naturalization certificate in the documents provided to the Senate because he currently practices law in Liberia. As only Liberian citizens are allowed to practice law, he said he had submitted the opinion of the Supreme Court, which was used to admit him into the Liberia National Bar Association. Nwabudike reasoned that the court’s opinion was weightier than the certificate of citizenship. However, he apologized to members of the committee and promised to present the certificate at a later date.

Nwabudike also failed to provide any document showing he had renounced his Nigerian citizenship.

During cross-examination of the nominee, Grand Cape Mount’s Sen. Varney Sherman questioned the nominee’s testimony that he obtained his citizenship at age 17. Sherman argued that he was still a minor and was not legally allowed to naturalize under the law.

“The law says before you are naturalized in Liberia, you must be 21 years. You just told us you were born 1964. That means you were 17-years-[old] when you naturalized. So, that suggests that you were not qualified to become a naturalized citizen. Am I right?” he questioned the nominee.

However, Nwabudike said he was accompanied by an adult when he took his oath of allegiance.

Sherman, who is also a lawyer, further asked Nwabudike for any vested interest in Liberia, since the nominee had admitted to not owning any real property in the country. Dodging the question, Nwabudike asked why Sherman was now contesting his Liberian citizenship when he previously vouched for him as a Liberian in his effort to gain admission into Harvard School of Law in the U.S.

Nwabudike also claimed that the Grand Cape Mount senator also previously recommended him for a position at the Law Reform Commission as a renowned Liberian lawyer and researcher while he was still at the United Nations.

Sherman brought back the issue of allegiance and said he was about how Nwabudike would handle his allegiance to both Nigeria and Liberia now that he intends to hold a top position in the Liberian government. He said previous positions Nwabudike held in the government before did not have a citizenship requirement.

“Our laws do not say only a Liberian should be a finance minister or a health minister. It is clear in the NEC law that the chairman and members of the board of commissioners should be Liberians. That’s why you see most of our people are concerned,” he noted.

While making his case for the position, Nwabudike refused to call himself the best suited for the position.

“If I say that, I will be lying,” he said. “There are more Liberians who are qualified for this position. It simply happened that the president said he will nominate me for this post. I don’t even know why the president nominated me for this post; I’m not in his mind, but I believe that he has given it a very thoughtful reflection before he made the decision to nominate me and my team.”

Nwabudike said he and the other commissioners nominated by the president are capable of doing the job.

“There are two things in my mind I believe is critical to [an] election. The first one is an opportunity for citizens to express their fundamental franchise and the environment that will enable them to exercise their rights in a stress-free environment and democratic setting during [an] election,” he noted.

“The other one is an atmosphere that will allow [them] to fully exercise their constitutional rights and once they express their opinion in their votes, the outcome of that expression must be precisely the way it was expressed.”

Nwabudike’s confirmation hearing will continue on Wednesday, April 1. The Senate paused the cross-examination of the nominees to hear from political parties for their suggestions on the way forward.

Another person nominated to serve as a commissioner at NEC, Barsee Leo Kpangbai, promised to work independently of presidential influence if confirmed, despite being nominated by the president.

Kpangbai said although NEC reports to the president, the agency is also subject to the National Legislature.

“I will not and I can never report to the president. We are subject to only the legislature and not the president. Our work has nothing to do with the president,” Kpangbai said, in response to a question posed by Montserrado’s Sen. Darius Dillon.

“The president nominates us and afterward, we are subject to the legislature in all of our functions and doings. So, we will report to you and not the president.”

Kpangbai also said he had never been a member of any political party or affiliated with any political activities.

“I am an election magistrate and in our function, we are totally out of election affairs,” he said.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Ida Reeves

Ida Reeves holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Liberia in Mass Communications and Sociology. She graduated from the Young Political Leadership School and has worked in the past for Farbric Radio, Freedom Radio, and Frontier newspaper.

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