By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Yesterday this newspaper carried a banner headline captioned: “Primitive Life In Modern Liberia; The Story Of The Gbi-Doru people in Nimba County.” The story highlighted the plight of the people of the area, which is also represented in the House of Representatives. Backed by photos, our reporter, Edwin Wandah, who visited the areas in difficult conditions, observed that the people of the areas are in abject poverty, as they lack health facilities, schools, roads and safe drinking water.
In addition, the wooden bridges leading to the area have all broken down, making the area inaccessible to vehicles. As a result, residents have to walk for hours to nearby areas. As discovered, students have to sit on the floor or rattan-made seats in their classes, while using their laps as desks. Nauseatingly, it was observed that because of the lack of educational facilities, students of four different grades like first, second, third and fourth, sit in the same classroom, with a single teacher.
The visit to the area on a sight-seeing was precipitated by complaints in the electronic media by some individuals, who claimed to be leaders of the area that they have been abandoned and that they lack basic necessities for human survival. They said initially, the area was in Rivercess, then a territory under Grand Bassa County, but for some reasons, many years ago, President Edwin Barclay de-annexed it from the territory and annexed it to Nimba County. They said since then in the 1930’s, the area has not benefitted from development, as compared to other areas in the county. Owing to this, they are requesting the government to annul the law that took them from Rivercess and promulgate a new law to re-annex to Rivercess.
While I wish not to dwell into the politics of the issue of de-annexing the area to once more become a part of Rivercess, another backward county; I am only interested in the plight of the people, especially at this time when modernization is taking place that they are still in the primitive stage. As I dwell on this issue, I am aware that this is not only circumscribed to Nimba County, but other areas in this country, with similar conditions. Today, it is the story of the people of Gbi-Doru in Nimba County, tomorrow; it could be the story of another group of people in similar precarious and appalling condition, in which people drink from polluted creeks, because of the absence of safe drinking water. Equally so, I know there are similar situations in other areas, even some not too far from Monrovia.
But as it is said, sometimes it is necessary to deal with a particular issue, to bring to light the general picture of other areas. In this situation, I wish to deal with it as it relates to representation, as required under our law of areas in the national Legislature. The law requires that certain areas that reach certain threshold are entitled to representation in the Legislature. But the very law also talks about the issue of such person, being domiciled in that area.
It is this issue of domicile, as contained in Article 30 (b) of the Liberian Constitution, as it relates to qualifications of senators and representatives that I decided to dwell on. The provision ambiguously states that those contesting for such office should, “be domiciled in the county or constituency to be represented not less than one year prior to the time of the election and be a taxpayer.”
One of the things that makes democracy so unique and different from other types of government is that it is encompassing, participatory and inclusive in that the people are also involved in the governance process through their representatives, like in our system, members of the Senate and House of Representatives. But to ascend to this office, the Constitution lays down requirements to enable one to contest. One of such is that one should “be domiciled,” meaning in a simple term, that such person should be a resident of that area for some time. In short it means one cannot contest to be a representative of a constituency (a place) in which he or she is not a resident.
As we are aware, laws are made to guide our conduct and behavior. It is based on this that regulations and guidelines are drawn for certain activities. On the issue of representation to the national legislature, it is provided that those interested should be domiciled. There is “intent” for this by the framers of the Constitution. It is this provision that I intend to dwell on today.
Why should someone interested in an elective post like that of the Senate or House of Representatives be domiciled in that area or constituency? Obviously, there are reasons why the framers decided on this. What really is the intent of this provision? As a student of law, I can deduce that the intent of this provision of the Constitution is to make sure that those contesting reside in the area and are in the position to ably represent the interest of their people. It is the belief of these framers that by being with the people, one is conversant with their problems and needs and would make appropriate representation on their belief in dividing the national pie, especially so as it relates to budgetary allotment and development.
Today, there is a proposal by the speaker of the House of Representatives for direct assistance to various districts in this country. The proposal presupposes that there have been no information about the backwardness of these districts, for which during the recent visits of the legislators on the oil issue, the speaker was appalled by what he said and decided to make such a proposal. But the question is what has been the role of those representing those areas. Aren’t they domiciled in those areas to know the plight of those they represent? Clearly, this means that the intent of the framers of the Constitution on the issue of domicile has not been followed, because if these people have been there, feel, see and experience those appalling conditions facing those areas, should speak out vociferously in the interest of their people. This is why they are even given vacation or break to enable them be with their people, to know their plight and speak in their interest.
As one book refers to domicile as,” a dwelling place, place of residence; a person’s fixed, permanent, and principal home for legal purposes”, the Eighth edition of the Black’s Law Dictionary defines domicile as a, “the place at which a person has been physically present and that the person regards as home; a person’s true, fixed, principal, and permanent home, to which that person intends to return and remain even though currently residing elsewhere.”
From the definitions, one can logically deduce that the intent of the framers of the Constitution is to ensure that such individuals, as representatives of the people, would be resident to ably represent them. By being there would provide them the opportunity to know the needs, wants and projects of their people.
Today it is the story of Gbi Doru in Nimba County. This might just be the tip of the iceberg, as there are many such areas. But the question that comes to mind is that what has been the role of those who have been representing the people. I do believe that those who have been representing that area and other areas faced with similar condition had been domiciled in those areas, there could have been some improvements. But it seems that because they are not domiciled there, they are ignorant to the plight of the people and as such, the people continue to live in such appalling condition of no school, no road, no health center and safe drinking water, just to name a few.
The situation obtaining can be likened to the saying, “if people are in the kitchen, they will know the heat in that kitchen,” and that because some of these representatives have not been in the kitchen, they really have not been able to feel the heat.
Indeed, from what is obtaining in Gbi-Doru, and other areas, it clearly shows that the intent of the framers of the Constitution on the issue of domicile has not been followed. Hence A HINT TO THE WISE IS QUITE SUFFICIENT. I Rest My Case.