The recent arrest of SLPP flag bearer aspirant Ali Kabba may have come from the blues to many in the country. But to the seasoned eye, this must have been a question of déjà vu. It has been reported that Ali Kabba was arrested and charged with one of the oldest crimes called BIGAMY. In cultures that practice marital monogamy, bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another. Bigamy is a crime in most western countries, and when it occurs in this context often neither the first nor second spouse is aware of the other. This piece is not intended to look into the legal gymnastics relating to bigamy; as the author is legally bankrupt. However, there is the temptation to sprinkle some legal dust on the subject. I don’t profess to be conversant with the legal ramifications of bigamy in Sierra Leone, and it will be preposterous to attempt to unravel this seemingly legal minefield. However, considering that the constitution and laws in Sierra Leone appear to be a scion of the laws from the British Empire, let us attempt to give it some colonial flavour. This does not in any way reflect the law on bigamy in Sierra Leone.
If a person gets married in the UK and is already legally married, then they are committing bigamy and the marriage will be considered void. The Offences Against the Person Act 181 exempts from punishment a person whose husband or wife has remained continually absent for seven years before the second marriage without them knowing that they are alive; and parties who are legally divorced. Being married to more than one person at a time is recognized in England and Wales if it took place in a country that allows marriages of this kind (not in the UK) and both parties were legally free to marry in this way.
Therefore, if someone legally enters the UK and already has three wives under a foreign law, then they will not be considered to be committing an offence in the UK (provided they do not enter into another marriage ceremony within the UK). However, this may also mean that someone who is legally married in the UK could potentially marry someone else abroad, as marrying abroad means that the offence of bigamy under UK law is not applicable. However, he or she may be guilty of an offence overseas depending on whether the county he or she marries in criminalizes polygamy.
The above should not be seen as a template for the laws of Sierra Leone. The default position of bigamy is that, it is a civil matter between spouses. It should only become a criminal matter, if the case goes to a civil court of law where one or both of the parties are found to be in breach of the law. The details in this case are not available to the writer, but arresting and detaining Ali Kabba by the police will sound to many, as being charged, tried and sentenced in one breath without due process. What many people will be wondering is why does the criminal aspect take precedence over the civil or court process. I wonder how many people will be in prison today, if this law was applied across board in Sierra Leone.
Some may say that our police appears too trigger happy to lock people up, even before due process. Sounds like “back na front”. It is not surprising therefore, that many are tempted to conclude that this was a politically induced arrest by the government. The fact that this case involves a sitting member of parliament Diana Konomanyi, this notion may find some credence with a lot of people in the country. Considering that our culture is sympathetic to polygamy, it is difficult to discard the views of those, especially the supporters of Ali Kabba, who are crying foul here.
In recent times, the practice of dragging people to the CID for alleged crimes against humanity like defamations, even before they are charged or appear in court is fast becoming common place. But why are we regularly discarding a very important part of an arm of government; the judiciary? In such cases, you would expect the law to take its course in a court of law. Among other things, President Koroma’s tenure has been renowned in comparison to other African heads of state, as very liberal when it comes to free speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law. Recent events tend to undermine this hard earned rarity of an accolade. So what are the implications of Ali Kabba’s arrest for the government or himself?
It is interesting to note that 30 years ago in 1985, Ali Kabba was arrested and detained by the then APC government for subversion. His crime was organizing city wide strikes in Freetown, as student leader against the autocratic government of the late Pa Sheki. In the absence of any credible opposition to Pa Sheki’s one-party state, Ali Kabba and his stance against the one party state came to embody the only form of opposition to the then APC autocracy. It looks like history is repeating itself 30 years down the line. There are a lot of people who would be ensnared into thinking whether we are on the slippery slope of those dark days. There are those who may find this damaging to Ali kabba’s credibility and aspiration to spear head the SLPP charge towards State House. Far from it; if anything, this arrest may have just achieved the opposite effect.
As they say in the trade, there is nothing like bad publicity. For those who did not know him, Ali Kabba may have just become the main topic of discussion around many Christmas dinner tables. He could not have wished for a better publicity. If he was unknown to many, the chances are that many would want to know, “who is Ali Kabba”? There would be a lot of political historians, especially from his camp who would be too readily happy to reel off his political, humanitarian, and academic or otherwise exploits to those who never knew about him. In view of the above, you cannot bet against Ali Kabba getting a lot of sympathetic support for his ordeal; and if that was to translate into ballots, you do the math. If Ali Kabba was an unknown quantity to many, this can only be manna to his campaign trail.
So what did the police achieve in this debacle? Considering that one of our sitting members of parliament is involved in this case, is there a temptation that many would see this as a case of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?”. Would this be seen as an arbitrary use/misuse of power? Like I said earlier, this is no attempt to decipher the legal merits or demerits of this case, but has this done more good than harm to Ali Kabba? Has this episode presented Ali Kabba as the only opposition threat to the APC party? Would many see Ali Kabba as the only man who could provide the government with a run for its money? Will the people see this as intimidation for the “perceived political threat” Ali Kabba poses? Are we seeing a rebirth of the making of Ali Kabba here? In politics, perception counts for 80% of the message.
There is no running away from the fact that this episode may have had a lot of unintended outcomes; namely air time and popularity. The sympathy vote is bound to get some mileage here; as there is every chance that many will see him as the victim, in this vortex of political and legal gymnastics. The SLPP has been dogged by the criticism that it is a house on fire. Many people may have been disillusioned by SLPP recently. One of the criticisms that have always been levied against the party has been the perennial infighting as its signature character. Reports have it that Ali Kabba has been released on bail. According to sources, John Benjamin and John Karimu, both SLPP flag bearer aspirants were selected by the police as sureties for his bail conditions.
Based on the historical political disunity that has been the trade mark of the SLPP, one would be inclined to think that other SLPP flag bearer aspirants would see the arrest of Ali Kabba as a welcome helping hand; in getting him out of the way. But no, and if this is true that John Karimu and John Benjamin were the sureties in this matter, it can only be good for the party; as many would see this as the beginning of a semblance of UNITY that has been absent in the DNA of the party. And what’s the common denominator here? Ali Kabba. All this is coming against the background of recent photo ops where Ali Kabba has been seen hand in hand with other party flag bearer aspirants.
Was this an own goal by the APC? Well that is what you get when the police, which are expected to be an independent entity, get involved in politics. Sometimes, we have to be careful about what we wish for. So there we have it. Man charged for bigamy, in a polygamous society. At a glance many may find it ridiculous. But again, some will say that it depends on how the complainant sees it. Some spouses will take it lying down; others will take you to the cleaners. If the spouse feels that she was hoodwinked into an illegal union, then by all means she is entitled like any citizen to pursue the case. Because of our cultural background, this type of case is unheard of in our country. Sadly, the political undertones in this case may have relegated any semblance of the pursuit of justice.
Sometimes, it is difficult to get your head around it all, but perhaps, some people will be best advised to let sleeping dogs lie. If anything, this episode may have presented Ali Kabba as the man to beat in the SLPP camp. If there is a case to answer, then Ali Kabba should be given that opportunity, like any other citizen to defend himself in a court of law. He does not in any way belong to a group of endangered species to require unwanted protection from the law. There could be no doubt that Ali Kabba is best placed to give his side of the story. As for the aggrieved spouse, was it worth washing the dirty laundry in the national launderette? Will others see this as “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? In the meantime, let’s be merry. It is the season of good will, and it looks like this gesture has not been lost on our law enforcement agency.
Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Don’t forget to turn of the Christmas lights when you leave the room.