The Sierra Leone Constitution Is Not a Political Football.

Abdulai Mansaray, author

When governments are instituted, it is for the common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people. It is not for the profit, honour or private interest of any one man, family or class of men. The greatest asset of any government is its people. It is therefore incumbent on any government that in order to succeed, such a government should endeavour to invest in its people.  Investing in people could take the form of good education, good healthcare and sanitation, a fair tax system, justice, freedom, and good governance, to name but a few. It is in pursuance of such lofty ideals that governments all over the world sign a contract with their people. This social contract is what is loosely referred to as the constitution.

The constitution of Sierra Leone is the highest law in the land. Unlike other countries like our colonial masters Britain, it is a written statement of the Sierra Leone government, which clarifies the relationship between the government and its citizens. Our constitution explains the powers the government does (and does not) have, and guarantees certain rights and freedoms to the people. In other words, the constitution is the blueprint for our democracy. Any attack on the constitution should be seen as an attack on our democracy. If our constitution is to succeed, and in effect our democracy, the strength of it lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. If we are to keep our constitutional rights secure, every citizen should feel duty bound to do his or her share in this defence.

It is no secret that in the recent years of our embryonic democracy, our constitution has come under serious attacks. It is increasingly becoming the last refuge of the incompetent. Ernest Bai Koroma took the reins in 2007 and felt the need to tweak our constitution. He ordered a constitutional review; but only after his first term. Many have always questioned, with cynicism why he never saw the need to do so since he took office, but until during his second term. Others saw it as a desperate attempt of a leader in his political death throes. He launched the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) in July 2013, with the support of United Nations Development Program (UNDP). With hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by donor organisations, what was the outcome?

In the months that followed, we were treated to another assault on our constitution when the then VP Sam Sumana was booted out of office by the Koroma’s government. The outcry is now in the annals of our history. In the run up to the elections, we witnessed forage into the lockers of our constitution, resulting in the now proverbial 1 sim- 2 sim loose talk. To all intents and purposes, this was an important aspect of our constitution that required attention. The irony was that, the APC knew about this anomaly all along and it took them a decade to realise the need for an amendment? Many saw this move as ill meaning and not in the interest of constitutional sanity but just because it suited them at the time. It was seen as a tool to throw the spanner in the works of Yumkella, who was erroneously perceived, as the election results proved, as the MAIN threat APC hegemony. The last decade has seen a lot of attempts to surgically tweak our constitution, not in the interest of the people but for the few, with intended outcomes.

President Bio is yet to hit his proverbial 100 days in office and already, the country is in the firm grip of a constitutional wrestling match; thanks to the removal of the erstwhile ACC commissioner Ady Macaulay. As we all know, when our constitution was written to usher in our independence in 1961, it was expected to endure, so that persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom. The constitution was made and written by people; as such the people can unmake it.  However, the constitution was not made for a day, nor was it composed of such flexible and malleable materials to be warped into the purposes of a casually rising power or influence. There is an expectation that we are not supposed to interfere with anything in the constitution. We are expected to maintain it; for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. Any political action to breach the constitution should be rightly seen as an open ended corruption.

The sad state of affairs is that, many people are simply treating our constitution like a mere lawyer’s document. It is not. It is a vehicle of our lives, and its spirit should be the spirit of our age. With that said, it is irrefutably sacrosanct that our first defender of our constitution should be our president. That is the oath our presidents take, that is the contract our presidents sign, and that is the social contract they sign with the people, when they take office. And that is the confidence and trust we bestow on them to defend our constitution, when we vote and inaugurate them into office.

 No president can defend a nation if he/she is not held accountable to its laws. But as said earlier, our constitution has become a door mat in the halls of power in recent times. Those with greyer hairs will attest to the fact that since independence, this has been a common feature by various leaders in our history. Some of us witnessed how Pa Sheki used political alchemy to transform our country into different shades of one party state, Republic, and even “one man geng”. There is no doubt that our constitution has, and continues to face threats. But the greatest threat to our constitution is our own ignorance of it. I am Guilty. Our constitution does not give every Sierra Leonean the inalienable right to make a damn fool of him/herself.

President Bio is the new man on the block. You may not like it but you have to accept it; full stop. Like Agenda for Change, he has promised a New Direction. Like the phrase denotes, we should expect something “new”. For something to be “new”, it should be different from the “old”. This means that there will be changes. These changes can mean a change in direction, a change in personnel, procedure, ethos, leadership, policy, etc. In reality, New Direction can be interpreted as “it is no longer business as usual”. There has been a change in management here remember? The tactics, the shape of the team, the style of play, the transfer policy and even the tea lady has changed. But like any football team, such changes like the style of play should not only bring results, but must be palatable to the supporters; and that’s the electorate.  

If the new manager is still playing the same boring football with the same bad results, surely the supporters are not going to be happy; ask Luis Van Gaal. So when President Bio and his Biovistas were questioned about the constitutional legality of removing the then ACC Commissioner Ady Macaulay, there were some who conveniently referred to some of the constitutional breaches that took place under the stewardship of former President Koroma; especially the sacking of VP Sam Sumana. This was as if to say, “na we start am? It is understandable to some, if the APC is gone all high and mighty on the supposedly recent constitutional breaches by the Bio government. The opposition has been shouting from the rooftops about foul play. Ironically, some have found it laughable that the APC, in its infinite wisdom is engaged in” a pot calling the kettle black” situation. Many have dismissed it as mere hypocrisy; which is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. You can pretend you’re moral, you can say you’re moral, but it is not the same as acting moral. Some people believe that such issues should be raised and questioned by the opposition. But some also feel that APC is the least qualified candidate to raise such questions; given its recent record on last Olympic constitutional gymnastics.

Sometimes, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Some have even likened the APC’s cry of foul play, to that of foxes voting for the welfare of chickens. Others may want to know where the APC was, when our constitution was taken to the political morticians’ table. Politics is the only art whose artists regularly disown their masterpiece.

But that is no justification for such breaches; if any took place. Two wrongs can make it right. You cannot justify a bad action with a bad precedent or occurrence. If the APC behaved intolerably badly, does not mean that the SLPP should do the same. Remember that this is a “NEW Direction” and people expect some “New” in the NEW Direction”. In this new direction, people expect a new light, and there are two ways you can spread the light. You can be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. Blowing out someone’s candle doesn’t t make yours shine any brighter.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).

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