It is a very sad state of affairs that on the eve of our general elections in Sierra Leone, we are saddled with a series of constitutional crisis. This begs the question as to our propensity to attract chaos. It is unfortunate that since Ernest Koroma took over as the head of state, in spite of the good things he has done, the issue of the Sierra Leone constitution has always been central to most of the government’s undertakings. One of the blue prints in the manifesto of his 2nd term in office was the setup of the Constitutional Review Committee. With the support of the UNDP, Ernest launched the committee in July 2013.
The objective of the constitutional review process was to fulfill the national commitment made in the Lomé Peace Agreement, and implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation to further consolidate peace and strengthen the existing multi-party democracy to create an open and transparent society. To all intents and purposes, we have been left with more questions than answers. After 5 years of toiling, it is ironic that we are still faced with the same constitutional debacle and not much to show for it.
We have seen over the years that there have been lots of constitutional issues arising from our government’s interpretation or misinterpretations; take your pick. We saw how former VP Sam Sumana now turned presidential candidate, was unceremoniously disrobed of his emperor’s clothes. We saw how the issue of dual citizenship has continued to plague our electoral process. These are just a few of the kind of gymnastics that have successfully distracted us from the everyday issues that matter. Issues like our educational, social, and economic and many other have been conveniently been swept under the carpet. Instead of grappling with our inherently economic malaise, which is the concomitant effect of our pervasive corruption, we have been side-tracked by avoidable distractions.
In Sierra Leone today, our constitution is fast becoming the ultimate tyranny. We are proud of our embryonic democracy, but we need to be aware that constitutional democracy is not a romantic notion. On the one hand, it is our defence against ourselves and on the other; it is the one enemy that can defeat us. But the greatest threat to our constitution is our own ignorance of it. Sadly, our politicians are now spending more time on the steps of our law courts than our parliament. This is because, many have come to see and use our constitution as a mere lawyer’s document. It is now becoming a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.
There are other schools of thought who hold the notion that the people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will that lives only by their will.” But if the constitution is such, why do we bother having one. “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power without a right. Governments are instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honour, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.
The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it will dominate our lives and interests. The constitution is a social contract, and its strength lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. It is only when every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defence that the constitutional rights can be secured. The constitution should be regarded as the natural cure of laxatives to purge popular or representative governments or ill administrations by change of men. Our constitution should not be interfered with at will or on a whim. We should maintain it as the only safeguard of our liberties. A president cannot defend a nation if he is not held accountable to its laws.
The sad reality is that many see our constitution as a whip for political gains. The chameleon nature of the whole concept is now bordering on the ridiculous. Here we have a government that allowed Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenships to hold prominent parliamentary positions for 10 years without any qualms. The issue of dual citizenship only became an issue just when another opposition candidate dared to exercise his rights through the ballot box. And that was enough to generate an avalanche of constitutional gymnastics; phew. As we go to press, there are several petitions against candidates pending; just on the eve of our general elections.
While the ruling APC party has filed for a constitutional interpretation of the rules governing citizenship and the right to contest elections, the defence counsels for Dr. Yumkella have in the meantime applied for the recusal of two of the judges on the case, resulting in an adjournment of the hearing. This sounds like Kenya all over again; but with a twist. To all intents and purposes, this case will be expected to last even beyond the general elections; irrespective of its outcome. So this show is sure to run from the ballot box to the gavel. And you wonder where all this mess is coming from? Try selective amnesia.
While these shenanigans are unfolding, there are many who feel that there is power with impunity at play here. They see a government that is so out of control. They see one that is so bloated and infested with fraud and deceit and corruption and abuse of power. But how do you hold your government for its deeds when there is a visible need for reflection and restraint of power? Over the years, the APC party has amassed a lot of power, thanks to the comatose state of the opposition parties. With power comes the abuse of power, and our liberties remain endangered today because of that abuse of power; which is the root of all evil. Our politicians know that this is a game of power. We know that no one seizes power with the intention to relinquish it, and we are witnessing at first hand the effects of the addictive nature of power; as the innocent are sacrificed on its alter to keep it or get it. In the meantime, lives have been senselessly lost, even before a ballot is cast.
But those who see power as the ultimate aphrodisiac must also remember that the steps of power are often steps on sand. Holding someone’s fear in your hand and showing it to them is not power. And power without compassion is the worst kind of evil. In Sierra Leone today, power has become the measure of social merit and achievement; hence its propensity to attract the corruptible. But we know that nothing unmasks a man like his use of power; for it will intoxicate the best hearts. We have seen over a 10 year period how people have morphed from Salone Messiah to God help us. But as we all know, Power has only one duty — to secure the social welfare of the People.
So as we go to the polls on Wednesday, the hope against hope is that it will be FREE, FAIR and PEACEFUL. There is a lot at stake here, and it is not surprising that the International Community is taking a keen interest in the process. We have a golden opportunity to showcase our country to the world community. We have this opportunity to show that we have finally moved on from our history of a decade long barbarity to one of constitutional democracy. The rallies have been concluded and the atmosphere of festivities has been appreciated. But as we roll our sleeves to vote on 7 March, lets us all remember that there is only ONE MAMA SALONE, not for the few but FOR ALL.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).
As you rightly said, the constitution is not the problem. I would further posit that the laymen and women in the country are not the problems.
The problem we have in Sierra Leone is the men and women who put on those robes and walk the corridors of our judicial system. Since the late sixties to this very moment, the nation of Sierra Leone has been cursed with having people who are not sincere in their conscience. They enter the noble judiciary profession with dirty hands and minds.
In 2005, the constitution of Sierra Leone could have bared candidate Ernest Koroma from leading the APC to the 2007 election when he was challenged by Serry Kamal and Eddie Turay. The men and women at the highest courts in the land were not sincere or could it be that they do not truly understand that which they are practicing?
As late as 2014, when even an intelligent primary school pupil could have interpreted that the position of VP is an elected position and that only Parliaments could remove someone from that post, our men and women in the robes shamelessly showed the world that they cannot understand simple English not to talk about legal terms by misinterpreting what the constitution says.
In 2007, when defeated SLPP candidate Solomon Berewa petitioned the election outcome on the grounds that the Electoral Commissioner did not have the mandate from the Constitution to invalidate votes based on her assumption, the Supreme Court Judges failed woefully to interpret the constitution. I can go on and on and you will see how the Judges and lawyers in Sierra Leone perhaps should be made to attend judicial lessons to help Sierra Leone expunged itself from the current judicial quagmire that our brothers and sisters in the robes have dumped the country into.
Do you know how many innocent people have been sent to prison because our judges and magistrate do not understand the law and they interpret it with a flawed mind?
Tejan Kabba was petitioned by Charles Margai in1995 on the grounds that he was barred from holding a public office because of corruption. Guess what the Judiciary relied on, a purported pardoned by President Momoh that was never published in an official Gazette as mandated by the constitution. So you see where our problems lie?
Until we have men and women who are willing to stand up for that to which they are called and/or must enter the profession with clean hands (in this case I would say clean mind), we will remain at the bottom of the human index in the world. We have to turn things around because ours is a country threading on lawlessness. Our men and women in the Judiciary are not fit for purpose.
Only in Sierra Leone, we have a one man selected VP when the elected VP is alive, qualified to run for the country’s presidency and other public offices. Is that not a mockery?