Whither Sierra Leone?

As a young boy in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Sierra Leone we always played football. And the most popular ball used then was called “two shilling ball.” This was a much smaller ball than that usually recommended by FIFA for its competitions. This ball was usually the property of one person who, even if not a good player, dictated who plays. The owner could select (‘pick’ in local parlance) and sack members of his team at will. In doing his selection or ‘picking’, it is not necessarily the best players that will make it to his team but rather those in his good books. When he loses, he takes his ball and goes home irrespective of whether the others wish to continue playing. There were no rules apart from his.

This scenario of the lack of rules and regulations is the simplest way of putting what the state of Sierra Leone went through during the month of March when the President sacked his Vice and replaced him without any regard for the constitution.

It was a drama never played or witnessed in the country’s chequered political history since independence in April 1961, or to be exact, since the advent of a republican status in 1971 and the subsequent provision for the post of Vice President in 1978. 

First the Vice-President, Samuel Sam Sumana, was expelled from the ruling All People’s Congress, APC, party. The reasons advanced were for internal party matters. Let us for now leave that aspect of internal matters of the ruling All Peoples Congress Party to deal with. I will come to it later.

What was most shameful, disgraceful and disrespectful was the manner in which the country’s constitution was blatantly flouted in the removal of the Vice President.  A statement signed by President Ernest Bai Koroma states in part: “… … And whereas Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana is no longer a member of a political party in Sierra Leone and therefore does not have the continuous requirement to hold office as Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, as provided for in section 41(b) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone Act no 6 of 1991, I hereby relieve Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana of the Duties and from the Office of Vice President of Sierra Leone with immediate effect….”

The statement came days after the Vice President’s security chiefs had been disarmed and withdrawn and his house surrounded by security personnel. This happened in a country that is ruled by a civilian government and not a military junta. This initial move had already irked the usually tranquil population and they took to social media to condemn the act.

Members of the Sierra Leone Bar Association were furious and so took to the streets to call the President to order. They were harassed by the police in the courtroom where they had gathered and two of its members were even arrested and detained for a while.

Former Government Minister, Dr  Abdulai Conteh , who himself rose to become Vice President decided to come out of his political quiet from his post as Justice of Appeal of the Court of Appeal of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to argue against President Koroma’s actions. Apart from serving as Vice President, Dr Conteh was also Attorney-General, Minister of Justice and for many years Foreign Minister. As a constitutional expert Dr Conteh is therefore, one of the most appropriate persons to argue out the 1991 constitution under which President Koroma based his decision to dismiss his Vice.

In an open letter to President Koroma he said: “….Your Excellency, with the utmost respect, as the guardian of the Constitution, as stipulated in sub- section (3) of section 40 of the Constitution, you have not been properly advised or served in terms of the provisions of the Constitution you have invoked for taking this most extraordinary measure.” 

In reference to the sections of the constitution quoted in the release from State House signed by President Koroma, Dr Conteh said: “….A simple, plain and teleological reading of these provisions would readily show that they vests or grant no such power in you or anyone else for that matter for the following reasons.

“First, section 40 (1) proclaims you as the President of the Republic to be the Head of State, the supreme executive authority of the Republic and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces. It may be noted that this section vests or grants no power, it is merely declaratory of the attributes or incidence of the office of the President. However, Part II of the Constitution on Executive Powers, in section 56(1) vests executive power in the country in you as the President. This power may be exercised by you directly or through members of the Cabinet, Ministers, Deputy Ministers or public officers subordinate to you. But importantly, the exercise of executive power is expressly subject to the provisions of the Constitution.”

Like the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Dr Conteh insists that any removal of the Vice President MUST be done through an impeachment process by parliament.

Unfortunately what President Koroma did can no longer be reversed as a few days after he went ahead and swore in a new Vice President, Mr. Victor Foh, a staunch APC stalwart who until then was serving as the country’s Ambassador to China. That he chose someone who was being paid from the government’s coffers is itself constitutionally faulty and legal aspects continue to, unfortunately, argue that out in wilderness. 

Surprisingly and sadly enough, in his maiden speech, Mr. Foh pledged his allegiance to THE PRESIDENT and NOT to Sierra Leone. It is even more bothersome to hear him bring religious tenets into the polity of the state.  He openly brought out tribalism when he proclaimed “I am coming from Jimi Bagbo in the Bo district. I am a full blown Mende man.”   He further added: “ I promise to be loyal and give the best of service to you, Mr. President and this party, the All People’s Congress .“ Such a proclamation speaks volume. 

With this deal done, the next hurdle ahead for Mr. Foh is the general elections ahead in 2016. The scheming for the presidential candidacy for the ruling party will soon be at hand. Will Victor Foh be in the race? The answer is far from being conclusive. NO Vice President has succeeded the President in Sierra Leone. Sam Sumana’s hope was dashed in a typical political fashion devoid of respect of the constitution as was played out in the recent melodrama.  Should Victor Foh join the bandwagon then he has a tempestuous journey ahead. 

 Going by precedence he stands very little, if any, chance of succeeding President Koroma. He only needs to look back at his predecessors and make his own conclusion. 

But coming back to the expulsion of Sam Sumana from the ruling All People’s Congress, the party gave what could easily be considered flimsy excuses. Among them were:

 * That he is not a Muslim as he claimed

* That he lied about his qualifications and 

*That he had been plotting to create a new party.

Granted all these are true. Why are they coming out only now? If religion and educational background are prerequisites for the post of a minister, or better still the Vice President I wonder why none of these were properly vetted before his choice as a running mate as far back as in 2007 and better still in the last election after he had served one term? Since when has Sierra Leone overtly started referring to religious background as a yardstick for political posts?

These are dangerous trends, which, if not nipped in the bud will spell doom for a country that has not only witnessed a long drawn war that could easily be linked to political weaknesses; suffered under the cloak of Ebola, directly associated with absolute lack of medical services because of political inexpediency and one which, unlike many other African countries, has successfully enjoyed religious tolerance to the highest degree.