March 24, 2015 By James Feika
We are faced with a serious constitutional crisis as a post-war country. The Sierra Leone 1991 multi-party constitution is faced with a stress test with greater ramification than a president firing a V.P.
One fundamental challenge we face is that, any leader who wants his way has a precedent to follow in the actions of President Koroma in his selective references to the constitution to fulfil a political need and expediently dispense with Sam-Sumana as vice president.
The government’s argument is that since Sumana was no longer a member of a political party and since party politics is significantly enhanced to be the cornerstone of our legislative and executive governance structures, he could not be qualified under the same constitution to continue to be vice president. In fact, the argument goes further that because of the penumbra validation of party politics in our constitution, the section dealing with qualification to be vice president should not be read in isolation of the fundamental requirement of political parties forming the executive and legislative organs of government.
There is the opposite side of the Sierra Leone political coin. Many people who argue against the sacking of the vice president are almost unanimous on one point: they are not interested in Sam-Sumana as a person; they are deeply concerned over the obfuscation of the law in a perceived premeditated plan to abandon due process in a desperate bid to remove a sitting vice president. They say if not for a dark (sinister) motive, the constitution could have been followed where it clearly and unequivocally spelt out the conditioning and occasioning factors that should warrant the dismissal of a vice president, namely: death; incapacity; or misconduct.
Assuming it is a case of misconduct or incapacity, a tribunal is to be set up to set out their findings upon which parliament can base its legislative decision. That these guidelines were not followed should be considered as an unprecedented precedent that should be challenged. The fear is, if this matter is not resolved in a peaceful way, it will be used as a pretext to thicken the drawn lines between supporters of the president and the people who are against, not necessarily the president himself, but his precedent which they believe is dangerously compromising the Constitution as the supreme document of State Policy to suit whatever purpose. And they vow this will not happen on their watch.
A recipe for political disaster.
There are obvious reasons for the president to want to dispose of Sam-Sumana for, after all, he ‘created’ him and if he perceived him not to be loyal for whatever reason he shouldn’t be held back by anyone to relieve him of his duties. The president could have been in a situation where he felt badly disrespected, even disregarded, by his vice president and enough was enough.
But can the president actually terminate the services of Sumana as he would in a cabinet reshuffle? Isn’t there a law that spells that out clearly?
The argument that the president has not followed due process is popular. Let us make no mistake about that. This has put the APC on a delicate balance here. There are no indications its northern stronghold care about the rumblings against their president’s handling of the political and constitutional crisis. But in the west and south-east people are in no doubt about his mishandling of same. And that matters (well, at least in the Western Area) to keep the APC relevant at any future polls.
Many see the dismissal of Sumana as arbitrary and a disregard for the Constitution. It will breed a situation of willful and unproductive application of the law to suit other governments and ultimately lead to a relapse in bloodshed and destruction.
We keenly await the Supreme Court’s ruling on this matter as soon as it receives the files. Any delay beyond a month to deliver a verdict will be one more notch down into the political abyss.
The courts have a sacred responsibility, alas, a heavy burden in a constitutional crisis like this to interpret the law not only fairly but in a manner that will benefit and consolidate peace and stability in Sierra Leone.
Yes – a defining moment is on the horizon.
©James Feika is a political and economic commentator on African affairs, currently engaged in the private sector