…But Gov’t Spokesman damns ruling
November 28, 2017 Alusine Sesay & Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice yesterday handed down a ruling in favour of sacked Vice President Samuel Sam Ansumana, granting the latter significant reliefs against the government of Sierra Leone.
Vice President Sam Sumana was controversially relieved of his duties in 2015 after his membership in the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) was annulled by the party’s National Advisory Council (NAC). In a press release issued by State House on 17th March 2015, it was stated that President Koroma used his ‘Supreme Executive Authority’ as enshrined in the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone to sack his elected Vice President.
Among a litany of allegations to justify his sacking, the release said he had abandoned his job and sought refuge in the American Embassy in Freetown, and lied about his academic credentials.
The action of the president, unprecedented under the 1991 Constitution, attracted huge political and legal debate. Learned and experienced lawyers, including former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Abdulai O. Conteh, argued that the action was totally wrong and an absolute violation of the country’s constitution. In his widely read letter to the President, Dr. Conteh submitted that “the removal from office of the Vice President, as stated in the Release from your office, is nothing short of an exercise of power that can find no validation in the text of our national Constitution.”
The matter was tried in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone which ruled that the president had right to relieve his Vice President of his duties.
No doubt feeling dissatisfied with the Supreme Court ruling, the sacked Vice President sought a raft of reliefs at the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja, Nigeria.
The Court, presided over by Justice Hameye Foune Mahalmadane of Mali, yesterday declared that the removal of Vice President Sam Sumana from office was illegal, null and void, adding that the singular action of President Ernest Bai Koroma in sacking the former did not follow due process.
According to the judgment, the 30-day period provision in the regulations of the governing All Peoples Congress (APC) for Samuel Sam-Sumana to appeal his removal from the party was not accorded the plaintiff, hence his “right to fair hearing and to participate in politics as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right Articles 7 and 13 was grossly violated.”
In addition, the Court unanimously ordered the government of Sierra Leone to pay Chief Alhaji Sam-Sumana all his outstanding “salaries, emoluments, perquisites, entitlements and pension from the day of his sacking to the end of the time that his tenure would have expired as constitutionally elected Vice President.”
The defendant was also ordered to pay all costs of the plaintiff in gathering evidence, hiring solicitors and prosecuting the matter in court.
The Court further stated that the Supreme of Court of Sierra Leone did not interpret the 1991 Constitution properly bearing in mind that Chief Sam-Sumana was not accorded fair hearing before he was dismissed from office.
“The court should have upheld the plaintiff’s right to fair hearing in exhausting all procedures in the political party to which he was a member,” the judgement said.
While Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Fritzgerald Kamara, had argued that the ECOWAS Court lacks jurisdiction to handle the Sam-Sumana case, the three Justices from Mali, Senegal and Nigeria, dismissed that proposition, insisting that “their [Sierra Leone’s] arguments are unintelligible, as the Protocol establishing the ECOWAS Court as amended in Articles 9(4) and 10(d) is very clear on that and Sierra Leone is a signatory.”
“In so far as human rights violations are alleged to have occurred in any member state, this court has jurisdiction to invoke and we won’t shirk that,” the judges underlined.
Sam-Sumana was represented by 20 multinational lawyers from two firms – Falana & Falana Chambers in Nigeria and Atuguba & Associates from Ghana. They were led by Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana and Dr. Raymond Atuguba of Ghana respectively.
Sam Sumana was elated after the judgement and dedicated the victory to the people of Sierra Leone who have stood behind him all these years in his attempt to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.
“My country has a post-conflict situation with scars and hurt. I did not want to choose the path of violence for my personal interest. Sierra Leone is bigger than one person. That is why I have to sacrifice to make sure that our dignity as a people is restored. Our country should not be like South Sudan and Zimbabwe,” he said.
While many political pundit are of the view that the judgement would have a serious dent on the country’s democratic credentials, Presidential Spokeperson, Abdulai Bayraytay reacted to the news in typical dismissive fashion that the current administration has never recognised the jurisdiction of the court.
However, they had in the past reportedly paid US$25 million to a Lebanese businessman who got judgment at the court and a former policeman who secured reliefs for wrongful dismissal.
Mr. Bayraytay argued that: “It [the judgment] would not affect our democracy as our democratic credentials remain very, very solid. That’s why when we talk about human rights, our country stands tall because, don’t forget, since 1961 to present, it is only under President Koroma that when we came into governance in 2007, we didn’t have any prisoner of conscience and that no political prisoner has been executed.”
He noted that despite their non-recognition of the court, Sierra Leone continues to be an active member of ECOWAS “because we are bound by a treaty that established ECOWAS as a sub-regional organisation which main mandate is the promotion of integration, so we are part of it. But when it comes to legal aspect for which the court was established in 2005, we don’t recognise the court in this matter that’s why they didn’t send a representation.”
He continued: “Basically, we don’t recognise the jurisdiction of the court. That’s why in the first place the government didn’t send a representation there. And our non-sending of a representation cannot be devolved from us upholding the principles of our own very constitution because if you go to Chapter Two, under ‘The Fundamental Principles of State Policies’, it is very clear in section 14 that the fundamental principles of state are not justiciable.
“Since they are not justiciable, obligations of Sierra Leone to any treaty, including the rewrite treaty and supplementary protocols of the ECOWAS Court, are only to the extent inconsistent with the provisions of our national constitution.”
Similar comment was made by Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Joseph F. Kamara, who stated in a press release that: “While we await the full correspondence from the ECOAWAS Court Registry on the said matter, our office wishes to reiterate its legal position that the ECOWAS Court lacks the competence and jurisdiction over the aforementioned matter. The Supreme Court of Sierra Leone did rule on the above matter and therefore no other court is competent to overrule it except by itself. Therefore, the government of Sierra Leone refused to participate in the proceedings and now therefore does not accept nor recognise the decision of the ECOWAS Court in respect of the specific judgment.”