March 10, 2016 By Titus Boye-Thompson, Development Communications Expert
It has always been a difficult road to travel. The path of working for country and not for self, of taking the moral high ground in all things metaphysical, in making decisions that may not just affect you or your immediate family but the very wellbeing of a nation. Such is the tasks that politicians have to take and it is not surprising that they suffer the greatest attrition rate in the public sector. It is clear that probity, accountability and moral rectitude are but high ideals that put the best of men to the test. Alluring as political and appointive service may be, there are certain pitfalls and vexations that cause self-doubt at the best of times and for weaker men, have resulted in their having to make some very harsh and sometimes rash decisions. Case in point is the unwarranted attack on the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Justice Edmund Cowan. A man of impeccable character, one who has served this country at several high profile positions with very little to demean himself has now become the subject of a poisoned pen in the hands of contemptuous journalism, calling for his immediate dismissal and questioning the very good judgement of the President of the Republic in the process.
It is easy for matters concerning the direction and progress of this nation to be treated with political levity but in this instance, it is regrettable that what is of such utmost importance in redefining what it means to be a Sierra Leonean is being handled with such disdain for sobriety and seriousness. Where the good name of Justice Cowan becomes a matter for public distension is way beyond me but it is good to follow the example of Andrew Keili, a noted diarist and political commentator who raised the issue of the most progressive work done by the Justice and to his credit, his energetic stance in taking the draft document out into the community, across radio stations and making it available for what should now be a period of serious contemplation and debate on the issues. It is inconceivable that a committee of around eighty people who have in diverse ways given their contribution to the review process to be shunted with the sweep of a poisoned pen to obscurity and the caricature of what should be a serious discussion be left in the portals of just one man.
Cornelius Deveaux in his inimitable way made a contribution to the ensuing debate in his somewhat peculiar and remonstrative manner with his usual propensity to contrive the situation to his advantage, articulating what would seemingly be the APC Party line or subjunctive opposition to the specific proposals on the constitutionality of party supremacy over individual propensity to renege against party discipline and control once elected to high office. In such a position, one can clearly distinguish between serious discourse from adulterated sensitivities, calling for the dismissal of the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission or questioning the President’s decision to appoint “an octogenarian” to such a sensitive position. It is regrettable that such utterances would come from a person of the pen, and with such alacrity as to send signals across intelligentsia that some upheaval of consciousness or a tragedy of cognition has ensued.
There are some contentious sections of the draft review report and as has been clearly elucidated, these matters would be subjected to public scrutiny and based on what is determined to be consensual, a further draft would be released after taking into consideration, the matters raised and to all intents and purposes, the efficacy of the reasoning behind the matters and objections or collusions emanating from such procedure. None of this requires a public flogging of Justice Cowan or any member of the CRC for that matter.
There are some very serious issues around the discourse of citizenship, its definition and the obligations and rights apportioned. These issues have been there for some time but now that an opportunity arises to extend public scrutiny on such a delicate subject, sober heads must prevail on what the definition of citizenship means for the country as a whole. There is a salient fact that Sierra Leone is the result of migration, repatriation and displacement altogether locked in the declarations on boundary limits made arbitrarily by Western European powers some far away room in Europe some time ago. In all the problematic of hedging a national identity together, the divisive tactics of colonialism left this country with two sets of land rules, disparate citizenship and fractious legal system comprised of customary law alongside a Judaeo-Christian moral law based on the English feudal system. The tinkering of some of our own Constitutional experts in the past gave us a hybrid Government system with a US style Presidential mandate alongside a Westminster Parliamentary system. The problems we have conjured up for ourselves are the very ingredients for a robust look at how we may need to define citizenship and the safeguards that must be imposed on that subject if necessary to negate the chance of the country6 being ruled by confused Arab who just happen to be born in Mabontoh. The term ‘Arab’ is used here demonstrably and deliberately to distinguish it from a person of ‘negro’ African ancestry – a term ably recognized by the extant 1991 constitution and others before it. Whilst there are very clear arguments for universal citizenship based on birth or parentage, there are those who cite Lebanon, the country from whose descendants most of the vocal challenges to our citizenship provisions emanate and, apparently a community largely denied of what they are now beginning recognize as a right that they want to exercise originate from, as having very restrictive laws on citizenship, in fact some more restrictive than the Sierra Leone 1991Constitutional provisions. That, coupled with an air of extrication between the Lebanese and the average communities in which they inhabit, it is difficult to see how the extension of Sierra Leonean citizenship would be welcomed if such extensions give such rights and privileges to Lebanese people without adequate or appropriate safeguards. It is for these arguments and reasons that we need to take a closer look on our citizenship provisions and to make a prima facie case for debunking our sanguine ancestry against the mere presumption to show that we are an inclusive society.
The arguments should be factual, high spirited and contemporaneous but in no way should they include the sacking of a man who has done his best for his country, has served so assiduously with nearly every hue of government over the years, simple because as late President Siaka Stevens once said, with a man like Edmund Cowan, it does not matter which tribe you are or which party you belong to, his first answer to authority is, Yes Sir!