April 13, 2015 By Moses Massa, April 10, 2015
It was Shakespeare who once said: “Man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assured, his glassy essence, like an angry ape, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, as make the angels weep”. The relevance of this cannot be truer than what is presently happening in Sierra Leone – display of authority, arrogance and hypocrisy. Hypocrite acts in ways he/she knows is wide of the mark but does so to make others see them as real. This in psychology is called dissonance-contradiction between one’s actions and what one believes to be true.
In this country, it is a law that everyone is entitled to express their opinion, agreeably or disagreeably, in a way acceptable by law. I have listened and read with enlightenment and obfuscation the many arguments on the constitutional question challenging us at the moment. Before meandering my way out of the political abyss, let me ask, if we truly believe some of the laws in this country are enforceable. In section 55(1-2) of the Public Elections Act 2012, it reads that in a presidential election, any citizen who legally voted may challenge the result by petition to the Supreme Court within seven days. Now if the President is sworn in, but it happened that the result was evidently fraudulent to all and the loser challenged it in Court. For the sake of argument if it was proved that it was so, will the Supreme Court declare the election of the President invalid? Well, if this seems unrealistic, it shows the hypocrisy by the drafters of the Constitution.
That was an aside and to the topic proper. I cannot agree more with some learned jurists, including Justice Abdulai Conteh’s elegant interpretation of section 41. However, brilliant the interpretation of our leaned judge is, it is clear the mighty are either disingenuous or struggling to admit our Constitution is a combustible, imbedded with many lacunae that inhibit a clear statutory interpretation of its grey areas. Often as in many religions it is dangerous to have texts that can be stretched, squeezed and oozed with interpretations of convoluted sort. Thus, we need to defer our Constitutional Review after this present government’s tenure as it is now evident that many of the issues raised by the citizens held consultations could not address these gaps. Less speed and thorough review is what we need to prevent such situations in the near future.
For far too long, what we have enjoyed as democracy is a warped representation of self-seeking individuals and leaders who never cease to amaze, daze and bamboozle us with political shenanigans of diabolic consequences. Perhaps, one has to take solace in the fact that in some countries where democracy is practiced there is hardly water tight adherence to its principle. True, the sacking of the Vice President (VP) has polarised us and all have taken sides – for, against, neutral – on the issue. And with no prejudice, the matter currently before the Supreme Court for interpretation of whether the sacking of the VP was constitutional or unconstitutional, I say without apology but sadness that this unfortunate and deliberate action will be pragmatically irreversible either for policy or political considerations. Except the Supreme Court gives a ratio contrary to my belief like many, that the President did not follow due process to remove the VP, because the purpose of sections 50-51 (removal of the President or the VP through parliament) was to prevent both or one being removed at whim by the stronger side; more so, a President removing a VP he/she may not like due to their looks and views. And those of us shouting about due process should ask ourselves whether it is because the former VP was a big fish in a pond of small ones or truly believe that is what should always be, regardless of the person(s) status or personal interest.
It is our gut instinct that the law in this country is supreme, but have we always followed it to the letter? A case in point is the current Ebola, where the application of the Public Health Emergency Regulations on dead persons is ashamedly discriminatory and painful, as there are some folks whose cause of death is not Ebola, yet are buried like Ebola victims, while others who are well connected or what have you, receive befitting burial. What a travesty and clear evidence that on many occasions there has been no due process of the law by those in authority. What angst me most is that the socio-economic, political and justice issues suffered by our people are like an island in a million of seas. The problems are far more than the political imbroglio and legal conundrum of the sacking of the former VP by the President. Take a walk along the streets of Freetown, not to talk about the slumps, and imagine our folks in the countryside, you will feel and see poverty. Although we are a rich country, yet we are still troubling to get access to clean drinking water, affordable, accessible and quality justice and medical conditions, sufficient infrastructures for swift movement of goods and people, irregular power supply; the list is countless.
To start with, the response of the Bar Association and the bickering that ensued to vote on the issue was shocking to say the least. It mirrors what King Henry VIII once said of Thomas Wolsey; his then Cardinal or today’s Prime Minister, that “his promises were, as then he was, mighty; but his performance, as he is now, nothing”. Some counsel may take umbrage to this, which does not help with the plethora of instances to say that with all its nous and passion for the strict adherence of due process, it has not always stayed the course to defend the Constitution. Put simply, has it always stood to defend the people whose rights have been violated by those with power and influence?; is it aware of the hundreds of inmates still languishing in detention at Pademba Road Maximum Security Centre over three years or more without attending court and have their cases heard?; what has it done for the famous Kono eight, who since October 2014, have been held in detention, and had it not been for the efforts of some NGOs, their case would not have been brought to the public? I hope after this problem the Bar Association will continue the exemplary virtue of defending the Constitution and violated rights of individuals.
For the rest of us, who are not lawyers but interested and disinterested citizens of governance, we say due process, but what about the political violence in Bo, December 2011, involving 14 people with Hon. Foday Rado Yokie, who were charged to court for allegedly damaging property, maliciously wounding Julius Maada Bio and others with intent to murder. The matter was not concluded, yet Hon. Yokie was allowed to contest the November 2012 Parliamentary Elections, won re-election to parliament, did the victims receive justice? What about the case involving the Chief Immigration Officer, Mr. Kholifa Koroma and the traffic warden, who was arrested, detained for checking his uninsured vehicle, and later charged to court but Mr. Koroma did not. What did we do about it? Let us remember three years ago, when some inmates escaped at the Pademba Road Maximum Security Centre and the then Director of Prisons, Mr. Moses Showers, was immediately fired by the former VP, was due process followed and did we make a great hue and cry about it? On the number of juvenile violence and teenage pregnancy cases which are sometimes charged to court, is due process followed to the conclusion of those matters? When some high profile personnel like Mr. Charles Margai was arrested and detained by the police over strong comments made on radio – for a charge of subversion that was never defined – and Dr. Tam-Baryoh detained at Pademba Road for more than ten days and later released without being charged to court, was due process followed and did we make any noise or talk about protest on their side? What about the police who are no strangers to controversies and excessive use of force which has led to several deaths on some peaceful protesters, without any public or police inquiry against the perpetrators?
Talking about the illegitimacy of the current VP’s appointment is quite an interesting bit of double standards because Sierra Leone is a place where mostly wrong things are made right by deliberate disregard for the law. In as much as I agree that the new VP’s appointment clearly violates section: 76(1) (d), which says nobody shall be qualified for election as MP if he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence which involves fraud or dishonesty. Was it not the same with former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah? Before Mr. Kabbah became President, was he not found guilty and barred from holding public office in this country, by a Commission of Inquiry, which has equal status of the High Court (s147 (5) 1991 Constitution), and was due process followed? And when now Minister of Sports, Hon. Paul Kamara wrote several publications on the President’s sentence, was he not arrested, detained, tried, found guilty and sentenced, then later appointed to his current ministerial position? Was due process followed? This is a clear example of how unserious and hypocritical our political establishment can be when pursuing their interests at the expense of the law and morality. And if such a Constitutional provision has not and could not be respected by our leaders, should it not be expunged than have it situated and evoked when the stakes are high? We have also the niggling reality of many people being sacked in their jobs without benefit. Are we paying attention?
It may surprise us to note that in some countries the law is twisted to suit the interests of the establishment. For instance, in the UK, after the black hole of lies manufactured by the Labour government under Tony Blair to go to war with Iraq on the unfounded WMD, the next Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in 2009 set up the Chilcot Inquiry to look into the lessons learnt from the Iraq invasion. With 5 years gone of obtaining witness statements, the Commission was supposed to have presented its report before 2015, but, the chair, Sir John Chilcot, a Labour government appointee, has decided to publish it after the May 2015 general elections. Whatever happens later is an illustration of how far those within the establishment can go to protect and avoid disclosure of information that may be damaging to their interest. Also in the United State, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in 2007 was charged for perjury and leaking information on the identity of one CIA official to the media, and found guilty on four of the five count charges, not least to serve 2 years in prison. But before he could begin his sentence, President Bush said the sentence was too harsh, pardoned him from going to prison and allowed the other sentence conditions.
Finally, my opinion is not different from the many who think that the President’s decision did not follow the due process. However, as one with an iconoclastic ebullience, I believe the court action is of such historical precedence for our judiciary, which may or not do justice to the great question of the day. Although this is not the first time our Constitution has been bastardized and the rights of citizens violated, significantly, it is the accretion of a perennial disregard for the law and the premonition of future tinkling of what is suddenly becoming a combustion that may threaten the security of the state, and whatever the Supreme Court’s verdict, it is high time we truly changed the often deliberate act of wrong interpretation of statutory provisions for political gains and disrespect for the law.