March 19, 2015 By Moses Massa
In the traditional security paradigm of states- the intrinsic foundation of governance- the focus was on the survival of the state where the interests of the ruling elites took pre-eminence over those of the majority. However, with time, this security horizon was broadened to include the political, socio-economic and environmental policies that seek to promote the dignity, development, safety and well being of individuals. In post conflict countries, not least Sierra Leone, the security frontier is challenging, confusing and wobbly, where there seems to be tensions between the law and interests of the many competing political groups.
Following the Aljazeera documentary broadcast on the timber debacle in Sierra Leone, involving the Vice President (VP), Alhaji Sam-Sumana, before the November 2012 Elections, I had thought President Koroma was going to change Mr. Sumana as his running-mate, but owing to political horse trading and rather weak considerations of a run-off, he was stoutly defended, remained on the ticket and together scored a pyrrhic victory, which has now tainted the second term project of the all powerless and clueless (APC) ruling government.
Strangely after, the government became desperate to make redundant the office of the VP. Several moves in this regard were seen; among these, keep him off the limelight of governance, junior ministers allegedly settling personal scores with him, claiming one of his bodyguards died of Ebola, his self-quarantine and doing the unthinkable of expelling him from their party. The President and the VP are no saints at all and reading into some of the recent events, it seems that this is an orchestrated ploy on the VP to outwit the government and win public sympathy. Is this the first time the VP’s guards have been changed? Or does he need to be informed always when that is to be done? I beg to differ. At this juncture, I want to slice and dice the security dynamics of the cantankerous internal power politics to expel the VP from the APC.
Security dynamics does not only relate to the internal stability and development of a state, but also the predictability of institutions regulated by law. In Sierra Leone, the 1991 Constitution is the grand norm- the law that supersedes all other laws. The constitution is the guiding principle of our governance system, and the current stalemate has shed lights on the dark sides of our 1991 Constitution, which if true, the suspended constitutional review process, on resumption should seriously look at, because when the constitution was written certain things we now see were never thought off.
Section 41 of the 1991 Constitution stipulates the criteria of electing a President of Sierra Leone among others: a citizen of Sierra Leone; member of a political party; attained the age of forty years and qualified to be elected as member of parliament under section 76 of the constitution, including a failed BECE/WASSCE result, not more or less of it. But it does not regulate what should happen with one’s party membership after an election. Now if the VP is not on the run, should he resign or be impeached. This is a milestone in our constitutional and political history.
In sections 50-51, the conditions for removal from office of the President or VP apply equally. Section 50 (which is about mental or physical incapacity) does not apply to the present national imbroglio. The minefield is section 51, which talks about misconduct in the performance of duties. I cannot understand nor agree more why religious belief should be a consideration for political office, even the presidency of this country. Religion is a private affair, politics is not, and hence we need to separate the two. Here if the low road is taken to impeach the VP, then the parliament needs to define what gross misconduct is. We have heard the alleged intra-party gross misconduct of the VP but we are yet to have access to the APC Party Constitution- even with the passing of the Freedom to Information Act in 2013- to see what the respective provision of expelling members says. It is high time all our political parties published their constitutions in the gazette for us to access them.
For those who believe the VP can see through the rest of his term of office, they should look no further. Section 51(5) of the 1991 Constitution states that if after an impeachment hearing, a two-third majority decision is reached for the office holder to be impeached, there is no recourse to appeal in any court of law against the decision; the decision is final. Significantly, it is very important for us to know what should take pre-eminence in protecting the fundamental rights of individuals- the Constitution of Sierra Leone or the respective party constitutions, which are plagued with internal difficulties of their own. If the VP’ Office is vacant, s.54 (5) says the President shall appoint a person to be Vice President, who fulfils the provisions of s.76 for election as MP. Interestingly, the appointee does not go through any parliamentary appointment hearing and assumes office with effect on the date the vacancy existed. Against this backdrop, if the newly appointed candidate has much political baggage, there is no constitutional provision to prevent the appointment, thereby creating the seedbed for chaos.
Nature, as we have seen, does seek the consent of us to act. Assuming the President dies now- no malice intended- who is going to succeed him. If eventually there is no move to impeach the VP, should he succeed him when having been expelled from their party, leaves the VP without any political party? This situation will give us an interesting, unfolding political and legal drama. Those who took the decision would have something hot in their hand as they would do all they could to prevent this, while the VP and his cohorts would do the same- using all they have to prevent others from denying him succession. This unwanted state of affairs would ignite a political tsunami, with the potential to unlock our debased civility as experienced during the decade-long civil war in this country. For legal neutrals like us, section 41 should be given its apt interpretation and we need to know whether such a provision should apply after election of a President. Although section 41 states a presidential candidate should be a member of a political party, it does not state if a sitting President or VP needs to be a member of the political party under which he/she got elected into office nor whether he/she should be impeached or forced to resign if he/she loses membership of that party.
In conclusion, the APC and its leadership should be ashamed of their ill-timed power struggle, and political ineptitude, because at this critical moment, when we are greatly feeling the scourge of the Ebola outbreak and a crumbling economy, one would have thought the political effort was to turn our negative situation around. We cannot all as citizens interpret the country’s constitution but we have a supposedly independent judiciary, a powerful parliament and a responsible executive who should put the country first above party interest to do the right thing. And for the sake of public probity, legacy, health and stability of Sierra Leone, the VP, I suggest, should rethink his political calculations and do what is pragmatic. Remember, he who fights and runs away sometimes would live to fight another day!