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THE SOOTHSAYER

September 8, 2017 By ABU-BAKARR SHERIFF

STANDING WITH NFA ALIE CONTEH

Spare a thought for the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohamed N’fa Alie Conteh. He is probably the most pilloried head of a public electoral body on the continent, perhaps even more than his Kenya counterpart.

Some with very dodgy credentials have referred to him as “negligent and incompetent” while an unholy alliance of patently partisan civil society groups have called for his resignation, probably emboldened by a similar call from a relatively unknown lawyer who has used more time and energy to throw spanners into the works of the NEC boss, given any available opportunity, than handling his legal briefs.

Mr. Conteh took the oath of office as Chief Electoral Commissioner and Chairman of the National Electoral Commission at a swearing in ceremony held at State House, Freetown on Thursday, 12 February 2015.

This momentous moment, witnessed by dignitaries, was significant, in that a new man was taking over the helm of affairs from Dr. Christiana Thorpe, the controversial ex-nun who unilaterally (without recourse to any law) cancelled votes in more than 400 polling stations across the country in 2007, and infamously told dissatisfied parties “to go police!”(again ousting the jurisdiction of the court!) as she declared President Ernest Koroma winner of yet another presidential election. She has since gone on to take a subordinate post as deputy minister in the current administration.

Prior to climbing the pinnacle at NEC, Mr. Conteh had served for more than two-and-half decades as a competent, dedicated and efficient electoral expert, rising from District Electoral Officer to Chief Electoral Officer (nominated by no less a person than the president and approved by parliament.) He has demonstrated his mastery of the engineering of elections by writing numerous publications on the subject matter, including but not limited to “The Institution of Paramount Chieftaincy in Sierra Leone: An Introduction to its history and electoral process’’ and “A Short History of the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone: 1961-2010” (2012); “The Electoral Commission and the Management of Sierra Leone’s Electoral Process”.

During the oath-taking ceremony at State House, administered by President Koroma, the latter publicly acknowledged that the new NEC boss was part of two previously held elections which were acclaimed by both local and international organisations to be free, fair and transparent. In fact, Conteh was commissioner for the north in 2012 where the ruling party swept the polls!

Fast forward to 2017, few months to crucial elections that might herald a new dawn in Sierra Leone, some like-minded forces from the press, civil society and government want the NEC boss out! His sole misdemeanor, being at the helm of a statutory body that has the mandate to conduct free, fair and credible elections spanning every phase of the process, and having demonstrated every indication of doing just that, without fear or favour.

Those who know the man at the centre of this unnecessary controversy say he is God-fearing and equitable, dedicated, committed, efficient and committed to duty. I have no reason to submit otherwise as his very longevity at the electoral body speaks to that fact, and not until he proves his doubters right and supporters wrong.

Remember class is permanent and form is transitory. Mr. Conteh cannot become an inept official overnight. The president and his advisers no doubt discussed his potentials before announcing his nomination; a parliament dominated by the ruling party subjected him to rigorous screening before ratifying his appointment.

So what could be the reason for such venomous ad homenem attacks against a gentle and affable man who has dedicated a quarter of a century of his productive years to conducting free, fair and credible elections? To hazard a guess, the NEC boss might have stood firm against attempts to compromise the process and to render nugatory the ethos of fair play to all political actors, hence unpatriotic calls to get rid of the referee half way into this critical national match.

It is public knowledge that NEC is currently starved of much-needed funds; a National Electoral Watch officer said the other day that the commission’s staff have gone for two months without pay. The general public is not oblivious of the fact that government had stampeded NEC into using “rotten faulty equipment” procured by the National Civil Registration Authority for the voter registration. And yet some folks, including the alarmist lawyer and civil society actors, are not talking about the unfulfilled promise that voters would use special identification cards to vote in the 2018 and subsequent elections. Again, none of the naysayers have thought of, or would dare speak about, the fact that our race for time to conduct tripartite elections in March 2018 may have come about as a direct consequence of a seeming reluctance to announce the date for elections, despite two reminders to the presidency.

But in all of these, Mr. Conteh should seek solace from the fact that he is not alone in this and will not be the last. When Justice Cowan proved a hard nut to crack at the Constitutional Review Committee, he was called all types of names by some of those who are now calling for the resignation of the NEC boss. The reason being, he failed to dance the ‘Mathorma’ dance and instead danced with the people.

In conclusion, every democracy-loving Sierra Leonean with a dint of equity and reasonableness should urge Mr. Conteh to be courageous and continue his mandate of superintending over a clean and credible process from start to finish. As I stand with and offer him my support during these tough times, let me enjoin him to not be cowered or succumb to their pressure. You have a mission for March 7, 2018: accomplish it with candour and diligence, without fear or favour, and put the devil to shame!