March 17, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana has again been thrust into the limelight for the wrong reasons. In the middle of an Ebola outbreak in which Sierra Leone has been bested by Liberia and Guinea, the least expected from the current leadership was a politico-constitutional imbroglio. Alas, that is the case as the ruling party by all indication is hell-bent on humiliating and disgracing the vice president out of office.
The plot in this saga commenced on 6 March, 2015 when a hurriedly arranged press conference at the APC headquarters announced the expulsion of the vice president and a close ally – Kainday Bangura – from the party. The reasons given were dishonesty, deceit, stocking violence and undermining the APC party, among others.
However, when the vice president subsequently spoke on Radio Democracy, he did not only debunk the allegations, he succeeded in winning empathy from an Ebola weary masses more concerned about the virulent virus which is still on the prowl than a seeming political conspiracy to oust a democratically elected vice president.
From the outset, many Sierra Leoneans doubted the veracity of the charges against the docile vice president. They suspected, and rightfully so, that the game plan has been to tarnish the image of the vice president and throw his political image and future in doubt. But as his accusers have been left with no doubt that he will not go without a fight, the next option employed was to persuade him into resigning. And when that seems to have failed, intimidating him into throwing in the towel appears to be the most viable and urgent option.
As things stand instant, it seems the last option is what the ruling party has opted for, and for obvious reasons. No doubt they would have calculated, and rightly so, that they can only come under section 51 of the 1991 constitution (forget about those wrong citations by apologists of the government). And by further calculation, they would have realised that despite a parliamentary majority (by default), removing the vice president is almost an impossibility because an independent judicial tribunal has to sustain allegations of whether he had violated the constitution or committed gross misconduct in the performance of his official duties.
Since this is a party matter, well according to the APC, even though we have now seen state security agents being dragged into this “macabre (political) dance”, one would have expected the ruling party and the presidency by extension to handle it with class and character. But by sending security officers to the quarantined home of the vice president was simply classless and out of character, and if anything desperate. It perhaps sums up the story of a cabal willing to defy health emergency rules imposed by the president himself just in order to cower the vice president into submission.
The vice president is not a stupid man. He knows the system and probably saw the urgency to leave his house, where he had been on self-quarantine for 19 days, before the ugly incident around his home. The state and the presidency must ensure his safety, security and dignity as an elected official of the state. No one needs telling that both a flag-bearer and his running-mate run on a single ticket and that they both add value to the platform on which they contest. Hence they are elected because they are both electable. In this case, both men were elected twice by the masses. Thus, you do not need a rocket scientist to tell you the vice president contributed positively to the election of his boss and vice visa.
On that note, therefore, every democracy loving Sierra Leonean with the rule of law as his credo, should urge the vice president not to resign but to soldier on and allow due process and the rule of law to flourish in our country. If the vice president is guilty as charged, then he should face the music. But if as suspected the charges against him were concocted then we could be in for a “Watergate scandal” wherein those who diabolically schemed against the vice president should get their just dessert.
That said, I would want to applaud former vice president Solomon Berewa for his conflict mediation skills in this unfortunate political melodrama. At least on more than one occasion since his defeat in the presidential election of 2007, he has shown Sierra Leoneans that may be some of the things written about him prior to that election were mere propaganda. Only posterity can judge. But, in all of this, he has come across as a real statesman who puts country ahead of party.
Yet on the current saga with the vice president, I would disagree with Mr. Berewa that the vice president should leave his post in order to get his full retirement entitlements. Such entitlements are guaranteed by law and not granted by the say so of the president. In fact any president who refuses to accord that to those who are entitled to such benefit would be in violation of the law.
Again, part of strengthening our burgeoning democracy is to allow due process and the rule of law to play out. We may get to what seems to be a travesty if we sweep this uncalled for political debacle under the carpet by pressuring the vice president to “resign”. If those who accused him of “dishonesty, deceit and violence” can prove it, let them initiate the process of his removal. But if on the other hand that is not the case, then the man should be allowed to carry on as “Principal Assistant” of the president and to be given unfettered access to do his work with dignity and respect. After all he was voted for by Sierra Leoneans, isn’t it?
We have allowed negotiation to take primacy over the rule of law in recent times in Sierra Leone, thus sacrificing due process and equity to the altar of political intrigues and injustice. For instance, while the courts in Ghana and Kenya allowed elections petitions to be heard and adjudicated upon, our Supreme Court was more than pleased to dismiss a similar case here, not on merit, but on technicality. Are we still in pre-equity years when the Common Law clogged the wheels of justice on technical niceties?
Also, when vice presidents Atiku Abubakarr and Joyce Banda of Nigeria and Malawi, respectively, clashed with their presidents, either of them was pressurised to resign. Instead, the rule of law and the wishes of the masses were allowed to hold sway, above any other parochial justifications.
In view of the above, if Sierra Leone continues to set such bad governance precedents, any president would get up one day and say he doesn’t like the looks of his vice president. What would we do in that instance, persuade the vice president to resign?