March 21, 2016 By Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson
Whether or not it is aligned with a constitutional review process, discussions on citizenship for non bona-fides are bound to evoke strong emotions, such as is now dominating the media landscape. And from surveys I conducted, that may even not even be for xenophobic reasons only. It could also be on account of evidence-based experiences. The perception is that in this country, whether it borders on politics, business or even criminality, foreigners tend to be open to far more privileges or receive kid-glove reprimands than us the natural citizens, all of which appear to convey an unfair advantage to them even before they are conferred citizenship.
Among several examples proffered are -: (1) Foreigners are able to meet bail conditions with far less scrutiny and publicity than them natural citizens. (2) To this day, foreigners are fewer in our Prison cells and if incarcerated at all, they do not feed from the same Prison dietary rations as citizens (you can tell that from their physiognomy upon their release). (3) That at one time some foreigners were able to arrange retrieval of their confiscated Passports from police custody and escape from this jurisdiction during their trials without notice (SCIPA; Nir Guaz etc). (4) Foreigners seem to be getting more frequent audiences with our political class who also appear to respect and trust them more as reliable allies in the economic exploitation of this country than they the citizens (particularly in areas procurements: drugs, arms, transportation and other service contracts).
Another perception is that when it comes to compensations for reputational damages and contract breaches, grievances of foreigners are more expeditiously addressed than those involving locals. The latter group on the other hand are prevailed upon to demonstrate patriotism and to “leave their cases to God” because by being hired they were done a great favour in the first place and so should “show understanding”. To buttress their points, references were made instances wherein only foreigners were able to have successfully resurrected, pursued and received settlements from our National Treasury for supplies of spare parts for assets that never existed, or to have manipulated open direct media confrontations between key government officials for the settlement of a stale debt. No bona-fide Sierra Leonean they argue, would ever achieve that feat, unless through the ECOWAS Courts. In the early 80s, some foreigners not only influenced Cabinet agenda, they were also able to get government Ministers to spy and report on colleagues who would dare argue against their business interests. (Ref: Pp 446 – 448 “Looking Back” by Dr. Sama Banya).
Continuing in their observations, they claimed that only foreigners would seem to be enjoying evidently more ambient lifestyles and in the choicest of locations. They believe that citizens who occasionally visit those places do so as guests of those same foreigners, possibly in compensation for some dirty deals perfected. Their argument is that very few of our compatriots are able to on their own impulses of choice, go and relax with their family members for a good lunch or dinner in exquisite environments, because they ordinarily could not afford the tab, which I surmised is possibly why we most times find our elites regularly congregating at cheap and mostly unsanitary locations with stinking and blocked drainages. Yet they smell not.
My conclusion therefore from all above postulations therefore is that it is a matter of perception based on those glaring inequalities in our social standards that are the crux of our apprehensions against too much relaxation in our qualification for according citizenships to foreigners. And perhaps it is those inequalities that any government will have to first work harder on at equalizing, in order to assuage seemingly genuine apprehensions that naturalized or adopted citizens will be treated just like us at all levels (including in our jail yards) to elicit public support for a further relaxation of our citizenship laws. The argument is that if without it having been granted, foreigners in this country could seem to be operating “above board”, what would they do to us when it is legally conferred upon them?
Next, even as the Constitutional Review processes progress, its publicity arm must raise their game so as to be able to diffuse the conspiracies and malignant statements by those desperate to achieve citizenship by all means, so as to improve on their public perception. All countries – including the UK and the USA – have their own guidelines on how to achieve various categories of citizenship ( by marriage, adoption, registration or naturalization etc..) which must be rigidly complied with by applicants, irrespective of how important or superior they feel about themselves in the domiciled countries. The United States for example, have long moved away from according automatic citizenship as a right by birth. Sierra Leone cannot be an exception when it comes to defining its own Citizenship Laws as government feels appropriate. And irrespective of what anyone thinks about him or herself, those laws must be complied with to guarantee eligibility.
There is no nation I know of that will allow itself to be goaded into according citizenship status to applicants because of a sustained abuse, profanity and disrespect for its government via social media clips (like that bellicose upstart of a Nasser Ayoub is engaged in) or because they choose to be trailing the CRC on their country wide sensitization tours in the hope that they will ultimately humiliate them and attract public sympathy in the process. That will be tantamount to obtaining citizenship by the back door.
Citizenship is conferred based on among other criteria, good conduct, absolute respect for, and demonstrable deference to, the authorities of the realm. It cannot be accorded just because anyone can sing like a parrot (even bland, vulgar, indecent lyrics and music, 90% of which is plagiary appealable to the gullible), or because one not having negroid ancestry but was born, bred and has lived here for over sixty (60) years, is adamant about not accepting citizenship by naturalization. Until it is amended accordingly, “the law is the law” – as President Obama would say.
After all to this day and even after fifty years of living in the UK, the Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed despite being proud owner of the famous multi-million pounds worth of Harrods at Knightsbridge in London has still not been accorded UK citizenship. So, tough luck to all of you who refuse to be naturalized!! The fact remains though that even if you become citizens today, you will always put greater premium on the other countries’ Passports you currently hold over and above ours.
I have up to this point emphasized on “foreigners” and restrained myself from using that most confused and misused nomenclature of “Lebanese”, because each time we discuss citizenship in this country, some people feel it is that group that is being unfairly targeted. Lebanese are not the only foreigners here interested in obtaining Sierra Leonean citizenship. And I describe the term as a confused and misused one because for purely economic reasons, it has now come to be inadvertently applied to also include Syrians, Turks, Armenians and anybody from the Middle East, because by a mere association with it, the doors to economic power and accelerated business confidence can be literally opened. But that is not correct.
In fact between 1958 and before I entered secondary school in 1964, I used to be a regular guest at the lunch table of Pa and Mammy N. R. Hassanyieh of No.7 Garrison Street, Freetown, together with all their children (Farid, Farida, Samir, Samira, Ghassan (RIP) (not listed by order of birth anyway), where my late Grandfather Edgerton Rowland Johnson worked as a Clerk. Throughout all those times the Hassanyiehs were known as “Syrians”. Not Lebanese.
But so much for the acceptable digression, which is both educational and a food for thought.