March 16, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
In early March, the All People’s Congress (APC) expelled Vice President (VP), Chief Alhaji Sam-Sumana, for indiscipline and anti-party activities following the resolution of a nine-man disciplinary committee set up by the party’s highest decision-making body, the National Advisory Council (NAC). Chaired by Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, a serving adviser to President Ernest Bai Koroma, the Committee investigated complaints against the VP. The outcome of the investigation was never a surprise as plans were underway for some time to oust the VP ahead of the 2017/2018 general elections.
But the VP could soon be fighting to hold on to his position as soon as he comes out of his self-imposed quarantine after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola.
At the party’s national headquarters in Freetown, Ambassador (Alhaji) Osman Foday Yansaneh, its National Secretary General, said: “NAC unanimously decided to expel Chief Sam-Sumana from the party pursuant to Article 8 of the 1995 Constitution of the APC for anti-party activity, fomenting violence, deceit, false statement amounting to fraud, inciting hate, threatening the personal security of key party functionaries, flouting of rulings and decisions of the party, carrying out anti-party propaganda, and engaging in activities inconsistent with the achievements of the party’s objectives”.
Despite these allegations, and old animosity, the VP continues to display his loyalty to President Koroma and the APC. From his ‘self-imposed’ quarantine home, he said that all the allegations leveled against him by the committee were not only untrue, but unfounded and misleading, and that at the appropriate time, he would address them. According to him, “I am born APC; I will die APC…and all I am going through at the moment is just a ‘storm in the tea cup’.” But the near silence of the VP amidst the Ebola outbreak and on burning state issues should have been clear signs that all was not well for him. More so, the ruling party is not leaving any stone unturned in its quest to wield ‘the big stick on the VP’.
There are rumors of sinister plans to get MPs to commence impeachment move against the VP in the likely event he refuses to voluntarily ‘throw in the towel’ by resigning from government. The President’s camp, together with top brass in the APC, could agree that President Koroma, being the leader of the party, should be given the ‘right of first refusal’ to nominate a new VP (because nature does not permit a vacuum in governance) among serving MPs or ministers. Under this scenario, the President could propose the Speaker, Hon. S.B.B. Dumbuya. The Speaker would then convene an ‘extraordinary session’ of Parliament. A quorum will be formed and with the constitutional majority, his nomination would be endorsed. He could then be immediately sworn in as the country’s VP.
This may be far-fetched because, considering the need for a smooth transition; the President is likely to nominate someone who is likely to succeed him as the next president. At the moment, the Speaker’s name is not one of those being bandied around.
The reasons given for the VP’s expulsion provide an insight into the real stance of his party men. The President’s camp knew too well that the man they had been working with since 2007 was not the type to go quietly, especially given the shape the political space is taking ahead of the 2017/2018 general elections. They needed such direct, intense, and constant political provocation and humiliation in order to completely annihilate his dream of succeeding President Koroma. The APC might have tactically devised an opportunity to push the VP into a public “faux-pas” in order to legitimize his expulsion. They found more than enough reasons.
This single act has complicated the increasingly delicate power-sharing arrangement between the Northerners (Temnes, Limbas and Lokos) alongside Easterners (Konos, Mendes, and Kissis) in President Koroma’s government. This is because the expelled VP has been quite discreet in discharging his duties at various state functions whenever the needs arose. Back home, he is seen as the major financier of the APC ahead of the 2007 elections, which brought the APC to power. In public, he has never expressed any disagreement, dissatisfaction and disaffection with both the President and the APC. He also enjoys a robust support among his kinsmen – the Konos, and among people of the Eastern region.
The sudden closeness of Diana Finda Konomanyi, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, a Kono, to President Koroma appears to be a straw that broke the camel’s back. Her activities have been pushing the VP almost into political oblivion, and out of the 2017/2018 political equation. The right time to stop him is now. He must not occupy the most coveted seat in the country – those against him may have vowed.
Only recently, supporters and sympathizers of the VP – both within and outside the APC – were being victimized, including Mrs. Kainday Bangura, a top female grassroots politician and women leader, and Dr. David Tam-Baryoh, the renowned presenter of the popular weekend radio program, ‘Monologue’. But the VP’s sacking will have dire electoral and political consequences that, if not managed well, would pitch the ruling party against the electorates.
The VP may engage the opposition – Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) – and play the ‘spoiler’s role’; with the ultimate aim of kicking the APC out of power come 2017/2018. This can be achieved by machinating his supporters alongside sympathizers into partnering with the SLPP, and by defusing the volatile political atmosphere, through calling for calm amongst them. The VP may be keeping his cards close to his chest.
If the VP successfully swings his supporters to the opposition, he will have whittled down the already dwindling support of the ruling party in the Eastern part of the country where the swing votes in the country’s electoral history reside. The SLPP, in its press release, has pledged an unambiguous solidarity with the VP. This scenario certainly will inflict massive political collateral damage on the ruling party.
Section 54(2.b) of the Sierra Leone Constitution states that to be qualified to be VP, you must be qualified to be a President. And according to Section 41.b, to be qualified to be President, you must belong to a political party. This has given rise to the question as to whether the VP can continue in government following his expulsion from the APC. If he cannot, then Chief Sumana should not continue to enjoy the perks of office of the VP because he does not belong to any political party.
Lawyers and other commentators are divided on how to interpret this constitutional provision. According to lawyer Solomon Jamiru, founder of ‘Think Salone’, a local NGO, there’s legal provision for such an argument to allow the VP remain in office. “The VP seat is not vacant because he has been expelled from the APC, what matters is that he is the VP of Sierra Leone, and should be regarded as such. The constitution is clear on that,” he says. Only a competent court will give him a final decision, as the law is always dependent on who is interpreting the provision, added Mr. Jamiru. Thomas Dixon, Editor of Salone Times Newspaper, says the VP can undo his expulsion from the party and push to make sure it does not hold water due to flaws in the constitution. But Mohammed Bangura, Chairman of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), shares a contrary view. He urges the VP to resign with immediate effect on the grounds of “morality and good governance”.
Let’s examine some lessons from Malawi, which had similar political crisis in 2014. In Malawi, Joyce Banda, who was Vice President had fallen out with late President Peter Mutharika. As plans were afoot to expel her from the party, she hurriedly formed a new political party. The President died in office and Ms. Banda was sworn in. Although the President’s henchmen later connived to remove her as President and replace her with his brother, pundits believe that Ms. Banda cemented her place in Malawi’s history and her political influence had risen.
Will Chief Sumana float a new political party, or enter into a marriage with the opposition, or simply contest his expulsion in court? There’s confusion. But as events unfold in the days ahead, Sierra Leoneans are keenly watching how the controversial expulsion, anticipated resignation, rumored impeachment, unholy political marriage, and legal fireworks of the estranged Chief Sumana will play out.