- Supreme Court rules
September 10, 2015 By Patrick J. Kamara, Hassan G. Koroma & Hawa Amara
It took the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone nearly five months to decide the unprecedented constitutional matter of whether a president can unilaterally sack his vice, instead of going through Parliament as stipulated by the 1991 Constitution.
Former Vice President Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana had filed a motion in the court challenging his sacking by President Koroma, who appointed Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh as his replacement.
Attorney-General Franklyn Bai Kargbo and Mr. Foh were the first and second defendants, respectively.
All five judges of the apex court took almost six hours to hand down the judgment, which many describe as historic, in favour of President Koroma, that the constitution grants him “supreme executive authority” to relieve his former principal assistance from office.
The erstwhile vice president was removed from his office on 17 March this year after he was expelled by the ruling All People’s Congress on 6 March on allegations of fomenting violence in his home district of Kono, deceitfulness and other anti-party activities, by the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the APC. He appealed the decision but majority of the party’s delegates upheld the NAC decision at an extraordinary meeting.
Alhaji Sam-Sumana’s lawyers filed an originating notice of motion in the Supreme Court on 20 March, 2015 seeking an interpretation of whether the President can “relieve the Vice President of his office and duties” other than by ways prescribed by sections 50 and 51 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone. They also prayed that the court interprets whether the president, by way of his “supreme executive authority” can unilaterally sack his vice president.
In answering those two questions, acting Chief Justice, Valesius Thomas, in his ruling told the crowded court that President Koroma lacked the power under sections 50 and 51 of the 1991 Constitution to remove Alhaji Sam-Sumana as the plaintiff had not breached any of the conditions set out in the said sections, adding that the same provisions applied to both the president and his vice.
But he noted that in determining whether the “supreme executive power” of the president includes relieving his vice from office, the court had to establish and examine the provisions set under section 53 of the Constitution, which gives the president “supreme executive power” to exercise his duties.
He opined that the country’s constitution distinguishes the three organs of government, with each organ independent of the other. He said the president is the head of the executive branch of the government and that he has powers vested in him as the guardian of the Constitution and head of the executive to sack any of his subordinates.
Justice Thomas maintained that although the president and his vice were elected into office on the same ticket, the president can choose to remove his vice if the latter fails to meet any of the requirements prescribed under section 41 of the Constitution, as all the provisions in that section are continuous requirement to hold the Office of President and Vice President.
Section 41 states among other things that a person can only be qualified for election as President when he is a citizen of Sierra Leone, a member of a political party, has attained the age of 40 years and is qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament.
On the issue of the first defendant, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Franklyn Bai Kargbo, the acting Chief Justice said Justice Browne-Marke had stated in his ruling in the injunction motion filed by the former vice president that it was incorrect to bring the former as a defendant and not the government of Sierra Leone because President Koroma acted independently as an individual.
The judge said plaintiff lawyer, Charles Margai’s reference to the Alhaji Atiku Abubakarr case in Nigeria in which the Supreme Court ruled that the president cannot sack his vice does not apply in the instant case because both countries do not have similar constitutions.
Reading her ruling, Justice Vivian Solomon said the Elections Act of 2012 did not mention election of vice president but only the president, and that the name and face of the vice president did not appear on the ballot paper.
Justice Solomon said the second defendant, Mr. Victor Foh, only benefited from the president’s action whilst the first defendant was a cabinet minister, thus according to her, it was incorrect to have brought him (Foh) before the court for an action he did not commit.
“The president is the guardian of the Constitution of Sierra Leone; if he didn’t do what he has done he would have been charged for not protecting the Constitution of the country and more so he has the supreme executive power to remove and replace a vice president when the office becomes vacant,” said Justice Solomon.
She concurred with the acting Chief Justice that the vice president no longer fulfilled the requirement in section 41, which is a continuous requirement, after he was expelled by his party.
The other judges – Nicholas Browne-Marke, Eku Roberts and Patrick Hamilton – said in their respective rulings that the president was right to sack his vice president.
Outside the court, lawyer for the sacked vice president, Mohamed Pa-Momo Fofanah, told pressmen they would take the message to their client and decide on which line of action to take next.
He said they have to go by the ruling of the court which is final, noting that they had canvassed their point eloquently but the court has decided otherwise. “We were very clear on the fact that the vacancy which the court referred to was only created by the president’s action, but the court ruled otherwise,” he said.
Lawyers representing the defendants, including Berthan Macauley Jr. and Ajibola Manley-Spaine, were seen smiling and chatting their way out of court.
Meanwhile, hundreds of APC members and their supporters were seen outside the court building jubilating after the court handed the decision. They had in their midst the deputy minister of Transport and Aviation, Ibrahim ‘Woshingai’ Mansaray, and leader and chairman of the United Democratic Party, Mohamed Bangura.