The Soothsayer



March 20, 2018 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

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 National Electoral Commission at a swearing in ceremony held at State House in Freetown on Thursday, 12 February 2015.

This momentous moment 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 exhibiting a penchant for street lingo!). She declared President Ernest Koroma winner of yet another presidential election while a reported recount was on-going in some parts of the country. She went on to controversially take a junior role as deputy minister in the Ministry of Education.

Prior to climbing the pinnacle at NEC, Mr. Conteh had served for more than two decades as a competent, dedicated and efficient electoral expert, rising from District Electoral Officer to Chief Electoral Officer. It was based on his vast wealth of experience that President Koroma nominated him for the position and subsequently approved by a parliament dominated by the current ruling party.

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 had been 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 unholy 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 and unfair controversy say he is God-fearing and equitable, dedicated, efficient and committed to duty. I have no reason to submit otherwise as his very longevity at the electoral body speaks to that fact, until he proves his doubters right and supporters wrong.

Mr. Conteh cannot become an inept electoral officer overnight. The president and his advisers, no doubt, discussed his capability and suitability for the plump job 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 in the extra half of this critical national match.

Few days ahead of a crucial run-off, the ruling party and their supporters have thrown lot of venom and bile at especially Nfa Conteh, who is just one of five commissioners. Strangely, they are not pointing accusing fingers at some the commissioners with known filial and long-time relationship with ruling party apparatchiks. Although the opposition has also written to calling, they have rather drawn the commission’s attention to potential grey areas that, if addressed, would help the latter conduct free, fair and credible run-off election.

Notwithstanding the negative vibes, Mr. Conteh should seek solace in the fact that majority of his compatriot and the international community still trust he would deliver a clean run-off amid the false sense of doom and gloom bandied by certain apologists, some of whom have even called for the postponement of the election.

In conclusion, every true patriotic Sierra Leonean should encourage Mr. Conteh to be courageous and continue his mandate of administering clean and credible elections. I stand with and offer him my unflinching support during these tough times, and enjoin him to not bow to their undue pressure. You have a mission for March 27, 2018: accomplish it with candour and diligence, without fear or favour, and put the devil to shame!

*This article has been slightly modified. It was first published on 8th September 2017.