VP Sumana’s Red-Letter Day


March 12, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

Few weeks to crucial presidential election in 2007, while the current ruling government was in opposition and fighting to return to power after a fifteen years hiatus, their flag-bearer Ernest Bai Koroma opted for a relatively unknown running-mate – Samuel Sam-Sumana.

His selection left many dumbfounded, not least ardent supporters of the All Peoples Congress. To start with, Sam-Sumana had sojourned for many years in the United States and until his surprise selection was not a household name in politics, even in his native Kono district, albeit he hailed from an influential ruling family.

Yet, Koroma went for his man, in a move many said was aimed primarily to win votes as Kono is regarded as a swing state in Sierra Leonean politics, where alliances are more often than not determined by tribal and regional affinity. With Kono being in the east, which votes predominantly for the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (then in government), the choice of Sam-Sumana proved decisive as in the run-off, the APC pulled significant votes in the diamondiferous district, despite winning just one out of eight parliamentary seats in the first ballot. The Sam-Sumana effect paid off, apparently.

By the time the duo completed their first term in office and with elections beaconing in 2012, Sam-Sumana’s political stock had diminished considerably, not least as a result of scandals galore. But, again, it seemed winning in the first rounds was the sole consideration in the choice of running-mate by President Koroma, who inexplicably retained his number two, much to the disdain of a significant majority in his party and to the chagrin of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.

A leading civil society group, Campaign for Good Governance, through their coordinator, Valnora Edwin, did not mince words in condemning the president for retaining his ‘Principal Assistant’. Edwin was quoted in the Politico newspaper of 4 October, 2012, to have expressed disappointment over the VP’s retention despite no attempts on his part to publicly “clear his name from the many allegations such as the cocaine trade and illegal timber logging that were brought against him while he was vice present in the last five years”.

“As an independent organisation, we want to see people with integrity and clean record in our governance system,” Ms. Edwin was quoted to have remarked.

But as expected, Leonard Balogun Koroma, who was chief campaign manager for the joint re-election bid of President Koroma and Vice President Sam-Sumana, fired back that, “The reappointment of Chief Sam-Sumana is a wise decision by the President.” Balogun Koroma, who was made Minister of Transport and Aviation, and is reportedly part of the triumvirate of Kono politicians who testified against the vice president at the Investigating Committee, famously added that Sam-Sumana had demonstrated “love and patriotism to the people of Sierra Leone in the last five years”, and that the “Vice President is loved by the Konos and people of Sierra Leone because of his development and clean records he exhibited in the country”.

Well, they say a day in politics is a long time. Fast forward to Friday 6, March 2015, the National Advisory Committee (NAC) of the APC reached the controversial decision to expel Sam-Sumana from the party after an investigative process spanning three months. The Investigating Committee stated as reasons, pursuant to Article 8 of the 1995 Constitution of the APC, “for inciting anti-party activity, fermenting 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 achievement of the party’s objectives.”

According to the party’s National Secretary General, Ambassador Alhaji Osman Foday Yansaneh, the litany of charges against the vice president, once feted by the rank and file of the APC, could be summed thus: falsifying his academic qualification – that he has a graduate degree – lying that he was Muslim prior to his selection as running-mate in 2007, and being mastermind of political violence against party comrades in the volatile Kono district.

The vice president, though in self quarantine following the death by Ebola of one of his security officers, told Radio Democracy on Tuesday, 10 March, that the allegations were “baseless, fabrications and lies” and left listeners with no iota of doubt that he was committed to remaining a member of the ruling party.

That rare interview by the publicity shy and soft-spoken vice president undoubtedly won him many sympathisers as many are appalled that instead of fighting a scourge in which our neighbours – Liberia and Guinea – have bested us, the political class in Freetown was busy with “investigating” the vice president for alleged acts of violence, fraud and insubordination, among others.

At the headquarters of the ruling party that Friday night, a large crowd gathered to celebrate the expulsion of the vice president, with scant regard for public emergency laws and in reckless violation of rules invoked by the president himself.
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He was seen smiling and waving to the mammoth crowd as his motorcade slowly meandered its way through the ecstatic crowd, perhaps in tacit approval of such blatant disregard for law and order.

The decision to expel the vice president from the ruling party may have just triggered an unnecessary constitutional minefield. Already, lawyers for the vice president, Jenkins-Johnston and Co., have written to the party demanding a written confirmation of the expulsion – that was belatedly delivered via an aide – and transcript or audio of evidence the party used to reach the decision to expel the vice president from the ruling party.

Although the above move does not amount to going to court, yet in a canny bid to turn the tide against the much maligned vice president, the party’s scribe, while speaking on 98.1 FM on Wednesday, said to the effect that such amounts to going to war with the party, despite coming across as conciliatory in his interview a day earlier on the same radio. The truth though is that no litigation has been commenced just yet.

That said, the vice president remains in his elected position and entitled by the constitution to act as president if his boss is out of the country. Some were quick to proffer a rather bizarre legal argument that because he has been expelled from his party, he is automatically disqualified as vice president, citing section 41(b) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

The above sub-section applies exclusively to candidates in a presidential election as the spirit of the constitution is such that independent presidential candidates, unlike parliamentary aspirants, are prohibited by law to contest.

However, the vice president may be removed and replaced by the president with someone qualified to be elected a Member of Parliament in accordance with section 54(5), but not until, in this instance, the provisions of section 51 of our constitution are followed and satisfied.

The said section, which borders on “misconduct”, states to the effect that to set about with an impeachment process against the vice president, a notice in writing signed by not less than half of Members of Parliament ought to be made to the Speaker. It is significant to note that the parameters of the alleged misconduct can only be determined by whether he “committed any violation of the Constitution or any gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office”.

Accordingly, only the determination of the above can then enable a secret session of parliament to meet and vote on the issue, with not less than two-thirds voting in favour, which would then require a judicial tribunal comprising five persons, empanelled by the Chief Justice, and headed by a Supreme Court judge, to come out with their findings. All of which should not go beyond three months!

It is only after the tribunal has made their report to Parliament, provided the allegations are sustained, that a secret session of the House will by not less than two-thirds, remove the vice president.

Though a possibility that the vice president could be impeached as a result of the two-third majority which the ruling party holds by default (appeals against two of their lawmakers are still pending in court), the involvement of the judiciary presents a faint hope that fairness and due process would be followed if the intent of this unprecedented move is to remove the vice president from office.

Be that as it may, it could take months or even years before we reach that juncture, as the embattled vice president could challenge the decision by using redress mechanisms within his party and the national court, which jurisdiction cannot be ousted by any clause in the party’s constitution which impliedly denies that basic right to its members.

Did I hear the ruling party say the matter is an internal private party affairs?

Absolutely no! Because it concerns the vice president, and by extension the presidency which was popularly voted for by the masses.

Whatever way this political struggle for power and influence go, it serves as an unnecessary distraction to our fight to end the Ebola outbreak. Perhaps most significantly, it would vindicate CGG’s Valnora Edwin and many Sierra Leoneans who held the view that the APC and President Koroma committed an error in judgment by electing to select and retain a man with more than a fair share of scandals as the second gentleman of the republic.