Observers from Mars must be thinking why on earth, a country as small as Sierra Leone – after seventeen years since coming out of a brutal civil war, just cannot get its acts together by ensuring that the most basic tenet of human existence – law and order, is discharged by those in power, as reasonably and fairly as possible, without chaos.
Take the current constitutional crisis, which many now believed to have been engineered by the ruling APC, to prevent their fellow Sierra Leoneans that are in possession of dual nationalities from contesting elections and be appointed government ministers. This is a crisis that need not have happened, especially so close to general and presidential elections which are due on the 7th of March 2018 – less than eight weeks.
The ruling party, perhaps sensing that it is about to lose the elections if the people of Sierra Leone are granted the freedom to vote, has resorted to invoking sections of the country’s Constitution – which itself as a government, has failed to uphold since coming to power in 2007. Section 76 of the Constitution says that anyone with dual nationality is ineligible to contest parliamentary elections and cannot also be appointed government minister.
But in 2006, the government of president Ahmed Tejan kabbah legislated new laws granting Sierra Leoneans the privilege of possessing dual nationality, in recognition of the fact that during the war, hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans fled the country to seek refuge and a better life abroad.
In addition to this massive sacrifice, Sierra Leoneans living and working abroad are responsible for remitting hundreds of millions of dollars back to Sierra Leone, which is helping to cushion the abject levels of poverty in the country that the government is failing to address. Since 2006, successive governments of Sierra Leone and the country’s electoral commission have respected the changes to the citizenship laws introduced in 2005, as many Sierra Leoneans return home to successfully contest elections as parliamentarians, whilst others are appointed to ministerial roles.
But successive governments have grotesquely failed to ensure that Section 76 of the constitution was removed, so that there will be no conflict or inconsistencies with the 2006 Act, which could prejudice the right of citizens to hold dual nationality and contest elections. This is slothful governance.
As a result, not a single political party has ensured that its application and vetting process for all those expressing an interest in becoming a member of parliament, includes proof of nationality and declaration that they do not hold dual citizenship.
So what we have today is a constitutional crisis which many Sierra Leoneans in and out of the country say, is a manufactured blunder by president Koroma and his ruling party, hoping to deny opposition parties whose funding comes largely from Sierra Leoneans living abroad, the lifeblood needed to succeed at those elections.
Why did president Koroma refuse to accept the recommendations made by the constitution review committee for a new constitution? The answer is now clear. After spending millions of dollars on a constitution review process, conducted by a committee chaired by Justice Edmund Cowan, president Koroma failed to honour his promise of a national referendum in 2017, which would have resulted in massive changes to the 1991 Constitution, including curtailing the powers of the president.
Sierra Leone coalition politics – compromise is not a betrayal
The Sierra Leone general election is slowly but surely inching its way to the climax by the minute. In the meantime, the statisticians, soothsayers, and those with the crystal balls have gone to town, in trying to predict the outcome of the election.
Some draw their conclusions from experience. Others do so by checking the political temperature of the country. But there are many who make their conclusions based on the crowds from the respective rallies, “Poda Poda” talk, and the noise coming from ataya bases throughout the country. The latter follow the theory of “seeing is believing”.
There are others who revert to their tried and trusted research on the traditional geo-tribal loyalties, which have served them in the past. Our political history has always been lumbered with the APC and the SLPP as the 2 main parties. (Photo: Koroma APC, towering over Maada Bio SLPP). There have been other political parties in the past, but none had ever morphed past the embryonic stage.
But this year’s election has seen, in the strictest sense of the word, a 3rd party. It is therefore obvious that the political discourse, the parlance, the debates and the usual are no longer the same. The modus operandi has ceased to be the modus operandi. There is a new kid on the block, and this time our perennial political players have a new partner or opposition to contend with. The opposition is no longer about the north south divide. Kono district is no longer the Ohio and king maker.
Our traditional political parties can no longer bank on what they hitherto, considered their loyal support. While many had dismissed the emergence of a 3rd party as a mere gimmick and irritation, others are now recognising it as a spanner in the works. The jitters are becoming increasingly obvious.
It is no wonder many have concluded that the APC’s recent attempt to invoke the constitution was a blatant but inept attempt to disenfranchise its opponents. Many see it as a reflection of the panic that is slowly setting in; which by implication means that the traditional loyalties and support are no longer taken for granted.
With the official nominations concluded, and with various parties having displayed their plumage, there are accusations that the APC party has been engaging in renting crowds to give a semblance of massive support. Others feel very uneasy with the kind of largesse that had been put on display.
The T-shirts, motor bikes, hat and all other forms of political regalia, not forgetting the usual provision of alcohol to the youths have been questioned by many. There have been accusations that some rented “APC” crowds from the provinces were stranded in Freetown after the nominations.
The fact that the APC party was reportedly the only party nomination event that attracted some violence has left a bitter taste and sense of apprehension for many. Some have even gone to the extent of accusing the APC of trying to present a picture of “mass support”, to pre-empt victory, and by so doing dismiss any potential doubts about the perceived results. Reverse psychology.
On the other side of the aisle, there are those who believe that the APC has genuine “massive support” with the electorate. Some of us have been accused that our opinions are social media driven, and that we do not enjoy the benefits of being on the ground. Some say that our assumptions are purely based on Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook posts and desktop journalism. Guilty as charged; enh maybe, but not if the electorate have anything to do with it, come March. But the question that is stretching every frontal lobe is “who will win the 2018 elections?”
Interestingly, depending on who you talk to, every candidate and their followers are 110% confident of winning. You can’t begrudge anyone to be that confident at this stage. With the exception of the APC, there is a latent belief that the electorate will seek a change, and it is not surprising “Change” has become the thematic denominator during the campaigns. One thing is certain though, the election is as unpredictable as you can get.
There is no doubt that the wind of change is blowing across the continent. We have seen it in Ghana, Gambia, and most recently our cousins in Liberia. But what catches my attention is what happened in The Gambia. It is unquestionable that the clamour for change is becoming deafening. Whether the change is within the party or from outside the party hardly matters.
There is a call for change within the APC; and there are signs that the message is getting home. Ask their cousins in the diaspora. Others believe that change can only come with an overhaul of the whole system. In the Gambia, there was a concerted effort aimed at getting rid of erstwhile president Yahyah Jammeh.
The Gambians realised that in order to do so, some horse-trading was required. The Gambians came to the realisation that they needed to make sacrifices to achieve their aim. This meant that they had to form a coalition, discard their differences, mould their similarities into one, and pulled all their resources together with one aim, and one aim only: TO GET RID OF JAMMEH. As coincidences go, thousands of Coalition 2016 militants, supporters and sympathizers, recently assembled at the buffer zone to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2016 Coalition landslide victory, during December 2016 presidential polls.
Speaking at the event, the Minister of youths and sports and party leader of GPDP, Mr. Henry Gomez, said the Coalition Government was constituted by all seven political parties, who saw the need to put aside political differences with a view to bring to an end the 22 years of bad governance of ex-president Jammeh. Gomez urged the citizenry to embrace and accept the leadership of President Barrow, noting that it is ordained by God; that they should all join hands in the spirit of national development. That is what I call a coalition.
Sierra Leoneans with dual nationality are barred from contesting elections in Sierra Leone?
With less than eight weeks left before general and presidential elections are held in Sierra Leone, last night Sierra Leoneans holding both their country’s citizenship and that of another country, have been told that they are not qualified to stand for parliamentary and presidential elections.
This news has come from the ruling APC, as dozens of Sierra Leoneans working and living abroad have returned home to not only help their respective political parties in campaigning, but have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, into their parties’ election campaign funds.
Several have taken huge bank loans and overdrafts, and packed up their jobs abroad, with the hope of contesting and becoming members of parliament – or appointed government minister after elections. They now feel betrayed and defrauded by the leadership of the ruling APC. According to the ruling APC, Section 76(1) of the 1991 Constitution, states that: “No person shall be qualified for election as a Member of Parliament — if he is a naturalised citizen of Sierra Leone or is a citizen of a country other than Sierra Leone having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country.”
But the irony here is that, since the passing of the 1991 Constitution, no government has upheld or enforced this legal requirement. The current Koroma government has several serving ministers and deputy ministers, who should never have been eligible for such posts. Will they now be asked to pay back every single cent they have received in salary and benefits from the State?
Also, there are several high-profile members of the ruling APC party who were allowed to contest the 2012 elections and went on to serve as MPs in their various constituencies, without questions of constitutionality being asked. Who was turning a blind eye? Today, diaspora based – ruling APC party politicians are crying foul. They are deeply troubled by this ruling, if allowed to go ahead. They say that president Koroma is now using the constitution against them, in favour of home grown politicians, after taking millions of dollars from them.
Most have paid their hard-earned cash into the ruling party campaign funds, with the full confidence that changes made to the nationality laws in 2006 and 2017 will make them eligible to contest elections as citizens of Sierra Leone, despite their dual nationality status. Now, they are being told to go to hell.
But die-hard – constitutional purists in the country, argue that the Constitution must take precedence over any legislation, and that Sierra Leoneans with dual nationality must be denied the right to contest elections in their own country of birth. This is what Mr. Abdul Bero Kamara (aka – Chief) who is a senior APC party member and former chairman of the party’s north America branch, said:
“What is the big deal about being a dual citizen? It is big deal right now because it is symbol time for people aspiring to go to parliament. Unexpectedly, all those who are aspiring to go to parliament and have dual citizenship have been informed by the Attorney General that they are not qualified because of a provision in the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone. Oh My God?
“According to Section 76(1), Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution: ‘no person shall be qualified for election as a member of Parliament, if he is a naturalized citizen of Sierra Leone or if he is a citizen of a country other than Sierra Leone, having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country.’
“Are you kidding me? This is bullshit. I can’t believe this. Who these niggers think we are? Why didn’t they tell us that even before we started spending our hard-earned cash? This will be some of the utterances that will be coming from the mouths of a typical American citizen. “Superficiality this news has sent a shock wave across the diaspora – the sixth region, and the rumours, innuendoes and speculation and nuances are becoming overwhelming. Politics at its peak, interesting days ahead.
“Ironically, majority of the outgone members of parliament from both the APC and the SLPP had dual citizenship during the last parliament; and interestingly, before they became Honourable in 2012 this law existed, and nobody dared came up with the issue. Whether it was intentional or otherwise, only God knows. “They served a term of five years, knowing well that they intend to continue once their tenure expired in December 2017, and without a forethought did nothing to amend this very section that has now come back to haunt them.
“This dumbness from these outgone MPs is unimaginable, hence many people including myself would like to know from these MPs, and the former Attorney General and his office : why was this issue not brought up then, until now, why was this section in question not amended by the last parliament ? “Logically, that means some of these outgone MPs were illegitimate, because they violated the section (of the constitution) in question. So my next question is: Should they be asked to refund back to the state all the emoluments they enjoyed whilst serving as parliamentarians? This should be a serious legal issue. Again, interesting days ahead.
“On the other hand, I think we must give credit to the former Ombudsman of our country – lawyer Mr Francis Gabidon, who couple of months ago drew the attention of the public to this very section. Alas we didn’t pay attention, nor did parliament took it seriously “Now the D day is here, the aftermath has not started to unfold yet, until after party election symbols have been awarded by the end of the business day. Again interest days ahead.
“By and large, the law is the law and there is no two way about it. Until that part of the constitution is amended, there is nothing anybody can do for now…..” Mohamed Gibril Sesay says: “I believe that Party Symbols to Run May be Awarded to Diaspora Sierra Leoneans. I do know that the Constitution has some place where it states that those who have sworn allegiance to another country are not eligible to be members of parliament.
“And that it is not mainly about dual citizenship, for there are categories of dual citizens, for instance Sierra Leonean children who are citizens by birth of other countries but are not barred from running for parliament.
“So there’s this funny situation where your child born in another country can be eligible for parliament, and you born in Sierra Leone but also a citizen by naturalization of another country cannot. I don’t think that was the intent of the drafters of the various citizenship statutes – it looks convoluted, irrational and illogical. “But that is just one part of it. My view is that legislations since the return of democratic civilian rule in 1996 has expanded rights rather than curtail them. This expansion of rights could be seen from legislation and policies as varied as the two citizenship acts since that time, the gender acts, the transformation of the prison service into the correctional service, the legal aid board, and many more.