By Abdulai Mansaray
It is a very sad state of affairs that on the eve of our general elections in Sierra Leone, we are saddled with a series of constitutional crisis. This begs the question as to our propensity to attract chaos. It is unfortunate that since Ernest Koroma took over as the head of state, in spite of the good things he has done, the issue of the Sierra Leone constitution has always been central to most of the government’s undertakings.
One of the blue prints in the manifesto of his 2nd term in office was the setup of the Constitutional Review Committee. With the support of the UNDP, Ernest launched the committee in July 2013.
The objective of the constitutional review process was to fulfill the national commitment made in the Lomé Peace Agreement, and implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation to further consolidate peace and strengthen the existing multi-party democracy to create an open and transparent society.
To all intents and purposes, we have been left with more questions than answers. After 5 years of toiling, it is ironic that we are still faced with the same constitutional debacle and not much to show for it. We have seen over the years that there have been lots of constitutional issues arising from our government’s interpretation or misinterpretations; take your pick. We saw how former VP Sam Sumana now turned presidential candidate, was unceremoniously disrobed of his emperor’s clothes. We saw how the issue of dual citizenship has continued to plague our electoral process.
These are just a few of the kind of gymnastics that have successfully distracted us from the everyday issues that matter. Issues like our educational, social, and economic and many other have been conveniently been swept under the carpet. Instead of grappling with our inherent economic malaise, which is the concomitant effect of our pervasive corruption, we have been side-tracked by avoidable distractions.
In Sierra Leone today, our constitution is fast becoming the ultimate tyranny. We are proud of our embryonic democracy, but we need to be aware that constitutional democracy is not a romantic notion. On the one hand, it is our defence against ourselves and on the other; it is the one enemy that can defeat us. But the greatest threat to our constitution is our own ignorance of it.
Sadly, our politicians are now spending more time on the steps of our law courts than our parliament. This is because, many have come to see and use our constitution as a mere lawyer’s document. It is now becoming a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.
There are other schools of thought who hold the notion that the people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will that lives only by their will.” But if the constitution is such, why do we bother having one. “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power without a right. Governments are instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honour, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.
The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it will dominate our lives and interests. The constitution is a social contract, and its strength lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. It is only when every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defence that the constitutional rights can be secured.
The constitution should be regarded as the natural cure of laxatives to purge popular or representative governments or ill administrations by change of men. Our constitution should not be interfered with at will or on a whim. We should maintain it as the only safeguard of our liberties. A president cannot defend a nation if he is not held accountable to its laws.
The sad reality is that many see our constitution as a whip for political gains. The chameleon nature of the whole concept is now bordering on the ridiculous. Here we have a government that allowed Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenships to hold prominent parliamentary positions for 10 years without any qualms. The issue of dual citizenship only became an issue just when another opposition candidate dared to exercise his rights through the ballot box. And that was enough to generate an avalanche of constitutional gymnastics; phew. As we go to press, there are several petitions against candidates pending; just on the eve of our general elections.
While the ruling APC party has filed for a constitutional interpretation of the rules governing citizenship and the right to contest elections, the defence counsels for Dr. Yumkella have in the meantime applied for the recusal of two of the judges on the case, resulting in an adjournment of the hearing. This sounds like Kenya all over again; but with a twist. To all intents and purposes, this case will be expected to last even beyond the general elections; irrespective of its outcome. So this show is sure to run from the ballot box to the gavel. And you wonder where all this mess is coming from? Try selective amnesia.
While these shenanigans are unfolding, there are many who feel that there is power with impunity at play here. They see a government that is so out of control. They see one that is so bloated and infested with fraud and deceit and corruption and abuse of power. But how do you hold your government for its deeds when there is a visible need for reflection and restraint of power? Over the years, the APC party has amassed a lot of power, thanks to the comatose state of the opposition parties. With power comes the abuse of power, and our liberties remain endangered today because of that abuse of power; which is the root of all evil. Our politicians know that this is a game of power. We know that no one seizes power with the intention to relinquish it, and we are witnessing at first hand the effects of the addictive nature of power; as the innocent are sacrificed on its altar to keep it or get it. In the meantime, lives have been senselessly lost, even before a ballot is cast.
But those who see power as the ultimate aphrodisiac must also remember that the steps of power are often steps on sand. Holding someone’s fear in your hand and showing it to them is not power. And power without compassion is the worst kind of evil. In Sierra Leone today, power has become the measure of social merit and achievement; hence its propensity to attract the corruptible. But we know that nothing unmasks a man like his use of power; for it will intoxicate the best hearts. We have seen over a 10 year period how people have morphed from Salone Messiah to God help us. But as we all know, Power has only one duty — to secure the social welfare of the People.
So as we go to the polls on Wednesday, the hope against hope is that it will be FREE, FAIR and PEACEFUL. There is a lot at stake here, and it is not surprising that the International Community is taking a keen interest in the process. We have a golden opportunity to showcase our country to the world community. We have this opportunity to show that we have finally moved on from our history of a decade long barbarity to one of constitutional decency. The rallies have been concluded and the atmosphere of festivities has been appreciated. But as we roll our sleeves to vote on 7 March, lets us all remember that there is only ONE MAMA SALONE, not for the few but FOR ALL.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).