Sierra Leone Constitutional Crisis: What Crisis?
The erudite Professor PLO Lumumba once said that “the problem with Africa is that, those with ideas have no power, and those with power have no ideas”. But it is also true that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot unlearn the many lies they’ve been taught to believe. The organised chaos that has been unleashed on our political landscape has brought a lot of issues to the fore. At face value, it will seem that the question of “dual citizenship” is the thrust of all the political gymnastics that is occupying most of the bandwidth in our local media. But far from it, it goes beyond that. The bottom line is that, central to all this is the issue of “patriotism”. Before we go further, it is worth noting, that patriotism is not obedience to government. It is by implication, the obedience to the principles for which government is supposed to stand. And one of the building blocks on which any government can anchor its foundation is in the country’s constitution. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)
But sadly today, our patriotism has been handled with such reckless abandon, that it is now reduced to the equivalence of mobile phone communication parlance. Listening to people describing our nationalities along the lines of 1 sim, 2 sim, 3 sim and 4 sim, is a clear manifestation of how low we have come as a nation. Peel away the comical value, and this clearly demonstrates that we have never moved from the first gear of human development. Of course there is a funny side to it, but what this also shows is our nation’s penchant to attract chaos. Interestingly this time, it is an organised chaos. One would think that we should have, by now be constipated with our share of natural disasters. But it looks like in the absence of one; we have the propensity to generate one. But is there a psychological aspect to all this? Does this mean that, as a result of our seemingly unending exposure to disasters, we have unconsciously developed the acquired capability to self-inflict danger, chaos and disaster?
Take the issue of “dual citizenship”, the palm oil with which our politics is now eaten. It is unquestionably true that our constitution limits the participation of people with dual citizenship in our politics. It is also true that according to our constitution, people with dual citizenship are not allowed to become law makers or members of our parliament, etc. The law is the law, and it is the law for all seasons; not just for Christmas. Like any nation, the constitution is our guide and we should never abandon it. Until it is changed by an explicit and authentic act of the people, the constitution which at any time exists is sacredly obligatory upon us all. It is our duty to defend our constitution against all attacks.
With this in mind, what is all the palaver about the constitution of our country recently? But in spite of all the hue and cry about what has been described by some as a constitutional crisis, irrespective of your political nomenclature, we can all agree that we don’t have a constitutional crisis. No one disputes the tenets and provisions of the constitution. No one denies the need to apply the constitution of the country. But the reason why many, especially those in the opposition camps are whistling foul play is the timing of the application of that part of our constitution.
The APC party has been in power, and by default been the custodian of our constitution for the past 10 years. This part of the constitution, despite the several amendments has always been embedded in it. Knowingly or unknowingly, rightly or wrongly, the APC party did not invoke or enforce the disqualification of people with dual citizenships, as enshrined in our constitution from prominent parliamentary positions in the past 10 years. It is an open secret that the APC party is one of the most diaspora friendly parties in our country; for obvious reasons. The APC government even has a department for diaspora affairs. Kudos for that. But here we are, and on the eve of presidential, parliamentary, and local nominations, and with less than 2 months to polling day, the APC party pulls a rabbit from the hat and becomes constitution friendly. What a Eureka moment.
To all intents and purposes, in spite of all the constitutional provisions of the law, many people have rightly or wrongly seen this as a blatant attempt to manipulate our sacred guide for political points scoring. At this juncture, it is worth remembering that 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 come to dominate our lives and interests.
Rightly or wrongly, disciples of conspiracy theories have been quick to conclude that, these constitutional arrows were specifically aimed at Dr. Yumkella, who until November 2017 reportedly had dual citizen citizenship. Some even went as far as alleging that he had multiple citizenships. They believe that this was aimed to disqualify him from the parliamentary and presidential race. The fact that the APC waited until so near to the election has been seen as an offside trap. But why did the APC tolerate so many prominent members of its cabal with dual citizenships to go scot free for 10 years? Are we going to receive refunds for that? I still have my receipts.
But the irony of the offside trap has not been lost on some people, because the APC has been forced to do some home economics and house cleaning of its own. Forgetting that it was living in a glass house, the APC had ironically thrown the first stone. Ask the American Embassy and the British High Commission for the rippling effects of this high stakes political poker game. So what was meant to be an offside trap turned out to be an own goal. No video Assistant Referee (VAR) required here. It was a clear own goal, and Ernest Koroma had the last touch before the ball crept over the line.
But there are some people who believe that the APC was forced into this massive U turn. Let us give credit where credit is due. The government has admitted through its spokesperson Mr. Bayraytay, that the failure to apply this aspect of our constitution was “an oversight”; for 10 years. Phew. But despite the government’s admission, some skeptics have seen this as an act of “selective amnesia”. But some are wondering why this affliction of amnesia never occurred when it came to the sacking of Sam Sumana from his VP post? But we all know that people don’t have control over amnesia, right? Since election times are traditionally harvest festival for rumours and propaganda, some social media activists are saying that the APC party was forced into this political cul de sac. That the opposition parties were queuing up with a ballot paper in one hand, and a petition in the other; against would- be successful APC candidates with dual citizenship, following the election. The conclusion from this rumour mill is that the APC government smelled the rat and “chuck reverse”, causing self-inflicted bodily harm in the process. The party now has the unenviable task of massaging some bruised egos, picking up the pieces and mending fences with its own political victims. Just imagine those who had sold up, packed up, and left everything behind for a better life in Sierra Leone? Say it. It is not every time you get the opportunity to use the phrase “moved to Sierra Leone for a better life”. Now you see why “we way disgruntled, Na we borku?”
With jokes aside, the APC may have acted in a way that smelled fishy, leading to all kinds of accusations. The bottom line is, invoking this part of the constitution is perfectly lawful, and it is in its power to do so as the current custodian of our laws. As a matter of fact, although the SLPP carried out some tweaking of the constitution in 2006, it is also as guilty as sin; for failing to raise this issue, thanks to its comatose state in opposition. We can all have our different political interpretations and persuasions when it comes to the constitution. But let us remember that the Constitution does not just protect those whose views we share; it also protects those with whose views we disagree. Sadly, no matter however good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.
With the constitutional dust seemingly settling after the nominations, where do we go from here? Irrespective of your views, we should as a nation endeavour and aspire to defend the liberties of our country and the freedom of our civil constitution against all hazards. It is our collective civic duty to defend our constitution against all attacks. It goes without saying that “the strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defence are the constitutional rights secure”. As we go to press, the current mantra coming from all political parties is the promise to look into this dual citizenship spectrum of our constitution. That is one way to start, because ; as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, our institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. But our constitution must begin with us the people, not the government. The issue of dual citizenship can be complex and delicate. Let us not play politics with it, and in the process generate a new breed of citizens: foreign citizens. How can you be foreign and a citizen in your own country? Beats me.
Since the rumour mill is on overdrive, I have no intention to be left out. Do I have a feeling that the Russians are trying to influence the outcome of our elections? Or is it the Chinese?
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).
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