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Sierra Leone’s Peace Hangs On The Judiciary

Sierra Leone’s Peace Hangs On The Judiciary

The High Court hearing of election petition cases on 15th April, 2019 was nothing short of a classical Nollywood movie. The screen opened with Justice Komba Kamanda walking into the court waving a green handkerchief to the displeasure of especially the All Peoples Congress (APC) court audience.  (Photo: Chief Justice, Desmond Babatunde Edwards)

In symbolic iconology, there’s no gainsaying that the judge was insensitively dressed up for the highly charged-high-profile political SLPP petition cases against APC MPs before him.

Note that the Party colour of the SLPP (petitioners) is green and the APC (first respondents) is red.

This is on the backdrop that the SLPP is the ruling party and the minority in Parliament with 49 seats when stacked against the APC’s 68 MPs. This situation is compounded by the judiciary’s notoriety for tilting the scale of justice in favour of the ruling party in apportioning justice to the minority to get its way at the expense of the Constitution.

While we are at that, evidently, the APC party has more than six political and elections cases filed with the justice system including petition cases of 32 SLPP MPs, the presidential election results and the recent thievery of a bye election by NEC in Ward 196, Tonko Limba, still not listed by the Chief Justice.

No doubt that the judge’s perceived unfair and biased wardrobe appearance would ruffle the feathers of the APC court audience and sent a shockwave into them today resulting into a row which ate up about 30 minutes into the court sitting time.

When the dust settled, Justice Kamanda who had been advised by the police vis-a-vis the reason of the audience’s displeasure with him, returned into the courtroom without his green handkerchief.

Whether he was conscious or unconscious of his insensitive symbolism before the audiences, simply put, his logical disposition for these highly charged-high-profile and sensitive political cases before him became questionable.

The four cases in this segment of two court sittings before Justice Kamanda today are:

  1. Abdul Muniru Lansana Vs. Ahmed Mansaray,
  2. Ibrahim Alie Kamara Vs. Sheriff Carew,
  3. Benjamin’s Turay Vs. Abubakarr Sillah and
  4. Charlie Bio Vs. Chernor Maju-Bah.

In the proceedings, the judge declared that the case would be based on “affidavit evidence”. That he would offer equal opportunity, so he said, to all the parties, the petitioners and the respondents.

It’s worth noting that the petitioners are SLPP aspirants who had lost the seats to APC MPs and the respondents are the APC MPs, the NEC National Returning Officer, the NEC Regional Returning Officer and the NEC Constituency Returning Officers.

It’s also worth noting that the APC MPs who are subjects of the ensuing litigations had been a part of 16 MPs slammed with an injunction from participating in the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament way back in April 2018.

That situation then had resulted into a row in the Well of Parliament in which OSD officers were ordered by the government to beat-up and bundle all 68 APC MPs out of the Well and the SLPP would elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker by a lopsided Parliament thereafter.

It’s why the APC respondents had earlier claimed that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the cases referencing Section 78(2) of the Constitution psissima verba.

In the petition case of Abdul Sulaiman Marrah-Conteh Vs. Osman Abdul Timbo in Constituency 130, Western Rural District in the Western Area of Sierra Leone, the Chief Justice (CJ), Hon Justice Desmond B. Edwards relegated himself to the High Court bench and tilted a ruling in favour of the SLPP MP on the 4th of April 2019.

He ruled that the judge continue with the case against Section 78(2) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone on flimsy and baseless argument that the case had not begun, whereas his ruling was based on the same case that had been heard on the 7th of March 2018 and on the same grundnorm.

The ruling, however tilted, means that the 4 months statute of repose guaranteed by the Constitution to start and finish all petition cases in respect of elections petitions or rendered null and void is not applicable in the ensuing petition cases.

The respondents had however argued that the cases had started way back in April 2018 when the Court sat and granted the injunction that barred the respondents from participating in the election of the Speaker and the Deputy.

“The issuance of the election petition in the instant case was on the 19th of April, 2018 and that was the commencement date and time when proceedings started in the sense that time – the 4 months began to run from that date,” counsels for the respondent argued.

The fact many legal pundits are brooding over is that all the SLPP petition cases had been listed by the CJ and all of them have been called by the High Court at least once. Evident in the CJ’s ruling “An injunction was granted which prevented them from sitting and voting in those elections but the said injunction later expired/elapsed by effluxion of time.”

Twelve petition cases against APC MPs in the Northern Region had been thrown out of court by the High Court of the region. The justice system naturally granted an appeal to the petitioners. But the Appeal Court upheld the verdict of the High Court that there’s no case to answer.

Whether the High Court ruling was partly based on Section 78(2) is not clear in the ruling but the fact remains that the cases were all thrown out of Court at the Appeal Court level presided over by three justices.

Though the electoral laws of Sierra Leone sanction the Appeal Court as the final court to decide who wins or loses an election petition, the 12 MPs are still unsettled by the SLPP’s unbridled and unabated penchant to rule against the Constitution — they are worried that the cases may be called back by the rule of man as opposed to the rule of law.

At the end, we were seated here in Justice Kamanda’s courtroom today listening to the unfolding drama because, according to revered legal practitioners in good standing in society, the CJ had predicated his ruling to continue the petition cases on obsolete case laws that are far disjointed from the reality before him to rule that:

“The Jurisdictional objection is refused; the request for a case stated is also refused. Stay of proceedings is refused. This election petition would continue until its final determination.”

The counsels on both parts today presented affidavit based evidences for Justice Kamanda to adjoin all four cases before him while tension was brewing outside against overzealous police officers who were provoking hundreds of armless and peaceful citizens who were gathered meters away in a small park across the street from the Court.

Here comes AIG Lahai, an overzealous police Officer who must satisfy his paymaster by all means necessary and ordered the police to disperse the crowd. At least one man, a victim of police brutality ended up in the hospital in critical condition and scores more were wounded. An eye witness saw a police officer drove the nozzle of his AK-47 assault rifle into the sheen of a harmless woman.

Where are we heading?

By Karamoh Kabba

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