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ECOWAS Community Court Ruling provokes Legal and Political Debates in West Africa

HomeAYV NewsECOWAS Community Court Ruling provokes Legal and Political Debates in West Africa

ECOWAS Community Court Ruling provokes Legal and Political Debates in West Africa

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In Sierra Leone, registered political parties as well as a Samsumana movement (C4C), which hopes to complete its registration process as a political party before March 2018 elections, have politicized the debate. The Sierra Leone People’s Party  (SLPP), main opposition and the All Peoples Congress (APC), governing party, stand out like sore thumbs in that politicization. At least, on the day of the ruling, fledgling members of C4C movement were observed to be jubilant in Kono district, home of Samsumana

For an insight into an incident that triggered the array of other incidents that led to the expulsion of Samsumana from the APC party and its attendant legal and political intricacies: On 16th March 2014, Madam Phebian Fengai Abdulai filed a report with the Local Unit Commander (LUC) of Tankoro police station that youths loyal to Samsumana had attacked her construction workers over a healthcare clinic she was constructing in Koidu New Sembehun City, Kono district.

The youths claimed that the healthcare centre was too close to Samsumana’s house and were under instruction from Samsumana to disrupt the process. Armed with machetes and riffles, they attacked the construction workers from Samsumana’s house injuring many, placing Madam Phebian under siege for several hours in her house and threatening to torch the house.

The matter was brought to the attention of H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who sent technical staff from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and County Planning, the Ministry of Political and Public Affairs and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to investigate the matter. The team found out that the healthcare was being built at a reasonable distance from Samsumana’s house. But Samsumana insisted that a healthcare at that proximity would attract too many commoners in the community.

The President went over and beyond to allow more land space between Samsumana’s house and the healthcare clinic to resolve the matter. But Samsumana who probably was not pleased with that outcome chose to threaten the life of one junior minister who was part of the investigation team.

The minister filed a complaint against Samsumana through the Leader and Chairman of the APC party that triggered many more complaints that were filed against Samsumana by other ministers and senior party officials who had suffered violence or threat of violence against them by Samsumana sponsored youths in Kono district.

An investigation committee comprising of members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) investigated the claims, found Samsumana guilty of anti-party activities ranging from fraud, incitement, violence, threat of violence against party officials, anti-party propaganda and actions against party objectives for which the NAC expelled him from the APC on the 6th of March 2015.

Duty bound to uphold the dictate of the National Constitution that one must belong to a political party to hold the position or to continue to hold the position of vice president; H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma removed Samsumana from office as vice president on the 26th of March 2015 when he was deemed not a member of any political party in the republic of Sierra Leone and appointed a new vice president.

Samsumana thereafter filed an appeal with the APC party in accordance with its 1991 constitutional right of appeal at the next appellate authority. At the subsequent National Delegate Conference (NDC), the NDC upheld the decision of NAC.

The truth is we will never be able to know what would have become the state of affairs in the political landscape in Sierra Leone if Samsumana had won his case at the appellate NDC. As well, it’s no gainsaying that Samsumana and his battery of lawyers demonstrated gross incompetence or showed damnable contempt of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone by refusing to “amend his statement of case” as demanded by the Supreme Court, which led to his case been thrown out of court.

 

Samsumana however went ahead to file a case against the Government of Sierra Leone in the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja amongst other reason that he was wrongfully removed from office, that he was prevented from participation in politics, that his Human Rights were violated etc.

The Attorney Genera and Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone positioned that the ECOWAS Community Court lacks competence to review the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone but the ECOWAS Community Court insisted on hearing, at least, some aspects of the complaint against the Government of Sierra Leone, especially the aspect of alleged Human Rights violation.

In Abuja, the ECOWAS Community Court in its analysis was clear on the fact that it lacks the competence to review a case that had been heard by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone with respect of the alleged unconstitutional removal of Samsumana by H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. Nonetheless, the ECOWAS Community Court went further to analyse that the president’s decision to remove Samsumana before the outcome of the NDC was premature, in violation of Samsumana’s Human Right to participate in politics and therefore void his removal from office.

In Sierra Leone, Hon. Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara issued a statement reiterating the Government of Sierra Leone’s inter-earlier position that the ECOWAS Community Court lacks competence to review the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone and that Sierra Leone will not honour the ruling. Samsumana’s lawyers wrote a rejoinder urging the Attorney General to “desist from misleading the government and people of Sierra Leone” with respect to the court ruling.

A Sierra Leonean constitutional scholar living in the USA observed Julius Maada Bio’s, the SLPP presidential candidate, issued statement dated 27th November 2017, urging H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to honour the ruling of the ECOWAS Community Court for “wrongful removal of former Vice President Samsumana” as badly written and reactionary.

In my view, demonstrably, if Maada Bio had read the judgement, he did not understand its content. That low level of understanding of complex issues is clearly manifested in his issued statement where he shamefully wrote that “judgement of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, now having been overturned by the Ruling of the ECOWAS Regional Court” whereas the ECOWAS Community Court in its own judgement clearly states its lack of competence to review the decision of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, especially in the matter of the constitutional right to remove Samsumana.

One social commentator in Kenema city states that “how can a man who ruled over a military government that was replete with extra-judiciary killings now assume the moral audacity to uphold the Rule of Law,” alluding to Maada Bio’s pledge in the written statement that he would uphold the “Rule of Law” as president of the country.

I am not a lawyer but I strongly hold on to the argument that the analysis by the ECOWAS Community Court that the president’s action to remove Samsumana from office was premature is erroneous. The court is more or less arguing that, for example, a serial rapist who had been convicted by a lower court upon appeal in a higher court should be left to roam the street while awaiting the outcome of the higher court.

In Samsumana’s removal case in question, the punishment against him was no jail term but expulsion from the APC party. According to the ECOWAS Community Court, it means that the president was supposed to leave an unqualified vice president to occupy the office of the vice president in violation of the Constitution.

The fact of the matter is the ECOWAS Community Court is in agreement with the president’s constitutional right to remove and to appoint a vice president in the circumstance under review. At the time of removal of Samsumana, he was a member of no political party. Furthermore, he was not denied the right to appeal his case at the next appellate authority in accordance with the APC constitution.

In my opinion, if an institution was to be brought before justice for a premature action at worst case scenario, that institution was supposed to be the APC party who did not wait for its own appellate body to decide on Samsumana’s expulsion. And such a case could still have been heard in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone.

At face value, once Samsumana by any means seized to be a member of a political party, the president must remove him by the powers vested in him to uphold the dictate of the Constitution. And the Government of Sierra Leone, like in any other case, would be obliged to honour any sort of restitution had Samsumana won his appeal at the NDC of the APC party

As for the Government of Sierra Leone and the president, Samsumana was not a member of any political party, which was filed as such at State House by the APC Secretariat. Except if the ECOWAS Community Court expected the president to combine state governance and political party operations.

And lest I forget, on the claim that Samsumana was prevented from participating in politics, during the ECOWAS Community Court trial, if Samsumana’s coming into Sierra Leone to duly register to vote and to form a political movement called C4C unfettered is not political participation, then what is? No wonder that many are not surprised when one renowned Sierra Leonean US-based political analyst referred to the whole ECOWAS Community Court ruling “a judiciary outrage and travesty” of justice.

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