Dr Sama Banya (Puawui): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 March 2019:
The honourable Samuel Beccles Davies was the Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone in May 1997, when the misguided Corporal Gborie and his friends overthrew the democratically elected President of Sierra Leone and installed Major Johnny Paul Koroma as chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Head of state.
In his first response to the illegal action which received widespread condemnation – both nationally and internationally, the ousted President Tejan-Kabbah called for civil disobedience and non-cooperation with the regime.
Unfortunately, our learned Chief Justice either did not listen or was ill advised. I and six others were already detained at Cockrill Military headquarters for, in the words of my nephew the much-dreaded Sam Bockarie alias Maskita (Mosquito) ‘for attempting to instigate them (the members of the RUF) to overthrow the Johnny Paul Koroma regime’.
It was at the Cockrill Military headquarters that Chief Justice Samuel Beccles Davies administered the oath of office to Johnny Paul.
On the country’s liberation and return to civilian rule, honourable Beccles Davies was retired and replaced by Desmond Luke – the former leader of the Unity Movement. On reaching the mandatory retirement age, Desmond Luke who was very reluctant to go was replaced by Justice Abdulai Timbo who also on reaching the retiring age was replaced by Justice Ade Renner Thomas.
Soon after assuming the office of President and Head of state President Ernest Bai Koroma replaced Ade Renner Thomas with Justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh, who on reaching retirement age was also replaced by Hon Valescius Thomas for whom I had the highest respect and admiration as a man of integrity and faith, who was well grounded in the Law.
That is until the infamous Sam Sumana decision, a decision that shook the nation and the international community. The reverberations are being felt by the perpetrators to this day. More on that later.
Rewind to the days of the founder and leader of the APC party, “the Pa” himself President Siaka Stevens, who had no principles when it came to the judiciary and the rule of law. Stevens abruptly removed chief Justice C O E Cole who had served him faithfully, from office and replaced him with Justice Livesy Luke.
Siaka Stevens was sometimes predictable, especially when he planned a mischievous move. We were in the usual Cabinet meeting when he asked no one in particular whether a person who was only an Appeal Court judge could be appointed Chief Justice.
In the Cabinet were many eminent Lawyers, including Dr Abdulai Conteh, Francis Minah, Abu Kamara, Brima Kebbie one or or two others. Could the President not have asked anyone of them privately? But that was not Stevens.
As was expected the answer was in the affirmative. And so it was, that following the week in which Abdulai Conteh and I were unceremoniously removed from Cabinet, it was announced that Justice Sheku Kutubu would be the next Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
Poor Livesey! He must have been shocked, disappointed and very bitter. But did he forget the saying that what goes around comes around?
Through the Commonwealth recruitment, Livesey Luke was appointed Chief Justice of Botswana, a position he held until he passed away after a short illness.
President Joseph Momoh was then President, but the Luke family refused the government’s offer to give Livesey Luke a civic funeral. Poor man, his family may have forgotten that his predecessor Chief Justice C O E Okoro Cole whom he replaced, had been pushed over in a similar way.
Justice Sir Samuel Bankole Jones – an eminent jurist, was the chief Justice when Mr. Albert Margai succeeded his brother Sir Milton Margai as the country’s second Prime Minister. Sir Samuel was later kicked upstairs as President of the Court of Appeal and succeeded by Justice Okoro Cole.
Again, shortly before the 1967 general elections, Justice Okoro Cole was sent to New York as Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was succeeded by one of Sir Albert’s personal friends – Gershon Collier, who had been at the U N.
My goodness, I’m getting breathless by merely recalling this series of judicial musical chairs or political gimmicks.
My sister – Umu Tejan-Jalloh, had to be literally pushed over when Pa Ernest kept her on even though she had reached the mandatory retiring age. She had replaced Justice Ade Renner Thomas, who was also pushed over by the Pa. And so the story goes.
There was a depressing period in the history of our judiciary, when their conditions of service were dismal, the courts were dank and uninviting, with no electricity and lacking in proper sanitation, etc.
Two or more judges and magistrates had one vehicle allocated to them.
The United Kingdom government through its DFID office stepped in. They not only rehabilitated the entire Law Courts building and refurbished the court rooms, but they also recruited a few brilliant and upcoming young Sierra Leonean practitioners into a satisfying service and conducive working environment.
Despite these improvements and recruitment, all has not been well with our judiciary. There is need for more judges and magistrates in order to reduce the work load and help litigants.
In the midst of all this development, there have been glaring incidents that have cast a slur on the integrity of some judges and magistrates, including those who had hitherto earned remarkable public confidence.
Did the pa have the Executive Authority to have sacked his elected Vice President? Should Dr Alie Kabba have been refused bail and his passport seized in a contested case of bigamy until diplomatic intervention?
Should cases have been held up until the Pa’s directive? Should the 2012 election petition cases from Kenema and Kailahun districts have been settled the way they were by Justice Showers, who in her ruling awarded the declared vacant seats to the ruling party and thus set a bad precedence?
Why did the High Court intervene in a purely Party Parliamentary matter by refusing the majority of members of the opposition SLPP the right to change their minority leader democratically?
The new Chief Justice Edwards now has an opportunity to redeem the reputation of this vital arm of governance. With respect your Lordship the Chief Justice, the expectation of the public is high.
Equally so, are the good comments that I have heard so far about your integrity and knowledge of the law, naturally, with the exception of our still mourning APC members.
In addition, there are confirmed reports – which are no longer just rumours, of promotions and new appointments that should be of value in this direction.
I personally know some of the prospective beneficiaries of the promotions; and I have every confidence that if you (Chief Justice) and they, do your work diligently and without prejudice, there would be no need to wait for ‘orders from above’.
The atmosphere, the prevailing circumstances and the influencing factors are sufficient indicators that your arm of government will also move in the right direction. Good luck my Lord.