Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 February 2018:
Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court is sitting today to hear and make judgement on a petition filed by the ruling APC, requesting that the court declare Dr. Kandeh Yumkella unqualified to contest the presidential and general elections taking place next week.
If the petition is upheld it will have very serious consequences not only for next week’s polling which may have to be cancelled, but for the stability and peace of the country, that have been built, since the end of the civil war in 2001. Dr. Yumkella is the presidential candidate for the main opposition National Grand Coalition (NGC) party.
The party is not only recognised as the third force in the country’s political landscape, but the force which the two traditional parties – the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP must now reckon with. (Photo: Over one hundred thousand of NGC Supporters taking part in a rally yesterday, 27 February 2018 in the capital Freetown).
It is estimated that Yumkella now commands over 50% of the popular votes across the country, with his party the NGC. likely to poll over 25% in the parliamentary election.
Yumkella is poised to win the presidential election next week, with his party predicted to form a coalition government after the first round of polling, which no party is expected to win outright.
Political power appears to be shifting away rapidly from the ruling APC, hence as analysts say, is the reason for their constitutional war with the NGC and Dr. Yumkella.
Prior to today’s hearing, Dr. Yumkella had won two applications for his dismissal from the race filed by the ruling APC at the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Failing the two NEC hearings, the ruling APC has today turned to the Supreme Court, which critics say is highly controlled by the party.
All of the Judges were appointed by president Koroma, by virtue of the fact that most of them are subscribing members and patrons of the ruling APC.
So, will Dr. Yumkella find justice at the Supreme Court today, or will the judges accede to pressure from the ruling APC to disqualify him from next week’s electoral race?
This is Lans Gberie’s analysis of the case:
With barely a week to presidential elections, the Supreme Court has been asked to decide two cases that are directly relevant to the conduct of the polls. The first was filed on 5 February by one David Forna, an activist of the ruling All Peoples Congress party, claiming that Kandeh Yumkella, the standard bearer of the National Grand Coalition, is a “naturalised citizen” and therefore unqualified to contest the elections.
The second, authored by Charles Margai, a veteran politician, claims that the APC’s standard bearer is unqualified to run for president because he is a dual citizen and did not resign his ministerial position – for which he was paid from the state’s consolidated revenue – long enough to meet the constitutional requirement.
The court has set up a panel of three judges to determine the case against Yumkella. There is no indication yet whether it is planning to do the same with respect to the case against Kamara. For the sake of our democratic stability, the Court should beg itself off these wholly malignant controversies by not making any ruling. (Photo: Over one hundred thousand of NGC Supporters taking part in a rally yesterday, 27 February 2018 in the capital Freetown).
For the base political motivation of the first case, which probably triggered the second, is obvious. Shortly after Yumkella announced in January that he had been nominated to run both for parliament and for president, the APC filed a petition against his candidacy on the grounds that he was not qualified for an elected office of state because he allegedly holds a foreign nationality.
On 24 January, the National Elections Commission dismissed the petition as lacking merit, burnishing a growing reputation for independence of Mohamed N‘fah-Alie Conteh, its chair.
The 26-page filing by Forna is dressed up as an anodyne request for the court to rule whether the constitution allows a “naturalised citizen” to contest parliamentary and presidential elections.
It names the defendants as Yumkella, N’fah Conteh (NEC’s chair), the Attorney General and Minister of Justice (suggestively unnamed), and the NEC itself as an entity. It is unclear why the filing makes a distinction between Conteh and the NEC but does not name the Attorney General as a person.
But we know that the APC is outraged by Conteh’s independence; it long regarded the NEC, under Christiana Thorpe, as basically an occasionally crucial branch of the APC.
The Attorney General, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara (Photo), is a committed APC activist who was once a frontrunner for the party’s standard despite the fact that he reputedly holds dual nationality (American and Sierra Leonean).
The sedate language of the filing – a request to the court to make a “determination of the public interest questions” raised by Yumkella’s candidacy – masks its churlish substance.
It declares Yumkella “ineligible and or disqualified from contesting to be elected” President or Member of Parliament, and names him the first defendant “by virtue of the fact that he is a candidate for upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in the Republic of Sierra Leone.”
The filing declares Forna, the plaintiff, whose obscurity of background mocks the purpose of this case, as “a Sierra Leonean and a registered voter,” and Yumkella, from a prominent and nationally famous ruling house, as “born in Sierra Leone and registered as a voter.” That fact alone, of course, makes Yumkella a native born – in contradistinction to ‘naturalized’ – citizen of Sierra Leone.
The linchpin of the APC case is that section (76)(1)(a) of constitution of 1991 – “the GRUNDNORM of the Republic – states: “no person shall be qualified for election as a Member of Parliament if he is a naturalized citizen of Sierra Leone.”
Has there ever been a case where a native born citizen is suddenly transformed into “naturalised” citizen simply because he has political ambition? The primitive and rudimentary thinking behind this politics and legal filing pushes itself, without any assistance, to a reductio ad absurdum: just why should a ruling party get itself so worked up?
It gets more absurd. One of the judges on the panel holds dual citizenship – British citizenship as well as Sierra Leonean. Another is said to have strong familial and other connections with the APC. Both were part of the panel that ruled in favour of President Koroma against former Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana on 9 September 2015. The last is retired, and has actually expressed discomfort about the role to associates. (Photo: Over one hundred thousand of NGC Supporters taking part in a rally yesterday, 27 February 2018 in the capital Freetown).
The court has said it will sit on the case on 28 February. The plaintiff says in his filing that he will not call any witnesses.
At least two judges of the Supreme Court hold dual citizenship. The Chief Justice was a paid up member of the APC: his name was gazetted as one of the APC’s candidates on the proportional representation list in 2002.
Can one doubt why this case induces so much anxiety with respect to our democracy? One can only hope that at this critical moment the court will rise to the occasion.