Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 January 2018:
With less than eight weeks left before general and presidential elections are held in Sierra Leone, last night Sierra Leoneans holding both their country’s citizenship and that of another country, have been told that they are not qualified to stand for parliamentary and presidential elections.
This news has come from the ruling APC, as dozens of Sierra Leoneans working and living abroad have returned home to not only help their respective political parties in campaigning, but have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, into their parties’ election campaign funds.
Several have taken huge bank loans and overdrafts, and packed up their jobs abroad, with the hope of contesting and becoming members of parliament – or appointed government minister after elections. They now feel betrayed and defrauded by the leadership of the ruling APC.
According to the ruling APC, Section 76(1) of the 1991 Constitution, states that: “No person shall be qualified for election as a Member of Parliament — if he is a naturalised citizen of Sierra Leone or is a citizen of a country other than Sierra Leone having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country.”
But the irony here is that, since the passing of the 1991 Constitution, no government has upheld or enforced this legal requirement. The current Koroma government has several serving ministers and deputy ministers, who should never have been eligible for such posts. Will they now be asked to pay back every single cent they have received in salary and benefits from the State?
Also, there are several high-profile members of the ruling APC party who were allowed to contest the 2012 elections and went on to serve as MPs in their various constituencies, without questions of constitutionality being asked. Who was turning a blind eye?
Today, diaspora based – ruling APC party politicians are crying foul. They are deeply troubled by this ruling, if allowed to go ahead. They say that president Koroma is now using the constitution against them, in favour of home grown politicians, after taking millions of dollars from them.
Most have paid their hard-earned cash into the ruling party campaign funds, with the full confidence that changes made to the nationality laws in 2006 and 2017 will make them eligible to contest elections as citizens of Sierra Leone, despite their dual nationality status. Now, they are being told to go to hell.
But die-hard – constitutional purists in the country, argue that the Constitution must take precedence over any legislation, and that Sierra Leoneans with dual nationality must be denied the right to contest elections in their own country of birth.
This is what Mr. Abdul Bero Kamara (aka – Chief) who is a senior APC party member and former chairman of the party’s north America branch, said:
“What is the big deal about being a dual citizen? It is big deal right now because it is symbol time for people aspiring to go to parliament. Unexpectedly, all those who are aspiring to go to parliament and have dual citizenship have been informed by the Attorney General that they are not qualified because of a provision in the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone. Oh My God?
“According to Section 76(1), Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution: ‘no person shall be qualified for election as a member of Parliament, if he is a naturalized citizen of Sierra Leone or if he is a citizen of a country other than Sierra Leone, having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country.’
“Are you kidding me? This is bullshit. I can’t believe this. Who these niggers think we are? Why didn’t they tell us that even before we started spending our hard-earned cash? This will be some of the utterances that will be coming from the mouths of a typical American citizen.
“Superficiality this news has sent a shock wave across the diaspora – the sixth region, and the rumours, innuendoes and speculation and nuances are becoming overwhelming. Politics at its peak, interesting days ahead.
“Ironically, majority of the outgone members of parliament from both the APC and the SLPP had dual citizenship during the last parliament; and interestingly, before they became Honourable in 2012 this law existed, and nobody dared came up with the issue. Whether it was intentional or otherwise, only God knows.
“They served a term of five years, knowing well that they intend to continue once their tenure expired in December 2017, and without a forethought did nothing to amend this very section that has now come back to haunt them.
“This dumbness from these outgone MPs is unimaginable, hence many people including myself would like to know from these MPs, and the former Attorney General and his office : why was this issue not brought up then, until now, why was this section in question not amended by the last parliament ?
“Logically, that means some of these outgone MPs were illegitimate, because they violated the section (of the constitution) in question. So my next question is: Should they be asked to refund back to the state all the emoluments they enjoyed whilst serving as parliamentarians? This should be a serious legal issue. Again, interesting days ahead.
“On the other hand, I think we must give credit to the former Ombudsman of our country – lawyer Mr Francis Gabidon, who couple of months ago drew the attention of the public to this very section. Alas we didn’t pay attention, nor did parliament took it seriously
“Now the D day is here, the aftermath has not started to unfold yet, until after party election symbols have been awarded by the end of the business day. Again interest days ahead.
“By and large, the law is the law and there is no two way about it. Until that part of the constitution is amended, there is nothing anybody can do for now…..”
The debate is raging on social media
Mohamed Gibril Sesay says: “I believe that Party Symbols to Run May be Awarded to Diaspora Sierra Leoneans. I do know that the Constitution has some place where it states that those who have sworn allegiance to another country are not eligible to be members of parliament.
“And that it is not mainly about dual citizenship, for there are categories of dual citizens, for instance Sierra Leonean children who are citizens by birth of other countries but are not barred from running for parliament.
“So there’s this funny situation where your child born in another country can be eligible for parliament, and you born in Sierra Leone but also a citizen by naturalization of another country cannot. I don’t think that was the intent of the drafters of the various citizenship statutes – it looks convoluted, irrational and illogical.
“But that is just one part of it. My view is that legislations since the return of democratic civilian rule in 1996 has expanded rights rather than curtail them. This expansion of rights could be seen from legislation and policies as varied as the two citizenship acts since that time, the gender acts, the transformation of the prison service into the correctional service, the legal aid board, and many more.
“The new reading of the ineligibility of Sierra Leonean with dual citizenship for parliament, pushed unto the public domain by Lawyer Francis Gabidon, flies in the face of this decade plus expansion of rights; that reading is a claw-back interpretation; it flies in the face of the emerging jurisprudence of rights.
“I like Lawyer Adrian Fischer’s take on the matter. His is a jurisprudence of rights that encapsulates modes of interpretation that purposively expand rights and reduce harm. And, the fact that Sierra Leoneans of all political persuasion never brought this ineligibility of the Diaspora for parliamentary and such other positions into the fore, the fact that all of society do know that so many diaspora Sierra Leoneans representing various parties did and do serve in so called ‘ineligibility’ positions; these facts of tacit approval point to an overwhelming society-wide disposition that support this expansion of rights as the intent and purpose of so many laws enacted since 1996.
“Let no one therefore bar our diaspora brothers and sisters from benefiting from this expansion of rights. They are eligible to run for parliament.”
This debate will continue, until there is a legal challenge in the Supreme Court in Freetown, which is where this matter is now heading.