Victory for Yumkella and diasporans as supreme court ruling gives right to contest elections

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 September 2021:

A landmark ruling declared by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone yesterday, has overturned previous narrow interpretations of the country’s laws and constitution, with regards the right of Sierra Leoneans to hold dual citizenship and be allowed to vote and be voted at presidential and general elections.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling came, following the shambolic decision in 2018 by the previous APC government to deny several Sierra Leonean born citizens the right to contest the 2018 elections simply because they were also citizens of other countries.

Many of those disenfranchised by this narrow interpretation of the 1991 Constitution and the Citizens Act of 2006 not only lost hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on paying for their political party symbol and campaigning, but a few also died of shock when they were told they cannot contest the elections. Some had given up their jobs overseas and permanently moved back to Sierra Leone to contest the 2018 elections.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, granting the right to vote and be voted without losing dual citizenship is based on a long-awaited High Court action brought just before the 2018 elections by a member of the then ruling APC party – Mr David Fornah, against the NGC presidential candidate Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella whom Fornah accused of holding both Sierra Leonean and US citizenship.

But evidence produced in court by Dr Yumkella proved that he had relinquished his US citizenship in 2017, well before registering his presidential and parliamentary elections candidacy, a decision many believed he should never have been forced to make.

Although Fornah then withdrew his court action against Yumkella, there was the residual question of whether the decision to exclude Dr Yumkella from being voted for office was based on fair and correct interpretation of the law and the constitution of Sierra Leone.  This question is what the Supreme Court had to decide yesterday.

After unprecedent marathon legal arguments among the Supreme Court Judges in full view of the country’s media, a decision was reached: No one, born of Sierra Leonean parents in Sierra Leone can be denied the right to vote and be voted for office.

This ruling is not only a victory for Presidential hopeful – Dr Kandeh Yumkella, but for the millions of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who have been hoodwinked by gullible and corrupt politicians into believing that diasporans are not eligible to contest presidential and parliamentary elections, nor are they qualified to hold ministerial and other senior positions in government.

This ruling is also a victory for those diasporans who died in 2018 after being told they cannot contest elections in Sierra Leone despite paying hundreds of thousands of dollars into their party election campaign fund.

This is victory for common-sense and natural justice. We must all take our hats off to the Supreme Court Justices for their meticulous and brave interpretation of a law that discriminated so badly against its own citizens. Good riddance to inequality and discrimination.

As one of the Judges warned politicians – “The court should not be used as a political weapon to achieve a political goal.”

This is an excerpt of the arguments put forward by three of the Justices – Glenna Thompson, Eku Robert and Nicholas Browne-Marke yesterday at the Supreme Court:

Justice Glenna Thompson :“It follows that the changes made by the 2006 Act are in accordance with the Constitution. The 2006 Act does not restrict the rights of any category of citizens and self-evidently does not discriminate against any citizen who holds dual-nationality. Section 76 of the constitution must be considered in light of Section 173 which gave Parliament the discretion to legislate in respect of matters concerning citizenship.

“Parliament in its wisdom had decided that it should not be unlawful for Sierra Leoneans to hold another nationality. The mischief against which section 76 (1) (a) was aimed is no longer in existence, indeed what was once unlawful is now lawful. It follows a fortiori that there is no automatic disqualification by virtue only of holding dual or multiple citizenship.

“The effect of this is that the disqualification of Sierra Leonean citizens who voluntarily hold citizenship of another country by virtue of section 76(1)(a) is now only relevant to elections conducted before the 2006 Act was passed.

“If it needs stating, the law as it now stands is that Sierra Leonean citizens who are voluntarily citizens of another country are no longer disqualified from standing for Parliament.”

“It ought not to need stating that the Courts in general and this court in particular should not be used as a political weapon in order to achieve political gain. The rule of law and an effective democracy require strong and independent institutions of which the judiciary is and must be seen to be one. The courts must therefore guard against attempts to abuse its process for the sake of political expediency disguised as an application for interpretation.”

Justice E. E Roberts said: “A fortiori, he (Dr Yumkella) was qualified to contest the Presidential election. Further, he could only be asked to vacate his seat in Parliament, or would become ineligible to continue to occupy his seat in Parliament, if, according to section 77(1)(d) of the 1991 Constitution, he ceases to be a citizen of Sierra Leone. This specific provision throws open for argument the issue of whether a Member of Parliament elected as such, at a time when he held dual nationality, could be asked to vacate his seat for that reason, though he continues to hold Sierra Leone citizenship.

“It seems to me that he could not so long as he continues to hold Sierra Leone citizenship. Though possessed of dual citizenship, he would be qualified in terms of section 77(1)(g) of the 1991 Constitution, to be registered as an elector for election of Members to Parliament. There is no disability attached to dual nationality for the purpose of being eligible as an elector under the PEA,2012.”

Justice N.C. Browne-Marke said: “I agree with him that such a member may not automatically vacate his seat so long as he continues to hold SL citizenship and I adopt his reasons given in support of that view”

Reacting to the Supreme Court ruling, Dr Kandeh Yumkella said: “I give praise to the Almighty for his grace in making  sure  that my personal quest to open up the political space for Sierra Leoneans in general, and our citizens in the  diaspora, has received a resounding endorsement by the Supreme Court judges of the Republic.

“I commend them for their courage and vision.  Today’s landmark judgment by our highest court will benefit over a quarter million Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora and their descendants.

“As I have stated before, though the judiciary does not make laws, the Judgement by the Supreme Court constitutes a law which the parliament can now reinforce and complement by passing the omnibus bill we submitted to   guarantee greater inclusivity and equity for women and the youth in national suffrage and governance.

“I call on the government and NEC in particular, to ensure diaspora voting also becomes a reality in 2022 and 2023. Leh we put Salone  Fos.

“I wish to thank my gallant legal team for their professionalism and efficacy in presenting our case. Deep gratitude to our many legal friends who weighed in on the side justice. To all my family, friends and well-wishers, thanks to you for believing in me and standing by me. God bless Salone.”

While the above excerpt forms part of the arguments put forward by the majority of judges to allow diasporans the right to be voted to office, the Justice department is yet to publish its ruling. In the meantime, Dr Kandeh Yumkella and his supporters were in jubilant mood today at the NGC party office in Freetown where they celebrated yesterday’s court ruling.

This is Yumkella speaking about the ruling:

The Sierra Leone Telegraph will bring you details of the full judgement when its available.

Watch Justice Glenna Thompson’s argument on the matter:

 

Listen to the ruling of the supreme court explained in simple Krio language by JF Suma of the NGC party:

 

 

7 Comments

  1. The bullying by the government of Sierra Leone is over. People in the diaspora can finally stop the bullying of dictators in government. The 1973 Citizenship Act, which was amended in 2006 to award the right of dual citizenship and citizenship by birth unswervingly through the mother for children born in Sierra Leone, rules citizenship in Sierra Leone; They expanded this to children born outside the country in 2017.

  2. This is a preview of a future President Kandeh Yomkella – determined, never-say-die, clear,far sighted vision, irreverent when the need arises, well educated, inclusive, and, most importantly, humble. His humility shone through when upon the favourable ruling of the Supreme Court, he was quick to let it be known that the victory was not his alone by highlighting the role played by others, including lawyers.

    The inclusive nature of the man is laid bare by his insistence that all Sierra Leoneans, whoever they are and wherever they may be, should not be disqualified from participating in the political life of their country for whatever reason. A born Sierra Leonean is a Sierra Leonean forever – “monkey not dae leff in black arn “

    There is another element in the KKY case that should not be overlooked: The much denigrated and disrespected Judiciary finally scored a goal to claw something back of its shattered reputation as an independent body, capable of interpreting the law objectively and professionally. In so doing the current members of the Supreme Court have carved their names into the history books for the right reason. Their enabler is no other than the Distinguished Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yomkella.

  3. Americans everywhere on earth are eligible to vote for or vie for political positions in their country. The same goes for most western countries. It is a right and privilege. However, the rights come with obligations and responsibilities. For example in the USA, all American citizens everywhere in the world are expected to file in their TAX return with the American tax authorities every year. The tax authorities would determine if you can pay tax or not, depending on your tax obligation in your country of resident. The most important thing is that you have to file your tax return. That makes you American and that gives you the right to determine what happens in America, who is voted for in America and how the tax payer’s money is utilized in America.

    I hope that with this new found right that has been given to us all in the diaspora by the Supreme Court Judges, the NRA would move fast to ensure that all Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora file in their tax return every year with the NRA. Also, I hope that all of us will honestly file in our tax returns when demanded of us. We can start by registering ourselves in the nearest Sierra Leone embassy or consulate. Rights and privileges should go hand in glove with responsibility. This should be devoid of our personal and individual remittances to our families, relatives and friends in Sierra Leone. This is to the Tax authorities and by extension the country.

  4. Denying Sierra Leoneans who have always tried to maintain a lawful connection to their place of birth, and who are assisting family and friends in SL in every way possible, was always a ridiculous proposition. Can’t a man/woman love his/her biological Mother or Father, and an adoptive or nonbiological parent?

    So many Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora fight against unnecessary odds to renew their passports, visit the country and keep their ties to the beloved Salone. Thank you to the SL Supreme Court and Dr Yumkella. The parliament and NEC must not drag their feet: they must let ALL Sierra Leoneans register and vote in 2022/23! High we exalt thee, realm of the free.

  5. I personally believe that under the leadership of President Bio, our branches of government are now enjoying their independence which translates to a functional democracy as compared to the past 11 years of APC misrule when our nation faced the humiliation by the decision of our Supreme Court and the ECOWAS Court due to the unconstitutional sacking of the Vice President. Under the leadership of former President Earnest Koroma before the 2018 presidential election, the 3 branches of government was based on regionalism because Speaker of parliament Honorable S.B Dumbuya and Chief Justice Abdulai H. Charm were northerners. Currently, there is a balance of power within our country because the Speaker of parliament Honorable Abbas Bundu is from the North and Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards is from the Western Area. Kudos to Chief Justice Edwards for transforming our justice system and also congratulations to Dr. Kandeh Yumkella for his court victory.
    Finally, let’s continue to pray for Honorable Kandeh Yumkella as an opposition leader of the NGC party in parliament to continue his hard work by holding the SLPP executive branch of government accountable for at least the next 12 years.

  6. So, in our time, we welcome the emergence of a NEW PROGRESSIVE JUDICIARY seen to be casting off the murky cloaks of the OLD JUDICIARY. The Supreme Court rightly refused to simply allow the APC to quietly withdraw this fraudulent & political case because of the necessity for the Courts to unambiguously clarify this fundamental issue. In doing so all of the sitting Justices agreed with Justice Glenna Thompson’s assertion that ” there’s no automatic disqualification by virtue only of holding dual or multiple citizenship” and that the dual-citizenship law “IS NOW ONLY RELEVANT TO ELECTIONS CONDUCTED BEFORE 2006 ACT WAS PASSED”.

    This clearly means KKY was/is eligible to run for Parliament & Presidency irrespective of what other citizenship(s) he held or holds just like all other citizens, home & abroad, born in Sierra Leone & to Sierra Leonean parents. In this spirit of newness ignited by the Supreme Court, we demand that the NEW APC steps forward & frees itself from sins of old by expunging instinctive corruption & violence from its mentality. We also demand that this government becomes a NEW SLPP GOVERNMENT that governs FOR ALL, rejects the politics of selective justice, revenge, corruption & focuses on problem resolution.

    MR KAMARAINBA- ADP’s leader yet to be officially convicted of an alleged ‘rape’ – still languishes in jail. Convict him if he’s guilty or release him on bail pending investigations

  7. Since independence and because of the legal system we inherited,from the British, the idea our constitution was supreme, and should have been the guiding principle for which we practice our laws the way we govern ourselves was none existence because of the British legal traditions of sovereign parliament. In other words, since the United Nations universal Declaration of human rights was passed in 1945, that guarantees civil and political rights to every citizen of every nation, for which Sierra leone is a signatory, over the years the Sierra leone Parliament have been enacting laws against the diaspora communities, similar to the system of Apartheid laws in South Africa. Where the black majority were denied their voting rights, or the right to choose their leaders, or be chosen as the leaders of their communities. That system lasted from 1949 to 1994 when Mandela through his struggle against racial injustice, under the banner of the African National Congress, with the aid of ordinary black, and liberal whites south Africans, and helped by the international community to end that brutal practice in 1994.

    This Sierra Leone supreme court ruling granting the diaspora community the right to take part in our electoral process, is not only the right thing to do, but common sense dictates that’s what should have happened all those years ago. We didn’t chose to leave our country, we were forced to leave our country, because the state have failed us as citizens . The contract between the citizen and state was broken, by corruption, and ultimately the RUF wars . The diaspora community have had a double whammy of collective punishment by the State of Sierra Leone. Finally, we can say our judges in Sierra leone have woken up from their slumber, and challenging long held beliefs that, when it comes to the interpretation of our laws, the State is always right. Doesn’t fit that bill anymore. The case of Major Paolo Conteh’s, Dr Bylden and this court ruling in favour of the diaspora, suggest there is a new breed of independent minded judges that are fed up of playing second fiddle to the executive, and legislative branch of government.

    Also Dr Yumkella and the Editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas and his team, deserve a special thank you for keeping this issue alive by highlighting the injustice suffered by the diaspora community under such discriminatory laws. I wonder if we our country was at peace itself, how many Sierra Leoneans would have chosen to live abroad? That’s a question for our members of Parliament that wants to held on to the status quo despite the supreme court ruling. Now the real work to get rid of this Apartheid laws against the diaspora community, in our statue books starts now. The judgement made clear, it shouldn’t be use like a political football.

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