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: