We should thank God that there is freedom of speech in Sierra Leone and pray that the blessings of this freedom will continue.
This article “Demo-Crazy in Parliament” by the one who is currently my favourite commentator on Sierra Leone issues ( since circa 21st of March this year) the seminal, level-headed Rev. Alfred Munda SamForay, should provide a talking point as it raises a few issues that we have been discussing and debating in this forum :
Demo-Crazy in Parliament
The attempt to elect a Speaker – second in line for the presidency – and Deputy Speaker during the First Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic on Tuesday April 24 and Wednesday April 25 can best be described by William Butler Yeat’s poem, The Second Comingpopularized in part by novelist, Albert Chinua Achebe:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre * The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere * The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, * While the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
Lost in the jungle after the bloody food fight in and around Parliament is the fact that the outgoing All Peoples Congress (APC) wanted change. The incoming Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), the oldest continuously running political party in West Africa, wanted change. The newly begotten National Grand Coalition (NGC) advocated for change. And the Coalition for Change (C4C) wanted, what else? Change, of course. So they all came together in Parliament to carry out the will of the electorate for change. But according to Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah, Sierra Leoneans and the rest of the world soon realized that “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”.
REV. ALFRED SAM-FORAY
At issue was whether sixteen parliamentarians of the All Peoples Congress should be sworn-in and take part in the First Session of Parliament. Earlier on an interim court injunction had been issued against the APC MPs on behalf of the SLPP. These members were subsequently asked to leave the well of Parliament. They refused stating that no ruling on whether they were disqualified to be in Parliament had been issued. A fracas ensued and suddenly there was an appearance of militarized security forces with riot batons to keep order – or perhaps one might argue, to intimidate members of Parliament? And who ordered all these security forces into the hallowed halls of Parliament anyway? It is believed that in the absence of the outgoing and prospective APC candidate for Speaker of Parliament, the onus fell on the obviously young and largely inexperienced bureaucrat, the Clerk of Parliament, the Hon. Paran Umar Tarawally, to call in the riot police with the usual “orders from above”. I do not expect that such orders come from God Almighty. God is presently too busy trying to keep President Donald Trump of the United States from wiping Syria off the map for using chemical weapons against its own citizens. Whoever gave these orders must have confused Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people and for the people” with government by brute force. Certainly the Clerk of Parliament whose job is to ensure that members thereof have all the amenities, tools and personal safety necessary for the smooth running of the House appeared to be well over his head to carry out his orders from above. According to management expert, Professor Laurence J. Peter, people keep getting promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. This is known in organizational management as the Peter Principle. Mr. Tarawally besides being unable to keep order and serenity in the House, was reportedly extraordinarily arrogant and outright impolite to Opposition MP’s ordering some to sit down and be quiet even when it was their turn to speak. He seemed quite oblivious of the fact that according to Section 73(1) of the Constitution, the President himself is a Member of Parliament.
Also lost in the jungle warfare masquerading as parliamentary democracy were the reasons Parliament was meeting in the first place. Sections 79(1) and 80(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone stipulates that at the first seating of Parliament following a Dissolution, Parliament shall elect a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively. And following a General Election, the first order of Parliament, of course, is to legalize itself by swearing in its members. But the Constitution does not require a member to be sworn in before voting for the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. According to Section 83,
“…a member may, before taking an oath, take part in the election of a Speaker”.
So there was absolutely no constitutional mandate to throw the petitioned APC MP’s out of Parliament. It was uncivil and unnecessary vexation of the spirit. In any case, before getting to these noble missions, MP’s and supporters of the two senior political parties, the APC and SLPP known in other circles as Alusine and Alhasan (twins of different mothers) decided to resort to some form of blood sacrifice in full view of the hallowed burial places of Sir Milton Margai, Father of the nation, and Siaka Probyn Stevens, father of the Republic. Then they proceeded to possibly violate the very Constitution they were been sworn-in to preserve and to protect. Section 79(2) of the Constitution says,
The Speaker shall be elected by a resolution in favour of which there are cast the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament.(Emphasis are mine).
Accordingly, in order to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, a quorum consisting of two-thirds of ALL 144 MP’s including twelve Paramount Chief Members of Parliament needed to be present to vote for the resolution. If my numbers are correct, then there should have been, according to Section 79(2) of the Constitution, a minimum of ninety-five (95) members, two-thirds of the entire membership – not two-thirds of members present at the time – would have been required to form a quorum for the purpose of electing the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. But on the day in question only seventy-six (76) members were present. And in full view of the whole world, the Constitution was subverted and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker were elected with far less than the required quorum. What bothers me most is that the only cabinet member presently approved, Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Charles Francis Margai, who suffered so much under APC unconstitutionality is now the very person overseeing this blatant violation of the national constitution under his father and uncle’s “party of lawyers”, the SLPP. In protest the entire parliamentary delegation of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) including Hon.Foday Mario Kamara (Const.057), Hon. Bai Sama Kamara (060) Hon. Abdul Titus Kamara (061), and Hon. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella (062), Leader of the NGC, abstained from voting. And I will resist the temptation to ask why 75 percent of the NGC delegation from four different constituencies of Kambia are all surnamed Kamara, or why His Excellency the President, Minister of Finance and the Honorable Attorney General & Minister of Justice are all ancestrally from Bonthe District. Probably just a happenstance of birth or parentage. Members of the Coalition for Change voted in concert with the ruling SLPP to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. As a result, the NGC parliamentarians became either the pariah or the conscience of Parliament, depending on where one stood on the constitutional provision for parliamentary quorum electing the Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
Throughout this unnecessarily long and tedious election process both APC and SLPP behaved badly – very badly. There was extreme rudeness at SLPP Headquarters such as the well-documented insult and assault on the mother of now Member of Parliament from Kambia, Hon. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella. There were several reports of stabbings and fracases between APC and SLPP members in the Western Area leading to loss of life. There was the attack on then presidential candidate and now His Excellency the President Julius Maada Bio in Kamalu, Karene District, the home of then APC presidential candidate, Samura Kamara. Mr. Bio is said to have escaped only by resorting to his former military ingenuity, the sort of things legends are built on. Then there was the most famous, (or infamous) stabbing death of one Daddy George, a supporter of former SLPP flagbearer aspirant and former SLPP Chairman, John Oponjo Benjamin. The alleged culprit was said to be a ward of President Bio. All of the above misbehavior, violence and assault on individual liberties were done with impunity. Not much disciplinary actions were taken by the leaders of either the APC or SLPP. It is as though none of the leaders of these chronically ill-mannered supporters of these two ancient political parties ever heard of Bo Government Secondary School, where I am told, Manner Maketh Man.
Both the APC and SLPP cheated, stole votes, stuffed missing and re-appeared ballot boxes, and possibly hacked into the database of the National Electoral Commission to change votes many of which came in different from what was posted at the poling stations. Their actions were documented and reported to international elections observers and nothing of consequence was done about it. Now that William Yeats “ceremony of innocence is drowned” and things appear to have fallen apart in Parliament suddenly the conscience of the international community is awakened. Since then a high level delegation from ECOWAS-UNOWAS has visited Sierra Leone with the aim of returning things to normalcy in Parliament. And as a result, all sixty-eight APC MPs have returned to Parliament. In my opinion, the honorable Clerk of Parliament, should relinquish his office for the unnecessary vexation of our national spirit.
At no time in my nearly seven decades as a natural born citizen of this great country have I seen the extreme tribalism and regionalism as was practised by both APC and SLPP in the past elections. The results were obvious. People in Kono voted for native son and deposed Vice President, Samuel Sam-Sumana. The South-East voted 95 percent for Brig. (Retd.) Julius Maada Bio of Bonthe District. Nearly 70 percent of Kambia District and a significant number of other Northerners voted for native son, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkela. The rest of the North voted for their other native son, Samura Kamara of the APC.
Now the elections are over and done with. The President, Vice President, members of Parliament and local government officials are either in their respective offices or waiting to take office. We can only hope that those who lost will have the courage to work with the victors to carry the burden of the extreme poverty and deprivation known as Sierra Leone to better and more prosperous days ahead. We also hope that those who won realize with humility that less than sixty percent of the adult population of this country voted for them. That no one party or individual, no matter how talented or capable is able to move this country from a beggar nation to a more prosperous one. To do this end, we must at least attempt to practise real democracy – not the madness the world saw in Parliament on April 25 that can best be called Demo-Crazy. We must learn to listen to one another, work together and live together as brothers and sisters That blessing and peace may descend on us all. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. of blessed memory observed, either we live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. This is the best we can do after fifty-seven years of under-development and under-achievement as a nation and as a people.
To our brothers and sisters of the All Peoples Congress, there is a difference between uncivil rebellion and civil disobedience as practiced by Mahatma Gandhi of India and Martin Luther King, Jr. of the United States. Both also paid the ultimate price for what they believed in. To our brothers and sisters of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, there is a difference between democracy – majority rule – and tyranny of the majority. Revenge politics in a country less than the population of London or New York City is a very, very bad idea. To our brothers and sisters of the Coalition for Change and the National Grand Coalition, the reason your people sent you to Parliament was to provide a real democratic alternative to the two senior and often disharmonious political parties. Whenever and wherever “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” as Yeats describes it, the inevitable outcome is chaos as we saw in Parliament last week much to our collective national disgrace. You have to stand up for what is right no matter what the cost and speak for the voiceless. And finally to both APC and SLPP this country does not belong to either one of you. It belongs to all of us, the people of Sierra Leone. The time to redeem yourselves for the jangling discords you have both sown through the tribal and Regional politics you have supervised for the last 57 years of national existence is now.
NATIONAL CLEANING DAY: As the Republicans said after the 2016 national elections in America, “Happy days are here again”. According to a recent proclamation by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, Saturday May 5, 2018 and every last Saturday of the month thereafter shall be national cleaning day. In the absence of a seating Parliament, presidential proclamations are the law of the land. I have no problems with this per se. It has been said that cleanliness is next to Godliness, although God never said that. In the Bible, holiness, not cleanliness, is next to Godliness. My problem with presidential proclamations is that as King Nebuchadnezzar, King Darius, King Xerxes, King Herold and much later President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation essentially abolished slavery in America, all found out, Executive Proclamations are irreversible even when somebody has to die in the process. Americans went to a bloody civil war, John the Baptist was beheaded, Prophet Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, and three young Hebrew men were thrown into a fiery furnace because no one – not even the King – dared reverse his own proclamation. I was talking to my internet service provider from Bo. She was crying on the phone suffering from severe stomach pain all night. She could not go to the hospital, she said, until after national cleaning at noon. Reminds me of the Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ time who would not permit their animals to be rescued on the Sabbath because, according to them, God said “Honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy”. So if people or animals decided to die during the Sabbath, tough. Speaking of internet service, I have not been able to get one for almost a week because some hopeless nincompoop apparently still angry about the outcome of the elections decided to set fire or otherwise destroy cables of the Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (SierraTel) at Jui and Aberdeen, I am told. So if I were to advise the President I would tell him to declare a National Cleanliness Day – every day of the year – like they do in Rwanda and America. That will be the day when Sierra Leoneans will not urinate on the streets, throw garbage in their neighbor’s yard or in the gutters and streets at night. I lived in the United States for 45 years and I never heard of national cleaning day in America. If we don’t throw garbage on the streets and verandas we won’t need six hours a month for national cleaning in the first place. I advised President Bio – then Brig-Gen. Bio during the days of the NPRC – that rather than complain about garbage in Sierra Leone, we should convert it into energy. Guatemala City in Central America converts its garbage into natural gas used for cooking. Germany imports garbage from Italy and elsewhere to burn and convert heat and mechanical energies thereof into electricity. But I am not a politician, neither do I advise governments for a living. So that is as far as I go. GOD BLESS THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE.
Rev. Alfred Munda SamForay