Sierra Leone Executive Order, Abusable Order

By Umaru Fofana


There are certain things in life that get determined by our circumstance or the situation we find ourselves in. That could be for good or for bad. With the passage of time it is unimaginable that the man who would later become head of the Catholic Church was a Hitlerite. Pope Benedict was an active member of the Nazi Youth Wing during the Second World War. He would later become a symbol of global peace, harmony and justice as pontiff.

The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was one of the biggest advocates for a nuclear-free world – that was before he went to Downing Street. He later became prime minister and had his finger on a nuclear bomb and almost released it.

In Sierra Leone such is how bad our constitution is that a saint becoming president here can be turned into the world’s worst sinner. Never mind a sinner so becoming. Our most important and supposedly sacred document rests so much power in the hands of one man – or woman – that with weak state institutions such as we have in the country the president is only restrained by the fear of God, being considerate, conscionable and honest. Or very active civil society groups and progressive media who do not compromise for some reason. You and I know what and how those are in Sierra Leone.

Among the things the president of Sierra Leone can do especially in times of an emergency is to order the detention of people without reason, without charge, without recourse to any institution. And they are released only at the say-so of the president. I can be arrested today simply because the president of Sierra Leone says so. However illegal my detention, it is backed by a document that emphasises fairness to all. And with the weak state institutions I have already mentioned, I have no guaranteed course for redress. It is perfectly within the law, but it is a very bad provision especially so because of the political control our police force is so prone to.

Otherwise how does anyone explain the detention of eight citizens of this country – among them two women – without charge, without explanation since 24 October 2014, and with the police said to have nothing to do with the matter any longer. They were among 34 people arrested in Kono, eastern Sierra Leone after a riot over a sick nonagenarian and whether or not she should be taken to an Ebola holding centre in the town. Everyone then knew the sole so-called Holding centre in Kono was a death trap with the potential to infect even an Ebola-negative patient. The recent surge in cases in the district proved that beyond any doubt. While some have been released, the eight are still languishing at the maximum security prison.

What is more worrisome – however disturbing the unexplained jailing of these men and women may be – is the fact that if these people had committed any law and order offence, the police should and could simply have charged them under existing provisions of our laws without the president having to order their arrest.

He exercised a similar overuse – probably abuse – of his Executive Detention Order powers last year when he ordered the arrest of journalist David Tam-Baryoh. Again if the journalist had said anything inflammatory or even treasonable, the country had and still does have existing laws under which he could have been arrested by the police and charged to court if evidence existed. That was not done. He was released later without explanation – in as much the same way as he had been arrested – except to say that it had PLEASED HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT to grant his release. This breeds dictatorship and authoritarianism, plain and simple!

Using the same Executive Order powers – while there was a ban on timber export from Sierra Leone – the president instructed that the moratorium be slightly lifted to allow for one timber businessman to export some quantity of his stock. Was that not akin to suspending his earlier order if only to suit the convenience of only one man? That is nothing short of using the executive powers way too far, arbitrarily and discriminatorily. And we have a dumb opposition, an eclectic accountability system including the Anti Corruption Commission which has ABUSE OF POWER as a corruption offence. Would such not have warranted some looking-into to ascertain if it constituted any such? I will not bother to mention our parliament and the role it should play in providing oversight responsibility over the presidency.

The other day I was working with some Danish TV journalists when their prime minister was here. They looked so relaxed at her presence that I asked them a question or two. As we discussed a wide range of other issues and what makes the Scandinavian country so prosperous, it became crystal clear that it all borders on accountability in governance where the leader does not get to do whatever pleases him. One of the journalists said thus: “The office of the prime minister is more powerful than I am…but the prime minister is not more powerful than me”. The other said: “She cannot under any circumstance order my arrest without certain layers of state institutions approving, and it is difficult for all these institutions to approve of my rights being denied if it is not something extremely serious – perhaps terrorism”.

I would later learn that the office of the ombudsman in Denmark would be very instrumental in the kind of situation such as the eight detainees find themselves in. But we have our judiciary as well, you may say. I will not retort to that. But so do we have our Human Rights Commission too you may also say. Yes, that commission has proved exemplary and has held certain state institutions to account such as the army over the wrongful discharge of some solders or the appendage they were given – CHRONICALLY ILL AND MENTALLY IMBALANCE which brought the soldiers justice.

But the commission also looked into the riots and killings in the mine in Kono and in Tonkolili. We all know what happened to their recommendations on Tonkolili; while only they and God know what happened to the investigations into the Kono incident. It makes one feel – rightly or wrongly – that it is no coincidence that the eight being detained are from Kono.

There has never been a time in recent times when the clarion call has been louder for state institutions to rise up to the challenge and do what is right. And a big “thanks” to four rights organisations – AdvocAid, Prison Watch, Amnesty International and the Centre for accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) for raising the red flag on the continued unexplained detention of the eight. The Chief Justice and the rest of the judiciary must show and deliver justice in all its form to all manner of people deserving of it. The Office of the Ombudsman should be scrapped and the resources being pumped into it saved for something else if it cannot rise up to most basic fundamental human rights challenges the country is faced with. And we see breaches every day. I won’t mention the police for the least said about them the better. But who will blame the men and women in blue when there is no redress mechanism for a police officer who refuses to carry out an unlawful political order.  Indeed, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So you see how the circumstance, as mentioned in my first sentence, comes to play, huh? It is a patriotic call to let us change it! In the words of Nelson Mandela: to deny people their human rights it to challenge their very humanity.
~Source~Politico 22/01/15~

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