October 1, 2022

By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Sierra Leone has held two transitional elections since the return of Multi-Party democracy in 1996, two of which in 2007 and 2018 respectively.
Power has progressively changed hands from the APC to the SLPP vice versa. The current 1991 Constitution prevents the holder of the Presidency from occupying the most coveted seat for not more than two consecutive terms of 5 years each.
At these political interludes, the presidential race remains wide open and unpredictable because the holders of the seat who have done two terms are precluded from participating in the ensuing elections.
The country’s political landscape is dominated by the Sierra Leone People`s Party (SLPP) and the All People`s Congress (APC).
Regional and tribal corollaries dictate that the SLPP takes a pre-eminent position in the south-east whiles the stronghold of the APC is the north-West region.
The “winner takes all” pattern largely emanating from the geo-politics of the country always raises the stakes for contestants and parties to find all ways and means to win elections at all cost.
This state of affairs in terms of handing over power after every transition elections has proven to be very chaotic and problematic for our country.
The supporters of the SLPP and the APC have always behaved riotously whenever election results are announced in favors of their parties.
There has always been chaos and a breakdown of law and order leading to the burning of houses, party offices, maiming, displacements, killings and other reprisal attacks against the losers.
The Police has even been accused of dancing for the winners thereby losing the confidence of the losers in such elections.
The winning party has always found it difficult to control the breakdown of order from the fact that they are yet to have a grip of the relevant state machineries.
Many including our donors and other players in the civil society space have called for a transition law to properly direct how things should go hence we have transition elections.
The Bio government like the Ernest Koroma government of the last ten years had to grapple with such challenges relating to the non-existence of a transition law in the country.
In spite of rapprochements between President Bio and Vice President Juldeh Jalloh to the former President Ernest Koroma, Chairman and Leader of the main opposition APC, the relationship between the two political opponents remain strained.
Politically motivated violence in Tonko Limba in Kambia and Goderich in Freetown has manifested the bitter blood between the APC and SLPP.
There were allegations of violence and reprisal attacks during both transitional phases in 2007 and 2018.
However, in 2007 the government handing over process was relatively systematic and orderly as compared to the 2018 elections that ushered in Julius Maada Bio as President.
Back then in 2007, President Koroma was magnanimous enough to allow SLPP ministers to occupy their respective portfolios for three months.
The rationale I suppose was to appropriate an orderly procedural handing over and stock taking of government programmes, contracts and activities.
Had there existed a transitional law with a clearly specified time frame where all major political events are expected to come about, the change over from one party to another would be properly managed.
On the night of April 4 2018, immediately President Bio was declared the winner of the presidential elections at the Radisson Blu Hotel, the high valency of chaos and disorderly behavior that ensued has attributed the process of power transition as problematic.
Exuberant youths organized by politicians as party defense forces (PDF) had a field day on that night.
The absence of a transitional law gave the power and leverage to party youths to frog march a high court judge out of his government allocated vehicle.
Even in the presence of armed security guards the state house and presidential lodge were vandalized.
Government officials were hurriedly pilfering monies and other resources such as laptops from offices simply because the party they openly supported has lost the elections.
Politicians get jittery at this moment because of uncertainties that surround the outcome of elections.
Few months to the March 2018 elections, unscrupulous political heads in connivance with ministry officials were busy trading government quarters and properties at an undervalued rate.
An adversarial model of democracy in which the losers of an election must wait out of power in loyal position for a period of five or more years to replace the government of the day, has exacerbated rather than reduce conflict in transitions.
Dr. Abubakarr Kargbo, Chairman of the National Commission for Democracy says “elections in Sierra Leone are not far removed from tribal and regional consideration and the issues of loss of access to remove prestige and power to political contenders raise the stake very high.”
A major attribute of successive governments in Sierra Leone is copying systems from other countries.
In that same vein, it is advisable and prudent for the present SLPP government to borrow some leaves from the transitional legislations of countries such as Ghana and Benin.
A transitional legislation clearly stipulates the modus operandi of transferring power from the incumbent to the opposition.
Had Sierra Leone enacted a transitional legislation perhaps it is needless for the establishment of the commissions of enquiry.
Without been partisan, state institutions such as the Sierra Leone Police and the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) are capable to investigate legal contraventions as they relate to the transgression of past government officials.
The 2018 elections would remain in the annals of history as one of the most hotly contested elections in Sierra Leone.
The evolving political situations during transitions raise a lot of concern for the peace and stability of the country.
The SLPP achieved a lipid victory, despite narrowly winning the presidential election; it was dwarfed by ten seats by the main opposition APC in the parliamentary elections.
Cognizant of the constituency delineation that lopsided more constituencies in the northern strong hold of the APC, the new SLPP government was left in a political dilemma.
The blatant gerrymandering was done under the reign of President Koroma.
Immediately after the conduct of the 2016 national census, the divisive political machinations were effected by the APC.
The National Electoral Commission (NEC), the institution charged with the mandate of conducting elections, referenda and delineating constituencies and wards, was in the process of creating new constituencies.
The work of NEC was thwarted and its powers usurped with the enactment of the Rural Act of 2017.
According to civil society organizations such as Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) and the Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law, the genesis of the present political tensions can be traced back at this critical point.
The Rural Act 2017 altered the political map of Sierra Leone with additional two districts: Karene and Falaba and a north-west region ultimately wielding more constituencies in the northern region stronghold of the APC.
Now visibly in governance, the ruling SLPP was determined to downsize the numbers of the APC in Parliament.
According to Ansu Lansanna, a victim of a ”judicial coup” after winning a parliamentary election in Kailahun district noted that the de-amalgamation process was uneven, if there were districts in the north called Karene and Falaba during colonial administration, there were districts in the south called Roneitta, Panguma and Bandajuma.
“There is nothing wrong in naming Moyamba and Bonthe districts as south-west region,” he averred.
The legal luminary ended up by postulating that a transitional law with a clear transitional rules and procedures within a stipulated time frame would have saved the nation from this political fiasco.
The wrangling began with the election of the Speaker of the House of Parliament.
Despite both parties filling election petitions cases in the high court judicature of Sierra Leone, only APC parliamentarians were forcefully evicted from the well of Parliament.
In the absence of the main opposition APC, and the NGC restraining Dr. Abass Bundu, was unanimously elected as a Speaker of the House.
Presiding over a hung parliament is quite challenging, the SLPP has no option but to seek for a “judicial coup” and succeeded in removing ten APC MPs and automatically replacing them with SLPP candidates that trailed seconds in the polls.
With the minority now becoming the majority in parliament, the appeal court has failed to empanel judges to seat on the appeal cases of the ten APC MPs that lost their seats.
According to the leader of the main opposition in Parliament, Chernor Maju Bah, the failure of the chief justice to empanel judges to look at the appeal cases of the ten aggrieved MPs has eroded public trust and confidence in the Sierra Leone Judiciary.
In a situation where democracy is consolidated, the role of key democratic institutions such as the Judiciary, NEC and PPRC are crucial in ensuring that the rule of law in upheld.
On the other hand security institutions such as the police and the military must be impartial and independent in the discharge of their duties.
Politicians should not be allowed to micro manage or call the shots on the day to day function of security institutions.