Respite came the way of former Sierra Leonean Vice President, Samuel Sam-Sumana Monday as the Community Court of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) voided his sack by the country’s President, Ernest Bai Koroma.
A three-man panel of the court, in a unanimous judgment Monday, held that Sam-Sumana’s removal from office on March 17, 2015 was unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional.
The court held that the decision by President Bai Koroma to unilaterally sack country’s Vice President, without allowing him the opportunity to explore internal mechanism for redress, amounted to a violation of his right to fair hearing.
Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke, who read the lead judgment, said Sam Sumana’s removal from office was wrongful.
Justice Nwoke said the manner Sam Sumana was removed violated his right to appeal the decision, and therefore his right to natural justice and to a fair hearing.
The judge said the sacked Vice President’s right to participate in politics was also violated.
He said although President Bai Koroma has the powers to remove the Vice President, such powers must be exercised within the provision of the law.
Justice Nwoke said: “The constitution of his political party- APC, provides that any member aggrieved by the decision of the party has the right to appeal within 30 days.
“In this case, the applicant was sacked by his party on March 6, 2015, and he filed his notice of appeal on March, 26, 2015, the same day he was removed.”
“The removal of the applicant at a time he has not exhausted his right of appeal amounted to a violation of his right,” Justice Nwoke said.
He refused to grant Sam Sumana’s prayer to be reinstated. The judge said granting such prayer at this time in the tenure of President Bai Koroma would create political crisis in the country.
The judge noted that “some of the reliefs have either lapsed, are predicated on the domestic laws of Sierra Leone, and in order to avoid chaos in the country.”
Justice Nwoke ordered that all the emoluments, allowances and other financial benefits be paid to the former Vice President as it will be calculated by the court’s Registry.
He rejected Sierra Leonean government’s objection to the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit.
The judge said the reasons given by Sierra Leone for challenging the court’s jurisdiction was really not intelligible, as the Protocol establishing the ECOWAS Court was clear on the issue clear, and Sierra Leone is a signatory to that and related Protocol
Justices Hameye Foune Mahal-madane and Alioune Sall, who were also on the panel, agreed with the lead judgment.
An elated Sam Sumana dedicated the victory to all Sierra Leoneans saying the judgment has cleared the coast for him to contest the next presidential election.
He said he decided to explore legal and peaceful means to seek redress rather than resort to violence
“We should not use violence when there is a misrule of court. I decided to come to court and to give Sierra Leone the opportunity of peace. My country is bigger than me and I resolve to give peace a chance and today I am proud of that feat.”
Sam Sumana’s suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/38/16, had the Republic of Sierra Leone as the sole defendant.
His lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) had, while arguing the suit in June said Sam-Sumana resorted to the ECOWAS court because his country’s Supreme Court betrayed him when it denied him fair hearing, and that Koroma prevented him from fully exploring the APC’s internal dispute resolution mechanism by replacing him (Sam-Sumana) before the party’s Appeal Committee could issue a verdict.
Falana, while relaying how his client was illegally sacked by Kororma, said Sam-Sunama was purportedly expelled by his party (APC) on March 10, 2015, a development the President capitalised on to remove him from office.
He said before the APC’s Appeal Committee could give its verdict on the appeal by Sam-Sunama against his expulsion, President Bai Kororma appointed a replacement, and has since withdrawn all the privileges, including security, salaries and allowances due to his client.
Falana said: “He (Sam-Sumana) is saying that his life and that of his family members were threatened when armed soldiers surrounded his house and disarmed his security details.
“At a point he had to seek protection in the United State Embassy in his country.
“His right to movement, to earn a living; his right to security, and the right of the electorate, who voted for him and the President on a second term, that will end this September, have been breached by this illegal sack,” Falana said.
He told the court that when Kororma circumvented the APC’s dispute resolution mechanism, his client went before the country’s highest court, but was also frustrated when the Sierra Leone Supreme Court imposed a lawyer on him.
Falana said: “His (Sam-Sumana’s) compliant is that he was not given fair hearing by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone
“The Supreme Court ordered him to amend the processes he filed in the case he instituted against his illegal sack. He instructed his lawyer to do so, but his lawyer refused.
“He sacked the lawyer, but the Supreme Court insisted that he must stick with the old lawyer and went ahead to decide the case based on what his sacked lawyer filed.
“We are saying the Sierra Leone Supreme Court denied our client the right to have a lawyer of his choice. The Supreme Court knew that the lawyer had betrayed our client, but the Supreme Court decided to rely on the papers filed by the same lawyer.
“The Supreme Court of Sierra Leone also failed to address the core issue raised by our client. We argued that unilateral sack of our client by President Koroma was illegal.
“We are saying under the Sierra Leone constitution, once a President and Vice President assume office on a joint ticket, the only way to remove any of them is the procedure contained in the constitution.
“There is no provision in the country’s constitution that the President can simply sack a Vice President from office just because his party has expelled him or he has left the party,” Falana said.
He relied heavily on the case of Atiku Abubakar v. Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), where the Nigerian Supreme Court said, that Atiku decamped, was not sufficient to warrant his sack, and that the constitutional procedure must be adhered to.