Sierra Leone: ECOWAS court rules VP Sumana’s removal illegal, so what happens now?

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A three-man panel at the ECOWAS Court of Justice has ruled that the removal of Samuel Sam-Sumana as Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone on 17 March 2015 was illegal. The court further states that in removing Mr. Sam-Sumana the government of Sierra Leone violated his right to due process and to participate in politics.

In March 2015 the President of Sierra Leone issued a press release where he said that that Sam Sumana had lost his eligibility to serve as Vice President when the All People’s Congress expelled him from the party.

Mr. Sam-Sumana was under ebola quarantine when he was relieved of his post. Victor Foh was appointed as Vice President in his place.

An injunction was filed in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone by lawyers for Sam Sumana who claimed that the President had violated the constitution. They asked for Sam Sumana’s reinstatement, and that the court put an injunction in place to prevent Victor Foh from acting as VP.

On 15 September 2015 the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone ruled that the President had the Supreme Authority to sack the VP “under section 40 since the requirement on section 41 (of the 1991 Constitution) is continuous”. That requirement being that the VP had to be a member of a political party.

Today’s ECOWAS court judgement says that not only was the removal of Sam Sumana illegal, it also awards him damages.

The court has ordered the following:

Sierra Leone should pay H.E. Sam Sumana all his salaries, emoluments, perquisites, etc. from the date of removal. Costs of litigation will be calculated by the registry and also awarded to Sam Sumana.

When Sierra Leone became a party to the ECOWAS Protocol on the Community of Justice it gave its citizens the right to access the court for human rights grievances explains Mr. Alpha Sesay, a lawyer, and Advocacy Officer  with the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative. The state has been found wanting with this judgment.

“This is not a ruling against President Koroma. It is against the government of Sierra Leone. Even after this President’s tenure in office expires next year, this is still a binding judgment against the state,” said Mr. Sesay.

The court however did not provide a timeline nor an implementation framework as its counter part at the Africa Court has been known to do. Sierra Leone can refuse to honor the decision of the court thereby violating the ECOWAS protocol to which it is a signed party. There are no existing penalties for those states who violate the protocol.

Today the Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Joseph F. Kamara said in a statement that the ECOWAS court did not have the “competence” nor the “jurisdiction” to rule on the matter. He said that the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone had already ruled on the matter and that “only it could over rule itself”.

The case that was brought by Sam Sumana before the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone was not on the matter of human rights but that of the constitutionality of the President’s decision to remove him from office.

The first time a case was brought against the government of Sierra Leone at ECOWAS was that of MOHAMMED KAMEL WANSA v. REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE & ANOR.

Mr. Wansa was a “Lebanese merchant who sought to sell amongst other things a $50,000 used boat for $3,000,000 to the NPRC after superficial repairs, and whose request for payment to President Kabbah was refused.” Mr. Wansa ( referred to as Wanza in the local press) reportedly had a monopoly on multiple NPRC government issued contract.

The bill he sent to President Kabbah after he was reinstated after the AFRC coup was for $11 million

Mr. Wansa took the government of Sierra Leone to the ECOWAS court where he and his lawyers argued that President Kabbah had violated his human rights. The court ruled in favor of Mr. Wansa for $25 million and the current APC government led by President Koroma honored the ruling which was made in 2008.

Although today’s press release from the Minister of Juctise suggests that it will not honor today’s ruling, there is nothing to say that a future government in power led by a different president will not agree to honor the order to pay Sam Sumana for damages.

In spite of this outcome Mr. Sam Sumana intends to contest for the presidency in the March 2018 elections under a newly formed Coalition4Change party that is still awaiting its full accreditation from the PPRC.