Abuja-Nigeria, May 16, 2017—..
The ECOWAS Community Court has sent a strong warning to the government of Sierra Leone not to undermine its authority in adjudicating matters.
Presiding Judge, Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke issued the warning on Tuesday May 16, 2017 when the matter involving former Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana versus the Republic of Sierra Leone was called.
Mr. Sam-Sumana is challenging his wrongful dismissal by President Ernest Bai Koroma on March 17, 2015.
The court room burst into laughter when the trial judges were informed that the Government of Sierra Leone had filed papers challenging the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court.
With the Government of Sierra Leone conspicuously missing when the case was called in open court, Justice Chijioke Nwoke accordingly adjourned the matter to 6th June, 2017 for hearing.
He ordered for the hearing notice to be served on the Government of Sierra Leone without delay. “They are saying what? Jurisdiction? Ok, when we get there we will all see,” Justice Chijioke Nwoke retorted in apparent anger to the revelation that the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma was against the ECOWAS Court sitting on the matter.
The three-paneled judicial body also included Justice Maria Do Ceu Silva Monteiro from Guinea Bissau and Justice Hamaye Foune Mahamadane from Mali.
The plaintiff, Mr. Sam-Sumana holds the strongest argument that his dismissal by President Koroma was unconstitutional since he was duly elected by the people of Sierra Leone in a free, fair and transparent universal adult suffrage.
He is praying the court to declare the action by President Koroma as illegal and damages of $250million for breach of his privileges, human rights and entitlements.
At the hearing on Tuesday May 16, Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is lead counsel for Mr. Sam-Sumana drew the court’s attention to the urgency of the matter since electioneering campaigns for next year’s presidential and parliamentary polls have started.
Mr. Falana, one of Nigeria’s topmost human rights lawyers cum activists invited the court to “consider adopting the documents filed in the case so far, without more, and proceed to give judgement to expedite matters.”
The legal team of Mr. Sam-Sumana also included crack lawyers Dr. Raymond Atuguba from Ghana, Sola Egbenyika and Wisdom Elum, all from Nigeria.
Sam-Sumana & Ernest Koroma Fracas
Messrs Sam-Sumana and Ernest Bai Koroma used to be good friends. The two contested on the ticket of the All People’s Congress (APC) and won two successive presidential elections in a back-to-back defeat to the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
According to reports, things got to a head between the two when President Koroma initiated the idea of changing the country’s constitution in order to run for a third term.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when President Koroma went into full gear to dismiss his vice from office with claims that Mr. Sam-Sumana had “abandoned his position and sought asylum in the United States Embassy in Freetown.”
Mr. Sam-Sumana’s camp countered that the life of the then Vice President was at stake in the face of obvious death threats and attempts to assassinate him. He subsequently decided to seek a safe haven in Ghana.
Supreme Court Ruling in Sierra Leone & Reactions
In a bizarre judgement, the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone upheld the decision of President Koroma to dismiss the vice president.
The illegal sacking of Sam-Sumana was widely condemned by several local and international media houses, civil society organizations and international development institutions.
It was described as unconstitutional by the main opposition SLPP, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, which represents the country’s trade union, and the Sierra Leone Bar Association- the umbrella grouping of the country’s lawyers.
The five-member Supreme Court justices are yet to react to allegations that they were bribed $15million, brand new Toyota Land Cruisers and sumptuous parcels of land in prime areas of Freetown in order to turn the Constitution of Sierra Leone and justice upside down.
Believing that the Supreme Justices only gave their personal opinions rather than interpreting the law, Mr. Sam-Sumana has sought refuge at the ECOWAS Court “to ensure justice, to stop impunity and to uphold the constitution.”
ECOWAS Court & Jurisdiction
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice was established in 1991 and provides injunction for all Member States of the ECOWAS Community to be parties to its statutes. The composition and functioning of the court are organized by its statutes and by the rules of procedure drawn by itself.
The court has both advisory and contentious jurisdictions. By advisory jurisdiction, it gives legal advisory opinion on any matter that requires interpretation in the ECOWAS community. In contentious jurisdiction, the ECOWAS court examines cases of failure by member states to honour their obligations under ECOWAS law.
According to the statute establishing the court, the ECOWAS Court has the power to do the following:
i) adjudicate on any dispute relating to the interpretation and application of acts of the Community;
ii) adjudicate in disputes between institutions of the Community and their officials; iii) has power to handle cases dealing with liability for or against the Community; iv) determine cases of violation of human rights that occur in any member state; v) make declarations on the legality of Regulations, Directives, Decisions, and other subsidiary legal instruments adopted by ECOWAS.”
Govt of Sierra Leone’s Ties With ECOWAS Court
This is not the first time the government of Sierra Leone is being hauled before the ECOWAS Court. In 2008, a Lebanese businessman, Mohammed Wanza got judgement against Sierra Leone government to pay him $25million for gun boats he supplied but was never paid.
A senior police officer, Ibrahim EL-Tayib Bah also succeeded in getting the ECOWAS Court in 2013 to rule his dismissal as wrongful. He was awarded $250,000 in damages and compensation in a default judgement since the government refused to show up.
The behavior of the government of Sierra Leone towards the ECOWAS Court is becoming a cause for concern among most international observers especially when its current president, Ernest Bai Koroma was part of the ECOWAS mission to bring peace in Guinea Bissau. Recently, President Koroma who was initially part of the ECOWAS team to solve the Gambian problem was shoved aside because of his record at home.
Close sources hinted that if the intransigence of the Sierra Leone government against the ECOWAS Court continues, the country risks intervention in its domestic matters as well as isolation from the sub-regional peers, a move that will further push the country to suffer the brunt of economic hardships.