Wednesday, 25 March 2015

THE MYTHS AND TRAVAILS OF THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT IN AFRICAN NATIONS

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW: THE MYTHS AND TRAVAILS OF THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT IN AFRICAN NATIONS

"de drummer dem don cam na cotton tik again,
den dey beat, we dey dance;
den mammy den with den big bafpan
sef dey dance dey cam
de ol pa den sef dey dance dey cam
boy pikin, gial pikin,
all man dey dance dey cam
tiday na tiday
we go was we dorty clos
round cotton tik,
tiday na tiday." (Victor O. Sawyerr)


As at today it is no longer news that the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Honourable Sam-Sumana "fearing for the safety of his life" requested for, either personally or by proxy, asylum from the American Embassy in Freetown. It is also no longer news that the Honourable VP has indeed been relieved of his office. As at today, our politics as Sierra Leoneans is once again in the global public square. Dance indeed we must, ' cause the drums are beating in our native laguage -- calling us in our mother tongues.

But though this call to dance is ours, we can hide behind the velcro that glues the fabric called 'pervasiveness', to a context called 'african'. Then we can thump our chests and say: 'this is not unique to us' .

Really and truly the Vice President's office in a lot of African countries is a precarious office. The unfolding situation in today's Sierra Leone is not much different from other African Countries who have Vice Presidents. Many lawyers and writers have addressed the constitutionality of President Bai Koroma's action, and indeed have pointed out sections of the constitution that empowers him on the actions taken so far, ref: http://slconcordtimes.com/the-security-dynamics-of-apcs-power-politics/
http://sierraleonematters.co.uk/breaking-news-sam-sumana-sacked/

These are all well written pieces and clear enough to address points of law and constitution.

On the other hand, from the rather thick lenses of my spectacles through which I view the world, the issues weigh more into the fabrics of 'political perception', and borders on the myth that the office of the "Vice President" is parallel to, and not necessarily subordinate to the office of the President.

In Nigeria for example, Obasanjo was voted in with Atiku Abubakar as his Vice President in 1999. About midway into the elected term Vice President Atiku Abubakar and President Obasanjo's relationship broke down. There were weighty innuendos alluding to corruption in the office of the Vice President. For most of the term thereafter VP Atiku Abubakar was not even allowed to perform his constitutional duties. This particular reached near boiling point when President Obasanjo in December 2006 declared the office of the Vice President vacant after the VP decamped from the ruling PDP, to the major opposition party at the time. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had informed the Senate and House of Representatives of his intention to send a nominee for their approval. He had withdrawn all the VP's rights and privileges and entitlements. VP Atiku Abubakar went to court.

In a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Friday 20th April 2007, the court declared that the President had no powers to declare the office of the Vice President vacant and granted the VP all reliefs requested in his suit.
.http://www.nigeria-law.org/Attorney-General%20of%20the%20Federation%20&%20Ors%20v%20Alhaji%20Atiku%20Abubakar%20&%20Ors.htm
Inspite of this declaration however , and although VP Atiku Abubakar kept his office and residence at the Villa after the courts decision, all responsibilities were taken from him and assumed by the President. He was, reportedly only going to his office to sit. The point here is that clearly a VP stands to lose the most in any dispute between him and his principal.

In Zimbabwe, the dispute between President Mugabe and his first VP (now former) Joice Mujuru was also a very messy affair. Accused of corruption and plotting to kill him , Mr. Mugabe first relieved her of her position in the party and then in December 2014 using his executive powers, sacked her. Interestingly Mrs Mujuru had been first VP for about 10years before this dispute and many believe that her travails commenced with the entry of Mr. Mugabe's wife (who incidently was his secretary years ago) into politics in Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately for mrs. Mujuru, Vice Presidents of Zimbabwe are appointed by the President and it is unlikely she could contest the removal in any court under the repressive Mugabe regime since according to the provision of the constitution the VPs are serving at the 'pleasure' of the President. Although a lot of Zimbabweans seem to defer to the age and political stature of President Mugabe there is no doubt that many even within the ZANU-PF are far from satisfied and a new constitution incorporating the idea of a 'running mate' has been signed into law but this can only begin to take effect after a 10 year period.

Kenya. Mwai Kibaki became VP of Kenya in 1978 when Arap Moi succeeded Jomo Kenyatta. In 1988 Kibaki was removed as VP. Again there were tensions between the Vice and his Principal. But Kibaki was a wiser man he took it in his stride and at the time within Kenya many called him 'cowardly'. As history would have it in 2002 Kibaki had his day in the sun. He won a landslide victory and became Kenya's third President.

Kibaki's case typifies the rather subtle pressure that citizens seem to place on the Office of the Vice President. In a rather intriguing way Vice Presidents in Africa also insidiously assume this pressure and before long find themselves in 'dissonance' with their principals. Dotted across Africa are historical situations of conflicts between sitting Presidents and their Vice Presidents.

This provides a background to show that the Sierra Leone 'situation' is not unique. Many have called are are calling for civil action on behalf of the VP. Indeed they have a right to make such call, but hidden within this rather complex prism through which I view the world, I would say it is also the right of civil society to refuse to answer on a matter such as this. Fiercely atavistic reactions to unfolding events within Sierra Leone, may not really enhance or protect democracy as is being canvassed by segments of the highly educated Sierra Leone Society both local and in the diaspora. My reasoning is this: we must at some point begin to test the laws of our land and not simply resort to civil action at the slightest provocation. How else can we know if the laws will work when we do not test them? Learned legal minds from Sierra Leone, no matter where they are based can be hired by the VP to pursue a legal solution. Follow the Nigerian precedent, pursue the matter even to the highest court of the land. Our political 'DNA' will be the better for it. Influential Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who are savouring the comfort of their adopted homes can muster the resources to hire the best lawyers for the VP if they feel so deeply committed to fight his battles for him but I think to call out Sierra Leoneans at home who are battling the ravages of the Ebola epidemic is a disservice to the nation as a whole. That is my personal view and I stand to be corrected.

Time and again we have seen that popular demonstrations and strikes in developing countries almost always result in the total breakdown of law and order, and ultimately previously unacknowledged elements almost always usurp the process and brutally degrade both government and the society sometimes even far more than the initial advocates of these demonstrations ever imagined. The critical point here is that we Africans have not as yet developed internal mechanisms to shield our popular demonstrations and protests from being hijacked by people with sinister minds and even more sinister motives.

My primordial thinking is that, as our Societies begin to develop into vibrant cerebral entities where our collective minds are able to distinguish between what 'ought' to be and what ought 'never' be, we must also begin to engage ourselves using this intuitively pervasive tool called 'social media' to evolve internal mechanisms to tackle failing governments on all fronts. I believe popular uprisings should only be used as a last resort. I sincerely and truly believe it is time our political vocabulary begins to add a few more words into our lexicon of political disputes. Words such as:
1) Pressure groups
2) Lobby groups
3) Political disputes arbitration panels .
I am sure experts of Law , Politics and Dispute Resolution can add many more. This I believe is the way to go. It should be the way of the future for all of Africa. We have lost too many of our best and brightest in utterly useless conflicts that have not managed to further our development as a people. This also I dare say is my personal opinion and I welcome being corrected.

In the instance of (former) Vice President Sam- Sumana since he is a Kono brother and indeed an 'in-law' to the President, I would have thought galvanizing elders from that region to mediate in the matter at its critical point may have saved the day as it did in the very early days of their misunderstandings, over a year ago. But if indeed the former VP and his advisers are looking for a fight (lawcot de de. Make dem go de but do ya make dem lef salone pipul dem saful make dem fet dis ebola tin don fos) the courts of law available and I dare add awaiting some excitement.

------Victor Omotayo Sawyerr. 25/3/2015
[Kindly feel free to send in your comments, opinions and disgreements.].


SITUATION UPDATE
4/4/2015
The Zimbabwe ZANU-PF party on April 2nd 2015 expelled former Vice President  Dr. Joice Mujuru from the party citing all the reasons adduced in getting her removed from office as Vice President, including this new one of : "sowing divisions in the ruling party".

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