By Dr. Lans Gberie.
The Sierra Leone judiciary has very often in the recent past shown that it cannot be trusted to act as an anchor of our democracy, capable of making reasoned, fair and courageous judgments. In Judge Mansaray’s frantically disruptive ruling on 24 March, only to reverse that ruling two days later, it is now showing signs of becoming an actively corrosive – even subversive – agent that may yet undermine the peace and stability of this country. Mr. Mansaray’s injunction preventing the National Elections Commission from carrying out its most urgent and important task of organising runoff presidential votes on 27 March may one day be counted as a definitive milestone towards that destructive end.
Frivolity does not begin to describe the language and reasoning of the two rulings – on 24 and 26 March. Mr. Mansaray states in both rulings that the injunction was imposed in order only to demonstrate that his court has the competence – or jurisdiction – to preside over the matter. Filed by APC activist Ibrahim Sorie Koroma, the motion for “the application of consequential orders to aid the delivery of credible free and fair elections” on 27 March was, in fact, an elaborate red herring. It seeks no real relief for the plaintiff, only inchoate measures – some of them rudimentary and primitive – that the young Mr. Koroma has been convinced will lead to one end: a victory, however fraudulent, by his APC. If this was not desperation I don’t know what is.
Judge Mansaray, however, sees it as an opportunity, among others, to “dislodge the objection on jurisdiction” made by the counsels for NEC against his high court. His ruling on 26 March overturning his own injunction, Mr. Mansaray writes in a tone of almost subliterate violence, was to demonstrate that his court was now “ceased [sic] with” Mr. Ibrahim Sorie Koroma’s originating motion.
In fact, a judged seized with the implication of his ruling on a time-constraint matter of national interest – judges must be aware, after all, of something called the ‘ethics of urgency’ – might have both asserted jurisdictional competence in the matter as well as order improvements in the NEC’s polling processes on the same day, 24 March, without imposing an injunction. That he chose the disruptive path, of course, does him no credit – and might prompt one to look for motives. I do not know Judge Mansaray, but the little I know of the plaintiff, Ibrahim Sorie Koroma, suggests that his motive in launching this case was vile. I understand that Mr. Koroma is an over-enthusiastic member of the APC’s Publicity Committee, and a fixture in the APC’s litigious arsenal. He was, I understand, part of the legal team that tried to derail Dr. Yumkella’s campaign by suing to disqualify him on grounds that he is not a citizen of Sierra Leone. He was acting, in other words, to promote the singular interest of the APC’s presidential candidate, who is more intelligent, or too cowardly, to author the stupid, disastrous motion.
The APC’s votaries are crowing about ‘victory’ both in getting the injunction and in Judge Mansaray’s final ruling supposedly granting nine out of the 10 orders the motion had sought. The claim is, of course, false. But it is still of interest because of what it reveals about the backward mindset of the ruling party as it faced certain defeat on 31 March. Perhaps the most striking of the orders from Judge Mansaray endorsing the APC’s motion is the one directing the NEC to manuallycount the runoff votes “at the close of polling at every centre” in the presence of state security personnel and representatives of the two parties on 31 March.
I have written previously that the agonisingly slow tallying of the votes by the NEC after the 7 March votes makes no sense. I also think that the counting of the ballots at polling centres on that day left much to be desired. Both can be improved upon – can be made more transparent, less messy, and much faster. The remedy for faulty use of technology, however, is not its rejection. Manual counting will be much slower and almost certainly more prone to disputes and contestation. But one assumes that’s what the APC wants.
My only wonder is that the party is not demanding a return to voting using marbles or cowrie shells. That will truly remind its leaders of the days that they seem to yearn for – when there were no computers and indelible ink, and when APC thugs would kidnap rival party’s candidates on nomination day, preventing their names from appearing on the ballot, and winning by the most assured means possible: by choosing or eliminating their rivals. And now whenever I hear about ‘manual counting’ I will be instantly reminded of an earnest judge in wigs and a failing, aging presidential candidate wearing a red baseball cap…