His advocacy for ‘more time’ for the President did not go down well with some political opponents including the then National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), the late Hon. Musa Tamba Sam, who retorted to the ‘after you na you’ phrase with another phrase ‘After you na Gbagbo,’ which is a reminder of how former President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast was forcefully removed from power when he refused to accept the results of the 2009 presidential election that was won by Alhassan Wattara, who is the current President.
Many concerned Sierra Leonean in no uncertain terms condemned the late man’s phrase ‘after you na Gbagbo’ because of its imagery of war as thousands of innocent Ivoirians died during the political crisis that led to the removal of Laurent Gbagbo from power. The later Hon. Musa Tamba Sam was therefore insinuating that any extension of time for the President could lead to bloodbath in Sierra Leone. But thank God well-meaning citizens are still praying for the sustainability of peace and stability in Mama Salone.
While concerned Sierra Leoneans were expressing their views on the extension of the President’s tenure of office, State House issued two press releases dissociating the Office of the President from the debate. When the President also summoned political leaders to State House during the outbreak of the EVD, he made it clear to them that he would never enter through the backdoor. Whatever interpretation is given to his statement, the fact remains that President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has never pronounced his intention to stay in office beyond his second term as stipulated by the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone. But let us assume that the President has the intention for ‘more time’, what will be his chances of succeeding?
As far as I see it, there are two possibilities for President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to stay in office beyond his second term. First, the outcome of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) will have to determine the tenure of office for a President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. If, for instance, the new constitution stipulates more than two terms of office for a President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and the electorate endorses it in a referendum, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma will definitely qualify for a third inning. This is one possibility for the President to contest the next presidential election though proponents of ‘two terms only’ for a President may disagree with my supposition.
Also, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has already deferred the local council elections to 2018 instead of 2017 that was previously slated for those elections. These elections are supposed to be conducted before the presidential and parliamentary elections. Given the deferment of the local council elections by NEC, the lawmakers may as well decide to extend the life of Parliament beyond 2018 to give more time to Government to prepare for the next presidential and parliamentary elections using the outbreak of the EVD as a tangible excuse. So if the presidential and parliamentary elections are not conducted by NEC in 2018, the President would have the opportunity to stay in office until another date is slated for those elections. Therefore, the logic of ‘more time’ or ‘extension of time’ is that the President will spent more than five years in his second term office if the life of Parliament is extended by lawmakers.
Besides, the second tenure of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the wicked EVD that devastated the economic fabric of this country. The Koroma administration successfully implemented the Agenda for Change for which the electorate overwhelmingly endorsed him in the November 2012 presidential election in appreciation of his exemplary performance. But unfortunately, the EVD struck just as the Koroma administration was about to consolidate the gains made under the Agenda for Change. Our economy that was amongst the fastest growing economies crumbled as a result of internal and external shock. For example, the two iron ore mining companies that were the main economic drivers went into administration as the price of their product dropped drastically in the world market during the EVD outbreak. Economic activities in the country were almost grounded and all development projects came to a halt, leaving tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans jobless.
Now that the country is free of EVD, the Koroma administration has the herculean task of implementing the post-Ebola Socio-Economic Recovery Programme to take the country’s economy back on track. One may therefore argue that the President should be given ‘more time’ to compensate for the Ebola period that incapacitated the Government for any development programmes. Even the resources that were meant for development projects were diverted to the Ebola fight when international response was not forthcoming. If only Members of Parliament would see reason to extend the life of Parliament by six months two times consecutively as stipulated by the constitution, then the ‘more time’ for President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma could be another possibility. This provision in the constitution was used by lawmakers in 2001 to extend the life of Parliament for six months two times consecutively and the presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted in 2002 instead of 2001. Either the rebel war or the nine months interregnum could have been the main reason for the extension of the life of Parliament that gave the opportunity to the late former President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to stay in office for over five years during his first tenure.
In my humble opinion, many possibilities exist for President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to have ‘more time’ without any upheaval as speculated by some political analysts comparing the ‘more time’ debate in Sierra Leone to the turbulent political situation in Rwanda or Burundi. Sierra Leoneans being very peaceful people should always hope and pray that President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma leaves office peacefully and honourably without any dent on his credibility at both home and abroad.