The main opposition, All People’s Congress, (APC) is strongly unanimously determined to resist any attempt by government to renew the current State of emergency.
The proposed resistance is directly linked to the failure of the Country’s Principal Law Officer, the Attorney-General (AG) to present emergency regulations in parliament.
The law provides that the principal legal adviser to government must submit regulations to guide government officials in the enforcement of the emergency regulations.
The AG’s failure runs contrary to her assurance to parliamentarians that the law office would submit the regulations as provided by law when the State of Emergency was pronounced on 25th March, this year to combat Covid-19.
Section 29(1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No 6 of 1991 is central to the proclamation of the State of Emergency by a sitting President.
The current State of Emergency falls under Para-E of the same section.
The section empowers the President to proclaim a state of public emergency when there is an occurrence of imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity that affects any community in Sierra Leone.
Para (5) of section 29 of the constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 reads:
“During a state of public emergency, the President may make such regulations…as appear to him to be necessary or expedient…”
The regulations, according to the constitution, make provision for the detention of persons, restrictions of movement of persons within defined localities.
The regulations, according to Para-8 shall apply to the whole of Sierra Leone or to such parts thereof as may be specified in the regulations.
Once these regulations are passed, Para-9 says authorities are empowered to make orders and rules for any of the purposes for which the regulations are authorised by the constitution to be necessary or expedient.
The state of emergency, by law, ceases to have effect after ninety days, but subject to renewal by a unanimous resolution of parliamentarians after the ninety-day period.
The current state of emergency is slowly entering its final phase after every passing day, and its renewal remains one of the biggest challenges for government considering its sour relationship with the main opposition.
The bad blood between government and the main opposition may not be unconnected to its brutal crackdown mostly on members of the opposition.
In the absence of regulations during the current State of Emergency, a lot of human rights abuses have been picked up, and reported by media practitioners and parliamentarians.
In the first three-day lockdown, indiscriminate arrests were made and a great number of peaceful civilians tortured.
At Mamboreh and Calaba Town communities east of Freetown, some residents were attacked at their residence, dragged to the streets by security operatives and laid on the streets under the sun.
The subsequent lockdowns were no difference as unlawful and indiscriminate arrest and detention continues unabated.
As the perceived misuse of the state of emergency reaches alarming proportions, some members of parliament have hotly contested the issue and drawn public attention.
Member of Parliament representing Constituency 027 in Kono district, Hon. Saa Francis Bhendu has told parliament that they were very much concerned about the misuse of state of emergency by state functionaries.
Hon Bhendu spoke about the centrality of the state of emergency to the campaign against Covid-19, but does not lose sight of the regulations government must table in parliament.
“The regulations are the guiding principles during the state of emergency, and it will be powerless if the regulations are not presented and approved,” he previously argued in parliament.
A Highly respected and eminent parliamentarian, Hon Ibrahim Ben Kargbo of the main opposition too has added weight to the criticism of government’s brutality and incivility towards members of the public especially in opposition strongholds.
Hon. Kargbo recently expressed great concerns about the misuse of state emergency by the security forces.
“Reported cases of excessive use of force have reached them as members of parliament. Officers manning checkpoint in various parts of the country are the main culprits,” Hon. Kargbo submitted.
He also pointed out that extortion and other illegal activities taking place at various checkpoints as the main causes for resistance.
The problems, Hon kargbo submitted, arose as a result of the AG’s failure to table the emergency regulations in parliament.
Leader of one of the other opposition parties in parliament, National Grand Coalition, Hon Kandeh Kolleh Yumkellah too is not silent about the abuse of the emergency powers by government officials and have thrown his weight behind the main opposition.
Hon Yumkellah is calling on government to present the state of emergency regulations in parliament so that sanity could be ensured.
In as much as the NGC leader supports the state of emergency proclaimed by government, he equally wants to see regulations tabled in parliament so that the use of brute and crude force by security operatives could be prevented.
On the eve of the proclamation of the state of emergency, key parliamentarians of the ruling party made strong assurances in the well of parliament that the emergency would not be misused and that no opposition member would be targeted.
One of the key parliamentarians from whom assurances of a peaceful state of emergency came is the Leader of government business, Hon Matthew Nyuma.
During the debate, Hon Nyuma did assure Sierra Leoneans that no one would be intimidated or arrested as the state of emergency would be implemented in a humane and civilised manner.
But, the assurances did not come to pass as reports from the field are nothing to write home about in terms of respect for human rights.
Most prominent members of the main opposition were picked up at their residences and locked up during the state of emergency.
The waves of arrest, many opposition members say, were not in line with legally established procedures.
Reasons for arrest of most of the suspects were not explained at the time of arrest, and prolonged detention is the rule other than the exception.
As security operatives continue to perpetrate human rights abuses, Sierra Leoneans are stunned as no one has been investigated by any of the investigative bodies including the Complaints Discipline and Internal Investigations Department of the Sierra Leone Police and the Independent Police Complaints Board.
Government has set up no special committee to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice.
The deliberate failure by government to investigate cannot be divorced from the legal protection it enjoys from the country’s supreme law that:
“…All measures taken during a state of emergency are deemed valid and lawful and shall not be enquired into by any court.”
In light of the foregoing protection provision, an opposition Member of Parliament has told this medium that the only way to protect the people of Sierra Leone is to put up the stiffest resistance to any attempt by government to renew the state of emergency.
If APC succeeds in their campaign to defeat the renewal effort of government, the party will be counted as one of the most potent opposition parties in Africa.