By Thomas Dixon
The Committee mandated by the Government of Sierra Leone to review the 1991 Constitution last week submitted the first draft of the review it made to the 1991 constitution and among other things said that there should be new chapters
The Committee proposed that there should be new chapters on land tenure, the Media, Information and Communication, Citizenship and Local Government and Decentralization
The issue of citizenship and the recommendation of the CRC that there should be a new chapter on the Citizenship without reference to race and gender has been challenged by some politicians and people who believed that the term “Negro Decent” is what makes them and Sierra Leone unique.
This is the first time pertinent issues as citizenship has been discussed in the Constitutional development of Sierra Leone.
According to the book of Sierra Leonean’s Legal and Constitutional Expert titled Legal Development and Constitutional Change in Sierra Leone by Professor Marcus Jones, the 1961 independent constitution did not have any racist clause rather it states, any person who on 26th April 1961 was either a British Subject, by reason on his having been born in the former colony of Sierra Leone or British protectorate person by reason of his having been borne in the former protectorate of Sierra Leone was on the 27 day of April 1961, a citizen of Sierra Leone.”
The above statement in italics was very curious about been borne rather than race which was input into the 1961 constitution in 1961.
Therefore the law which was left behind by British was very fair on citizenship but because the fact that lazy politicians were very much concerned apprehensive of white people they decided to change the laws.
According to Professor Marcus Jones, the discriminatory racist clause on citizenship was only added in 1962 by the Parliament of Sierra Leone in which the racist provision in our constitution was put and says, “any person whose father’s father were not person’s of negro African decent such person ceased to be citizen of Sierra Leone.”
Although laws are not made to be retrospective but progressive this particular racist clause was made to be retrospective on the 27th April, 1961.
This discriminatory clause was then challenged by John Akar who contended that the provision of the law was discriminatory and that it took away the vested right been conferred upon him on April 27 1961 and sued the Attorney General on the grounds that law should be declared null and void as it in contravention with the 1961 constitution.
The supreme court of Sierra Leone as it was then called according to Jones stuck down the enactment but that the government appealed to the Sierra Leone Court of Appeal and the decision was reversed on the grounds that Parliament is Supreme and Sovereign.
The determined Akar appealed to her Majesty In Council which restored the judgment of the Supreme and reversed the one by the Sierra Leone Appeals Court but the Government decided to maintain the racist law
“Taking into account the history of the settlement and the high ideals on which it was found, it was most unfortunate that such a blatant discriminatory law should find it place in the statute books. Undoubtedly the intention was to prevent persons of Lebanese Origin from entering the new Parliament,” Jones opined.
Clearly it could be seen that the law was made to target certain people just like the 196 Public Order Act was made to target political opponent and critics of the Government them. Thus since then this has been the culture of making laws in Sierra Leone
The same phobia that was expressed by our Parliamentarians in 1962 is the same that is being expressed by some shallow minded Sierra Leoneans that in this day and age, Sierra Leone should continue to hold on to that discriminatory law in the constitution.
In 2006, the Citizenship Act of 2006 was passed but the only change that was made in that Act was the gender issue and the same racist clause continued.
Now we have the opportunity to obliterate the racist and discriminatory elements in our laws to make them very liberal, so it is but good for us to take the process serious and put ourselves in the situation of people of Lebanese Decent who are borne in Sierra Leone.
Even the term ‘negro’ is derogatory of our very existence as black people but yet we keep it in our law books.
Imagine the same racist elements were in the United States and the United Kingdom, most of the prosperous people of Sierra Leone decent would not have been citizens in those countries.
We know of politicians who would rather prefer their children to be borne in UK and the USA for them to become citizens there because they want their children to be given better education.
Therefore, some of us liberal and progressive Sierra Leoneans believed that the CRC is right to recommend that we remove the racist element in the our law books because it is just not fair.