By D. Garkpe Gedepoh
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned” (William Yeats).
In 1980 the Liberian government was overthrown by members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), and the 1847 constitution was suspended and replaced with military decrees. The military government also set up what was The National Constitutional Commission headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer which in 1986 drafted a new constitution.
But in 1989 when the civil war broke out, the 1986 constitution was trashed by rebel leader Charles Taylor, Dr. Sawyer and others and replaced it with a jungle justice system, as the country plunged into anarchy.
Since then, I have been wondering about the validity of the 1986 constitution because it has been trashed numerous times after 1989. Why did we have to re-write the constitution in the first place?
It was my understanding that the constitution needed to be re-written so that everyone could be represented, and not just the settler oligarchy or a selected few. I also surmised that the military government needed a provision in a re-written constitution to protect the junta from prosecution for having overthrown the civilian government of President William Tolbert. According to Liberian laws, the junta’s rebellion was a treasonable offence. So, that’s why the constitution had to be suspended and re-written in 1986.
However, since the civil war of 1989 Liberians have continued to use the 1986 constitution as their organic laws although they consistently trash it whenever they feel like it.
So if this document is legitimate and healthy for the nation then why was there a civil war in 1989 or series of civil wars for 14 long years?
At the end of the last civil war in 2003, the war lords went to Ghana to sign a peace accord and to seek immunity from prosecution. But how can anyone justify trashing the constitution that has been adopted as the organic laws of the nation? If there was a problem with the constitution, why have we not amended it, and make the necessary corrections instead of trashing it whenever we want to?
The problem is the 1986 constitution has failed to work for the Liberian people in the light of gross violations such as corruption, destructive nepotism, as well as the rights to citizenship. Yet Liberians have refused to amend it.
And so the constitution falls apart as anarchy looms. Everyone seems to feel the air of uncertainty and hostility as others pray for a Passover, hoping the Almighty God will protect them under these circumstances.
You see, we cannot trash the constitution one minute, make no amendments or rectifications and then hold general elections while using the same constitution as the bible or the organic law book. This is the best definition of insanity if you ask me.
But as things fall apart, no one seems to care about amending the constitution. Instead some people are calling for the UN peace keepers to remain in the country because they think that the presence of the peace keepers means peace. But is this really good seeing foreign army in the streets? Are we saying that we cannot maintain peace as a people in our own country unless we are manned by foreigners? And, where is it written in our constitution that the security of the state must be controlled by foreigners? Where?
During the civil war in 1990, Prince Johnson said: “The guns that liberate must not rule”. But the irony is that today we see the guns of the so-called liberation become the rulers! The chief architect, sponsors, and war lords who desecrated our country are the ones making decisions including Sen. Prince Johnson.
They trashed our constitution one minute, went on the rampage and committed mass genocide and only stopped when the victims pleaded for mercy. Then after things calmed down, the same folks picked up the constitution and told the world that they have been elected by the people, and that they now have a constitutional right to govern.
After the so-called civil war ended the constitution was not amended to correct any discrepancies, because Ellen and her rebel cohorts knew that there was nothing to justify their rebellion besides self-aggrandizement and greed for power.
No wonder, we have lots of social injustices in the country. If criminals can violate the constitution publicly and get away with it, then corruption and destructive nepotism will thrive. Yet the constitution is clear about these vices. Anarchy looms large today because we fail to amend the articles that might seem ambiguous and make corrections as needed.
When Charles Taylor and Madame Ellen Sirleaf came to power, they neither acknowledged any discrepancies with the articles in the 1986 Liberian constitution nor suggested any changes. They instead used the same constitution to rule the nation. And these were the same people who rebelled against the constituted authority, trashing the exact constitution. The motive of their rebellion was to loot, plunder, and desecrate the nation, mortgaging its natural wealth to multinational thieves. And so the wind of uncertainty blows today as Anarchy looms…
Certain articles of the Liberian constitution need to be amended and rectified in order for the entire citizenry to be represented because they appear to be outdated and discriminatory. I am referring the articles relating to citizenship and the qualifications of citizens contesting elections in the country. Take into consideration the events of April 12, 1980, November 12, 1985, and the 14 years of civil war which displaced a million citizens and snuffed lives out of half a million Liberians.
So, it’s imperative that we take this matter seriously and make the appropriate corrections so as to avoid spending more time looking at this constitutional crisis escalate. It is better to be proactive when it comes to this crisis and refrain from delaying any further, lest we find ourselves losing the little gains made in our already fragile country.
For example, in the Liberian constitution, there are lots of articles referring to the President and Vice President as “he, his, or him” which makes it unconstitutional for a woman to be President or Vice President:
(1) Each bill or resolution which shall have passed both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for his approval. If he grants approval, it shall become law. If the President does not approve such bill or resolution, he shall return it, with his objections, to the House in which it originated. In so doing, the President may disapprove of the entire bill or resolution or any item or items thereof. This veto may be overridden by the re-passage of such bill, resolution or item thereof by a veto of two-thirds of the members in each House, in which case it shall become law. If the President does not return the bill or resolution within twenty days after the same shall have been laid before him it shall become law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature by adjournment prevents its return.
There shall be a Vice-President who shall assist the President in the discharge of his functions. The Vice-President shall be elected on the same political ticket and shall serve the same term as the President. The Vice-President shall be President of the Senate and preside over its deliberations without the right to vote, except in the case of a tie vote. He shall attend meetings of the cabinet and other governmental meetings and shall perform such functions as the President shall delegate or deem appropriate; provided that no powers specifically vested in the President by the provisions of this Constitution shall be delegated to the Vice-President.
So, these articles in the constitution are discriminatory and should have been amended way before the general elections in 2005. Because, if we choose to uphold the 1986 Liberian constitution, then technically, Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is not the President of Liberia, but an interim president or head of state.
The constitution also states that only a natural born Liberian can be elected which is good, but during the war, Liberians fled the country and were forced to seek refuge in other parts, thus making Liberian citizens to be born in other countries. So, are we going to deny those Liberians from being elected because war lords forced their parents to flee for their lives, making their children to be born in other countries, or are we going to accept them as naturally born citizens since their parents were already naturally born citizens?
We must make provisions in our constitution to accept Liberians who were born in other parts due to the reckless behaviors of the war lords who were responsible for trashing the constitution.
During the periods of the military rule of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe as well as the civil war, Liberia did not operate under a constitution; instead it was martial law or military decrees, and then jungle justice because the constitution was suspended in 1980 and then trashed in 1989. So, somebody please tell me: How could we blame Liberians for fleeing their country, having children in other countries, or adapting dual citizenship in order to survive? How?
Now, let’s get technical: One might say that the constitution is clear as it relates to citizenship. But isn’t the constitution also clear as it relates to treason? Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the rebel-led government or most of her government officials for that matter executed the war, and what did the constitution say about sponsoring armed rebellion or war?
Treason against the Republic shall consist of:
(1) Levying war against the Republic; (2) Aligning oneself with or aiding and abetting another nation or people with whom Liberia is at war or in a state of war; (3) acts of espionage for an enemy state; (4) attempting by overt act to overthrow the Government, rebellion against the Republic, insurrection and mutiny; and (5) abrogating or attempting to abrogate, subverting or attempting or conspiring to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or any other means which attempts to undermine this Constitution.
There’s nothing in the Liberian Constitution that states that anyone who commits treason can be immune from prosecution if a treaty or accord is signed in another country. Somebody please show me where is this stated in the Liberian Constitution? Nowhere!
It’s unfair for Liberians who were unable to leave the country during the periods stated above to think that they have more entitlement to the nation as it relates to citizenship than their brothers and sisters who fled for their lives. It’s very important that our constitution be transparent in this matter, and not ambiguous or discriminatory as it relates to the definition of citizenship.
Therefore, the right thing or most humane thing to do at this time is to make the necessary amendments to the constitution to include provisions for Liberians who were forced out of the country during the civil war period, as well as the period covering the military junta in the 1980s to be accepted as dual citizens of the republic.
However, it will be fair to state that any naturally born Liberian with dual citizenship who wishes to contest any election in the republic must surrender or denounce the adapted citizenship if he or she truly wants to represent the Liberian people, because it is impossible for one servant to serve two masters, it’s just that simple. An elected leader must be loyal or patriotic when representing the political interest of the people. In the court of law, one lawyer cannot represent the defendant and the plaintiff; so it is in politics as well, meaning: a politician can only represent one country or one people; also, no one politician can represent two political parties…
It’s time for us to review our constitution and make the necessary rectifications expeditiously! We need to amend the constitution in the real interest of the Liberian people. Let’s not delay this matter any further, least we find ourselves negotiating another peace treaty, as this current constitutional crisis has the propensity to reverse the fragile peace in our country if left unattended.
Our constitution must work for us and not against us. Our pledge of allegiance says, “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”; liberty and justice were written as a guarantee not just for some, but for all. And I think it’s paramount that our constitution reflects that.
And if the peace accord that was signed in Ghana in August 2003 is to be accepted, then our constitution must reflect that just as it reflected the event of April 12, 1980. It is our responsibility to safeguard this sacred document, our organic laws. But corruption and social injustices must not be taken lightly. We must strengthen all articles in our constitution relating to corruption, establishing stiffer penalties.
We now have the opportunity to rebuild our country, so let’s build a solid foundation that will benefit all our citizens, including our posterity. Our constitution has been suspended; consistently trashed and violated. And if we fail to correct this behavior of trashing our constitution whenever we feel like it, then the future of our country will remain uncertain. Nevertheless, the window of opportunity is NOW; now is the time to make the changes in the constitution; any delays or procrastinations for even a single day could compromise our existing “fragile peace”… Let’s do the right thing for our country by making the necessary amendments so that everyone is represented; so we can live together in a stable and peaceful country.
Liberia will become a glorious land of liberty when her constitution reflects a leveled playing field for everyone at home and abroad, especially those who fled, that they may return not just to sing the national anthem, but to live it: “A home of glorious liberty by God’s command” must be achieved in order for real peace to be still in our country. So that we can be happy, and sing praises to the Almighty God, and never taste the bitter fruit of any civil war again.