By Yankuba Jallow & Nelson Manneh
High court judge, Justice Haddy C. Roche has on Thursday, 8th October referred the civil and political case involving Sheriffo Sonko, and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to the Supreme Court for the interpretation and enforcement of section 194 (c) of the 1997 Constitution.
Sheriffo Sonko, on the 9th September 2020, filed an application before the high court pleading for judgment to be entered in his favour in default of IEC’s statement of defence which was not filed on time.
Sonko made an application for an injunction restraining IEC from acting in any manner contrary to the 1997 Constitution or the Local Government Act or being urged by a registered political party. Sonko wants the court to make a declaration that IEC has no right to interfere with his position as Chairperson of Brikama Area Council or to declare his position vacant or to conduct an election to the said position. He wants an order that IEC should comply at all times with the provisions of the Constitution and the Local Government Act in its operations. He wants the court to make a declaration that whilst section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government Act (passed in July 2015) provides one of the ways in which a councillor could cease to be a member of the local government council, the said amended section having been passed prior to the amendment of the Constitution by the Parliament which amended section 194 of the Constitution calling for “the direct election of Mayor or Chairperson of the authority” had to be read in a manner which is consistent with the Constitution.
Sonko wants the court to make a declaration that IEC has no right to declare his position vacant and thereafter call an election to such a position after he had been elected in a valid election held in April 2018 which he is elected to serve for 4 years.
Sonko wants the court to declare that section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government Act has no effect/application because he has not ceased being a member of the United Democratic Party (UDP) whether voluntarily or otherwise.
He wants the court to make declaration that IEC ought not to allow UDP to remain registered as a political party unless its internal organisation conforms with democratic principles and it undertakes not to subvert either the Constitution or the Rule of Law.
Sonko was elected as the Chairperson of Brikama Area Council (BAC) under UDP ticket. By a letter dated 27th March 2020, the UDP delivered to BAC on the 31st March 2020, UDP claimed that the writer of the letter had been “directed by the National Executive of the United Democratic Party’ to convey to him “the decision of the said executive contained in its working resolution adopted and dated on the 27th March 2020” and that “the entire executive of the United Democratic Party” had resolved to expel him “from the party with effect from 27th March 2020.”
On the 17th April 2020, Sonko replied to the said letter making it clear that he did not accept the said expulsion. On the 27th April 2020, UDP sent another letter informing Sonko that it (UDP) “has for the time being rescinded the decision to expel” him communicated in its earlier letter.
UDP sent another letter dated 10th June 2020 delivered to BAC on the 11th June 2020 in which a ‘schedule of charges/allegations’ were made against him. The letter gave him ‘seven days including the date of receipt of the said letter to respond to the said charges/allegations which were said could ‘constitute grounds for your expulsion from the party’.
Sonko replied to the charges/allegations on the 18th June 2020, but the UDP sent a letter dated 29th June 2020 with the heading “Expulsion as member of the United Democratic Party”.
Sonko alleged that Ismaila Jallow, the Councillor at Brikama South Suba wrote to IEC using a letterhead purporting to be the letterhead of BAC stating that Sonko and two other councillors had been expelled from “the United Democratic Party effective 29th June 2020” by the Central committee of UDP. The letter indicated that Sonko and the two councillors have ceased to be members of UDP effective 29th June 2020 in accordance with section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government Act. In the letter, IEC were urged to declare Sonko’s position vacant and as a result to conduct a fresh public election.
Sonko argued that since 2019, members of UDP have been adamant in removing him from his position, hence, the purported expulsion. Sonko said UDP is bent on interfering with his constitutional right and did not want him to complete his mandate and thus, urging IEC to conduct fresh elections.
“From the Plaintiff’s/applicant’s (Sonko’s) above claim and affidavit, it appears he is inevitably seeking the interpretation and enforcement of section 194 (c) of the 1997 Constitution, for the determination of whether or not same has any effect on section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government Act and whether or not section 19 (1) (g) goes against the spirit and letter of section 194 (c) so as to be ineffective and invalid, or enforceable and valid,” Justice Haddy Roche said.
Section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government Act as amended in 2015 states “subject to subsection (2) of this section, a person shall cease to be a member of a council if he or she ceases to be a member of the political party of which he or she was a member at the time of his or her election.”
Section 194 (c) of the 1997 Constitution states, “An Act of the National Assembly by or under which a local government authority is established shall be include provision for the direct election of the mayor or chairman of the authority.”
Justice Roche asked whether there is a conflict between section 19 (1) (g) of the Local Government and the spirit and letter of section 194 (c) of the 1997 Constitution.
“Are there conflicts between the spirit and letter of the two statutes? That is not for this court to answer,” the Judge held.
She referred the case to the Supreme Court for interpretation as she ordered for the stay of the case at the high court pending the decision of the Supreme Court.