(Preamble- 1847 Constitution of Liberia)
The Daily Observer could not agree more with the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC)’s call for comprehensive amendments to the Constitution in order to consolidate the country’s fragile democracy.
According to Oscar Bloh, Coordinator of the Committee, as reported in the August 14, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer, some of the provisions, amongst others, requiring amendment include the following: The removal of judicial powers from the National Elections Commission (NEC) in the resolution of electoral petitions (Article 83C), a change of the election date (Article 83A) and its removal from the Constitution, removal of provisions on by-elections owing to cost implications,(Article 37) and removal of what the ECC called the racist clause on citizenship amongst a host of other recommendations.
Those recommended changes to the Constitution would have to be done through a national referendum and they must be done in keeping with provisions laid down in the very Constitution. It must not be forgotten that the Constitution is a living document, which can and should be amended from time to time to address emergent challenges to it.
It also means that results of the referendum should be respected for it represents the sovereign decision of the people. Failure by the national leadership to adhere to the results of a referendum conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner could lead to even greater problems than those the referendum seeks to address.
The Constitution is but an embodiment of the people’s sovereign will and it is, in essence, a compact on how they choose to be governed. In 1847, a little over twenty-five (25) years following the establishment of the colony of Liberia in 1822, independence was declared with a Constitution allegedly written mainly not by Liberians but by a foreign individual, Professor Simon Greenleaf.
However, from all indications, it was the founding fathers of this nation who wrote the words of the Preamble of the 1847 Constitution. The Preamble in that Constitution laid bare reasons for the establishment or founding of Liberia and its subsequent declaration of independence in 1847.
That Preamble was for all purpose and intent a litany of unlitigated complaints, dating back nearly two-hundred years against the government of the United States of America, where they and their forbears had been enslaved for more than a century.
Eventually the Constitution would become an attestation to the outside world of evidence that the colony of Liberia had now become the Republic of Liberia, an independent country and a recognized member of the global comity of nations. The life of that Constitution would however come to a rather abrupt end in 1980 as the result of a military coup led by low ranking army officers.
A new Constitution modeled in large part on its predecessor was adopted in 1986. A prime casualty of that process and outcome was the scrapping of the Preamble of the 1847 Constitution, which rightly and correctly stated the raisons d’etre underlying the founding of this nation, which are captured so poignantly in these words, amongst others, as declared in the 1847 Constitution:
“We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of North America.
“In some parts of that country, we were debarred by law from all the rights and privileges of men–in other parts, public sentiment, more powerful than law, frowned us down. We were everywhere shut out from all civil office. We were excluded from all participation in the government. We were taxed without our consent. We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country, which gave us no protection. We were made a separate and distinct class, and against us every avenue to improvement was effectually closed. Strangers from all lands of a color different from ours were preferred before us. We uttered our complaints, but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country. All hope of a favorable change in our country was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety abroad for some asylum from the deep degradation…”
It can be recalled that by the time of the 1980 military coup, it had become virtually clear that the 1847 Constitution needed to be revisited in order to address challenges arising out of popular participation in national governance and the erosion of civil liberties. A Constitutional drafting committee charged with the task completed its work and submitted its report.
But the new military leader, apparently fearful of losing his grip on state power, interfered with the process and injected into the new document, amongst other things, a clause guaranteeing impunity for the excesses committed by the military under the watch of its strong man, Doe.
A hiatus of twenty-two years was broken by the holding of another referendum in 2011, whose results were stolen and upturned by judicial fiat, which ensured that President Sirleaf had her way howbeit through a façade of contrived legality intended to unduly influence the outcome of the referendum vote.
As things currently stand, the planned conduct of a national housing and population census, if held, will help enable and inform legislative action on the delimitation of Constituencies to hasten the return to Constituency based elections.
In all of this, stakeholders must be reminded that the contemplated referendum on the Constitution should be free, fair and transparent and its results should not be tampered with.
As we are reminded in the Preamble of the 1847 Constitution, “Liberia is not the offspring of grasping ambition, nor the tool of avaricious speculation”.