President Ellen Johnson Seirleaf seems to be in desperation at this time. This first elected woman President of an African country, whom the world embraced as non other since Nelson Mandela, is asking the Liberian Legislature to give her more emergency powers than even President W.V.S. Tubman, the benevolent dictator, did not have.
The President wrote a letter dated October 2, 2014 to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, calling on the National Legislature to grant her extraordinarily sweeping powers including, can you believe it? the suspension of Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution.
Article 1 is the very heart and soul of the Constitution. Without it, there is no constitution. Without it, Liberia would descend into a dictatorship or one-person rule.
We are positive that this is not what the President wants.
It is Article 1 that states: “All power is inherent in the people.” The word “inherent” means that this power is not given. It comes naturally, is innate or inborn. No one can take it away or attempt to take it away. The people are the source of all power in the land.
So the President has asked the Legislature to do something that is beyond its authority; and something they are totally incapable of doing.
In her letter, dated October 1, 2014, President Sirleaf asked the Legislature to “restrict/suspend certain fundamental rights of the Liberian citizens. These fundamental rights include the suspension of several key and basic portions of the Constitution, including Article 1, Article 12 concerning labor services; Article 13, guaranteeing the free movement of what she called “certain individuals;” Article 14 which guarantees religious freedom; Article 15, which guarantees Freedom of speech and of the press; Article 17, which guarantees freedom of assembly; and Article 24, which guarantees every Liberian citizen the right to property.
The Daily Observer immediately contacted the renowned constitutional and human rights lawyer, Counselor Tiawon Gongloe, and asked him to give his reflection on the President’s request to the Legislature.
The first point he made was that the request is “belated.” He cited Article 88 of the Constitution which states: “The President shall, immediately upon the declaration of a state of emergency, but not later than seven days thereafter, lay before the Legislature at its regular session or at a specially convened session, the facts and circumstances leading to such declaration. The Legislature shall within seventy-two hours, by joint resolution voted by two-thirds of the membership of each house, decide whether the proclamation of a state of emergency is justified or whether the measures taken thereunder are appropriate. . .”
Said Cllr. Gongloe, the President’s current request is belated, because she should have returned to the Legislature no later than seven days after August 7, 2014 when its granting of a state of emergency was announced (Daily Observer, August 7, 2014).
The President having failed to abide by this constitutional provision, said Cllr. Gongloe, “cannot now come and ask the Legislature for new powers under this current state of emergency.”
The second problem with the President’s October 1 request to the Legislature is that it is patently unconstitutional, said Cllr. Gongloe. He quoted Article 87 of the Constitution which clearly states, “Emergency powers do not include the power to suspend or abrogate the Constitution, dissolve the Legislature or suspend or dismiss the Judiciary; and no constitutional amendment shall be promulgated during a state of emergency.”
Several months ago this newspaper, the Daily Observer, asked editorially, who are the President’s advisors? And we can most certainly ask now, in the wake of this current constitutional fiasco, who are her legal advisors.
Given the glaring conflict between her request and what the Constitution says, it is clear that the President’s legal advisors did not do their homework—or did she consult with them or ask them their opinion at all?
We recall that the ruling True Whig Party’s rubber stamp Legislature, gave President Tubman perennial emergency powers. That is how he became a “benevolent dictator.” Liberia cannot and will not descend to the Tubman years. The Liberian people have come too far to return to that.