By Amin Kef Sesay
Any society where citizens do not obey and respect the law is not too far away from chaos and anarchy. Thus, the rule of law requires that our society be ruled by law, and not by the arbitrary (often self-interested) decisions of the small group of men and women who happen to wield public and private power at any given point in time.
It also requires that the law must be applied by law-enforcement agencies consistently and impartially. Government officials, along with everyone else, should be legally and publicly accountable in the courts. And the courts must be independent enough – as a matter of institutional design and judicial mind-set – from other State organs to make this a real check on power.
Equally importantly, the laws must provide everyone with reliable guidance in advance about what is legally required, permitted and prohibited. If the laws are unclear, secret, constantly changing, or retroactive, or if officials and judges do not comply with the law impartially without fear or favour, then it becomes impossible to act within the law.
As such, even though the All People’s Congress Chairman and Leader was a little bit defiant in accepting the ruling of High Court Judge, Justice Adrian Fisher, ordering the Party to hold an Emergency National Delegates Conference to validate the party’s new constitution that in essence will end the life of the party’s current national executive body, the APC National Advisory Council deserves applause for respecting and conforming gracefully to the rule of law.
In conforming to the Court order, the APC leadership has held talks with the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) on the process leading up to the party’s Emergency National Delegates Conference, following the party’s decision to take steps to organize the said convention, in line with a High Court Order imposed on the party early this year.
A gratified PPRC in appreciation of the dialogue meeting used the opportunity to thank His Lordship, for his magnanimity, in not only granting them his esteemed audience, but for hosting the meeting. PPRC also appreciated the goodwill demonstrated by both sides of the divide, in the greater interest of their Party.
By way of commentary, it is worth noting that in a stable political society, the issue of the legitimacy of authority rarely arises. Citizens obey laws or consent to judicial decisions without thinking too much about it. But in a sharply divided political society like ours, the question of legitimacy starts to be asked when citizens are less confident of the justifications for the exercise of power.
At first glance, democratic legitimacy can seem to be a function of laws or numbers. If laws are being followed, then an exercise of political power appears legitimate. Or, if democratic majorities favor a policy, then executive action consistent with that policy usually appears legitimate.
In that light, going by the case brought against APC and its leadership by Alfred Peter Conteh and the judgment of the Court, legitimacy is a function of a set of ethical concerns that go beyond what a law is or what a democratic majority decides. There’s no fixed set of such concerns but they generally include such matters as whether key constitutional matters are consistent with basic moral values; fair procedures (electoral and otherwise); and a spirit of fair play along the lines of “you win some and you lose some”.
That is what Justice Adrian Fisher’s judgement did in making some concessions to the defendants to continue with their functions to convene the APC Emergency National Delegates Conference but excluding them from being part of it because of their illegitimacy.