The Umaru Fofana politics of extension

25 November 2010 at 23:17 | 1479 views

By Mustapha M K Sesay, National Secretary General, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).

On Wednesday, November 17, 2010, at an “Extraordinary General Meeting” of SLAJ unprocedurally convened by the Assistant Secretary General, and chaired by the President Umaru Fofana, less than 60 members of our Association, that is about 10%, took an unprecedented decision in Freetown with far reaching implications for future democratic administration of the Association.

While some of us were outside the jurisdiction of Freetown on an Eid ul Adha recess, those journalists met at the SLAJ Headquarters in Freetown and voted in favour of extending the life of the embattled Umaru Fofana National Executive by about three months. That is, for one/eight of our normal term. Even the motion by one of our members that the executive be dissolved on the expiration of its mandate in order to pave the way for the formation of an interim executive to take the Association to the Biennial conference and Elections was shelved.

Naturally, any President with genuine intention would have been overjoyed upon the extension of his mandate even by a month; and, of course, with enough publicity to accompany the announcement, but not this one who has been so obsessed with power to his embarrassed. Neither an email communication nor a single public notice announcement was aired or press release was issued to inform the three regional heads and members of the Association in the provinces and our local and international partners about the decision, which clearly suggests a guilty conscience at play.

Honestly, much as I know our President, if that decision had been legitimate the notice would have been swiftly issued as the one announcing the so called suspension of the elected National Secretary General in August and given the best of publicity.

So about 90%, of the membership in Freetown and the regions, that is, about 540 of them were expected to either know about the decision through hearsay, colleagues who attended the meeting, a newspaper report, or remain in the dark.

But knowing the kind of leadership that we now have, one that must be pushed in order to act in situations like this, never mind should you see an email communication or press release announcing this decision immediately after the publication of this article.

According to those who attended the meeting, the reason for the call for extension was that the Association lacked the funds to organise the Biennial Conference within the legal timeframe of two years, as prescribed in Article 10 (4) of the current SLAJ Constitution which states thus:

“...there shall be held a Biennial Conference not later than two years after the election of the National Executive.”

Besides, the President, Umaru Fofana though elected with the rest of his executive outside a Biennial Conference in November 2008, wanted the National and Regional Elections to be conducted at the 2010 Biennial Conference, as provided for in Article 10 (7) of the Constitution, ignorant of an earlier AGM resolution two years after he fell out with the Tayibb Bah Executive in 2001 and was impeached from the position of National Secretary General - which separated the elections from the Biennial Conference.

So in effect, the 2010 National and Regional Elections are being postponed simply because of the failure of the self-styled Umaru Fofana to plan in time for the Biennial Conference which should have been held this November. How can anyone justify this action which is clearly a sign of incompetence and a betrayal of trust that deserves a vote of no confidence?

Looking at it from another angle, if the President was able to use his energy and resources to hire three buses in August to convey journalists from as far as Kono, Bonthe and Kabala to Freetown in an effort to have the elected National Secretary General of the Association illegally suspended from the executive, one wonders why he failed to use the same or an even superior energy to organise a Biennial Conference within a whole year (December 2009 - November 2010) - twelve good months!.

Honestly, beside the fact that the procedure for convening an Extra-ordinary General Meeting of SLAJ was not fulfilled, all journalists who attended the regional press conference and interactive sessions on the SLAJ Constitution that I hosted in September in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni know that the decision was unconstitutional and therefore illegitimate.

Had my colleague executive members and those who allegedly endorsed that decision attended those sessions; they would have kicked against the motion.

Therefore, the act could better be described as an affront to the integrity of all SLAJ members, proprietors of media institutions, our partners, corporate institutions and members of the public who have been generously contributing the funds for us to organise such events over the years when needed.

Regrettably, the unfortunate thing that has happened to SLAJ in recent time is that most of its members especially the elders and older members no longer attend meetings or participate in SLAJ organised activities or event, partly due to the current stalemate within the executive rank of the association and mainly due to frustration over the crude leadership style of the current president who has no regard for constitutionality and democratic civility.

In case anyone does not know, it is worth noting that the lifespan of an elected national/regional executive of SLAJ, the name of the association, the location of its headquarters, the conditions for hosting Annual General Meetings and Biennial Conferences, the Composition and functions of the National and Regional Executives, the terms of the Office of President, the name of and signatories to the organisation’s accounts, among others, are entrenched clauses in the SLAJ constitution which can not be altered by a handful of SLAJ members, not even a 51% majority.

Legally altering/amending them, according to Article 17 of the Constitution, requires a decision of a 2/3 majority of registered and fully paid up members in the National Register of the Association. That is, about 400 members.

Moreover, Extraordinary General Meetings of SLAJ are specifically convened to deal with issues not readily addressed/provided for in the SLAJ National Constitution and Resolutions of Annual General Meetings over the years. But the current Constitution is clear on the Conducts of Elections and By-elections and on the holding of the Biennial Conference which must be done within two years after the election of the National Executive.

As for the elections, it is indeed a constitutional requirement that the election of the National Executive shall be done during the Biennial Conference as stipulated in Article 10 (7). But as indicated earlier, an AGM resolution in 2003 separated the elections from the Biennial Conference due to the fact that the conferences were marred by politicking/campaign activities.

Thus returning the conduct of the elections to the Biennial Conference requires that the 2003 Resolution must first be democratically revoked either at an AGM or Biennial Conference, to be effected in the succeeding year. This should have been the intent and purpose of that Extraordinary Meeting that was held on that day, which real purpose as agreed in a previous general meeting that I attended was betrayed; and on the condition that at least 400 fully paid up members were in attendance.

Therefore, extending the life of the current executive or even convening a general meeting of less than 60 members outside the AGM or Biennial conference to discuss it was not only a breach of the Constitution, but also of SLAJ customs and tradition, and therefore a dangerous precedent to say the least.

This is indeed an extreme act of dictatorship and illegality that has the potential to let SLAJ appear in the sight of most of its members, partners and the public as a disorganised social club instead of a fine professional body of intellectuals with high standings.

And if accepted unchallenged, we must not be surprised one day if a sitting SLAJ President chooses to convenes an extraordinary general meeting of a handful of his close associates by the expiration of the mandate of his executive to extend their term from two years to three.

Or upon the completion of a second two-year term, if re-elected, the President chooses to convenes an “extraordinary general meeting” in breach of the Constitution to allow him contest for a third term.

Or worse still, if he indefinitely fails to hold a Biennial Conference for the same flimsy reason advanced by Umaru Fofana and continue to hang on to power.

A dangerous precedent indeed!