Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 October 2020:
What ought to have been another good day at the office for Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission investigators arriving in Makeni to interview former president Koroma at his residence, about corruption allegations running into millions of dollars, became a frightening game of hide and seek.
Thousands of supporters of the former president, many carrying sticks – formed human shield outside the home of the former president, barricading the road leading to his property.
“You are not welcome in Makeni,” the angry youths chanted – including dozens of motorcycle riders, who took control of the streets, as well as the much revered “Poro” society men – dancing at the entrance of the former president’s residence.
Police officers who had gone to the scene to prevent breakdown of law and order were driven back by the youths, who told them they were not welcome in the area.
Whilst this chaos was unfolding, the former president and his legal team, and members of the APC party leadership were all gathered inside his home, presumably waiting for the arrival of the ACC investigators, who never showed up.
And then came news that the ACC investigators had called off their meeting with the former president to “de-escalate the situation,” the ACC Czar – Francis Ben Kaifala said, after crowds blocking the road leading to the former president’s home prevented his investigators from meeting the former President.
“Look at the videos of what was happening in front of the former president’s gated residence and you will see why we had to call off the meeting,” he told the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
Speaking to a senior adviser of the former president who was also at his home this afternoon, the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph asked him to confirm whether the meeting with the ACC investigators took place. “No, they deferred, citing their safety. We offered to drive with them in our own vehicles into Ernest Bai Koroma’s residence to assure them that if we are safe in the car, they are safe too. They refused our offer,” he said.
Writing on twitter this afternoon, the ACC Czar – Francis Ben Kaifala said: “Our work to cleanse Sierra Leone of Corruption continues in Makeni today; but some of our compatriots have hijacked the highway to prevent us from interviewing former President Koroma. They have deployed roadblocks and violence. But our team is on standby to complete the task. We will fight Corruption”.
Asked where the ACC now go from here, a senior ACC official tonight told the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “We will now meet and decide next steps”.
It is not clear what those next steps will be, but the Sierra Leone Telegraph has learnt that the ACC is now looking at the possibility of simply charging the former president to court, based on the massive evidence it says it has in their possession.
This option the ACC said, should give the former president an opportunity to answer to the charges of corruption, abuse of office and maladministration alleged to have been committed between 2007 and 2018.
A statement published this evening by the former president said It is “deeply unfortunate that despite all assurances given by my legal representatives and the state security attached to me, the ACC still decided to unilaterally call off the proposed questioning mutually agreed to take place at my residence today”.
The statement which did not mention the presence of thousands of angry youths outside the home of the former president, preventing the ACC investigators from meeting with the former president, also said: “Be that as it may, former President Ernest Bai Koroma, has reiterated his commitment to peace and security, due process and the rule of law, as well as his willingness to cooperate with the ACC at all times”.
Whatever the outcome of this worrying development, the onus now is on the former president to demonstrate leadership and international statesmanship as a former president, in order to avoid being branded a perpetrator of lawlessness and violence.