Lansana Fofanah: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 October 2020:
Fighting corruption has always been a war between “us versus them” – those bent on suffocating corruption and those fighting to keep their loots. For many parts of the world, fighting corruption is a matter of life and death as it has become a way of life for those whose life and existence are deeply rooted in it.
Many leaders in Africa, Europe, and Asia have been tried, found guilty, and jailed; some even executed because of corruption. This happened because their citizens have respect for the rule of law and were willing to embrace change, whether it comes by fire or by force.
But in Sierra Leone, the recent action of the supporters of the former President Ernest Koroma was a clear manifestation that beneficiaries of his alleged loot would prefer becoming human shield to protect him from facing the law, even at the expense of their lives.
No one is oblivious of the fact that Ernest Koroma has succeeded in using Makeni as a fortress; and for anyone to get at him, you must first cross-path with the mindless youths that are ready to die in his defense, come rain come shine. What an irony for a leader who was supposed to unite the nation across tribal or regional lines.
Despite considering the security aspects that led the ACC to shift the goal post to Makeni where the former President was expected to have been interrogated, the former president’s supporters brainwashed minors whose futures have been ruined by corruption to stage a standoff and rally in support of their demi-god.
Had it not been for professional policing, there would have been many casualties as there was every need for the enforcement of the law. This would have served as a perfect opportunity for the opposition All People’s Congress to sell negative images of the country to the international community.
The fight to hang on to power, led to a disgraceful end for leaders like the late Muammar Ghadafi of Libya, Yayah Jammeh of the Gambia. And many will follow suit.
Despite peacefully ruling the country for two concurrent terms, Ernest Koroma still sees himself as the “Ayatollah” of Sierra Leone politics by converting the North of the country into his fortress.
The former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Guy Warrington during the Anti-Corruption Day celebration in 2018, described corruption as one of the biggest global issues of our time, ranging from illicit financial flows, bribery, theft, tax evasion, costing countries like Sierra Leone US$1.26 trillion a year.
The second coming of His Excellency the President, Julius Maada Bio, was seen by many as the only opportunity to free Sierra Leone from the fabric of corruption, based on his military-disciplinary background.
Immediately after his Government came to power through democratic elections in 2018, President Bio instituted a Government Transition Team to take stock of what his administration met; a report that revealed massive looting of state resources by past officials including the former President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Immediately after the publication of the GTT report, then came the three judge-led Commissions of Inquiry which was a perfect opportunity for those considered persons of interest to clear their name in public.
Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden was among the few former officials to appear before the Commission while former president Ernest Bai Koroma and others were represented by their legal teams. Rumours and speculations became pervasive over the delay of the release of the White Paper as many believed the whole process was a farce and that there was no report.
The White Paper was presented to the President at State House on the 24th of October, where recommendations were also accepted by the President. “Persons and entities affected by the recommendation are guaranteed a peaceful and transparent judicial appeal process through which they can seek relief. So let me, therefore, caution every Sierra Leonean that the rule of law is supreme. Those who may wish to incite or engage in unrest and violence in order to obstruct the process of implementing the full enforcement of the recommendations will be subject to the full force of the law”, President Bio cautioned as he endorsed the recommendations in the White Paper.
While the media serve as crusaders against corruption in other countries, a local tabloid believed to be the mouthpiece of the opposition All People’s Congress party labelled the White Paper as “toilet paper” because they believed the whole process was a witch hunt against their party members.
How can it be a witch hunt when senior members of the current administration such as the Minister of Agriculture, Dennis Vandy, and Secretary to the Vice President, Barber Fortune have been fired since their names are in the White Paper too?
Despite many accolades won by the Anti-Corruption Commission for suffocating corruption in the country, many believe that implementing the recommendations in the White Paper is a perfect opportunity for the ACC to prove its determination to fight corruption in high places.
It has always been the modus operandi for those accused of corruption to crave public sympathy by using tribal, regional affiliation, and their cronies as human shields thereby preventive justice. This was exactly what happened in Makeni on the 8th of October where those that see Ernest as a demi-god came out in all forms of social disorderly behaviour to barricade access leading to Ernest Koroma’s premises.
A video documentary of the incident in Makeni which has been banned by the Sierra Leone Police but still in circulation, describe the incident in Makeni as a “move by patriots from the different society groups, youth groups that came out to defend their hero” which leaves one with the conviction that their actions were well scripted, directed and perfectly executed.
Under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala, the ACC has publicly paraded teachers and students accused of exam malpractices along major streets in Freetown, but the reason why the Commission is playing dilly-dong with the interrogation of the former President is something the public is doubtful of.
No doubt, the integrity of the ACC is under the radar for this is the time for the Commission to manifest that there is no sacred cow in the fight to eradicate corruption.
Ernest Koroma was slated to appear before the Commission on the 5th of October but disappointingly, the ACC had to succumb to the request made by the former President’s legal team for deferment. This must have given the former president’s local Marshal’s enough time to prepare for any eventuality as showcased on Thursday.
If the Commission and state securities are finding it difficult to interrogate the former President, one may wonder how will he be punished, or his property confiscated?
Now that the ACC is preparing to have a second engagement, the former President should not be the one to call the shot to decide the manner or location where the investigation should commence.
Sierra Leoneans must realize that the fight to redeem the country from the carnage of corruption goes beyond politics or regionalism.
This is the time to rally behind the ACC – an institution created to instil transparency and accountability in every sector of society in Sierra Leone.