Guru Mike: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 January 2021:
A lot of people make disparaging remarks about the police in Sierra Leone and look on them negatively. However, I recently had an experience that casts one in a more positive light – SLP OSD Hinger Lebbie.
I was on a business trip to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in December. On Christmas eve, my friend Whitsun dropped me off at one of the beach bars where I was to meet another friend. The moment I met my friend at the bar, I realised my phone was no longer in my pocket.
It was a brand new £900 phone that I had bought a couple of months ago. My friend at the bar called the friend who had dropped me off, to inform him that my phone was likely to be in his car. He said it wasn’t a problem and I told him I would pick it up when I return home, since I’m staying with him. Everything seemed like it was going to be ok, so I stayed at the bar for a few hours and then went home.
The next morning, I woke Whitsun up to get my phone as I should be heading to a Christmas day Church service, only to find that the phone was not in the car after all. We tried calling it and it rang, but no one answered. It was then that I realised I might have a bigger problem and that the phone may be lost. This was incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t just the value of the device but more that I can’t function without my phone. It had everything on it – my UK banking apps, passwords, emails, Sierra Leone banking apps, everything.
Before heading for church, my friend and I returned to the beach to search once again, but to no avail. It rang but we couldn’t find it. After church, on my cousin’s advice, I went to Police Headquarters to make a report. They asked me for my International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number or serial number. This is found either in the phone or on the original box. Like most people, I didn’t have the number and hadn’t memorised it. The police told me to come back the next day.
Exasperated by the loss and the impact it was going to have, myself, Whitsun and two guys that live around the area returned to the beach for another look. The phone still rang. We searched for hours and one of the guys even crawled 120 yards down the drains, still no joy. Eventually it got dark and my friend Whitsun thought he’d try and call my phone one more time. As it was dark, we might see it light up inside the car.
This time, someone answered. My friend explained that I was the owner of the phone. The man at the other end of the line asked where I had lost the phone and was told Lumley beach. The man then identified himself as Officer on Special Duty Hinger Lebbie of the Sierra Leone Police, he said he was leaving for work and we should meet at Bottom Mango which was ok for us as we live just down the road.
We met OSD Lebbie and my friend pointed out my daughter’s photo was the screensaver, and I’ll unlocked the phone to further prove the device was mine. But Officer Lebbie was a professional – he said the phone had been logged as missing, and we should drive behind him to Lumley Police station. Sierra Leone is a peaceful country, but pickpockets do operate around the beach area.
The policeman explained that two boys had been fighting over the phone the previous evening. In fact, they fought all the way to the point where the officer had been stationed. Consequently, he had confiscated the phone and kept it in his bag when he got home after a long nightshift.
We went to the station and I got my phone back. I was blown away by Officer Lebbie’s professionalism and honesty, especially after he revealed that his own phone was old and unreliable, and he needed a new one but there’s no way he was going to hold on to my phone.
Most people were telling me how lucky I’m because that doesn’t normally happen in Freetown. I just simply smile and said I’m God’s chosen and it wasn’t luck but blessings.
No matter what people may say, some police officers in Sierra Leone are decent people and SLP OSD Hinger Lebbie has won my admiration and respect. Lets give people their flowers while they’re still alive.