Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2022:
President Julius Maada Bio sacked his head of the nation’s Police force, Inspector General (I.G) Ambrose Sovula this week. Social media, rumour merchants, gossip entrepreneurs and political wordsmiths have had a field day with speculations and innuendos, citing reasons for his spectacular dismissal. In the meantime, some are even demanding an official explanation for his dismissal. Does the president need to justify, rationalise or defend every appointment or dismissal in his government?
In the absence of any official reasons given for the I.G’s dismissal, many believed that it is linked to “a mysterious shipping container that arrived in Freetown last week, alleged to contain tons of cocaine imported into the country from Brazil by a senior member of the government, whose identity is yet to be disclosed” (thesierraleonetelegraph, 27, July 2022). Reports state that the “police took over control of the container from custom officials at the Water Quay Sea Port in Freetown, after local journalists blew the whistle of suspicion over its content.”
With the allegations and rumours spreading, that the alleged container with drugs was “imported into the country from Brazil by a senior member of the government, whose identity is yet to be disclosed”, the police released a press statement for a press conference. “Management of the SLP would like to inform the public that the container is currently under its custody at the Senior Officers’ Mess, Kingtom in Freetown. For the purposes of openness and the avoidance of doubts, invitations will be extended to the media to witness the opening of the said container at the Senior Officers’ Mess, Kingtom. Meanwhile, the SLP has begun preliminary investigations into the said container and the findings will be made public.”(Cocorioko.net).
Was the Police’s decision to inspect the container in public view, in response to the rumours or for transparency? Against the backdrop of a nationwide publicity, that the container or containers had contraband, including arms, fake currency, and cocaine, the inspection revealed only frozen chicken. When was the last time the public was treated to such a festival of mediocrity? Why was the container not inspected at the Quay, like for all other freights imported to the country?
Notwithstanding the alleged suspicion of contraband, what was so special about the container that turned it into such a media frenzy? Oh, it was alleged that the container was “imported into the country from Brazil by a senior member of the government, whose identity is yet to be disclosed”, (the sierraleonetelegraph.com). So, what is it with cocaine and government personnel? The last time, it was aviation. This time, it’s nautical. Next stop, Gbalamuya?
Some would expect that revealing a container full of frozen chicken would be the end of the matter. Yeah right. According to Cocorioko.net, “the first and second containers did not contain any illegal items. But a thorough probe has revealed that the remaining containers contained illegal drugs and fake counterfeit Leone currency notes”. While the jury is out on this one, it was the swift and surgical manner of Former IG Sovula’s dismissal that has caught even his most ardent adversaries by surprise.
The context of events preceding his dismissal have given our professors of logic and scientific methods, the conclusion that it must be related to the container-gate. Interestingly, they just derived a conclusion as to why the government’s supposedly blue-eyed boy got the boot. Did Sovula need to make such a spectacle of this? Others would say that he was trying to be transparent, “for the purposes of openness and the avoidance of doubts”. There is nothing wrong to respond to accusations, allegations, rumours etc. What is different is how you deal with each, on merit. That spectacle was an embarrassment, to say the least.
So, why was the now, former IG dismissed?
It would be over presumptuous to identify a single reason, why President Bio pressed the nuclear button. Many believe that it has been a long time coming. What many people would be wondering is, why did it take so long? If truth were told, Sovula’s reign at the helm has been one of several controversies. Take your pick.
Notwithstanding your views about the former IG, he has a catalogue of accusations of human rights breaches, intimidation, arbitrary arrests of opposition party members, and loss of lives during protests in Makeni, Lunsar and Tombo; not forgetting the Pademba Road prisons debacle during his tenure.
Some people have rated him as one of the worst IGs in recent memory. Others would say that his handling of such events was in response to spate of lawlessness in our country. One thing is for sure though; Sovula was insidiously perfecting the notion of freedom of speech, without any guarantees for freedom after speech. Ask Dennis Bright and the fourteen others. Some would say that he had a peculiar and trigger-happy knack to dish out invitations to CID headquarters like confetti. I wonder if Sovula would make the cut on the Christmas lists of Denis Bright, Claudia F. Cole, LAJ and many others.
To some people, Sovula was a dedicated and diligent member of the law enforcement agency. Sadly, his public persona was one that was riddled with a litany of PR gaffes. He gave a series of press conferences and statements that were subject to national ridicule. He seemed to have regular consignments of materials for Sierra Leonean comedians.
Donald Trump once proved to the whole world that his cognition was intact by repeating, “Person”, “woman”, “man”, “camera”, “TV”. Sovula settled for “de pippul” “pillon”, “the okada rider”. Many had concluded long ago that Sovula required a spokesperson. But even when he had one, he summarily transferred him to the back of beyond, because he “spoke out of sync” during the LAJ debacle.
He conducted press conferences and discussed issues many considered as below his pay grade. In general, many people questioned the government’s credentials on human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to assemble etc., and Sovula’s fingerprints were never far from such controversies. His admirers would say that he was a very strict and law abiding figure. The majority could disagree with that.
Was Sovula just an overzealous character? Those who were worried about the public’s opinion on human right abuses might have wished, he were put on a leash a long time ago. Some felt that he was becoming a runaway horse. Was he the outsider who wept more than the bereaved or just too eager to please? Even with the best of intentions, overzealousness can be the hubris, which kills the very thing you hope to save. Sometimes, commitment is the match that lights the fire. Some would say that he was overzealous.
We saw opposition politicians invited to CID headquarters for the flimsiest of infractions, only to be released next day, without charge. His press conferences seemed to have good comedy value, and enough material for Instagram and YouTube. We know that you should never beat a man when he is down, but we hope lessons were learnt. So, was Sovula dismissed solely for container-gate or was a long time coming? Did he deserve to go? Don’t answer that.
The container-gate has generated more questions than answers. Firstly, did the police need to make the inspection a spectator sport? If so, do the police do so for every container or shipment that triggers suspicion at the quay? What was different about the particular container/s that required such public participation? Was it because there was an alleged rumour of the involvement of a senior member of the government”? Did the police organise this public petulance in response to social media “rumours”? Was this in search of a Eureka moment, “We opin de container gbangba oday, den see korokoro wan”? What was the idea behind this charade? The former IG may be awash with police and law enforcement credentials and accolades, don’t mention Dominion University. However, was he becoming a serious embarrassment to the government?
With the government battling the forces of world crisis, economics -defying inflation, social disillusionment, etc., you would think that the government could have done without such an embarrassment. Social media posts and official government channels have been highlighting President Bio’s efforts to boost the military.
Bio’ supporters have been busy flooding social media outlets, annotating and cataloguing the differences between their SLLP and the APC. Such media posts have shown the delivery of sea going ferries, gunboats and machinery for the military and navy, rice and many other items as signs of development under the Bio leadership. Did the container –gate just steal Bio’s thunder? Did Sovula rain on Bio’s parade? Is it plausible that this latest stunt was the last straw?
It is our God given right to be stupid and remain stupid if we choose to be. Just don’t abuse the privilege. Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.