September 27, 2019

By: Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson

Unless you are notorious for Court appearances, one is bound to feel unnerved arriving at the Commissions of Inquiries (COIs) as a Person of Interest (POI). My own feelings upon arriving at the Special Courts Complex were mixed and stemmed from a number of factors such as -:

  • The environment reflected a vestige of shame, as the very place where years earlier Sierra Leoneans had prosecuted their compatriots under foreign judicial surveillance as among those bearing the greatest responsibility for our eleven years of war and carnage. It was a war that was engendered by a breakdown of social order, underpinned by greed, corruption, hatred and our innate inability to accommodate and tolerate one another for periods spanning over several decades now. And that was what I found repulsive about the entire Special Courts Complex. Those trials left many of our own incarcerated in foreign lands by mostly foreign Judges for long years, during which period a few have even died “criminal deaths”.
  • So here was I as one who had always prided himself in his undeniably reputation, now traversing those same terraces into one of those same chambers. I was going to be questioned about my national stewardship as a former Board Chairman of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, by yet another foreign Judge over issues that were supposed to have been strictly Bankable and privately contracted borrowings by those classified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in serious breach of all Bank secrecy codes, and without the requisite Court Orders. But the foreign Judges did not arrive here on their own. We invited them to come and show us how to dispense “Justice” because over time we have inadvertently but rather unwittingly destroyed all forms or semblance of institutional orderliness in every sphere of government – our Judiciary; our Parliament; in all MDAs and so have remained constrained to always be looking beyond our borders each accountability and law and order is threatened, because we no longer seem to be able to do much for ourselves by ourselves.
  • Per public perception and also from the parameters by which the government had set up the COIs, all of us invited as POIs were already presumed guilty as named and inferred. And you can discern that from the disdainful looks of the security detail within the Special Courts premises to provide directions, all of whom would appear to have been selected from those special groups of citizens now deemed of the only honest breed of citizens entitled to earn wages. Their malevolent scans were implicitly suggestive that by the time the Judge-Commissioners would have finished with us – “All D Pa im money for commot”. Joining the security detail in that regard were Journalists. They spared no effort at distorting or exaggerating facts of the proceedings of the COIs in their respective journals, depending on their dislike for certain personalities.


But my trepidations aside, I saw in my invite to the Hon. Justice Biobelle Gorgewill COI No.65 an opportunity to even up with the government for amounts overdue and owing me dating back to my tenure as Board Chairman of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and a as a Non-Executive Director of the Bank of Sierra Leone, both of which Boards were unceremoniously dissolved in 2014 and 2018 respectively by the powers that be, without settlement of entitlements due me for the residual tenure of each contract.  After all “Me seff yone money for commot”. And honestly that opportunity was not missed. My logical plea with the Hon. Commissioner therefore was that if it was expedient for him to be seeking retrieval of moneys stolen from the government from POIs, then he ought also to consider the converse expedient, that is to say, to also redress citizens from whom the government systemically deprived of their legitimate money earnings. The Hon. Commissioner agreed that though I might have a legitimate case, his Commission was not the suitable place to address such matters, and respectfully directed me to use the regular Courts within the Judiciary for the purpose. Those matters are already underway.


In the absence of visible directional sign posts, finding my way into Commission Room No.65 on the first day via a maze of terraces leading through to the Law School day was a challenge. Protruding grass from in between cement cracks were now ankle-length high, attesting as to who precisely are now in control of those premises. The services of those who among the white race could be regarded as practicing an esteemed vocation (Horticulture) in which they were trained (and decently rewarded with including holidays abroad) to maintain environmental aesthetics and ensure always that plants and flowers adorning such terraces are regularly manicured (like Late Mammy Mato did within the neighbourhood of the Presidential Lodge at Hill Station) had long been dispensed with.  Within the national perspective that is unnecessary labour, because between our predictable two seasons those grass would naturally wilt away and disappear during the dries anyway.


I exited the COI via another gate, which opportuned me to focus on a plaque conspicuously erected on what was christened “The Bob Parnell” building and it reads thus:


“This plaque was unveiled on 14th September 2005 by Rosemarie Parnell in memory of, and dedication  to her late husband Robert (Bob) Lee Parnell – Special Court’s First Chief of Security (3rd November 2002 to  22nd October 2004). An outstanding colleague, and delightful friend”. UNQUOTE

One could not help but to admire that even within a multicultural administration such as the Special Courts consisted then, and with a workforce comprising then of no fewer that forty different nationalities, a consensus was reached among Special Courts staffers to recognize the outstanding qualities of a fallen colleague, to not only name a building after him, but to also erect a plaque to his memory. Bob Parnell served for barely 23 months, yet his services to the Special Courts as its First Chief of Security for the complex was recognized.

Contrast that with that fact that it was within those same complex that Sierra Leoneans tore themselves apart as they passionately prosecuted one another for perpetrating atrocities of the most grotesque dimensions upon each other. Since walking away from the Special Courts premises up to this moment, my mind’s eye has been traversing the entire 72,000 square kilometers of our country’s landscape, for just one evidence of any landmark, any tombstone, any monument or any plaque, that was erected in memory of any Sierra Leonean from a consensus by Sierra Leoneans since we attained independence in 1961, outside our narrow ethno-centric considerations. Not one exists, which shows how divisive we are, have been and will continue to be unless we re-calibrate our psyche and focus towards a greater ethos of nationalism. That is what is dead in all of us as Sierra Leoneans: The honesty of conferring dignity and respectability to each other across ethno-regional lines – from Dan up in the North right down to Bath-Sheba in the South – without exception.

Another sordid and disgusting point worth observing fellow Sierra Leoneans is that even as the COIs wind up (or down?) their sittings now almost spanning nine months, not a single foreigner or foreign business entity has been subpoenaed, harangued, maligned or disgraced as a POI, or vilified by then local press as the latter are wont to do for decent compatriots invited to assist the COIs with their depositions. Not a single foreigner or foreign business has been cross-examined for any of the malfeasances being exposed, even though in actual fact most of the Ministers, Civil Servants and MDA functionaries being molested were mere conduits for virtually all the scams from which they hardly reap above 10% kickbacks. In short, we have been proudly transforming foreigners arriving into this country poor and penniless into billionaires within the shortest possible time, whilst contenting ourselves as a nation of “10-Percenters”. And they’re having a good laugh at us.


The entire COIs processes has been for Sierra Leoneans yet again against Sierra Leoneans, just as it had played out during the days of the Special Courts sittings.  There has been no Hashim or Hisham, Shallop or, Pollash, Jamil or Jimal, Harish or Hirash, Kishore or Shorekis called into question to date. All of us defined as POIs are Sierra Leoneans, which seriously makes my call for a re-calibration of our psyche and focus towards a greater ethos nationalism a priority. And fellow sierra Leoneans unless we embrace that through a committed process of national reconciliation and cohesion hinged on political tolerance, we will never be able to take our destiny into our own hands. We shall forever remain a nation of “10-Percenters”, scrounging from dregs arising from deals we piloted on behalf of foreigners at the detriment of our nation.  Why we should continue to be living on crumbs when In fact the actual cake belongs to us is what I’m having trouble to understand to this day.

On 13th June to be precise, a popular Radio station hosted importers in their AM show to find out how the rising USD/SLL parity was affecting their businesses. Not one of those interviewed that morning was an indigene of this country. What merged therefore was that in a nation progressing towards observing its 59th year of attaining Independence, the station either was not able to locate a single sierra Leonean in the import business, or there was none – yours truly having closed shop almost four years ago. You will all agree with me that it is a sad situation when opinions on salient matters affecting our economic welfare have to be sought from foreigners.

After years of tearing ourselves apart during the war years, the world decided that we needed others to come from outside to not only judge us, but also to teach us how to accommodate and live peaceably amongst each other irrespective of socio-political barriers. Even though they stayed with us for almost ten years embedded within nearly all facets of governance to ensure a seamless transition of ideas, the impacts of those nurturing are yet to crystalize. This time round we have invited foreigners again to judge us on corruption recommend redresses because our judiciary, like many other institutions is considering it a challenge to dispense its constitutional role.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, how long shall we continue to be midwifed?