“IF OSE NOR SELL U: TREET NOR GO BUY U!!”
(NO CONSPIRACY THRIVES WITHOUT HOMEGROWN/INSIDER SUPPORT)
By: Winstanley R Bankole Johnson
Within the Anglophone sub-region, opposition activities in Ghana and Nigeria can be more vibrant. This is because by their nature and culture a democratic space is created for the purpose. So tuning in to their various electronic media caucus discussions provides much enlightenment and I daresay fun, as issues covering virtually every aspect of their citizens’ welfare are adequately addressed from across the political divides and in a no-holds barred manner.
The same cannot be said for my country Sierra Leone – unfortunately – because here we have been systemically “acculturalized” to “deify” the political class to our detriment. But if it were in Ghana or Nigeria that the Commissions of inquiries (COIs) had just been concluded, the post COI atmosphere would have been much tensed with capacity-building and mind boggling arguments arising therefrom in various fora such as our Legislature, Judiciary, the Moot Courts on University campuses, Newspaper Editorials and even to theaters as mundane the Civic Education curricular at Primary and Secondary Schools levels; the bottom line of which is to engender an ethos participatory democracy and by extension an understanding of nationalism at all levels.
Such public civic educational dialogues would have allowed citizens an opportunity of evaluating whether the Sole Commissioners had reasonably fulfilled or even exceeded or abused their mandates at all. For example the Sole Commissioners were required to “inquire and recommend”, but in a few instances Justice Biobelle Goodwill in particular went on to even pronounce “convictions” long before issuance of the government White Paper. Though one may wish to reasonably argue that the COIs had the powers of a High Court, his wasn’t a Court Law for him to have insinuated those convictions. And why is it that it is only the Hon. Justice Biobelle Goodwill’s COI many seem to be chagrined about is not for me to postulate. I am delighted however that in an earlier position paper on those same concerns, the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) had robustly addressed those glitches.
In fact, Hon. Justice Biobelle Goodwill did not only “convict” but also made several caustic aspersions against former Persons of Interest (POIs) that were in my view prejudicial to their interests in the ultimate White Paper. Ref: Dr. Minkailu Bah, The Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, former Secretary to President E B O Coker and even former President Ernest Bai Koroma himself. For example, even though it wasn’t in his remit to comparatively par or rank Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on any grading matrix of severity, the Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill took the liberty to describe the Ministry of Education under late Dr. Minkailu Bah as quoting him: “….the worst managed” which ministry according to him further, the late minister “….ran as a cartel and criminal enterprise leaving in its wake corruption of humongous dimensions”. Any MDA formerly under APC supervision eliciting such an egregious categorization from the outcomes of any inquiry set up by the SLPP is bound to be severely punished, especially in an environment as perniciously toxic, divisive and as loathsome as the APC Party now finds itself.
But as I have said earlier our case is different. The COIs have closed, recommendations made to government and the White Papers rolled out. The next focus are the appellate processes which ensues forth as a legal fiat-accompli. It isn’t that aggrieved and disaffected parties over the COIs do not exist, but in dealing with any government – particularly in a State of Emergency not underpinned by guiding regulations – any evidence of contradictory opinions even if advanced for clarification could be misconstrued as opposition-influenced. So as scripture say in 2. Samuel. 20:1 – “to thine own house O Israel; Each to his own Tent”- meaning each COI indictee is now on his own to rely on the Judiciary for the appeals processes. That is the very Judiciary that:
- Upon assuming office the present Hon. Chief Justice was attributed in the papers to have remarked and quoting him: “……was nothing to write home about”.
- The main opposition are alleging that the same Hon. Chief Justice has refused to assign several of their petitions ranging from the setting up of Rules of Evidence for the COIs to the disqualification of (10) of our APC Members of Parliament from continuing to represent their constituents and many more issues for fair judicial hearings.
- Against a clear unfair comparative backdrop the same Judiciary has allegedly and expediently listed and even adjudicated on pro-government post elections petitions.
- It is also the same Judicature that pundits believed the government initially didn’t trust and so had to rely on foreign Jurists for conduct of the preliminary COI hearings.
- It is the same judiciary that all indictees of the COIs – 90% of whom are invariably APC Party members – will have to rely on for fair hearings of their appeals against those White Paper conclusions.
I shall address the validity of the appellate processes presently, but must reiterate my take that if this country were Ghana or Nigeria the post COIs debate would have still been raging. Meantime from a lay man’s perspective, between White Paper and commencement of the appeals processes I believe there are a few grey areas of public concern that government through its Principal Adviser the Attorney General ought to have pro-actively addressed so as to sustain public confidence in the fairness and transparency of the remaining stages of the investigations begun by the COIs.
In my time as Mayor of Freetown I can recall picking up an issue or two of public interest with former Honourable Chief Justice Dr. Ade Renner-Thomas that directly impacted the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and truth be told, to which he duly obliged me responses again for public clarification and education. It is in that same vein that I shall be most obliged if the Judicial and Legal Services Commission or the Learned Attorney General (AG) or the SLBA or the Anti-Corruption Commissioner (ACC) or even the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) through its popular “Fact To Face With The Law” TV programme can interest themselves in proffering explanations on the following issues that has left quite a sizeable number of the populace flummoxed:
- If Sec.40 of the 1991 National Constitution provides for a Head of State and Supreme Executive Authority (SEA) of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and who, per Sec. 48 (4) of that same Constitution cannot be prosecuted civilly or criminally in respect of anything done or omitted to have been done by him/her either in office or in a private capacity as President and Supreme Executive Authority, why is former president Ernest Bai Koroma now being prosecuted/persecuted for having exercised those Supreme Executive Authority whilst in office to the extent that Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill inferred that the former President “abused” that Supreme Executive Authority?
- The Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill himself not ever having served in the capacity of President and Supreme Executive Authority and Commander-in-Chief, how was he able to determine where and how “abuses” at such a sublime capacity he is never qualified to occupy occurred? How was he able to define or determine limitations and or excesses in a position he has never served in or will ever occupy? If in law a man cannot logically give what he does not have, how come within the same ambit of legal jurisprudence a man can determine excesses and or abuses within a position he has never occupied and will never probably occupy?
- Exercise of Supreme Executive Authority as vested in a sitting President and as amplified in Sec.53 (1) and (2) are unlimited and may even be exercised either directly by the President or through members of his/her Cabinet or Deputy Ministers or public officers subordinate to a President. The only exception to this general rule is if a President is required to act or has acted with the prior approval of Parliament. In my humble opinion in none of the instances Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill concluded that former President Koroma acted illegally or abused his powers was prior Parliamentary endorsement required. So I really cannot see what all the huffing and puffing is about. Permit me to clarify here and now that my concern is to suggest that the former President Koroma is above the law. Examples abound in Africa of former Presidents being held to account for their stewardships. It is just that following due legal processes and with much circumspection and maturity of the part of the ACC Commissioner Ben Kelfalla, the near fracas, tension and furore attendant upon his intention to recently question the former Head of State on his stewardship in Makeni could have been avoided.
- Could it be that it’s on account of some afterthought on Matthew 7:2; Mark 4:24 and Luke 6:38, that “with whatever measure President Bio now metes withal to former President Koroma it shall be measured unto him again” (after leaving office for abuse of Supreme Executive Authority under his watch) that is why this government has been toying with ideas like: “Unaccountable Presidential Imprest” “un-auditable Covid-19 Accounts” and the most hilarious of them all: “This is going to be the last Commissions of Inquiries”?. Incidentally I also was almost going to believe in that fakery until I checked with a reliable resource at the Foreign and commonwealth Office in London who has assured me that as a nation, Britain has no intention of ever erasing the words “Commissions of Inquiries” from their diction or dictionary. So why should we in Sierra Leone?
- In a few instances arising from the Hon. Justice William Anan Atuguba COI particularly, matters deemed inconclusive because of time constraints were referred to the ACC for further thorough investigations. I cannot recall anywhere in any of the Terms of Reference (TOR) of any of the COIs where such a synergy was referenced. But the confusion here is that if those findings of the COIs leading to loss or forfeiture of assets of indicted POIs are deemed to have the same powers of a High Court appealable as of right from the COI to the Court of Appeal per Sec. 149 (4) of the Constitution, will such referrals to the ACC not constitute “double Jeopardy” for the indictees? And further given that the Sole Commissioners knew well before hand a possibility existed for such referrals to have been made to the ACC, why did they not think it expedient or prudent to have co-opted the ACC throughout their proceedings ab-initio to facilitate a seamless transition arrangement that would either reduce the burden of prosecutions on the indictees and the possible delays they might have on the timeline of the ultimate Appeal Court processes? Perhaps such a confusion or overlay might not have arisen if government had heeded to persistent appeals from defense counsels and the SLBA for the Rules of Evidence to have been adopted per Sec. 150 of the Constitution which would have sufficiently guided the Sole Commissioners.
- A final grey area requiring clarification for public interest is Sec. 149 (2) of the Constitution to wit: “The President shall, subject to the provisions of sub-section (4) cause to be published the report of a Commission of Inquiry together with the White Paper thereon within six months of the date of submission of the report of the Commission”. The clarification required here is whether by the words “Report” and “White Paper” the Constitution is only referring to adversarials – that is to say relating only to indictments. I daresay it isn’t the case because good or bad they are of equally intrinsic value in all COI Reports and Government White Paper as are the names of all those who in the words of Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill “…..did not shrink under cross-examinations and were accordingly discharged by the COIs” – unquote. Therefore it is obligatory upon, not optional for the learned AG to also have published all the names of those exculpated (in the same way he published a list of those 131 persons banned from leaving the jurisdiction without his fiat). A failure to do so is not helping relationships, because it is giving sway to malignantly vengeful and ill-informed minds to continue spewing forth lies against decent, upright and unblemished characters purely out of jealousy, that they also stand indicted by the COIs.
Now let’s go back to the appeals processes which I promised to handle. First a word of advice for all indicted POIs:
- Be sure to follow all due appellate processes to avoid summary judgements being levied against you in default of your appearances (in addition to being found in contempt of the Courts). Even without being a Lawyer myself I can tell from prima-facie evidences that in a good number of cases the decisions in the White Paper can be rescinded. One such case is where lessors have been indicted for not having first verified that rents agreed with lessees are affordable and within the budgetary provisions of the latter.
- Also do not rush to pay off amounts charged by the COIs against your names just because believe the quantum is too small and not worth wasting your time defending. Remember it is a conviction against your names, integrity, reputation and character and rushing to liquidate such amounts is an acquiescence of your culpability which could leave you stained as an indictee for life – unless you ultimately receive state pardon from a Head of State, Supreme Executive Authority, Commander- in-Chief and Fountain of Honour. The Courts are there to clear doubts. Use them.
Every profession has its own casualty variable, and it is only when a practicing professional records loss outside his particular trade variable that he could be reprimanded. So for example punishing a Banker for bad debts is as outrageous and preposterous as indicting a lawyer because his client is gaoled. Bankers trade in moneys: and can only record losses in moneys – not in livestock.
- I have heard and read public outcries that some people are planning to subpoenaed Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill as a witness during their appeals. I am not too sure how successful that try will be, given the full protection Sec. 148 (2) confers on Sole Commissioners to wit: “A Sole Commissioner or a member of a Commission of Inquiry shall not be liable to any action or suit in respect of any matter or thing done by him in the performance of his function as such Commissioner of member” – unquote.
This Constitutional proviso opens me to one simple question for Hon. Justice Biobelle Georgewill: “If as Sole Commissioner you can be so insulated from abuse of so mundane an office, what made you think a whole President, Supreme Executive Authority, Commander-in-Chief AND Fountain of Honour should not be insulated from exercising his Supreme Executive Authority in his country but should be exposed by worse of all you; a foreigner?
How I long for the day when the most brilliantly educated Senior Sierra Leonean Judge will be invited to Ghana or Nigeria to pass sentences on a Former Head of State, Supreme Executive Authority, Commander-in –Chief of the Armed Forces AND Fountain of Honour of either country – all in the name of fighting graft!!
But as Krios kin say: “If Ose Nor Sell U; Treet Nor Go Buy U!!” (No Conspiracy Thrives Without Homegrown/Insider Support) – Ask Jesus Christ.