PONDER MY THOUGHTS: SPEAKER ABASS BUNDU: THE REVOLUTION EATS ITS OWN

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BY Andrew Keili

Abass Chernor Bundu has been a member of the Paopa revolution since its inception. Whereas his outwardly urbane predisposition and soft spoken utterances would likely give the impression he is in the moderate wing of a Paopa movement known to impose its will on moderate members within the SLPP, he is rumoured to be a mastermind behind many of its plans for winning intra and inter party elections.

He may have been advised by his doctors to slow down because of health reasons. Being no spring chicken at 76, the incessant squabbles in parliament may have indeed taken their toll on him. This, however may not rule out the rumours that other lawmakers within the Paopa wing may have hastened his departure.

Abass Bundu has had a long political and diplomatic career, which though viewed by some as distinguished has been fraught with difficulties, causing his surprising metamorphosis along the way.

The Australian and British educated Abass Bundu was well respected as President of the Sierra Leone Union of Students in the UK in the mid-seventies and was considered by many to be a potential President of Sierra Leone. He was considered an anti-corruption crusader who did not have kind words for both APC and SLPP. He would later do a U-turn and become APC.

He became Assistant Director of International Affairs and Consultant in Constitutional Law in the Commonwealth Secretariat in London from 1975 to 1982 and later came back home to be appointed Minister of Agriculture by President Siaka Stevens. When President Momoh took over as Head of State in 1985, he recommended Abass Bundu to be Executive Secretary of ECOWAS. In 1991, he fell out with President Momoh and left the APC.He later became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation under the NPRC.

The late Vice President Solomon Berewa, when he was Attorney General under President Kabbah considered prosecuting him for his involvement in the infamous NPRC passport deal but chose not to. As Berewa wrote in his autobiography:

“The allegation against Abass Bundu was that he had sold Sierra Leone passports to foreigners (citizens of Hong Kong) and had appropriated the proceeds for his own use……..there was no way of proving the quantum of amount paid for the passports and whether all or part of it was paid to the government….. I used my discretion to discontinue the prosecution….. This decision became easy to take as Dr. Abass Bundu offered to refund to government, though conditionally, it turned out the amount stated in the charge sheet…..”

Abass Bundu had contested the Presidential elections in 1996 against President Kabbah but his new political party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) did not fare well. Abass Bundu seemed to loathe President Kabbah and was not in favour of the Nigerian military intervention to restore his SLPP government to power. On June 5, 1997 he wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan demanding that “Nigeria stop all further military action against the people of Sierra Leone”. He opined that the chances of restoring civilian rule by way of a negotiated settlement had not been exhausted.

In his book Democracy by Force, he wrote:

“Both the period of the AFRC rule and the aftermath of Kabbah’s violent restoration nine months later represent the darkest chapters in the nation’s post-independence history…………Kabbah’s reaction was equally vengeful. He invited Nigeria’s last military despot General Sani Abacha to intervene militarily.”

Dr. Abass Bundu underwent another metamorphosis and became a key player in President Bio’s second SLPP flagbearer election and his subsequent first Presidential election attempt in 2012 against President Koroma. He stuck to him like glue and successfully saw him elected as President in 2018. He became the Speaker of Parliament under controversial circumstances in 2018 when he was elected unopposed as APC legislators boycotted the vote after 16 of their colleagues were asked to leave the chamber because of High Court injunctions issued against them. Less than half of the 146 legislators (71) voted for Bundu, while four members of the NGC abstained. Eight members of another opposition party and 13 paramount chiefs voted for him.

As Speaker he has deftly presided over the passing of many transformative landmark legislations for which the Bio government can rightly claim credit. These include the Public Order Amendment Act, The GEWE Act, the Abolition of death penalty Act, National Lands Commissions Act and Customary Land Rights Act. There were also some questionable agreements passed during his tenure.

He was known in Parliament for his oratorical skills, though he was often accused by the opposition of muzzling them.

Abass Bundu was very venomous in his utterances against anyone who dared accuse Parliament of corruption. In 2020, two SLPP MPs, Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh and Hon. Hindolo Ngevao faced the Speaker’s guillotine for being “unable” to prove their highly publicised assertions that Parliament was corrupt. They were removed from Parliamentary oversight duties and investigated by the Parliamentary Committee on Priviledges and Ethics. It would seem that after an initial bout of bravado, they later “saw the light” and “lived happily ever” with their colleagues. Also in 2020, unflattering reports by two respected Civil society organisations, CARL and IGR mentioned that Parliament was considered by an inordinately high proportion of the populace as being corrupt. How dare they accuse Parliament of corruption? The Speaker asserted….”it’s time we made it pellucidly clear to all our citizenry that in our present dispensation, there is no more free licence to defame and slander; to curse and abuse….Enough is enough!”

We have however witnessed the speaker become a “latter day saint” and tone down his rhetoric more lately even to the point of accusing Parliament of being corrupt. In the case involving the recent corruption saga in Parliament he publicly apologised……”we should all apologize to the people of this country whose trust and confidence we bear and on whose behalf we act in this well as their representatives. By the same token, we want to take this opportunity to express our collective regret and to ask for their forgiveness; we promise that we shall never again commit the grievous mistakes of the recent past.”

But one may legitimately ask -Why this Saul to Paul conversion on the way to Damascus? Has he suddenly seen the light and heard some hidden voice shout out to him: “Abass, Abass, why persecutest thou me?” Quite unlikely, but more likely is the fact that the revolution is threatening to eat up its children. It is an open secret that there are others gunning for his job and that some other Parliamentarians and top party officials who are Paopa purists probably do not think he is Paopa enough-probably getting too neutral for their liking. He is probably also considering how posterity will judge him on many of the issues now threatening Parliament. The fact that the retirement benefits for Speaker will ensure he will live in luxury until he meets his maker could also have made his decision easier. Why take all the flack if he can retire in peace? Some people are even saying Mohamed Bangura’s statement- “A lef me yone gi God” after Abass Bundu confirmed his ouster from the ECOWAS Parliament did not help the situation, although there is a sizeable number who think God would not listen to him! Still some other conspiracy theorists say hardliners were not pleased with him for not protecting Mohamed Bangura, who APC say is a “betrayer” for taking his Parliamentary seat against party orders.

Whatever the case, Abass Bundu is stepping down and would probably be replaced by either Deputy Speaker Sengepoh Paul Thomas or Mohamed Sidi Tunis, fresh from the Speakership of Ecowas Parliament. The latest news is that Thomas is the chosen one by the party hierarchy and has received the endorsement, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” from “the father”. He is known to be a hardliner, who may likely be complaint with the whims of revolutionaries within the Party. Revolutions eat up their own! We have a number of cases in history of revolutionary movements growing increasingly radicalized by a kind of internal dynamic that eliminates more moderate factions. Once a revolution succeeds, the new centres of power start to fight each other until a certain stability emerges: coalitions form and fall apart as their members pursue their own goals. The revolution has gone beyond Parliament. We have already witnessed many prominent SLPP top guns shown the door and the emergence of new factions and re-alignment of old guards. For now, the revolution seems to have eaten up one of its children, with more probably due for the chopping block soon.

Dr. Bundu had the distinction of serving the APC, NPRC, PPP and the SLPP over his long career and certainly deserves a good rest. Happy retirement, Dr. Bundu.

Ponder my thoughts.

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