By Tony Bee-Sydney, Australia. :
I always eagerly follow developments in my country Sierra Leone, be it political, social or otherwise, in spite of the great distance that lies between West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, and Australia, my country of abode. Politics has become life itself. When it is in operation, politicians, ordinary citizens, police, soldiers, teachers, etc. get deeply involved and it becomes a life-and-death matter, especially in Africa. I don’t hate politics because it makes life move on but I hate dishonest political manoeuvres. I hate what is known as the politics of Pull-Him-Down (PHD) that is widely practised in our country, Sierra Leone. Progressive and persevering patriots are maligned and buffetted by miscreants in order to paralyse their enthusiasm to do the work that has been assigned to them in the interest of the country. PHD is sad in its entirety and it retards all facets of development and progress.
Take the case of Sierra Leone’s present Minister of Education, Dr. Minkailu Bah, who has been hit here and there by enemies of progress who want to pull him down because of his zeal to transform the country’s degrading educational system. Those malevolent people have done the same evil to the reputation of Vice-President Sam Sumana and various other hardworking citizens in positions of responsibility.
I don’t want readers to take me as a blind defender of Dr. Bah because, like all humans, he may have his own weaknesses, but I will not hesitate to say that most of the attacks on his reputation and performance as Minister of Education are the products of either jealousy or the desire to put a wedge between the hardest working President Koroma and those he trusts, those he thinks are working selflessly to transform the ugly situation that had overtaken the country for several decades. The disheartening thing is that most Sierra Leoneans don’t like firm and hardworking government officials, officials who are strict on making sure that things are done not for self but for the country as a whole.
The Ministry of Education has, over the years, been one of the most corrupt ministries in Sierra Leone. It could earn an award for it! In the past government of the SLPP, officials in the ministry were given free tickets to engage in any nefarious activity and they did that with the applause of the government. I don’t think there are any Sierra Leoneans who don’t know that teachers’ payroll vouchers were full of fictitious names of thousands of teachers known as “Ghost Teachers”, whose salaries were pocketed by head-teachers and principals, through the connivance of Ministry of Education officials. How many Sierra Leoneans haven’t heard of the existence of numerous “ghost schools” (schools that never existed but were on the payroll of government)? What about the millions of dollars worth of educational aid and materials sent for school kids but which found their way in market stalls? The list of heedless corruption in the Ministry of education could stretch from Freetown to Kabala in the north, which has contributed to the slow-growth of teaching and learning in the country’s educational institutions. All those woes were inherited by President Koroma’s government from the decades of corruption that overcame the country. Mind you, those Education Ministry officials and those schools authorities who were gaining from all those massive frauds were still in their positions when Dr. Bah was made the Minister of Education.
Being the disciplinarian he is and being an ambitious book-learner, his disappointment was surely beyond measure when he took over a ministry that was ridden with a corrupt and care-free administration and decided that enough was enough. He therefore took certain stringent steps to straighten out the Ministry of Education and, in fact, the whole educational system. Surely, no corrupt official in Sierra Leone would want to be under the scrutiny of a strict and no-nonsense boss. “He is coming to put sand in our bread,” they would say. As a result, when the Education Minister took those hard remedial measures to stamp out corruption by weeding out ghost teachers and ghost schools and by seeing that materials meant for schools and other institutions went through the right channel, anger and disappointments against him began to boil up. His work for the benefit of the country now becomes an eyesore to those he had apparently offended in his patriotic crusade. Isn’t that sad?
One of the puny opinion comments I read recently was in the Awoko Newspaper (online) captioned “Education in Sierra Leone”, apparently written by a bloke who had obviously benefitted from the corruption that enveloped the education system before 2007. The unnamed writer, who pointed an accusing finger at Dr. Minkailu Bah as having helped to bring the educational system of Sierra Leone backwards, made an hypocritical comparison between the previous Minister of Education in the SLPP government and the present one. The poor writer, with his mendacious tongue in the cheek, failed to genuinely admit, as a honest and genuine Sierra Leonean would, that education in Sierra Leone began to get a real drastic tumble-down-the-hill before 2007; in other words before the advent of the APC government of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The writer failed to cite the fact that the SLPP Education Minister at the time deliberately gave a blind eye to all the underground deals going on at the Ministry and in educational institutions because the minister Dr. Alpha Wurie, like all SLPP ministers, wanted to keep themselves in power indefinitely and they thought the only way to achieve that aim was to “leave the cow to graze where it was tied”. The end result of it all was the multiplication of ghost schools, ghost teachers, ghost students, and ghost everything, an inheritance that the SLPP passed on to the APC government and which has become a headache for the country today.
The writer in the Awoko Newspaper article boasted and I quote, “…SLPP has lots of educated people within; this can be manifested in the just-concluded party candidacy election….” Well, no one can deny that the SLPP is full of educated people but we will not also forget that scholarships and other opportunities meant for all Sierra Leoneans to pursue higher education were given to only those who were affiliated with the Mende tribe, irrespective of whether they were qualified or not. As a result, Fourah Bay College, Njala University College and other institutions of higher learning produced a large number of morally bankrupt people who would rather destroy the whole country for personal aggrandisement. In spite of all that, other tribes in Sierra Leone today can also proudly boast of having massively achieved the education that was denied them for so long.
The sad thing is that most of us don’t want to call “a spade a spade” and we always want to condone institutionalised criminal activities even at the detriment of the nation as long as we and our families and friends are benefitting from it. This is one of the greatest problems of we Sierra Leoneans. For so long, all the proceeds of the ghost schools, ghost teachers, non-existing lecturers, etc. have been going into the private pockets of dishonest and unpatriotic individuals at the expense of the people of Sierra Leone. Patriotic Sierra Leoneans should applaud Dr. Bah for putting a halt to such destructive practices in our country. We should not toe the line of those who are campaigning against probity and who are in favour of financial improprieties in the Ministry of Education and other public institutions in the present God-fearing government of President Koroma. I tell you the truth, those people can go to any length to achieve their aim – they can bribe some weak newspapers, they can cajole the gullible public and they can spread all types of rumours to achieve their aim.
In the Awareness Times Newspaper (online of 3 December 2012), a report says the Ministry of Education was conducting a robust monitoring exercise in all secondary schools across the country to weed out pupils who don’t meet admission criteria to be enrolled in Junior Secondary School (JSS). This news hardly reported in the so-called SLPP papers because it was a plus for the Education Minister and this news report might have made the guilty ones very uneasy, especially head-teachers who wouldn’t mind putting a square peg in a round hole, as long as money exchanges hands. They would want nothing more but the minister to take his exit before this step and other white-washing steps are taken to remedy the system.
Honestly, if President Koroma listens to those PHD people and removes Dr. Minkailu Bah from the Ministry of Education, the enemies of the government will dance with victory and their victory will surely be at the detriment of the government and the people of Sierra Leone. I am quite sure that if the minister is retained, he will perform more than the meritorious service he has already done to our education system and to those who love development and progress in our country. In this second-term of President Koroma, the Agenda for Prosperity will not fully succeed if we don’t replace “I” with “we” in our daily aspirations.