By Abdulai Mansaray
Sierra Leoneans woke up to breaking news (pardon the pun) last week that thieves broke into the house of one of the prominent judges presiding over the Commission of Inquiry in Freetown. “According to reports, the Nigerian Judge Biobele Georgewill was asleep, at the time. It is understood that the culprits took away a laptop computer belonging to the Judge, which contains years of personal files, including confidential documents relating to the inquiry he is conducting in Sierra Leone” (Sierraleonetelegraph.com.22/July 2019). Since the burglary, speculations from critics, cynics and the armchair Shylock Holmes and Kojaks of this world have been flooding in, as to the reasons and culprits behind the whole episode. There have been a lot of finger pointing already, even though the investigation may be in its embryonic stage. But that has not stopped the tongue wagging and rumour merchants, who seem to have a fiesta on social media.
There is a familiar and old age adage that “motive”, “means” and “opportunity” are necessary to establish as first line of inquiry in these cases. They are also necessary to prove one’s guilt in a criminal case. If this logic is anything to go by, the question is who may have a motive to engage in such a crime? By way of motive, it is a question of who stands to gain or benefit from this. Considering that the burglary involved Judge Biobele, who’s one of the people presiding over the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for alleged corruption, there are no surprises for guessing the accused. It is the question of motive that seems to give credence to some people’s speculation that all roads of suspicion lead to the APC. Even without any shred of evidence at this stage, our learned sleuths have been accusing the APC party as the main culprit on social media. They believe that the motive is to destroy evidence, if any, on the investigation; and that the party stands to be the biggest beneficiary, if so.
If we are to look at the cogent of the triangulation, the thieves had the opportunity to carry such a daring act. According to Umaru Fofana the BBC correspondent, the estate was supposed to have 3 guards on duty. The police reportedly confirmed that only 1 guard was on duty; instead of 3 at the time. That will count for opportunity. This means that a job that was supposed to be done by 3 people was done by just 1; which technically provides the opportunity for the perpetrators. With such a backdrop, the question is whether the perpetrators had advance knowledge about such a lax security; to strike on this particular night, at that particular time. And why was there only 1 guard at this opportune time? If they did, how and who informed them? This is why some people may be tempted to conclude, as we have seen on social media, that it must have been an inside job.
You don’t need to be an Einstein to conclude that anyone, given the opportunity and motive to get their hands on the laptop will not be short of the means to do so. There concludes our line of inquiry. Our law enforcement officers are welcome to use this triangulation, if help is required; pardon the sarcasm. So what are the implications of this burglary? What does this mean for our security forces, which have sole responsibility to ensure that the COI and all its attendant process are conducted in a safe and secure manner and environment? What does this say for the seriousness of the whole process in general? If we are to go by these apparent law enforcement standards, is the COI that important? , Judging by the kind of security measures expected for the COI process, and when you consider the risks from hackers, electronic virus, the Russians etc., is it too much to ask for the security of the COI personnel? How difficult is it to provide such manpower? If our law enforcement service cannot provide such basic security, may the last man please turn off the light before they leave the room?
While the focus may be on the perpetrators, and without minimising the crime, it is vital that the microscope should be fully trained on our security forces; and especially those tasked to ensure the safety of the COI personnel. By any stretch of the imagination, this says more about our law enforcement services than the alleged burglar/s. No one needs a reminder of the importance of the COI and its associated procedure and processes. This COI has become one of the main focal points of the Bio government. It has been welcomed by the majority of well meaning citizens, but has equally generated unintended outcomes that have threatened the peace and security of our country. The government has embarked on development programmes and policies, but the COI has by far become the principal yardstick, by which the reputation of President Maada Bio and his government may be measured; come 2023.This cannot be overemphasised.
According to a press release by the Head of Media, Commissions of Inquiry Mr Mohamed Sulaiman Massaquoi, “The Sierra Leone Police have commenced the investigations and will leave no stone unturned”. In English, it means the police will “close the barn door after the horse has bolted”. Mornehhhh. He further stated that this theft will not affect the ongoing COI, “because the hard drive was a copy of the recorded material of the proceedings of the COI, since it started”. There is a wise guy. So Mr Massaquoi believes that just by providing back up material will be an answer to the problem. Is he aware of the risk that the credibility and integrity of the COI is at risk here? Is he aware that any information relating to the COI, in the wrong hands poses a risk of miscarriage of justice? What is he thinking?
For starters, it brings the security services into disrepute and puts its credibility at stake. It makes a mockery of the COI itself and raises questions about our security status. This has been a monumental lapse of judgement, and many would be waiting to see the government’s response to this. Its response will give us a window on how seriously the government considers this breach. Some people are rightly or wrongly calling for heavy lifting and that heads should roll. The people of Sierra Leone deserve some explanation. This is not about “Nya votehva” or “Gbinka kuru”. If our security services cannot provide such rudimentary, basic and simple security, does that mean that the pipe has been given to the wrong smoker? Let’s call a spade a spade; this is a shameful, by any standard.
With so much at stake, and judging by the importance of this national focus, you wonder why the security forces appear to have treated the whole issue with such reckless abandon. We need to be honest with ourselves and ask why such a risk was not considered in the first place. Many of us will like to think that such a risk would be of high priority. If so, did the security forces let their guard down? Was this down to our perennial disease of complacency? Forget about the laptop; what about the safety of the judges? Lest we forget, this was a personal computer with personal information embedded as well. Where does that leave the judge? What would be on the hard drive? Will there be any pictures, contracts, videos, statements, affidavits etc. that could be used as pressure points.
If information on the laptop ends up in the wrong hands could this be used to put a gun to a head, or as bargaining chips? Has this theft compromised the COI; and if so, to what extent? That would be dependent on the amount and relevance of the information. At this point, it would be reckless to speculate on the severity of the threat, without knowing the details of the information out there. Nevertheless, we cannot minimise the impact and implications. Knowing full well that his personal information is no longer personal, I would be surprised if Judge Biobele Georgewill has not already had a few psychotherapy sessions.
In the meantime, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been taking relatively little steps to recoup some misappropriated public funds. They come in drips and drabs, but every little helps. Some believe that the wages of corruption is jail time. Not everyone would be satisfied with the punishment meted out to those found guilty of corruption. Some people are not happy that those rumoured to have allegedly embezzled funds in the millions are now repaying in thousands. The author is not privileged to verify these allegations. But let us remember that 2 of our Judges are foreign, and hence considered as expatriates. We know what that means in monetary terms. Many of us are hoping that with the COI slowly chugging its way into its first year, the outcome will be worthwhile. For it will be a case of bad economics, if the money spent on the process is more than what is actually recovered. That will pass for a whitewash.
The government would be well reminded that the people of Sierra Leone are waiting for the outcome of the COI. Now that Bio has given back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, is it time for others to give back to the people what belongs to the people? With the request for the declaration of assets in situ, is the COI ready to get into another gear? “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it” (Federick Bastiat). Many would be hoping that the COI will not end up a whitewash; like previous COIs before it. It will be a mockery of economics, if the money spent on the COI process is more than what is recouped; bad home economics.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M.L King).
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.