The Omission of Inquiry
“Vanity of vanities, said the Preacher… all is vanity,” Solomon, King of Israel
There is no need to adjust your lenses. You got me right. I said Omission, not Commission of Inquiry. In biblical Christianity, there are sins of commission and sins of omission. When you do what you are not supposed to do according divine law such as unlawfully killing someone, adultery, fornication, lying, stealing or coveting one another, you are guilty of a sin of commission. When, on the other hand, you fail to assemble yourself according to the practices of your church or denomination, when you know to do right and fail to it for expediency, it is a sin of omission. When King David failed to go to war as he was instructed to do just because he didn’t feel like fighting that day, he committed a sin of omission. Then he stayed home and chose to go to bed with the wife of his top general, Uriah the Hittite. The lady got pregnant and to cover his original sin, David had his trusted general killed. So, in addition to a sin of omission, David compounded his problems with two additional sins of commission. Poor David, my favorite Bible character. “The man after God’s own heart”, the Bible says. Did he actually think he could get by with this?
But this is not an article on systematic theology. This about the failure of governments empowered by the people to work in their best interests who fail do so on a grand scale. And in some cases, knowingly and with intent and purpose betray the people’s trust. And when things go wrong – terribly wrong – as they have been in the case of Sierra Leone, one group of government officials blame the other group for their own sins. When this happens as it is presently in the country, the group of government officials, those in power, bring to shame members of the previous government. In Sierra Leone, the two major and ancient political parties, the present Ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), the oldest continuously running political party in West Africa, and the main Opposition, the All People’s Congress (APC), have been on this political beach volleyball for nearly sixty years. One holds power for a few years then passes it on to the other for a few years, ad nauseum, except for a few interruptions of constitutional democracy by uninvited and unelected soldiers with guns whose first act is to suspend the constitution and govern by decree. Either way, there is none righteous. Not one.
And whenever there is a change of government whether by constitutional means or by force of arms, the government in power sets up what it calls a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged misdeeds of their predecessor. The first such commission was set up ninety-three years ago in 1926 when the Freetown City Council reportedly failed to provide basic services to its citizens. After nearly a century of investigating each other’s misdeeds, the country has gone from a relatively prosperous member of the British Empire to a beggar nation, one incapable of feeding itself despite having at its disposal over twelve million acres of prime agricultural land and 200 miles of coastline with a multitude of fish for the picking. According to an old English nursery rhyme:
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
As a natural born citizen of Sierra Leone, I should be exceedingly glad that people alleged to have misused their tenure in public office to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens, are being held accountable for their evil deeds. But we already know that some of the accused persons have paid fines, a pittance of what they are alleged to have stolen, to avoid prosecution or prison terms, if found guilty. Others have met with high level government officials to discuss their guilt or innocence. Commonsense dictates that when the hen meets with the fox to discuss dinner, chicken wings are not going to be on the table. And when the crooked accuse each other of crookedness, the outcome is necessarily crooked. In short, when our crooked leaders over the years, walk down the crooked mile, using their crooked means to catch their crooked enemies, we all end up living together in our little crooked country. This is exactly how the country has gone from being the Athens of West African for its once impeccable secondary and post-secondary educational institutions to the 47th most illiterate nation in Africa for persons fifteen years of age and older.
As a patriotic citizen, I would be exceedingly glad if we spent the nation’s scanty resources to investigate the ideas and policies that have brought us to the bottom of the human development index – 184th out of 187th on the global development scale – rather than the people who brought us there. Ideas and policies don’t lie; people do. The people coming before the commission will lie and evade the truth for their own selfish reasons. The inquirers will twist the truth to meet their own agenda. Witnesses will lie and bare false testimonies for or against the accused.
I would rather have a commission of inquiry into how we went from being net exporters of food at the time of attaining political independence from Britain in 1961 to net importers today. Why Sierra Leone has the eleventh highest infant mortality rate in the world at 70 in 1,000. That means seven percent of all babies born in this country will die before their first birthday. I would like to know why we have the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at about 1,400 in 100,000 live births. That means 14 out of every thousand women who get pregnant die during pregnancy, childbirth or within six weeks of giving birth from causes related to the pregnancy or child birth. Considering that 70 percent of such deaths along with one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world are due to water-borne diseases and poor sanitation, I would like to know why the entire country has no central sewage disposal system. And garbage disposal systems especially in the nation’s capital are dismal at best.
And if it pleases His Excellency President Donald John Trump of the United States to include Sierra Leone on his list of Sh**Hole countries, one might see Trump’s point albeit grudgingly. I would also like to investigate why a country that has gone through eleven years of brutal civil war, an outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease and a devastating mudslide that reportedly killed over three thousand people in the capital city of Freetown in one day as well as all the trauma that accompanies such events, the country reportedly has only one board certified psychiatrist for over seven million inhabitants.
I would like a commission of inquiry to look into why the nation’s flagship university, including the nearly 200-year-old Fourah Bay College, the oldest institution of higher education in sub-Sahara Africa, has no hostels (dormitories) for students today. In other words, why were students’ living conditions at the university better off thirty years ago than they are today? I would like to know why the nation’s premier agricultural university, Njala University, reportedly does not have a single combine harvester for students studying general agriculture and agricultural engineering. I would like to know why it takes four months from July to November each year to correct and report the results of the Basic Education Curricula exams (Junior Secondary School exams) causing students to miss an entire school term between junior and senior secondary schools in an era fraught with computers and mobile phones capable of calculating data at over 4 billion times per second. When I took the same exam in 1967 with examiners equipped only with pencils and paper, the results were reported by September when schools re-opened. It is this delay and the idleness among adolescent boys and girls that is, in part, responsible for the high teenage pregnancy in the country. High teenage pregnancy, of course, contributes immensely to infant and maternal mortality rates. I would also like to know why the exchange rate of the United States Dollar to the Leone, the national currency, was one dollar to one to one Leone in 1974 and one Dollar to nearly 9,000 Leones today.
Then there is my personal pet peeve, the National Cleaning day, the first Saturday of each month. What I prefer to call the National Rubbish Day, for the sake of political correctness. I would like to know why we reportedly spend four billion Leones, over four hundred thousand dollars (US $400,000) each month cleaning garbage that we spent the previous month throwing on the streets and gutters, and over the fence into each other’s yards. Why doesn’t France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom or, may the gods forbid, the United States of America, have national cleaning days? Who in their right minds in these countries will kill trade and commerce for half a day every month to clean streets and gutters they messed up for the whole month. In an era of free, quality education in the country why can’t we teach our children along with the obligatory capital “A”, small “a”, capital “B”, small “b”…, recitations not to throw garbage on the streets and gutters like they do in the afore mentioned countries with no national rubbish days? And when these children grow up these lessons in cleanliness will not depart from them. Cleanliness, we are told, is next to godliness. May be or may be not. But like I said, this is not a lesson in divinity or theology.
Only through such investigations into our national character rather than persons or political
parties will we be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and sisterhood, to borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of blessed memory. Otherwise, these commissions of inquiry, no matter how finely tuned to be in the people’s interest, smell like vindictiveness, vengeance and tyranny of the majority. And if something looks like a dock, walks like a dock and quacks like a dock, it is probably a dock. Again, borrowing from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., either we learn to live together like brothers and sisters or we perish together like fools
And finally, said the preacher, when I consider how these investigations and counter-investigations during our nation’s history have brought us to the bottom of the human development index, I am inclined to agree with Solomon, King of Israel, said to be the wisest man in history. He said: “I have seen all the works done under the sun; and behold all is vanity and vexation of the spirit. Vanity of vanities, said the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is missing cannot be accounted for”, the Book of Ecclesiastes.