By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
In Part Two of Chapter One of Thomas Hughes’ novel, “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”, is an epigraph whose originality can be traced to the American Romantic poet, James Russell Lowell. It says, “Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,/ In strife of Truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side:/Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside./Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified.”
Even though Sierra Leone is, at present, being defaced with selective “peacekeeping” by Government “security forces” in which innocent lives are always lost in pursuit of maintaining “peace and order”; our pre-SLPP Government vociferous human rights lawyers and Civil Society activists are now standing “aside./Doubting in [their] abject spirit[s], till [their] Lord [Democracy] is crucified.” They are now behaving like frightened boys who are afraid of taming their Frankenstein monster. They are so afraid of coughing out their displeasure at the blatant human rights abuses taking place in the country that they are now swallowing their phlegm in fear of angering their tribal god!
But three young Sierra Leonean lawyers have decided to drink from the bravery goblet and choose not to stand aside while the tenets of Democracy are being crucified by the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Through tweets and newspaper articles, Ady Macauley; Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah, and Basita Michael have picked up the gauntlet in defence of the downtrodden. The troika have decided to speak truth to power with the same professionalism with which the late Gani Fawehinmi, the Nigerian celebrated human rights lawyer, spoke truth to the powers that be of his time.
As Commissioner, Ady Macauley’s stint at the Anti-Corruption Commission (I have always been wondering why that Commission is shortened as “ACC” not AC because the “anti” is a prefix which is hyphenated with the “Commission”) was memorable. It was under his steer-ship that the Pay No Bribe campaign and the Online Asset Declaration platform became a fait accompli. His performance at the SLPP’s witch-hunting, or wizard-hunting if you like, Commission of Inquires (COIs) is still legendry. And his last performance at the recently-concluded treason trial of Palo Conteh and two others, as one of the defence lawyers, is still fresh in the minds of even his peers—all of which he did pro bono!
But as recent as recently, Ady Macauley has taken to Twitter in his attempt to tell truth to power outside the courtroom. On 18 July 2020, he tweeted this: “RSLAF must make a conscious decision to stay away from civilian law enforcement duties. Leave that to the Police who are trained for such. The Pademba Road Prison April 29th riot killings and now, allegedly, the Makeni riot killing will continue to damage RSLAF’s reputation.” And on that same date, he tweeted again: “To this day, the public is yet to know the true number of people massacred at Pademba Road Prison riot and the identity of the perpetrators. But in Makeni, the identities of the victims and perpetrators are not hidden. Transparent investigations must follow this. Time4Justice.”
That’s the voice, and hands if you will, of someone who is not only seeking justice for the downtrodden but a man who believes that the dispensation of justice must not be selective. Here is a situation in which the people of Kailahun and Kenema Districts rioted/demonstrated, under this very SLPP government, but the law enforcement agencies were very professional that no life was lost. Was it because those riots/demonstrations took place at the heart of SLPPdom? But in the cases of Kambia; Mile 91; Lunsar; Tombo, and Makeni the SLPP’s law enforcement agencies maintained “law and order” through the loss of innocent lives! Would it not be logical if one should surmise that the same professionalism exhibited by the “security forces” in Kailahun and Kenema Districts was not demonstrated in these northern towns and cities because they are the strongholds of the main opposition, the All People’s Congress (APC)?
It is this selective “peacekeeping” that has made lawyer Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah to use his two-edged sword, so to speak (or write), to slash through the labyrinth of the political incorrectness which seems to be the defining characteristic of the SLPP government. This soft-speaking legal mind, who speaks the Krio language without an accent, always exudes the aura of a Pan-Africanist. When you meet him for the first time, he might remind you of the photograph of Wole Soyinka which is pasted on the front cover of his ground-breaking play, “The Lion and the Jewel”.
But despite his Afro-hair and seemingly unkempt beard and moustache, Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah is someone who doesn’t take prisoners or mince his words when it comes to speaking truth to power. Even his own Bar Association, the Law School, and the Judiciary are not always spared by him whenever they fell short of expectations. He normally tells those institutions acidic home truths with the frequency with which he spews out archaic Latin phrases! Unlike Ady Macauley who could be accused of being partisan and one of the beneficiaries of the last regime; Sorie-Sengbe Marrah is one of the few wig-heads of, and in, the Bar Association who are above party politics and judicial hypocrisy.
Although Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah is a member of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2019-2023) team; that has never blighted his ability to speak the truth and shame the Anti-Corruption Commission whenever that institution is not performing to expectations. On 16 July 2020, he tweeted this: “The SLPP [Government] has had two huge chances to prove they’re dead serious about fighting corruption or that the fight is not a witch-hunt: the Chief Minister-$1.5m scandal and the Timbo-Chinese rice saga. Don’t ask me what they’ve done with them! Bobs, we have a beautiful country!”
Those who are not dead to the English language will, definitely, decipher Sorie-Sengbe Marrah’s sarcasm and his derision for the Anti-Corruption Commission being slowly transforming itself into a painted roaring lion! What he is inferring is that the current anti-graft fight is only meant for the opposition. He is, in Krio colloquialism of old, “drawing our ears” to the fact that the corruption investigations on the former SCOP (State Chief of Protocol); the Clerk of Parliament Paran Tarawalie and an SLPP Honourable Member of Parliament Ibrahim Tawa Conteh; the Chief Minister, and former SLPP Education Minister Alpha Timbo are all play-acting. Even when a staff from the National Public Procurement Agency (NPPA) contradicted the head of the Coronavirus Response Agency over the buying of new or old Prado SUVs, the Anti-Corruption Commission appears to be still unconcerned. And even if members of the SLPP are caught; their own investigations could be inconclusive in the end!
It is for such reasons, and other reasons of selective “peacekeeping”, or even collective inertia on the part of the ruling elite, that made lawyer Basita Michael to tweet on Sunday 19 July 2020 that, “31 lives lost at Pademba Road Prison, 4 in Makeni. While it is the responsibility of the state to fight lawlessness and prevent riots, the use of live ammunition and disproportionate force put the lives of everyone, including innocent bystanders, at greater risk of death. This is wrong and must stop. To address the root causes of the problem and to ensure justice and accountability there is a need for an independent credible inquiry to investigate these deaths, and to look at the increasing militarization of the state.” Like Ady Macauley’s call for justice; my good lady too has concurred.
She also holds the view that, “the State must provide compensation and rehabilitative measures for victims of wrongful or malicious prosecution”. In a recent article, published in the mainstream media and on social media, Basita Michael posits that, “….No one is and must be above the law. The Attorney-General, the DPP and all other Prosecutors are no exception. The continuous lack of accountability for their actions or inactions must end if the office is to regain public trust and confidence in their impartiality. Shielding them from accountability and liability for abuse strike at the very fundamental principle of equality under the law….”
Basita Michael has been picking up the gauntlet and becoming the woman of the moment on several occasions when others dare not speak on issues of human rights abuses and bad governance. When she was President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, she wasn’t afraid to tear down curtains and create new frontiers. On few occasions, she highlighted and flung back the excesses of the SLPP government on its face. And she appears to be confident in strolling on pathways where even angels seem afraid to walk.
Now with the triumvirate of lawyers Ady Macauley, Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah, and Basita Michael serving as the public sentinels; a time will come in Sierra Leone “when past ‘errors’ [would be] admitted, highly-placed criminals unmasked and victims rehabilitated, mostly, alas posthumously…” (to quote Wole Soyinka)
It is on that note that I will end today’s One Dropian dropping with a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato that says, “He who commits injustice is ever made more wretched than he who suffers it.” And the American Universalist clergyman and theological writer, Hosea Ballou, will add that, “Those who commit injustice bear the greatest burden.”