By Allieu S. Tunkara
Normalcy now reigns in the north-eastern headquarters of Makeni as police have stood down and retired to their trenches and officers of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) have put down their pens and papers on the proposed interview of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The interview is still pending as to tactically withdraw is not the same as to give up.
In police circle, tactical withdrawal means personnel temporally suspends an operation owing to critical hurdles on the ground, but will resurface at a later date to execute the task. As Makeni community is now cool and peaceful, traditional leaders, parliamentarians, ministers, Vice President and President may settle to ponder big lessons that should be learnt from the situation that unfolded in Makeni few days back.
The lessons are many and varied, but one is much more preponderant and must be given the greatest attention.
How the concept of democratic accountability can be consolidated in post-conflict Sierra Leone is the greatest lesson that deserves the greatest attention.
The significance of this lesson rests on the difficulties that lie ahead of a current President who seeks to hold a former President accountable for alleged past wrongs and other forms of maladministration.
Various shades of opinions have come from different personalities about the recent situation in Makeni. Some members of the public have condemned the situation particularly the former President for allowing such a situation to happen.
Others say he enjoys the aura and largesse of the former presidency. Whatever the case, the situation is a setback to the application of the rule of law, a principle that must govern democratic and civilised states in the community nations.
The current President is ever willing and ready to implement the rule in accordance with the COI findings and recommendations in the White Paper as a way of strengthening democratic accountability in today’s Sierra Leone. The former President however does not countenance the ‘White Paper’ which he sees as a form of political harassment and intimidation.
A press release of 30th September singed and approved by the former President portrays him as one that would not submit to the terms of the ‘White Paper.’ The terms are dangerous as they call for the confiscation and forfeiture of assets earned as government claims that they are not commensurate with the monthly emoluments of the President.
Lawyers that represented the former President at the COI have put up a very strong defence around the wealth of former President Koroma who they referred to as a man of “enormous means” before he became Head of State.
But, the current government would hardly accept such a claim in the face of terrible findings by the past Commissions of Inquiry. If former President Koroma prevails in the legal battle and goes unquestioned as planned by the ACC, it will mark the death-knell of the rule of law in Sierra Leone.
Government will also be seen as a weak one since the law does not confer immunity on a former President. Again, failure to hold the former President accountable will also depict a big waste of tax payers’ money. Apart from ACC investigations, the former President is supposed to face, the count down for the implementation of the White Paper has commenced.
Those whose properties are set to be confiscated do not countenance the White Paper referring to it as a mere document. Surely, the day of the implementation is bound to come, and surely a stiff resistance cannot be ruled out.
The most fundamental questions the state must answer are these:
Should peace be lost for the White? Should the White Paper be reserved for the peace?
These questions, by any stretch of the imagination, are complex; providing answers to them calls for critical thinking and hindsight. Some schools of thought may say it would be prudent and expedient for justice to be set aside for peace while others may posit that there can be no peace without justice.
However, building peace through justice is an ideal.
The application of such principle is dictated on the prevalent situation meaning the implementers of the White Paper must have a thorough grasp of the prevailing situation. The current socio-political dynamics in Sierra Leone is one that is hallmarked by fragility and volatility.
It is a situation that compels leaders to think again on alternative measures of implementing the ‘White Paper’ for the preservation of peace. The Sierra Leone situation for now does not call for the implementation of the White Paper although it can at a later date.
It is now time to come to the greatest lesson referred to inter alia It is a lesson that places the state under pressure to strengthen ACC to prevent a sitting head of state from corruption.
The notion here is that it is better to keep a sitting President safe from corruption than to have systems that allow him to indulge into it and hunt him later when he leaves office.
What is happening today in Sierra Leone is a great experiencial learning cycle and a fundamental turning point for the lapses of yesterday.
The former President was seen during his glory days as a clean, honest and committed leader for which he was highly respected among international circles including the big powers as giant of democracy and peace. Thus, hunting the former President for corruption offences is now seen by many Sierra Leoneans as a naked political witch-hunt.
The perceived witch-hunting has also metamorphosed into a north-west and south-east divide, a move that signals a bad omen for a post-conflict state. The youths, no doubt, seem ready and willing to flex the muscles in defence of the former President when situation calls for that.
The situation is more dangerous especially when the former President resides in his home town of Makeni where about half dozen of able-bodied youths were recently massacred.
It can therefore be safely said the defence is not only for the former President, but also a platform for venting out a long-held grievance.
It goes without saying that a red line has been indicated and daggers have been withdrawn between the two sides. Clearly, the peace of Sierra Leone is under threat in light of the fact that politics is now anchored on regional lines.
A come back to the notion of strengthening institutions, systems, processes and procedures to prevent corruption is highly necessary so that a leader is not hunted after he leaves office.
In the United Kingdom, prime ministers are hardly chased after leaving office because strong institutions and systems are in place to ensure that the business of public service is done the right way.
Former Minister, Tony Blair was not hunted by his Successor, David Cameron. In the same vein, David Cameron was not held accountable after he left office by his successor, Teresa May.
Invariably, Teresa May was not humbled in any court or commission by the current Prime Minister, Bores Johnson after she left office.
The United States also have similar political model. Former President George Bush was not gone after by ex-President Barrack Obama when he left office. Obama also is safe from President Donald Trump after he gave up the presidency, and Donald Trump would hardly be hunted by his successor.
It is no gainsaying that in the two countries, former presidents and prime ministers are comfortable with current presidents and prime ministers owing to the existence of strong structures to forestall corruption during service to the state. It is factual that a great many Sierra Leoneans would not like to see President Julius Maada Bio humbled in a court after he leaves office.
If the US and the UK have systems to stop presidents and prime ministers from corruption after they leave office, why not implemented in Sierra Leone for the sake of peace.
Peace is proper and horror is wrong. Leaders must know that the combustibles are well set waiting for the slightest spark to bubble into flames. Leaders must strive to weaken the pillars of conflict and strengthen the pillars of peace as to prevent a conflict is easier than to bring peace when it is lost.
The real test of leadership is not the visible capacity to coerce and harm others but the prudent management of a situation before it becomes a crisis.