Sierra Leone is fast becoming a nation, loaded with paradoxical ironies. These paradoxical ironies do not only manifest themselves in the relationships between our rich mineral resources and abject poverty, but even extend to the violence and corruption that seems to have infested our country, right through its social fabric. It goes without saying that as a people of a nation, we are unapologetically poor. We can also agree that 90% of the causes of our poverty is down to the reckless abandon with witch corruption has been transformed as a way of life. It is not surprising then, that right from the lowest rung of our society’s ladder, right up to the high heavens, the penchant for corrupt practices is visibly present. But what makes it more gut wrenching is the level of acceptance and normalcy we have accorded to corruption; to a point that it feels that it is criminal not to be corrupt. How many people recall the phrase “nor cam poil ya o”?
The Anti –Corruption Commissioner (ACC) Kaifala has come under serious scrutiny, since his commission is reported to have paraded individuals alleged to have been involved in school exams fraud. Since the event, it has received praise and condemnations from various sides of the argument. We all do agree that corruption should be tackled, the difference is in the methods used, or the punishment levied against would be, or guilty culprits. Many have described the act of naming and shaming the alleged individuals as a political prank and gimmick, aimed at deflecting the criticism that has followed the reportedly 95% failure rate in the recently released WASSCE results; as if to show the kind of fraud that resulted in such monumental failure.
The detractors have wasted no time in concluding that President Maada Bio’s Free Quality Education programme has failed. They are even blaming the government for an educational shambles that has gone on for far too long. They may even want to give credence to the adage that good things are not free, and free things are not good. Others conclude that with the Free Quality Education as one of Bio’s flagship policies, such an embarrassingly high failure rate is a hammer blow to the very core of Bio’s presidency. They believe that it is in response to this that the ACC has decided to name, shame and parade these individuals.
Like many people including President Bio, who has since apologised publicly on behalf of his government for this stunt, I do not subscribe to this method. However, some of us can understand where the ACC is coming from. Was the ACC trying to remind corrupt individuals that there is no hiding place for corruption? But to all intents and purposes, shame can be a soul eating emotion; but it can also corrode the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. While the behaviour of the ACC has drawn the wrath of many arm chair critics, who have not failed to remind us about the principles of justice; that it is built on the foundation of the presumption of innocence until found guilty, others have defended “the stunt” as having parliamentary blessings that empowers the ACC in Section 7 (1a) that ““the objects for which the commission is established; to take all steps as may be necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption and corrupt practices”. Some people acknowledge the power of the ACC that has been mandated by parliament to fight corruption. Nevertheless, this lantern parade is seen as an abuse of power, while others believe that it is an act of social justice. But like corruption, is social justice another cancer in our society? Can social justice destroy individual responsibility? You be the judge.
During his 52 page report presentation to President Bio at State House recently, Kaifala catalogued the increase in conviction rate, increase in the revision of systems and processes to entrench prevention activities, to name but a few, President Bio reaffirmed his belief and drive that “the fight against corruption is a fight we will fight and win”. Can I get an Insha Allahu to that? But despite this encouraging report, there is a glaring absence of Hosanna for it. But meanwhile, the queue to condemn the ACC, for what many will see as an error of judgement appears to be endless. It is this kind of hypocrisy that has continually lived to gnaw into the very entrails of our social psyche and attitude to corruption.
When these alleged victims were caught, did we realise that they and including the students were not only cheating themselves, but you, me and the entire nation? Did we realise that these people were putting an entire nation’s potential for development and a brighter future at risk? Do they even know that education is not about the learning of facts, but training the mind to think? It is an undeniable fact that like many countries and especially in Africa, getting a job is far from meritorious. It is about who you know and most often shrouded in nepotism and “connectocracy”.
It is an open secret that our standard of education has fallen to abysmal levels, thanks to decades of neglect by successive governments. Today, students cannot even write a love letter starting with “No date but love”; not to talk about writing a CV. Our teachers have been so badly treated by successive governments that there was a time; landlords at Fourah Bay Road stopped renting out to teachers; because they were never paid. Our teachers used to tell us that they had not been paid for up to 6 months. Even their back pays were halved; if they were lucky. We know that new teachers have waited for many years, just to get “approval”. Only God knows what that means.
Many of us do not subscribe to the tactics the ACC has used. The apologists have not been scarce to read the riot acts on Human Rights. But how many have stood up to shout for the rights of the teacher to average living wage? Have we tried to fathom why some teachers have gone to such levels of indecency? This is not an excuse but what has happened in this saga is a clear reflection of our relationship with corruption. As a people, we all know that corruption is rife in our society. As a people, we agree that it is the bane of our society. As a people, we all want it to reduce, if not stop it. But as a people, it is how we fight corruption that marks the divergence of opinions.
When the Commission of Inquiry was set up, certain people of a particular political persuasion described it as a kangaroo court. Rightly or wrongly, it was accused of bias against certain groups of people that speak a different language. The COI was accused of a witch hunt against a particular colour of the rainbow. It was also accused of vengeance against people from a different geographical landscape. We know that corrupt politicians are good at making the other five percent look bad. This time, the body charged with trying to stem the blood flow of corruption is now lambasted for its unorthodox method; understandably so. But what does this tell us about our love hate relationship with corruption?
The list could be endless, but suffice it to say that we are happy to condemn corruption but reluctant to fight it. We know that in fighting corruption, corruption is always ready to fight back. As a nation, it is a sad truth to admit, but corruption seems to be so etched into our social fabric, that it will require a total reincarnation to reboot it. We have normalised and accepted corruption so much, that it sounds treasonable to fight it. Fighting corruption is like fighting a monster.
So we all agree that corruption is killing us. We all agree that we need to kill it. But we must also agree that fighting corruption is everybody’s business, because it affects everybody. In its bid to spear head the fight against corruption, the ACC may get it wrong at times. This latest aberration is what our American cousins will call a misdemeanour; in the big scheme of things. But that should not blind side us from the good things and achievements of the Commission. They may not be as fast paced to everyone’s liking. The results may not be block bluster proportions for now. However, now that the little fish have been named, shamed and completed their lantern parade, is it time to see the “big Alayjos” cough up what was allegedly stolen from those of us living at Kroo Ton Road and Fullah Ton ( the average Sierra Leonean)? Or does it look like we hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office?
But while you are it Mr Commissioner, the ACC should be careful and see to it that in fighting this monster called corruption, you don’t become a monster yourself. You cannot be judge and jury, and cannot hang someone and try them later. And to all those shouting from the roof tops about the human rights of those individuals, I applaud you. But what about the small matter of the right to good education, devoid of fraud and cheating eh? The ACC and all those fighting corruption need our support, and that means you reading this article. If you can read this, thank a teacher.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off, when you leave the room.