Salone News

Did Afsatu Kabba deceive herself?

18 October 2010 at 22:19 | 431 views

Opinion

By Abdul Karim Fonti Kabia, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

+232(33)527799; abdulkarimkabia@yahoo.com

The protracted corruption case between the former Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Kabba and the state, has ended in the High Court in Freetown.

Afsatu Kabba(pictured) was ‘convicted’ on five, out of the seven, count charges brought against her by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC).

Justice Ademosu said evidences proved that Afsatu Kabba misappropriated public funds amounting to the tune of three hundred and ten million leones (Le310,000,000) whilst serving as a minister of state.

The High Court Justice then ordered the ‘convict’ to refund the ‘misappropriated’ sum and levied a fine of one hundred and fifty million leones (Le150,000,000), which is to be paid within a month’s period.
Alternatively, she can spend a three-year jail term at the Pademba Road maximum prison.

The ACC has described the verdict as welcome news and a milestone in the fight against graft in Sierra Leone, but the legal defence team of Afsatu Kabba is weighing the possibility of filing an appeal.

BBC Report

The corruption case against Afsatu Kabba was brought to the public domain when Sierra Leone’s BBC stringer filed a ‘sensational’ report on air that the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has ‘arrested’ and ‘dragged’ the then Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources to the Commission’s office to answer to corruption charges.

That report was strongly contested by the only female newspaper publisher in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, who accompanied the then minister to the ACC office and also happened to be one of the few eyewitnesses with a proper account of what transpired.

Blyden insisted that Afsatu Kabba was never arrested and dragged as the BBC stringer had made believe, but was merely invited.

In her Awareness Times Newspaper, she published the invitation letter that was sent to Kabba by the ACC and explained what exactly happened at the ACC.
All efforts by the then minister in order for the BBC stringer to correct the ‘erroneous’ report proved unsuccessful. Few days later, Kabba made public that the BBC Correspondent, Umaru Fofana, had sent her an insulting (fit-yai) mobile text message and she later on filed a complaint to the BBC Headquarters, Bush House, London.

Armed Policemen

A couple of days later, a group of armed policemen stormed the Femi Turner Drive residence of Haja Afsatu Kabba and barricaded the entire area as if they were in the hunt for hardcore drug addicts.

As early as 6am that morning, the armed policemen rudely banged the gate of the then minister and instructed residents to surrender themselves outside. Unprecedented eh!

The husband and sons of the minister were informed that they were needed at the ACC office for questioning. The husband told them that he will surely report to the ACC office to honour the invitation later in the day, but the policemen and ACC investigators insisted that they were not leaving the premises without the husband and his children. This situation prompted the husband to ask whether they were under arrest. His answer received a reply in the negative, but the visitors pin pointed that the invitees must follow them.

The gun- toting policemen and ACC vehicles proceeded to escort the family of Afsatu Kabba to the Commission’s office, like arrested hardcore criminals. The rationale for intimidating and disgracing the husband and children that fateful morning remain a mystery because the questions they were asked at the ACC office can only be best described as jokey, and the least talked about that the better.

Afsatu in Court

Few days on, seventeen count charges were hurriedly filed to the High Court against Afsatu Kabba, with a Ghanaian national and owner of Okekey Fishing Company, Lilian Lisk, was the main prosecution witness.
Next was a press release from State House informing the general public of a mini cabinet reshuffle. Haja Afsatu Kabba was relieved of her duty as Minster of Fisheries and Marine Resources and immediately replaced with one Joseph Koroma.

This reshuffle was greeted with mixed comments and feelings. Whilst some were of the belief that it was a step in the right direction, others held the view that the APC had betrayed a major pillar of the party. Those who believe the APC had let down Afsatu Kabba argued thus: that Afsatu Kabba contributed significantly to the success of the APC in the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections; that she made possible the return of electricity supply to the once darkest city in the world, and; that she raised an unprecedented eleven billion leones as revenue for the government in the fisheries and marine resources sector.

Sylvia Blyden; the Star Defence Witness

After the first court sitting, an emergency press briefing was summoned by lawyers of Afsatu Kabba and they confidently told newsmen that the charges brought against their client were ‘frivolous’ and would be stoutly challenged. They also expressed concerns that the ACC never completed the interview with their client prior to filing the matter to court and described the move as suspicious.

At that briefing, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden told members of the fourth estate that she was not only going to defend Afsatu Kabba in the pages of her newspaper, but that she was also going to serve as the lead defence witness. Sylvia Blyden, who is au-fait with what transpired between Afsatu Kabba and Lilian Lisk threatened to expose in open court the failed attempts made by Lilian Lisk to get Afsatu Kabba to support and/or ignore her ‘corrupt’ and ‘wicked’ dealings in the fish industry. According to Blyden, the failure of Afsatu Kabba to succumb to the wants of Lilian Lisk was one among the numerous ploys to ‘persecute’ her. “I have recorded and photographic evidences to substantiate my claims,” Sylvia Blyden boasted, and made a promise to be by Afsatu Kabba till the end.

17 Count Charges Discontinued

As the matter progresses, the prosecution team made unprecedented applications ranging from extraordinary long adjournments, discontinuation of the seventeen count charges and bringing in of new seven count charges, to protection of witnesses identities.

All of these applications, though suspicious and stoutly challenged by the defence team, were all upheld by the presiding judge.

The matter then assumed a dramatic twist with Lilian Lisk no longer willing to testify in the matter. It was widely believed that she was scared that Sylvia Blyden will definitely disgrace her in court with her startling evidences. In a desperate move to save themselves from the mess, the ACC speedily put together new seven count charges of misappropriation of public funds and abuse of office. Though Afsatu Kabba was initially charged to court with her Permanent Secretary, the latter was allowed to go home a free man following the cancellation of the seventeen count charges.

ACC Boss Missing in Action

Following series of investigative articles published by Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, which were concentrated in unearthing the ploy to persecute Haja Afsatu Kabba, the then Anti Corruption Commission Boss mysteriously left the shores of Sierra Leone.

Abdul Tejan Cole later submitted his resignation but with no explanation as to the raison d’ętre for his decision. Since then, he never returned to Sierra Leone and he is said to be in America. This situation heightens suspicions, and several sober-minded people concluded that Afsatu Kabba was merely a victim of circumstance and not the corrupt government functionary the ACC is accusing her of being.

Efforts by friends of the runaway ACC Boss to defend the actions by the latter in the pages of newspapers were resisted and thwarted by counter articles from the press.

Pro-government newspapers also denied and defended allegations that Tejan Cole left because the government was interfering with his work.
Prosecution Witnesses

The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were filled with inconsistencies and laughable pronouncements. Whilst some of the prosecution witnesses were busy explaining things that were never possible, like the James Bond vehicle scenario, the others were having field days indicting State House and their very selves in the matter.

No Defence for Afsatu

At the close of the case by the prosecution team, the defence counsel for Afsatu Kabba submitted that it was NOT going to present a single witness.
What is still being debated by, and remains a mystery to, many Sierra Leoneans is who advised Afsatu Kabba not to challenge the prosecution witnesses. My investigations have however unearthed that the advice never came from the lawyers of Afsatu Kabba. Infact, they strongly kicked against such a move, but were later forced to accept such a detrimental undertaking. See more on this in the part two of this piece.

The Press

The press was actively involved in reporting the matter as it progressed. From the inception of the case, the press was divided into two groups – one group was busy castigating the accused, whilst the other group was very articulate in letting the people know that it was merely a ploy to victimize the vibrant female politician.

Sylvia Blyden took the forefront in the group comprising of Paul Kamara and Jonathan Leigh, who were resolved and very active to protect the hard won reputation of Afsatu Kabba.

Today, even though Afsatu Kabba has been ‘convicted’ by the courts, Sylvia Blyden and her allies are satisfied that they succeeded in letting the people know the truth of the matter and I am sure Afsatu Kabba would always be grateful to them, especially Sylvia. Sylvia did not only prove herself as a friend indeed, but also as somebody who stands for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

She has been convicted but I cannot be convinced that she is guilty. She might be guilty of sanctioning the withdrawal of the money in question from the bank, but she cannot be guilty of personally benefiting from that money.
All the same, posterity will surely tell if Afsatu was guilty or not guilty.

Part two of this series will concentrate on how Afsatu Kabba allowed herself to be hoodwinked into believing that there was no need to present defence witnesses.

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