Salone News

Exclusive: Interview with former Chief Justice and PPRC boss

9 October 2008 at 01:35 | 958 views

By Alhaji Jalloh, Freetown.

The battle for the Western Area Fullah Tribal headmanship has intensified following the death of the late Alhaji Almamy Baba Alie. When Baba Alie died on Thursday 17th July this year, everything was quiet. A month later, the headmanship became a topical issue discussed in market places, places of worship, public transport, etc etc. So far, two men who have joined the chieftaincy fray have publicly declared their intention for the hot seat. They are Alhaji Mohamed Bah alias Texaco and Retired Chief Justice and former head of the PPRC, Dr. Abdulai Babagaleh Timbo. A delegation led by one Alhaji Momodu Munu presented Dr. Timbo to His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma as their favorite candidate for the Chieftaincy seat last month. Days later, another delegation led by one Hassan Barrie presented their own candidate, Alhaji Texaco to the Honourable Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development, Ambassador Dauda Kamara.

Alhaji Texaco Bah has been the Deputy Fullah Tribal Headman for over fifteen years under Late Alhaji Seray Wurie and Alhaji Baba Alie. Texaco has also served as a very prosperous petroleum dealer in the country. He started operating in Kono District for Texaco Petroleum Company and now operates under Safecom Petroleum Company.

Retired Chief Justice Timbo is a household name in the country. He came to the political limelight in the 1982 General Elections when he contested against the late Thaimu Bangura during the one-party state under the APC regime.

Dr. Timbo also served as Chief Justice before he retired in November 2004 at the age of 65. He was later appointed to serve as Chairman of the Political Parties’ Registration Commission; a position in which he served briefly due to ill-health.

Recently, I decided to meet the two gentlemen to know why they want to lead their Fullah tribesmen. I first contacted Alhaji Texaco Bah.

"Alhaji, would you like to grant me an interview on the Fullah chieftaincy?" I enquired. "Well, until we meet, I wouldn’t say yes or no," Texaco said to me on the phone. I wasted no time but informed him on the phone that I will be at his Lightfoot Boston office the following day," Mr. Bah agreed. The following day, I entered his office on the stipulated time. Texaco was busy reading the Holy Qur’an. I waited for few seconds after I noticed a pause in his reading before I greeted him "Good afternoon Alhaji," He responded with a smile: "Good afternoon my son." Before introducing myself, he asked, "How can I help you?" I introduced myself and reminded him of our previous telephone conservation. "You are welcome," he said. When I attempted to remove my journalistic gadgets, he asked me to hold on. "Can you explain what you want us to discuss before you put me on tape?" "Why not," I responded.

After briefing him, he said: "I’m sorry my son. I don’t think I would talk to you today. But I will definitely talk to you when I would have got what I wanted." When I asked why, he added: "I really don’t want you to think that I hate talking to the press. I have respect for journalists and I will definitely talk to you one day," he said gently. I decided not to squeeze the old man to the corner. Immediately I entered my car I called Dr. Timbo. After a self-introduction, he enquired: "Are you the Alhaji Jalloh who occasionally interviews the ministers?" I answered in the affirmative. "You are always welcome," he said.

I straight away drove to his Murray Town residence in the West End of Freetown. On my arrival, I met a beautiful young lady who I later understand is Dr. Timbo’s daughter. I greeted her and she responded in Fula "On nyalayjam Kotor," meaning good afternoon big brother in Fula. When I asked about her father, she also replied in Fula. I asked if she can’t speak Krio. She burst into laughter. "I can speak Krio. I like talking Fula to anybody I suspect is a Fula. Besides, our dad doesn’t like hearing us speak Krio in our home. He trained us to speak our language," she said fluently in Krio. However, she gave me a seat and after five minutes, Dr. Timbo came out and we started the interview: This is how it went:

Alhaji Jalloh: I understand that you have declared for the position of Fula Tribal headman, Western Area, do you know of another candidate for the said position?

Justice Timbo: As far as I know, two people are vying for this position, Alhaji Texaco Bah and me.

AJ: What propelled you to vie for this position?

JT: About four weeks ago or so, a cross section of the Fula community in the Western Area came to me and said they were representing the Fullahs in the Western Area. They came with a delegation and they were in about forty jeeps. When they came in, I welcomed them. They told me they came to me with a mission; the mission was for me to represent them in the Western Area as Fullah Tribal headman.

I was taken aback actually but upon reflection and after delivering the message, I saw the reason why I should opt for the position of the Fullah tribal headman.

AJ: Do you know why they think you are the best person to represent them?

JT : They didn’t have that fact at all.... From my track record, having been in this country for over thirty years first as a legal practitioner, then as a Judge of the Court of Appeal, then as a Supreme Court Judge and finally as a Chief Justice, my character was unblemished. They believe that I will agree to serve them as a Fullah tribal headman. I’ll be able to promote the cause of the Fullah tribe and the cause of Sierra Leone in general.

AJ: I understand there are about 72 Section Chiefs and 12 Constituency Chiefs which made up of about 84 Chiefs and two Chairmen working directly for the Fula Tribal Headman. Were they part of the delegation or they were just ordinary members of the Fullah community?

JT: Some of them, according to the introduction are members of the Section Chiefs.

AJ: Do you think you have the support of the majority of the Section Chiefs?

JT: I believe I have the support of the majority of the Section Chiefs based on what people have been saying and what people have been doing. So the only thing is they were worried that I’ll not accept the invitation for this position. Once I had given them the ok, they started turning up in droves. So, many of them, I believe, are willing; they saw the reason why they support me. They want advancement of the community, development of the community and Sierra Leone has to move; we have to go forward. And they think I can represent them well. They believe I am the person they should back.

AJ: I understand that a couple of days ago you met His Excellency, the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. What did he say to you and how was the reception?

JT: He told us that he was happy the Fullahs have been law abiding people. So he will only ask us to try and work together for a peaceful resolution of that problem. He does the appointment but he will do with some consultations. After the consultations, he will appoint the person he thinks is capable of working with them as a government and also working with the Fullah community generally to enhance their position and help Sierra Leone.

AJ: What kind of innovation will you bring to the Fullah community if elected?

JT: I think they are many for a start. I will encourage our brothers and sisters to allow their children to go to school. Those who are in school, we will try to promote them to go to higher heights. Those who are abroad, we will try and encourage them to come home and work in Sierra Leone to assist our people and then help government to develop the country. We will also set up committees like one for culture, one for tradition, one for the law in particular. We should be able to defend our people if they are not being treated fairly. It is our duty, it will be my duty to stand in and see that justice is done to them.

AJ: Some Fullahs are alleging that they were being molested in the past. What modalities will you put in place if appointed as the chief to minimize the alleged molestation of Fullahs in this country or maybe put a stop to it?

JT: I will definitely do everything that is possible to minimize it. If we cannot wipe it out altogether, I will try and minimize it. I will take you twenty years back or so when people were being arrested, Fullahs were being arrested at random for immigration problems, and we had to step in. I was the first lawyer to stand very firm and with others, we were able to discourage that. The way of doing it is, we will tell the Fullahs to be law abiding.

AJ: Dr. Timbo, I was going to ask you what did you do when you were Chief Justice to help in the flow of justice in this country and what specifically you think your tribesmen will remember you for?

JT: As a Chief Justice, I did very much to assist the Fullahs. If they had cases in court I made sure that they got justice but that was not just for Fullahs; I was doing it for all other tribes.

I came in at a time after the rebel war; I was the first Chief Justice to be involved in the rebuilding of the judicial system throughout the country with the help of UNDP and DFID. We were able to establish the courts; courts started functioning. Before then, you would have a court in Port Loko and people were removed from Kabala including the Fullahs to Port Loko, they languished there. I thought that was wrong so we were able to establish courts in the very area and very quickly we established the Office of Justice of the Peace to assist in the running of the courts to make justice faster, moving the courts together and we see there was justice and this included Fullahs, not exclusively for Fullahs.

I did it for Sierra Leone, but I make sure that the Fullahs also benefited the way the other tribes benefited.

AJ: Then again, let me ask what you will do to Fullahs who might not abide by the rules and regulations of the state.

JT: The first thing I will be doing will be to educate them to be law abiding.

Most of these people are not criminals as such. The only thing is that they do not understand what the law is. Is like me going to Guinea as highly educated as I am, if I don’t know the laws over there, it’s not easy for me to keep on the good sides of the law.

So this we will assist them and it’s going to be a two way business; we assist them to be law abiding, we assist the authorities also to make sure they get justice.

AJ: Have you been talking to Fullahs outside Freetown like in the provinces about your intention to lead them at national level?

JT: I have spoken to them, some have been ringing. As soon as they got the news that I intend leading them, they became happy; some Fullahs have also contacted me from America, from Europe, not to talk about Sierra Leone. They are begging me please don’t retreat, don’t go back, we need people like you, we need expertise so that we can move the Fullah community and then Sierra Leone to benefit out of that.

AJ: So it’s like you’ve never stepped out of Freetown since this thing came to being?

JT: I have not gone out yet because we are waiting to work out modalities.

AJ: Everybody knows that you cannot vie for such type of position in the land without having money. Do you have sufficient money to go on with this particular thing?

JT: Well, I believe I can manage.

AJ: Dr. Timbo do you think you are popular?

J.T - I believe I am popular.

AJ: How popular are you?

JT: Very popular

AJ: Are you au fait with Fullah culture?

JT: I am au fait with the Fullah culture because I’ve been in Sierra Leone for over thirty years and before I went to England I was with my father even after I left Bo School. I was with my father for five years. My father was the first Fullah tribal headman in Bombali District. I served him for five years so I followed up the way he was treating the Fullahs. He was giving selfless service to the Fullahs and the country. Thereafter, when he died, our Uncle Mr. Agibu Jalloh stepped into his shoes. He too did the same thing, he never victimized any Fullah. My father never victimized any Fullah until they were gone. So the same thing, I do not intend to victimize any Fullahs or to make money out of their heads; not at all. It is their dignity and development I am concerned about. If we do get that, then Sierra Leone will (benefit).

AJ: What is the name of your father?

JT: Alhaji Alimamy Wurroh Timbo.

AJ: Dr. Timbo, you were the Chief Justice of this land. You have retired and now you are vying for such a position. Many Fullahs are suggesting that you would have vied for any other higher state position instead of Fullah Chief. Don’t you think it is like a political demotion?

JT: We don’t look at it that way. I have given you the reasons, and you see why I want to assist. Take the case of presidents of other countries, the prime ministers of other countries. Recently Putin came down.

AJ: Hold on Dr. Timbo, you mean Putin of Russia?

JT: Yes. Putin came down from the position of President to that of Prime Minister.

In England Harold Wilson was a prominent Prime Minister. Edward Heith was also prominent but when they retired, they went back to parliament as backbenchers. They believe they could do something for their country. Let’s go to America. Take Jimmy Carter, former U.S President, we know what he has been doing in improving electoral processes the world over. Let’s take Clinton more recently, he has been going all over the place to try and cut down the rate of HIV infection. These were presidents coming down to this level. I don’t think there is any thing wrong about that. So, if I’ve been a Chief Justice and people want me to improve their lot and by so doing improve Sierra Leone, I don’t think it is a demotion.

AJ: What have you been doing after your retirement?

JT: Very interesting question Alhaji. After my retirement, I went over to Lungi and I tried like most Fullahs, and like my dad and my uncle, I got a small "Worreh".

AJ: What do you mean by ’Worreh’?

JT: A place to rear cattle. Then on the other side, I’ve been doing gardening. I acquired acres of land to do gardening that is what I’ve been going there on and off.

AJ: Ok, let me ask you this; when exactly did you retire and at what age?

JT: I retired in November, 2004 at 65.

AJ: Dr. Timbo, if you happen to lose this particular election and His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, happens to appoint you as a Special Envoy to represent Sierra Leone outside, will you accept that offer?

JT: Well, let us don’t cross the bridge before we get there. Let us wait until we get to that point. That’s all I can say at the moment.

AJ: After your retirement, you were Chairman of the Political Parties’ Registration Commission. Why did you resign from that Commission?

JT: The reasons I resigned were due to ill-health. I was in England when I tendered my resignation because I had to spend a longer period undergoing treatment and I was needed very urgently in Freetown at the time, so I had to tender my resignation. I knew if I didn’t do that I will be holding up the election process.

AJ: Are you Ok now Dr. Timbo?

JT: Much better now. I am strong enough; I have been going up and down.

AJ: What expertise do you think you have which your opponent, Bah Texaco does not have?

JT: Well, Alhaji Jalloh, I don’t want to say I have told you already what I have or what I’m capable of doing. You will know the other man from his CV or put the two CV’s together then you will be able to see whether there is a difference between that man and myself. I believe there is a big difference.

AJ: Talking about CV, would you like to tell the public about yourself?

JT: For a start I went to Mateboi Primary School. From Moteboi, I went to Magburaka Secondary School for Boys.

AJ: Mateboi, is that in the Bombali District?

JT: Yes. We opened Magburaka Secondary School. From there, I went to the Bo School.

AJ: Excuse me, Dr. Timbo, you said you opened Magburaka Boys School. Do you want to tell me your admission number?

JT: My admission number in Boys School is 115; Mateboi 32 and Bo School 1077.

AJ: I also attended Boys School but I don’t want to give you mine at Boys School.

JT: (Laughs) Ok. Let me continue. After I left the Bo School, I served my father for five years in business and that’s how I was able to understand the customs and traditions of the Fullahs.

From there I went to England. I did my ’O’ Levels and my ’A’ Levels in England. Then I did my LLB, LLM and PHD in London. Then I did the Bar in London. I was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in 1967. After that I returned home but I wasn’t quite satisfied with Masters which I had done before coming home in 1969. I opted for the PHD and I went back to England having practiced for ten years. I went back to England; I completed my PHD and returned home. I continued to practice for a number of years and I was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 1987. From the Court of Appeal in 1987 I went to the Supreme Court in 1996 thereafter I became the Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

AJ: Dr. Timbo, before we end this interview, I want you to educate the public on how a Tribal head is appointed.

JT: Under the law, tribal headmen in the country are appointed by the President. It is not by election as such. The President has the absolute authority to appoint whoever he believes commands the confidence of the tribe to which he belongs.

AJ: Ok, what message do you have for the Fullah community in this country?

JT: The message I have for my Fullah brothers and sisters is that let them try me. I have determination. I want to help them. I want to improve their lot and I believe by so doing, I will make them law abiding and I will help towards the development of Sierra Leone.

AJ: Developing Sierra Leone! Dr. Abdulai Babagaleh Timbo I thank you very much for talking to me. I wish you good luck.

JT: Thank you very much, Alhaji Jalloh. You are doing a very good job in this country.

Photo: Alhaji Jalloh, left, and Justice Timbo.