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Tejan Cole and Nuhu Ribadu are victims of the same circumstances

By  | 28 May 2010 at 03:09 | 576 views


I have been following with keen interest various news outlets’ reports about the circumstances that prematurely forced the zealous and patriotic anti-graft Commissioner, Abdul Omoranike Babatunde Tejan-Cole out of office.

Like many well meaning Sierra Leoneans, news of Tejan Cole’s resignation left me with a broken heart; knowing fully well that it will prove difficult to find a Sierra Leonean with a similar passion and patriotism to fill his boots. It goes without saying that government functionaries that have painted themselves with corruption from the sole of their feet to the tip of their heads are now thanking their stars for seeing the back of the Commissioner. Already reports abound that suspected corrupt government functionaries are hosting banquets and toasting to what they perceive as the good news of Abdul Tejan Cole’s resignation.

The perpetuation of corruption by certain individuals in developing countries in Africa is the main reason for what looks like the insurmountable task of achieving sustainable economic growth in this part of the planet . Yet, combating this endemic problem has become a herculean task for many anti-corruption bodies that have been established not only in Sierra Leone but other parts of the Black continent.

However, it is important to note that the World Bank has made it imperative for developing countries to adopt stringent anti-corruption policies that will effectively minimise the debilitating political and social effects of corruption in a country like ours, as a pre-condition for granting development loans. Hence the reason many Sierra Leoneans view Abdul Tejan Cole’s corruption crusade as their last hope to restore the country’s former enviable development index(60s and 70s).

Abdul Tejan-Cole

Abdul Tejan Cole himself knew better than any other person that he had taken up a challenging and risky job, because the evil forces that have taken corruption as their past time will not willingly relinquish their addiction for it. Notwithstanding the frustrations and the bad press that Tejan-Cole had experienced, no well meaning Sierra Leonean will deny the fact that he had not given corruption a good beating. Like others had already stated, the constant negative reports from unpatriotic print media practitioners and may be, just may be, as the ‘Standard Times’ reported, the lack of cooperation from the judiciary, has made some of us to have long predicted an early exit for this righteous young man.

The circumstances that forced Tejan Cole out of office are not unprecedented in the history of anti-corruption fights in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is against this background that I will attempt to draw parallels between Abdul Tejan Cole’s Sierra Leone Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) crusade and that of Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The former is one of Sierra Leone’s finest legal luminaries, who had won several Human Rights Watch awards for his steadfast contribution in the promotion of human rights. The latter is also a lawyer by profession, but has been serving in the Nigerian police force for a considerable period of time. Like Tejan Cole, Ribadu has been bestowed with the World Bank ‘Jit Gilt Memorial’ award for his outstanding performances in fighting corruption in the Nigerian public service.

Abdul Tejan Cole took up office in December 2007 to help President Ernest Koroma actualise his election promise of giving corruption a robust fight in our country. In President Koroma’s avowed stance to stifle corruption, he quickly pushed for the passing into law of the Anti-Corruption Act (ACA) 2008. The Act accorded the ACC unfettered powers to investigate and prosecute those suspected of graft.

As soon as he assumed office, Abdul wasted no time in fearlessly waging a war against corruption on big guns such as the former Minister of Health, Sheku Tejan Koroma, founder of the Texas branch of the APC. As a leading diaspora representative, many people thought he would be treated with kid gloves. To the astonishment of many compatriots, he was fearlessly investigated, prosecuted and convicted of corrupt practices.

Next in Tejan Cole’s anti-corruption onslaught was Alieu Sesay, the erstwhile head of the country’s National Revenue Authority, who is alleged to have some connection with the President’s elder sister. Abdul Tejan Cole carried out his task of vigorously interrogating the NRA boss, but the delay in his eventual prosecution might tend to lend credence to Phillip Neville’s speculation that the Justice Ministry is holding on to some vital documents that are holding back his prosecution.

Abdul Tejan Cole’s corruption axe also fell on Haja Afsatu Kabba, who from her initial appointment as Energy Minister had been accused of corruption by some media houses, in relation to an alleged dubious contract she awarded for the purchase of generators to provide make-shift electricity for Freetown. As a result of insufficient evidence to prosecute her, Abdul Tejan Cole never budged on this speculation, despite incessant pressure from the media. However, quite recently, Abdul Tejan Cole found justification to prosecute Haja Afsatu on the basis of other corruption allegations he had meticulously investigated. Again, even though the young man was performing his duties in accordance with the dictates of the law books, some enemies of progress charged him of being selective, witch-hunting, overzealousness and other unethical vices.

‘The Awareness Times’ publisher, Sylver Blyden was leading and still leading from the front in the campaign to tarnish the hard earned reputation of this young man. The difference between Sylvia Blyden and Tejan Cole is, while Tejan Cole was working for the general good of Sierra Leoneans, a principle that echoes Kantian views of professional ethics, Sylvia Blyden, on the flip side of this saga, was busy and currently pre-occupied with the business of fabricating stories in defence of her so-called friend, Afsatu Kabbah. Whether her efforts in relentlessly defending Afsatu are genuine is another aspect of the ongoing debate, as the ACC has allegedly accused Sylvia as one of those on the pay roll of Afsatu, while she (Afsatu) was serving as Marine Resources boss.

Again, the question on the lips of Sierra Leoneans and which is begging for an answer is: Is Sylvia Blyden serious about defending the innocence of Afsatu Kabbah? Or she is more or less doing a disservice to her? In my view and that of many shrewd thinking Sierra Leoneans, Sylvia is not actually defending the innocence of Afsatu Kabbah at all.

Let’s look at the twists and turns this case has taken: Initially, Afsatu was charged with 17 counts of corruption that her battery of lawyers uncovered to be bogus. If only Sylvia Blyden had not hastily published the deficiencies in those charges, Afsatu’s lawyers would have successfully defended her current case and the rest would have been history by now. Sylvia Blyden’s continuous publication of the proceedings of this case is making it easy for the prosecutors to reinvent new charges and proffer legal arguments that might eventually criminalise Afsatu.

Nuhu Ribadu

In like manner, the creation of Nigeria’s EFCC was one of the very few laurels scored by former Nigerian President Obasanjo during his tenure of office. In his bid to rid his country of chronic corruption, Obasanjo appointed Nuhu Ribadu as head of the EFCC. Cognisant of the corruption that has been plaguing the Nigerian police force, Ribadu started his anti –corruption crusade by prosecuting the head of the police force, who was his own boss, and he successfully criminalised him. As Ribadu’s fight of exposing corruption in high places continued, he also investigated the Niger Delta State Governor, Igbori and brought corruption charges against him. In order to silence Ribadu, Igbori bribed him with $15 million so as to drop corruption charges against him.

To the amazement of many Nigerians, Ribadu collected the money from governor Igbori in the presence of detectives and used it as evidence to prosecute him, although corruption charges levied against Ibgori were later watered down by President Yar Adua on assuming office. This act of Yar Adua was not a surprise to Nigerians, as it was an open secret that Yar Adua himself was on Ribidu’s list of those to be prosecuted for corruption. There were a host of other high profile corruption cases that he exposed. Several attempts were made to assassinate him, but he refused to be intimidated.

But Like Tejan Cole, Ribadu was eventually coerced to leave office when the government of late Yar Adua used the police force to file a trumped-up charge against him (for allegedly failing to declare his assets),even though there was credible evidence that showed he declared his assets when he took up office. Ribadu was eventually fired as boss of EFCC and forced to go on exile abroad. But good always triumphs over evil; President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has recalled Ribadu to work in some other capacity in the Nigerian public service and has ordered the arrest and prosecution of the former Delta State governor, Igbori, who now resides in Dubai. In a recent BBC ‘Hard Talk’ interview, Ribadu expressed his determination to return home and continue with his unfinished business of exposing corrupt Nigerian officials.

I believe, just like Ribadu, Tejan Cole will return home at some point in the future to serve our country in some other capacity; it might even be in the capacity of a president, who knows? For me, I see Tejan Cole as a legend and hero, in contrast to the lenses that Sylvia Blyden and the coup-maker, John Ben Hirsh had used to view him as a villain and opportunist.

The most pressing task at hand for Ernest Koroma is to find a suitable replacement for Tejan Cole. An individual that will take forward the fight against corruption that Tejan Cole has left behind. I have the conviction that our president is very much aware of the fact that the task of reforming our country is no longer his exclusive domain and in this vein constructive views of the citizenry on how to steer the ship of state should be taken on board.