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Dancing around the shadow of an inquest

Dancing around the shadow of an inquest

It was meant to have started at 11:00 am on a Monday morning but no thanks to the usual ‘Blackman time’ (BMT), it began almost an hour and a half after the stipulated time. When it finally went underway, the first thing the Chairman did was, like a penitent sinner, he asked for ‘forgiveness’ for his crime – starting late.

Before that, the clouds had opened up and gave way to a heavy downpour amid a very cloudy atmosphere as if, setting the pace for what later turned out to be an emotionally charged Press Conference in which tears were shed in torrents and emotions betrayed in volumes. Anger, frustration and a conscious effort to appeal to one’s sense of pity were also paraded.

Held at the National Stadium Hostels, a rendevouz also not too far from a graveyard – Ascension Town cemetery, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, wives and husbands and even grandchildren and great grand children of those twenty nine persons that include the late Police Chief, James Bambay Kamara, Salami Coker, a fireman and a palm-wine tapper from Lumpa, Waterlooo that were allegedly arbitrarily executed by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) on the 28 and 29 of December, 1992 convened a Press Conference.  For the first time, they publicly called on government to institute an Inquest or rather, an investigation or if you want, an inquiry that would finally lay to closure circumstances that lead to the death of ‘their loved ones.’

Some nineteen years ago, some from behind the Prison cells of Pademba Road, several from within the comfort of their homes, and others while drinking palm wine in Lumpa – Waterloo; these 29 persons were rounded up, accused of planning to overthrow the NPRC junta, which ironically found itself in power through a coup plot against the then All Peoples Congress (APC), and without trial at Kabasa Lodge, they were found guilty by God knows who and summarily executed.

For the relatives of these victims who were all clad in black, white and grey outfits to give the occasion the solemnity that it deserves and one reminiscent of a family in mourning, what they wanted to achieve could be summarized in the following;

First, they wanted to know exactly what happened during those two days when they lost their loved ones “in that brutal way.” Secondly, they wanted government to assist them identify their graves so that they could give the victims a fitting funeral. Thirdly, for them, some of the victims were in active government service when they were arbitrarily executed and that it was high time the relatives benefited from their entitlements and lastly, they want property seized by the NPRC from the victims to be returned to the relatives.

Like a conductor in an orchestra, directing the proceedings was an articulate Julius Bambay Kamara, who was only fifteen years old when his dad, James Bambay Kamara and 28 others were killed. Reading from a prepared text which had the acquiescence of those relatives present, he had strong words for those that were responsible for the deaths of their loved ones – rogue elements but was also quick to soften his stance that was clearly targeted at the NPRC when he stated, “we are not asking for another round of madness,” and also added, “what we seek is not revenge; we seek justice. What we seek is not war; we seek peace for justice and peace go hand in hand.”

Borrowing a leaf from the vibes of the late reggae musician, Joseph Hills who, with his group – Culture were ironically made household names in the country during the NPRC regime, Julius Bambay Kamara, like a preacher man trying to bring converts into his fold acclaimed that there are three sides to a story – “your side , my side and then the whole truth.”

He said, “Our detractors have been talking for the last nineteen years whilst we were intimidated into painful silence. They came up with all sorts of crazy theories about our late parents. They wrote all sorts of negative stories about our late parents. That is their side of the story.”

And like a commander ready to lead his troops into battle, Julius Bambay Kamara commanded the world to, “we are now speaking. Please listen.” He described the late Lt. Col. Yayah Kanu as a gallant solider who repeatedly defended his motherland with his sweat and blood inspiring young officers to do the same and be willing to lay their lives down for the country because they saw him as an officer and a gentleman to be emulated.”

He argued that the late Major Kawuta Dumbuya was the first trained and qualified military lawyer that this country ever produced and for his father, despite all the negative superlatives that were ascribed to him by the NPRC, for him, he was a brilliant police officer, “who remains to this date to be by far the best Inspector General this nation has ever had and probably will ever have.”

The missing link that they are now yearning for is the third side of the story, the truth and they believe that it is only through an inquest that it will be attained; something which the Special Court was not able to do because of its statutes of limitation that did not extend beyond 30 November 1996 and for the TRC, “they did an incomplete job of investigating the truth of the extra judicial killings of our loved ones.”

The Inquest–in–Chief, Julius Bambay Kamara still had enough ammunition in his arsenal left to release several volleys of shots directed at the United Nations Rep to Sierra Leone , Mr Schuleburg who they said , welcomed the apology made by the SLPP presidential aspirant , Maada Bio , “ without first speaking to us to know our feelings .” Such an apology, he said is rejected and, “if human rights abusers in Germany can be chased and tried over 50 years after their criminal acts, Sierra Leone is not any less than Germany .”

For both the United States and Britain, it was a warning shot that; for the former, “the American people will not allow anybody who committed human rights abuses or aided and abetted human rights abuses to enter American soil.” For the latter, “if the characters of the personalities of would-be leaders of Great Britain are carefully scrutinized to ensure a safe democracy for the British, then the people of Sierra Leone deserve to scrutinize the character of personalities seeking to lead Sierra Leone.”

However, several questions begged for answers and the loudest were; why now and whether or not it was a politically motivated orchestration specifically targeted at the flag bearer of the SLPP who, like some key functionaries of the current administration served the NPRC during the period albeit some, unlike Bio, were civilians and not members of the Supreme Council of State.

For answers, the Inquest–in-Chief retorted, “what is wrong with now?” and catalogued all the efforts they have been making for the past nineteen years. Thanks to former President Kabbah, they claimed that some of the victims’ properties were returned to their families though they still have more to be returned and that they even met with then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Solomon Berewa who promised to do something but nothing came out of it. That the APC has not made effort to return the remainder of their property, they claimed, the administration, is in a way, upholding the verdict of the NPRC that summarily executed their relatives and punched, “ if this government fails to adhere to our request which is an inquest,” then it means , the APC would have failed them.

Added to the above, they said they have been doing their ground work to gather evidence, to bring together the relatives of the twenty nine victims who were scattered all over the place and even to allay their fears to come out and ask for answers over the killings of their loved ones.

In my opinion, a sentiment I share with the Inquest– in– Chief that no individual has the right to take the life of another, no matter the circumstances without recourse to the rule of law, it is high time that this matter is finally laid to rest. Let there be an inquest but then, people should understand that an inquest is not a court of law. It may only have powers to investigate a matter and come out with its findings and probably, with recommendations. I know fingers, once again may be pointed at Maada Bio but if he has nothing to hide, he, together with those APC functionaries that worked with the NPRC junta during that time and now in the APC should be called to piece the jigsaw puzzle together.

With a specific time frame that should not take us near the official start of the 2012 political season, it will create an opportunity for relatives of victims and alleged perpetrators to maybe, for the first time, come together and lay this matter at rest. It will also enable somebody like Maada Bio to have an opportunity to directly tell his own side of his story to the victims and once again, revisit his apology that he has already made to them in public.

But be warned though, whatever we are trying to achieve, we need to first of all go back to the recommendations made by the TRC and assess the loopholes (if any) and for those that may constitute this body, they should be people of upright morale character worthy of emulation and they should not be seen to be party loyalists of either party A, B or C.

Some may want to argue that instituting an inquest would open a can of worms that may not augur well for this country and that government should not buy into this call. However, attempt to place yourself in the position of relatives of that mere palm-wine tapper who probably never knew the way to State House and had never participated in politics but was rounded up and like Bamkay Kamara and others killed and unto this day, they could not be accorded a fitting funeral and no attempt has been made to prove them guilty or not in a court of competent jurisdiction. Is this the kind of history that you would want your loved ones to be remembered for?

For the families though, they stressed that they may not have the financial might but the human resource is in abundance but my question is why there was no expressed representation of persons with very strong legal background? A renown lawyer sitting side by side and making a case today for them and postulating the constitutional provisions to back their call for an inquest and also bringing in the international dimension that has to do with bringing to book human rights abusers the world over would have set the tone for a much more effective debate. A lawyer, would have mentioned that Holocaust victims in Germany and genocide suspects in Rwanda, for example are being hounded the world over to be brought to trial. The difference here though is that the families are merely seeking to know why their loved ones were snatched away from them, some in the dead of the night and never returned to them. Is this too much to ask for?

All this while, we have heard the side of the NRPC that painted Bambay Kamara and others as, ‘unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans trying to sabotage the revolution.” Today, the story we heard of Bambay and others coming from the families are that these were loving parents; caring and even some went the extra mile to bring succor to others who were disadvantaged. How do we get to know the truth? How do we rewrite our history? How do we get to know with what means the late Yayah Kanu hatched his plans to overthrow Strasser and his boys when he was behind chains at Pademba Road? Questions, questions, questions…

By Osman Benk Sankoh

The writer, was one time editor, Concord Times

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