I was an avid politically conscious schoolboy in Sierra Leone in 1991 when Dr. Abass Bundu, as a backbencher parliamentarian, gave several fiery criticisms of the then Momoh APC Government on the floor of parliament during the multi-party debates. I best recall how he publicly let the cat out of the bag about President Momoh’s attempt to insert some stealth clauses into the 1991 Constitution.
Many of us students at the time developed huge respect for Dr. Bundu at the time as it had been unheard of in those days for an APC member to publicly decry the party. We marveled at his huge command of the English language which he effectively used to put his points across as he rained choice criticisms upon the then ruling APC.
We also wondered at his bravery and indeed it came as no surprise to many political observers that Abass Bundu was swiftly kicked out of the APC together with other outspoken critics of the APC at the time like the late Thaimu Bangura and Hassan Gbessay Kanu.
When Dr. Bundu decided to contest the 1996 Elections under a brand new party of his own, many of us enjoyed his literary prowess at the time and I must confess that as a then University student, I voted for him although he lost those elections.
Although he lost the elections, he still commanded immense respect from many of us until the issue of the Passport Sales came out. During discussions, it emerged that all of us his admirers felt let down that despite his wealth, Abass Bundu could stoop so low as to illegally sell and pocket the proceeds from our nation’s passports.
That Abass Bundu the thief was not the Abass Bundu we had grown to respect and like many of my colleagues at University back then, we wondered at how we could have misjudged him so badly. A common thief had been able to convince us that he was Presidential material?
But now, after reading through his latest Press Statement, I have to say how proud I feel to know that I had not exercised bad judgment when I casted my ballot for him in 1996.
His explanation of why he has kept silent all these years is a very convincing one and I believe every single line of it. I am relieved to realize that I have not misplaced my ability to judge a good man from a thief
I feel vindicated to realize that my man was actually a hero and not a thief afterall. Here was a man who was willing to sacrifice his good name for the well being of the citizens of his country.
The IMF/World Bank had not allowed the Government to effectively fight the war by restricting the amount of money that could be spent on prosecuting the war. Thus, the Government had to find secret extra-budgetary means of raising funds with which to prosecute the war.
Selling passports was therefore one such way but it had to be done secretly so that the RUF could never realize that the Government did not really have the funds with which to fight the war and the IMF/World Bank could not block the use of such funds to prosecute the war. Indications are that this started in early 1991 during the Presidency of
Joseph Momoh, throughout the NPRC and even during the SLPP itself. So, here was a man, Dr. Abass Bundu who could have presented a very robust defence for himself in open court by simply revealing how successive governments had been forced to sell passports to raise funds to fight the RUF as there was little money available for that purpose and so contrary to popular belief held by us citizens, it had not been him unilaterally selling the passports of his own accord but the Government(s) of the day.
Bundu could have easily let the cat out of the bag but Sierra Leone was still at war and it could have had bad repercussions. So, he chose to bear the brunt of the social stigma and shame of being called a thief for close to nine years until he broke his silence this week.
His explanation of why he has kept silent all these years is a very convincing one and I believe every single line of it. I am relieved to realize that I have not misplaced my ability to judge a good man from a thief. Dr. Abass Bundu is a good man who was willing to sacrifice his good name for the well being of his people. I join others in wishing him all the best in his political journey as we look forward to powerful English language debates in the very near future between him on the side of the ruling SLPP against the APC party who threw him out in 1991.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.