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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Ojukokoro (Day Light Robbery?)
By Abdul Fonti
Jun 26, 2009, 17:06
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The issue of what has been widely considered the signing of a hasty agreement by the All Peoples Congress (APC) government, few months after assuming the citadel of power, to pay a controversial international merchant called Mohamed Wanza a whopping sum of taxpayers money, has once again attracted the front pages of newspapers as well as seizing the electronics airwaves in Sierra Leone.

The issue has now developed a new momentum, with the Sierra Leone Parliament summoning the Finance Ministry to answer to questions relating the signing and effecting of the Wanza payment, which previous governments have kicked against. The parliamentarians, especially those representing the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), are very bitter over the move, which they consider as "nonsensical". The MPs, like every other citizen, view the payment as suspicious and a matter that requires proper inquiring.

It could be recalled that the APC government, represented by the then Finance Minister David Carew and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abdul Serry Kamal undertook an unadvertised trip to Nigeria and signed an out-of-court settlement with the dictates that the Government of Sierra Leone is obliged to pay the whopping sum of 25 million dollars to Wanza for a questionable deal.

This move, however, was met with widespread condemnation from the populace, including civil society organisations, owning to the fact that there are far more important issues begging the attention of government. The populace considers the prioritization of the unreasonable Wanza claims, as insensitiveness on the part of government towards the needs of its citizenry. This is so because issues including youth unemployment and poor health care delivery, among a battery of others, are yet to be looked into. Most of the citizenry expressed their discontent with the agreement, as they hold the view that the government was obliged to consult them, before succumbing to pay such a huge amount of money. The circumstances surrounding the payment of such money are still being debated. The people of Sierra Leone are yet to understand why the APC led government is demonstrating so much enthusiasm to subtract the said money from the national coffer, only to be added to the pocket of one Mohamed Kamel or Kamal Wanza.

Fortunately and unfortunately for the people of Sierra Leone and the APC led government respectively, the Wanza issue came to the limelight after the secretly signed document in Nigeria was accessed by the Awareness Times newspaper. The deal, which was intended to enjoy secrecy, and possibly bring smiles to the faces of certain people as a reward for their alleged active involvement in sponsoring a government to attain the seat of power, was made public and as a result sparked a very tense debate.

With little or no idea on the issue, but in a bid to defend his government with passion, as usual, the Information Minister went on the airwaves and made issues more doubtful, more suspicious and opened the floor for more debates. He stated that the amount that was to be paid to Wanza was in relation to a gunboat that was supplied to the then military junta of the NPRC. He also made believe that the erstwhile Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah led government did nothing to defend Wanzas claims at the ECOWAS Court in Nigeria.

When the debate by then became more heated with widespread condemnations and when questions as to the whereabouts of the gunboat came up, the Information Minister distorted his initial statement and said the money to be paid to Wanza has nothing to do with the gunboat, but rather for other medical supplies made by Wanza to the regime of the NPRC. What a minister? Thats him; thats Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, the APC Minister of Information and Communication.

The issue at that point became more topical and the press, especially the Awareness Times newspaper, had their ears on the ground to unearth, name and shame those involved in the transaction, which was then dubbed "Ojukokoro." The meaning of Ojukokoro was understood to mean broad daylight robbery.

However, apart from the inconsistencies in the statements of the Information Minister as to what they are paying Wanza for, more disgraceful top secrets were striped bare.

The Awareness Times was able to reveal to the citizenry and the international community that not only did the erstwhile government entered a very robust defense against Wanzas claims, but also that it was the APC led regime that treated the court matter with jokiness. It was the Solicitor General himself, who appended his signature to the defense filed against Wanza by the previous government that revealed the occurrence to the press.

Moreover, the daily exposure of the secrets of this deal brews more confusion among the ranks and files of the government, and the Information Minister at this stage became a less talkative.

In the midst of this, the then Finance Minister, David Carew, secretly flies out of the country again to make payment to the tone of $200, 000, being payment of legal cost to Wanzas lawyers.

The Information Minister was also quick to deny this occurrence when he was contacted by the press, but it ended up being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As revelations on the Wanza Ojukokoro deal continues to attract the front pages of newspapers, the government decided to hastily summon a press briefing, wherein documents aimed at serving as a defense to save them from further embarrassments, were presented. This however, turned out to be the worst move the government made in the entire process. The documents presented to the press, when carefully scrutinized, revealed a battery of inconsistencies in the dates of the alleged transactions with Wanza and that of the negotiations allegedly made by the APC led regime. The date in the aforesaid documents of which the APC had wanted the populace to believe was the date the transaction took place happens to be a date when the NPRC government was yet to come to power. So, how was it possible for the NPRC to have undertaken the said transaction during a time when it was the APC, under the leadership of Joseph Saidu Momoh that was in power? What a shame it was, one could imagine. Also, some of the negotiated amounts in the documents were far higher than the claims of Wanza. Am I making sense here? I mean, what the APC said they negotiated to pay Wanza was higher than what Wanza said the government owes him. Ridiculous? That was how the Ernest Bai Koroma led administration disgraced itself.

Even though the press and other sober minded citizens were against the payment of such money, the APC government, for reasons best known to them insisted that the money should be paid to Wanza.

Now, the issue has sparked fresh debates again, this time with the parliamentarians seeking a probe into the issue. But the question that comes to mind with this occurrence is this: Will the parliamentarians call yield any fruit, amidst the enthusiasm that has been exhibited so far by the government to pay Wanza? We continue to monitor the situation as the saga continues, with the taxpayers keenly watching to see their hard earned tax monies unreasonably offered to Wanza.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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