We’ve been in the courthouse for a little under four hours now. Hundreds have filed into the high court chamber to observe the second day of the trial of former Chief of Staff Dr. Richard Konteh and timber tycoon Alie Suma for conspiracy to defraud the government of over 4 billion Leones. But despite the riveting subject matter, it’s getting hot – very hot – and people are starting to lose focus.
The first prosecuting witness, the Acting Director of Forestry, is entering his second hour of examination. A timid-voiced defence attorney has been having him read and recall various aspects of timber exportation law, without going into much detail about the case itself. Audience members are falling asleep in their chairs. Members of the press are using their notebooks as pillows. And I’m really wishing that I would have taken that second cup of coffee this morning.
Well, I think to myself, if the defence’s strategy is to bore the magistrate to death, they’re doing hell of a good job.
But almost immediately after the prosecuting attorney stands to cross-examine the witness, a jolt of electricity seems to pass through the crowd. The young lawyer’s presence is loud and powerful, his voice commanding and his questions without restraint. He is well aware of the potential impact of each word he uses.
Suddenly we all once again remember the weight of what’s happening in front of us.
Prosecuting attorney Monfred Sesey proceeds by asking the Acting Director a series of “yes” or “no” questions, to which he rarely gets a response he deems adequate. Most of the time the inquiries are dogged entirely, prompting the prosecution to state out loud, “You see? I ask simple questions and get quite complicated answers.”
It is absolutely riveting, like a scene straight out of a movie. But then again, the story of a high up government official being accused of forging the signature of his president is almost stranger than fiction anyway.
Once the witness is dismissed, the defence takes to presenting the magistrate with reasons they believe their respective clients deserve bail. Among these are that Konteh has strong ties to the local community (as all politicians do), Suma has large investments in the country (as most wealthy businessmen do), and both have large families (as many, many criminals do).
Sitting in that crowded, historical building, my knuckles are white.
The crowd sits anxiously awaiting the magistrate’s decision; surely others share my sympathies. People glance around to gage each other’s allegiances. After about three and a half hours in the courthouse, these five minutes feel the longest.
I lean forward in anticipation. Magistrate Kamanda clears his throat and speaks into the microphone:
“All the accused are to be remanded in custody.”
The whole crowd rockets out of their seats and the accused are quickly rushed away through a sea of spectators to spend at least one more week at Pademba Road.
As we file out of the courthouse and watch the prison transport bus pull out of the courthouse driveway, I am overcome by a moment of solace. I think of every story I’ve ever heard of men, innocent or guilty, rotting away in jail cells while awaiting trial. I think of young people in my home country whose golden years have been spent in juvenile detention centres during trials elongated by the simple fact that their cases aren’t deemed crucial priorities by those in charge of them.
The fact of the matter is that the poor are rarely given the chance to buy their own freedom, and if they are, it’s unlikely that they can afford the price. This is an opportunity that the wealthy and well-connected members of society are granted on the daily. Is this justice? Is this equality?
There are many types of people in this world, but the majority are not well-to-do politicians or business tycoons. They are regular, hardworking people who deserve the same chances in life as anyone else.
Freedom should not be sold to the highest bidder. We all come into this world the same way, and God will not judge us in the end based on the capital we’ve accumulated. Equality is the law of the universe. It’s time we started following it.
*Cooper Inveen is a journalism and African Studies major at the University of Washington in Seattle USA, on internship with Awoko Newspaper in Sierra Leone.
Tuesday July 01, 2014
Wednesday July 02, 2014