In my style of journalism, except when it really genuinely borders on public interest, I detest writing about, let alone attacking, people’s personality. In the same way I don’t fancy making myself the subject of my writing.
An old lady who says reading my article on Mondays and Fridays is one of her rituals, drew my attention during campaigning for my quest last year to become president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and asked why I had not written anything in this column about my intentions “like some others are doing”. Her words in quote. I replied that there were far more issues of national import to write about than my individual self. “I am impressed” she remarked, and prayed for my success.
That notwithstanding, I have to go against my style and write a bit about myself today. Or may be not exactly about myself because this issue should concern every well-meaning Sierra Leonean. It would seem certain recidivists in our society are hell bent on framing up those they perceive as acting for country and by extension against them. Some people seem to be enjoying the misfortune of our country popping up whenever cocaine-trafficking in Africa is Googled. So that people they see as nonconformists should be framed up in the shameful act of involvement in cocaine.
Someone who until now had only known me by name called me up on Tuesday and said he had something very important to discuss with me. I receive these calls almost always and the reasons vary. So asked what the matter was so I could split up my very tight schedule to see him, he said it concerned a plot he overheard being hatched against me. Obviously, and naturally, I was interested. He had gone to the headquarters of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists to see me where he got my telephone number from. Even though I was running late to the British Council to attend the launch of a project that could bring e-Government to life in our lifetime in our country, I made time for us to meet up somewhere. We met around the National Library.
On 31 January, he rolled on his tape, a group of Sierra Leoneans went for a working dance at Buggy’s night club at Aberdeen in Freetown. Apparently thinking the music was too loud for anyone but them to hear what they were saying, according to my source who is willing and ready to say this anywhere, the group started discussing me. My source did not want to be noticed so the music would drown out their voice from time to time. In a nutshell, he clearly heard them say that I am a bug on them and that the best way of getting rid of me without any foul play being noticed, which is what I think an assassination would bring about, was to frame me up in a cocaine scandal. He could not hear the rest of the conversation before they apparently took notice of him. So they stopped.
Coming at a time when journalists are being attacked and harassed, this should be enough to scare me. No, I am not. This job of mine is not for the faint-hearted. Not even the illegal Armed Forces Revolutionary Council of 1997/8 and their dastardly acts could cow me even after they had shot me in the leg, never mind under a democratic dispensation.
After discussing with the young man, who says he is willing and ready to testify before the police and the courts, I thanked him and said I had to rush to the British Council. I decided to give him a token amount for his phone card and his transport fare, which he initially refused, saying “I have only done this because of the admiration I have for you”.
While I am taking precautionary measures by writing a formal report to the Inspector General of Police and his assistant for Crime Services, I wish to sound a warning that those hoodlums in the habit of threatening to beat up, frame up and do some other things against journalists with a view to cowing them are on a wild goose chase. We cannot be. We will remain as steadfast as ever. Drug traffickers should pick a leaf from the politicians. And if the plot to frame me up is the handiwork of some unscrupulous politicians, they are wasting their time. The worst one can get is death. And death comes when it must come. I have never budged and will never budge to detractions from my work. Criminality will not be allowed to take over our country. And blackmail will not rule over our psyche.
If anyone thinks planting cocaine in my car or my house or in my office is the way to get a smoking gun, they’d better think again. They should plot to bring guns to my house to shoot me and my family at night. That is more conceivable and more achievable.
The good thing is that my informant can identify the men if he sees them. With my complaint with the police, and with the public now informed about the plot, my fate is in the hands of the ordinary Sierra Leonean for whom I have turned down job offers by world media houses that want to take me and my family away from home and pay me mouth-watering salaries in countries as diverse as Kenya, Malaysia and Qatar.
Gone are those days when cowardice was the middle name of most Sierra Leoneans. And I have never longed for those days when love of money would becloud my resolve to work for home and from home. I am emboldened by the fact that when the majority of the people, ordinary and well-placed alike, see me on the streets they are very complimentary about my work. And they look genuine too. And my only passion in this job is for the job and for the ordinary man and woman coupled with the name and image of country. That is all the passion I have. Not for any politician, businessman or conman. Not for ill-gotten wealth. What is wealth outside one’s ability to afford what to feed and care for one’s family with? If wealth comes only after staking country and conscience, let me die without wealth. In the words of the late Guinean leader Sekou Toure, I prefer poverty in freedom to wealth in slavery. Bring your cocaine and set me up. God is my guide and my guard. By Umaru Fofana