A renowned lawyer Mohamed Pa-Momo Fofanah has condemned the recent Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Kenema.

Fofanah, a barrister and solicitor with nearly three decades of experience, directed sharp criticism at the conduct of the AGM, particularly singling out Francis Ben Kaifala, the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), who also played a role in the proceedings.

In a detailed letter addressed to the outgoing President of the SLBA, Fofanah expressed grave concerns over what he described as a “hijacking” of the Bar Association’s democratic processes. The AGM, he argued, was marred by disorder and a lack of transparency, fundamentally compromising the integrity of the association and its ability to uphold the rule of law.

Fofanah’s primary contention revolves around the involvement of Francis Ben Kaifala in the AGM. Kaifala, despite his role as a watchdog against corruption, chaired the meeting. Fofanah highlighted the inherent conflict of interest in Kaifala’s dual roles, stressing that as the head of the ACC, Kaifala should have recused himself from any leading position in the elections to avoid any semblance of partiality or impropriety.

The manner in which the current annual general election was conducted in Kenema is roundly condemned,” Fofanah wrote. “The Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption (ACC), in the person of Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala, had no business chairing the general elections. Whilst he is at liberty to vote as a member of the SLBA, like all of us who are registered members of the association, because he is, however, the Commissioner of the ACC at the moment, which serves as public watchdog for corruption and corrupt practices, including as the case may be those that may arise from or are reported against the SLBA, Mr. Kaifala should have removed himself completely from conducting the said election.

Further, Fofanah decried the presence and actions of the police at the AGM. He reported that police officers manned the entry gates and were involved in maintaining order inside the hall. This, he noted, was both unnecessary and inappropriate for a meeting of legal professionals. The use of tear gas and the sight of scattered ballot boxes, captured and shared widely on social media, painted a picture of chaos and intimidation rather than a fair and orderly election process.

The manner in which the Police is drawn into our activities as lawyers, including in particular our annual general elections, is shameful, to say the least,” Fofanah asserted. “The fact that the Police was seen manning the entry gate to the election hall and at the same time failing to maintain law and order when unarmed members of the SLBA were lawfully conducting their affairs, is regrettable.”

In his letter, Fofanah made a clear and unambiguous demand: the annulment of the AGM and its outcomes. He argued that the integrity and moral standing of the SLBA were at stake. Without addressing these significant irregularities, he contended, the association would lose its authority to comment on or defend the rule of law in Sierra Leone.

Even more, the events that unfolded in Kenema today speak to only one unfortunate fact, that our association has been hijacked, and that Mr. Kaifala, who was also the elections chairman in the past AGM election, is a pioneer of the said hijacking and its sad events,” Fofanah wrote.

He urged the outgoing president to take decisive action to restore the association’s credibility: “You do cause today’s AGM and whatever came of it to be annulled and a date fixed sooner for fresh elections to be conducted for the 2024 Bar Executive at a place and venue that the general membership shall agree upon.

Fofanah’s letter underscores a broader crisis of confidence within the SLBA. The allegations and the call for annulment highlight deep divisions and dissatisfaction among its members. The situation casts a shadow over the association’s role in upholding legal standards and the rule of law in Sierra Leone.

The SLBA, as the largest and oldest Bar Association in sub-Saharan Africa, holds a significant position not just nationally but regionally. The manner in which it handles this internal crisis will likely have lasting implications for its reputation and efficacy.

As the legal community in Sierra Leone awaits a response, the call for annulment stands as a crucial test of the SLBA’s commitment to transparency, fairness, and the rule of law.