The wielders of vocabularies have deployed profane and profound adjectives to describe the shameful events in Kenema during the annual Bar Association General Meeting (AGM) over the weekend. The judiciary’s inability to conduct itself in a manner befitting a respected arm of the state highlights the underlying issues plaguing our nation.

The symptoms of dysfunction, which have now metastasized into full-blown cancer, were visible long ago. The judiciary’s gross ineptness in handling corruption necessitated the formation of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to support the judiciary. The situation becomes dire when confidence in the judiciary is so low that electoral disputes require resolution outside of it. When justice is auctioned to the highest bidder, and orders from above transform upright judges into mere minions, the public often resorts to paramilitary actions to settle land disputes, frequently with the tacit approval of their lawyers. Over the weekend in Kenema, the prognosis confirmed that this cancer had gone terminal.

How do we reverse this tragedy? This question occupies the minds of well-meaning Sierra Leoneans and the few good men and women within the judiciary. It is an understatement to call it shameful to see lawyers tear-gassed and dragged from the AGM, reminiscent of legislators being dragged from parliament six years ago. Witnessing lawyers throw ballot boxes on the floor, much like government ministers a few years ago, underscores the depth of our national decline. If democracy were a person, the judiciary would be its heart; the events in Kenema have shown that our heart is in dire need of a transplant or bypass surgery.

After all we have endured as a nation, how did we descend into this decline? What happened in Kenema echoes the famous aphorism, “The chicken has come home to roost,” or the Krio proverb, “Oudat scatter ashes na en ashes de Falla.” Much scattering occurred even before the new scatterers entered the fray, but this instance is existential, potentially turning our learned men into laymen of the worst kind. I mean the machete-wielding ones and the ballot scatterers, who can plunge a nation into doom.

Many men and women of the Bar bow down in shame, while others spew verbs and verbiage to coil their despair. The outrage is understandable but not enough. It is time to stand tall and act before this centuries-old legacy erodes. Do something—anything within the precinct of the law—to save this institution from a gruesome death.