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AND SO OH LORD WHAT THEN IS OUR HOPE?

May 17, 2021

By: Winstanley.R.Bankole Johnson

As a lateral thinker, the appointment of a Minister of Western Regions (encompassing both the Western Urban and Rural Areas) conjure up a few situations in my inquisitive mind as follows-:

  1. Both the Mayor of the Freetown City and the Chairperson Western Area District Councils automatically now have two layers of supervision – (a) The Minister of Local Government on whose Ministry direct supervision of Councils statutorily devolves per the Local Government Act (LGA) No.1 of 2004 and (b) The Minister of Western Region (MWR), whose remit is yet to be clarified.

Those who fallaciously continue to entertain the view that appointment of a MWR may not seriously impact the two Councils by way of political supervision only need to carefully peruse Sec.22 of the LGA which says and I quote-: “Government Ministries shall in respect of any function devolved to local councils under this Act or any other enactment which relates to them, be responsible for the formulation of national policies, and local councils shall act in accordance with such policies”. Full stop. From here we see that no new laws need be passed for the MWR to find direct and or indirect relevance with or to the two local councils, whether or not she is allowed to participate in the Local Council Inter-Ministerial Committee on Decentralization (Re. Sec. 109 of the LGA)

  • Decentralization – the process by which functions and resources are devolved (ceded) from central government to local councils – is throttled into abeyance overnight, whether or not the functions of the MWR is clarified. 
  • Independent resource mobilization and budgetary controls within the two councils is hampered as local and international partnerships funding inflows for specific projects will now have to be suspended temporarily for clarifications so as to avoid funding duplications to the central government.
  • Every decision of the two local councils impacting significant development will now have to be first (secretly) cleared via the Local Government Minister with the MWR to ensure their full compliance that will completely subsume both councils and only promote pro-SLPP government development paradigms.
  • It can now be safely assumed that with a MRW now on seat, the government’s dogged determination to have introduced and conduct a One-Party-like Non-Party Local Councils elections come 2022 has, in the face of equally popular and dogged opposition from the electorate been deferred. 

“Fet!”

But I have to be very careful how I speculate so as not to give this President who say he acts “intentionally” and is dispassionate about people like us with whom he does not “share work ethics”. Pundits however believe that it is the SLPP Local Government Expert who, on account of glaring public loathing for the SLPP within the Western Regions and being under pressure to justify his hire, must have conjured up this tactic of appointing a MWR. They believe it will help their Party create niches in both localities by the forthcoming elections. The fact that the position comes with a Cabinet Rank, unlike as for other areas with a tradition for having Resident Ministers underscores the seriousness they attach to the enterprise, in addition to a desperate desire to clip the wings and clout of particularly the Mayor of Freetown. “Na Dat Geh D Fet”!! . 

But as we all know nothing in this life lasts more than is necessary.

Jittery

Honestly appointing Resident Minister for the Western Regions is not a bad concept all. Nigeria has a Minister of the Federal Capital Territory one may want to argue. But in territorial land size and population can you compare Freetown to Abuja?  Besides is there a dedicated Minister of the City of London with Cabinet Rank in the UK? The point at this stage is that appointing a MWR has not left this government any smarter, and smirks of their insidious intolerance of alternative political views.

In the midst of persistent scuffles between the central government and both opposition-led Councils jointly or severally, without allowing proper feasibility studies and an understanding of the basis for those confrontations that are the likely obstacles to fostering good working relationships between the central government and both councils that would facilitate the rapid devolution of functions, is suggestive that it was conceptualized in bad faith, chiefly intended to completely subsume both councils outside the governing party’s prisms, constrain whatever latitude the two councils now wax, and inhibit their performances so that they do not become as effective and as conspicuous as would ultimately make the political party they represent the preferred choice of the electorate come next elections. The SLPP is overly jittery about that.  

Dilute

What people are not seeing or understanding in the desperation of this SLPP government is that they are doing everything to avoid repeating their mistakes of failing to have controlled and contained me as Mayor of Freetown prior to the 2007 Presidential elections which they eventually lost.  In my time their first step was to dilute the importance and significance of a single Mayor in the entire country.  So they proceeded to change the titles of the political heads of Councils of the major District Townships (Koidu, Bo, Kenema and Makeni) from “Chairpersons” to “Mayors”, because quoting the then Minister of Local Government Siddikie Brima: “we don tire wit dis Mayor bo…..so we don create borku Mayors dem now for dilute Bankole Johnson ihn significance”. Upon hearing his basis, I then called to remind him that as Bonthe Mainland was also a part of the Colony, they should also have Mayor, and that was how Mayor Garrick came to be installed as the first mayor of the Bonthe Urban Municipality

But to date can we proudly say having as many “Mayors” has had the desired effect? Just last week the Resident Minister of North-East was on National TV lamenting that fact.  The fact is that the policy was not introduced to complement and fast track administration and development for the peoples but to challenge and compete with just one man: Mayor Bankole Johnson. And as usual with undesired and unnecessary comparisons we end up spiting ourselves. In the case of replicating “Mayors” the focus was lost as the very concept was anathema to localities where Town and District Councils administrations have always been more accustomed to.

Unwieldy

Further truth be told the Freetown City spanning from the Orugu Bridge in the East to Cowreh Junction in the Goderich dead West environs has in the last 13 years post my administration become too large (population wise) and unwieldy to be administered by a single Mayor as a single “Metropolis”. These were the same challenges that warranted the creation of smaller manageable Municipal “Boroughs” as in London, each headed by their own Mayors but directly reporting to or being indirectly co-ordinated/supervised by the Mayor of London. It is to emphasize their subordinate statuses that those Borough Mayors have to be elected annually, whereas that Mayor of the City of London holds electable office tenure of four (4) straight years. Such a restructuring was under contemplation by the last APC administration and that was honestly what I was expecting this government to have emulated as opposed to appointment of a MWR to overcrowd as it were the administrative landscape of the municipality. 

But even where that did not happen and this government was that desperate to appoint a MWR, the logical choice of the sitting Mayor of Freetown for the purpose, someone with a firm grasp of issues, challenges and possible solutions and whom they will fully capacitate would have won the hearts and minds across the political divide. That would have diffused any misgivings about the political intolerance of this government, confused the opposition parties into disarray and posited the SLPP as committed to national reconciliations and peaceful co-existence.

Krios

Perhaps the most intrigued by the appointment of a MWR are the Krios. The political dynamics of the last 15-odd years do not convince us that either of the two major political parties entertain any serious political agenda for us within the only place we know as our home: Freetown. So whereas successive governments have been paying much attention to non-elected Tribal Heads to the point of addressing them as “Chiefs” (without “Chiefdoms”), bestowing them with National Insignias and Awards and or Medals of Office and even placing all of them on government monthly payroll and some of them on the Boards of para-statals as is making them wax authority, Krios have continued to be largely and consistently marginalized both in the Local and National Government administration paradigms within the Western Areas, which is the only place we as “Non-Natives”  proudly call our homelands. It is as if we are also not integral to the socio-political dynamics of the Western Areas.

Much as Krios as “Non-Natives” cannot be “Balkanized” into tribes and democracy being a game of numbers, the appointment of a MWR is clearly sounding a “death knell” for Krio political relevance within the Western Regions in the short term, given a preponderance of demographic pressures by “Natives”.

And so Oh Lord what then is our hope?

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