ARE OUR SOCIAL GATEKEEPERS THE REAL THREATS TO PEACE AND NATIONAL COHESION?

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By: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson

Is it not distressing to all and sundry that even with all the technological cyber sophistication that the Police IG Fayia Selllu boasted as at their disposal, no one within the governing Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) has been apprehended or publicly reprimanded for all the vitriolic, incendiary and inflammatory statements, as well as for openly and in some cases physically threatening and attacking members of the opposition APC in broad day light in the South-East?

Complicit

Is it not also nauseating that notwithstanding several Pressers and Public Notices issued out by them jointly or severally discouraging the dissemination of such inflammatory materials which are clear threats to national cohesion and security,  a number of Statutory regulatory and other Civil Society monitoring bodies (such as the National Political Parties Regulations Commission, (PPRC), the Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL), the Office of National Security (ONS), NSCoord, the Police, the National Elections Watch (NEW), the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Institute for governance Reforms (IGR), the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL), the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)  that ought to have been vocal enough to ensure that the next elections are conducted freely, fairly, transparently and on a level playing field are by their deafening silence on all those aberrations feigning unawareness, and appearing as complicit with the sitting government’s attempts to rig the 24th June elections?

In a majority of the instances wherein those breaches of law or peace have been threatened or actually occurred, police presence were either evident or that advance notices by the violators to them to breach peace were glaringly available on social media, but in all such instances, all of them have failed to have proactively nipped them in the bud. In the case of a video clip on that motely posse of unemployed hoodlums identifying themselves as natives of the same village in Pujehun District as where the Information Minister Rado Swarray hailed from, they were even audacious enough to have set up road blocks and threatening to unleash damage on the convoy of the main opposition leader and flag bearer Dr. Samura Kamara if they attempted to cross their paths.

Obviously with all their vaunted cyber sophistry one wasn’t expecting it to require “Rocket Science” for the law enforcement agencies –particularly the Police and ONS – to have ascertained their precise locations and to have promptly reined them into order, more so as they were bold enough to have also identified themselves by their correct names. But not a word of that has been heard from the Security Sector since. The same holds good for the owners, operators and presenters of a notorious broadcasting outfit called “Justice Radio”.

Retribution

Even on dedicated APC Campaign days (obviously agreed/cleared with the Police, the ONS, the NSCoord, PPRC and ECSL), APC campaign rallies have continued to be disrupted by patently riotous SLPP hoodlums at every step of the way from Bonthe, Moyamba, Bo and Pujehun in the South to Kenema and Kailahun in the East, resulting in unnecessary bloodletting within APC ranks. Where that didn’t happen, peaceful APC campaign rallies would be disrupted by the unexpected arrival of convoys of the President or his VP at those same locations on dedicated APC Campaign Rally Days, ostensibly on some Official Trips/Ceremonies, but surreptitiously to wreak havoc, distract and/or disperse APC crowds because they do not wish the media to show APC popularity in those locations considered as their strongholds to the world. Peaceful citizens of those districts that have dared to openly associate with the opposition APC Party in exercise of the democratic and constitutional rights to freedoms of association are known to have been targeted for undue harassments, arrests and detention, intimidation and in a few instances, they have also either had their tenancy prematurely terminated or their homes vandalized in retribution. 

Unabated

Add to all above security lapses some derogatory and aspersive utterances attributed to both the Director of the ONS Mr. Kelly and a Police AIG Brima Jah against (particularly) the main opposition APC Party functionaries as “Agent Provocateurs”, and you will be forgiven for concluding that the heads of both Security Sectors, some MDAs and Civil Society outfits are in fact the real threats to national cohesion and peaceful co-existence, justifying our suspicions and open condemnation of them for displaying such political biases and partisanship. After all in a democratic environment like ours where more than one political party is constitutionally allowed to be fielding candidates at every electoral cycle, the right of making choices should not be denied anyone. But the trend of the SLPP supporters consistently attempting to frustrate the opposition in the South-Eastern Regions purported to be their strongholds would seem to be continuing unabated.  In Bonthe and Kailahun to be precise, nearly all APC Executives are in hiding in fear for their lives.  It is on account of those same patently biased attitudes that recently caused the US Government, EU and Amnesty Internal to have cast serious aspersions and doubts on the integrity and professionalism of our Judiciary and the Security Sector, further justifying a huge loss of public confidence in them.   

Liberal

Contrast all above unsavoury attacks, chaos and provocations unleashed by SLPP hoodlums upon the APC on their campaign rally days in their South-Eastern strongholds with the quality of reception, hospitality and peaceful climate always accorded by the APC (including their own hoodlums) anytime and every time the SLPP arrived in their own North-Western strongholds on their campaign rally days, and honestly tell me whether by their statements the ONS Director Kelly and AIG Brima Jah were objective and honest to their consciences and should still be on the national pay roll  for describing the APC opposition party supporters as “Agent Provocateurs”. Or for the Head of NSCoord Abdulai Caulker to have also wrongly identified and blamed the “Social Media” as the threat to our national peace and cohesion.  As a matter of fact one die-hard SLPP supporter was so irked by unprovoked SLPP attacks on APC supporters in the South-East that he remarked-: “Makeni is politically liberal and there’s no report of political intimidation directed to minority parties like the SLPP in that part of the country, unlike as in Kenema where reports of violence by the SLPP against the APC was recorded” –Unquote

Restraint

A few years ago we saw video clips of the SLPP leader urging his supporters “….not to remain calm….even though he as their leader he would remain calm….” So could it be that the violence unleashed upon APC in the South-East is on that authority from their leader? How would the Security Sector have felt and reacted if the unwanted violence meted out to APC by SLPP in the South-East were being retaliated in the North-West (by the APC on the SLPP) each time the latter are on their campaign trail?  So for specific attention of the PPRC, ECSL, ONS, NSCoord, Police, NEW, CARL, IGR, HRCSL, SLBA and SLAJ the real threat to social and national cohesion and peace are not the APC agents and supporters, but they themselves as our Social Gatekeepers of law and order whose moral responsibility it is to have been holding all sectors to account to ensure rigid or regular compliances with their remits, but are failing in their obligations to do so.

What would be wrong if they as moral guarantors had requested the SLPP leader to have uttered a few words of restraints to reverse his earlier order for them “….not to remain calm….” So as to dissuade his supporters from attacking APC supporters and attempting to prohibit their entry each time they venture to campaign in their South-Eastern strongholds? Could their reluctance to do so be connected to some insidious portends for our national cohesion as a single country, having due regard to the fact that with the exception of the SLAJ, all the heads of the PPRC, ECSL, ONS, NSCoord, Police, NEW, CARL, IGR, HRCSL and SLBA share hegemonic affinity”?

Demands

As we approach the polls the demands of the APC on the ECSL are all in accordance with extant laws and international best practices to wit:

  • Production of the raw disaggregated Voter Registration Data in accordance with Sec.13 of the Public Elections Act of 2022
  • Rectification of the botched voters registration processes that not only disenfranchised thousands of eligible potential voters in the North-West but that also “criminally enfranchised” thousands of “Minors” in the South-East ultra-vires the law
  • Adjustments to compensate for the inordinate delays by ECSL to have completed the Final Voters Registration processes months before the elections in accordance with Sec.18 of the PEA of 2022

If our votes are our rights and President Bio is purported to be “a” – not “the” – “Father of Democracy, then these inordinate delays by the ECSL to have complied with the extant laws governing the integrity of the voters ID Cards and timely releases of the disaggregated Final Voters Registers to all political parties contesting in the coming elections, should also be a matter of interest and concerns to the SLPP as well, unless of course they have ulterior motives. So the APC are not really asking the ECSL Mohammed Konneh for favours.  And insofar as their demands fall within the ambit of our laws Mohammed Konneh is obligated to either comply or provide satisfactory responses to all questions posed by the opposition. And that is what all of them (PPRC, ECSL, ONS, NSCoord, Police, NEW, CARL, IGR, HRCSL, SLBA and SLAJ) should have been incessantly reminding the ECSL to comply with, instead of the police repeatedly issuing Pressers conveying veiled warnings and threats against the APC Executives not to breach peace, as if it is the APC that has been violating procedures.

All elections demand maximum evidence integrity and professionalism in their conduct for them to be transparent and credible. Otherwise there would be no need for it to proceed where potential voters cannot identify themselves by their Voters’ ID Cards or do not know where to cast their ballots. So APC demands on the ECSL are legit and should be squarely addressed before we can be guaranteed that the ECSL are serious about conducting free, fair, transparent, credible, fully participatory and violence free elections. That was exactly the situation that convinced Mr. Bio the SLPP to have participated in the 2012 and 2018 elections despite repeated threats of their leader not to have done so. But I shall await directions from our Leader and Flag bearer as appropriate on 14th instant, having due regard for our anxieties to rid this country of this government by the ballot box pronto.

This government assumed power through multi-party democratic elections and have always known that after five years in office they would again be required to account for their stewardship by a democratic process. Tejan Kabbah and Ernest Bai Koroma won second terms on account of their stellar performances. As a matter of fact in the latter case Ernest Bai Koroma was bold enough to encourage the electorate not to re-elect him if they were not satisfied with his achievements. And he won at first ballot by 57% of votes.  So I am at a serious loss for the gerrymandering tactics by the ECSL to keep SLPP in power against the wishes of the majority and the almost palpable level of intolerance by this SLPP regime for alternative views at this hour of reckoning.

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