By: Winstanley. R Bankole. Johnson
I listened to a recent social media voice note by my friend and brother the Minister of Defense Brig. (Rtd.) Kelly Conteh admonishing serving military personnel to stay away from politics with rapt attention. To this day I cannot fathom what the influencing factors were that prompted him to do so in our relatively tranquil political environment, but with the benefits of hindsight however, I consider his admonitions ominous. Ominous because the last two occasions that come to mind when senior military officers have had to remind their serving personnel to stay away from politics, military take overs ensued. That was prior to 1992 and just before the Johnny Paul coup. The only assuaging factor is that his same concerns were re-echoed by our President and Commander-in-Chief Brig. Gen. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio not too long after. I say assuaging because even though the President’s wife and Consort had once reminded us that her husband holds a “PhD Certificate” in “Coup Plotting”, it is very unlikely that he will ever overthrow himself with less than 90 days to our next Presidential elections.
So to me, the possibility of the President’s specialization to stage coups between now and then ever getting the better of him, or that the antics of the security sector to attempt to intimidate voters with sporadic gun fire like they did in 1996 will be repeated will never arise.
Whatever betide, I feel compelled to remind my fellow citizens at this point in time that the very last thing we will entertain – no matter how degenerate our political polarization and even on pain of influencing a self-inflicted holocaust – is a Military Coup. My personal reason for such abhorrence is because President Bio – in his own words – has done so much for this country in the last five years (and even far in excess of his manifesto commitments), that he is not afraid to account for his stewardship. So I would hate for any sinister individual or group of sinister persons to attempt to stage a Coup that would deprive him of the once in a lifetime opportunity of luxuriating in the experience of handing over power to Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara come June 24th. After conducting five (5) consecutive term elections and witnessing multiple peaceful changes of political dispensations, we are more than ready to defend our democracy.
My immediate reaction on social media to the Defense Minister’s admonitions to serving military personnel was spontaneous and in this terse quote: “Defense Minister urging serving military personnel to abstain from politics? Let him start with removing soldiers from the security detail of politicians” – Unquote.
And it was apt, because the proximity of serving military personnel to politicians automatically transforms them into “Politically Exposed Personnel/Persons” (PEP), in exactly the same way that all civilians with a proximity to Politicians (including all their Banking assets and liabilities) qualify them for automatic characterization as “Politically Exposed Persons” (PEP) – Ref. The Hon. Messrs. Justices Biobelle Goodwill, John R Bankole Thompson (Decd.) and Attuguda during the calumnious Commissions of Inquiries (COIs) of the SLPP in 2018/19, that were deliberately concocted to intimidate functionaries of the former Ernest Bai Koroma APC-Led government into permanent silence through the threatened implementation of some phantom “White Paper Recommendations” that would now appear to have developed clay legs.
And among the dangers of keeping military officers too close to politicians is that based on past experiences they are prone to developing a proclivity to disturbing the peace and good order of society through coups, by wanting to assume and enjoy themselves the same standard of living as those they are supposed to be safeguarding. And there are clear precedents to this to wit: Most of the guys who were involved in the coup bringing Johnny Paul to power on 25th May 1997 were bodyguards to the now infamous NPRC officers. They even included a “Batman” like Lance Corporal Gborie and other bodyguards. This is how dangerous proximity of serving state security personnel to politicians and political affluence can be. And it starts from their appearances. Close protection Officers to politicians are undeniably neater, fresher, cleaner and reek of more expensive fragrances – almost like their bosses – than those confined to barracks deployments. And that is not because of any physical impairments, but simply because they lack the correct political connections to have been so deployed.
Though I suspect Brig. (Rtd.) Kelly Conteh’s admonitions were anchored in good faith and in the main intended to protecting their career prospects, I wonder why it took him this long to have spoken out, as in reality and with abounding supporting concrete evidences of same on social media, there would seem to be a very thin divide between professionalism and political partisanship within the security sector. Thus the involvement of serving military personnel in active politics is now commonplace, and a few of which I will list below for the Defense Minister’s kind attention:
- The fracas arising out of the Thermal Generator Plant removal from Makeni that resulted in the loss of uncountable lives and properties. I distinctly heard the Energy Minister Kanja Sesay (a Civilian) on the airwaves confirming that he (and I quote): “….gave the orders”. To this day the report of the Public Inquiry set up by this government to investigate that Makeni saga hasn’t been published, so no one can ascertain the extent of those “Orders” that he gave and whether they included direct “Orders” to the Police and Military jointly or separately to fire live rounds of ammunition, and on what basis/authority his “orders’ were given.
- From testimonies of Fatmatta Sawanneh the former Chairlady of the SLPPP who is in fact a civilian, she informed the public about the involvement of the Chief of Defense Staff of the RSLAF, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Lahai Lawrence Leema and some members of the Presidential Guard from as early as early as 02:00 hours on 29th April 2020 in activities leading up to what we now know as “The Pademba Road Massacre” which also resulted in loss of uncountable lives.
- A few of our APC Comrades returning from our last APC National Delegates’ Convention in Makeni that chose to use the Grafton/Regent Hillside Road were allegedly accosted by military personnel deployed at a checkpoint close to the Presidential Lodge and they roundly molested without provocation. Our Party Secretary General Lansana Dumbuya Esq, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and a former APC Deputy Minister of Education Mahmoud Tarawally allegedly either had their vehicles and Lap Tops extensively searched and or seized and their personal assistants roughed up without reasonable causes.
- Two separate video clips of men in military uniforms and fully armed within the President’s Lodge either threatening to deal with “any Tolongbo” or seen alone (describing himself as Hungry Lion) narrating his exploits in the days leading up to the last Bye-Elections at Constituency No.110.
When one considers that all of the instances detailed above involved men in military gears who wore “…..the same Green” that some senior officers also had on as they betrayed their oaths of loyalty to their Commander-in-Chief in 1996 by secretly supporting their respective political parties, then will one be able to appreciate the admonitions of the Defense Minister to serving military personnel to stay away from politics, and also to understand that a very thin divide has always existed between professionalism and partisanship within the security sector.
As a matter of fact I am sure many can vividly recall an incident as far back as 2005/6 when I was Mayor of Freetown. A very senior military personnel accompanied by two civilians (all three of them are still alive) were dispatched from State House with “Orders” to seize my Civilian-led Political Council administration and supervise an Emergency Cleaning of the City. At a time when the highest monthly subvention to the Council for Solid Waste Management was Le30Million Old Leones, they came with over Le100Million (Old Leones) to pay into the Council’s account for the purpose. Simply put, the offer was rejected, but they proceeded all the same to conduct the said “Cleaning” independent of the Council and as usual made a huge mess of the city streets thereafter. If that wasn’t a clear involvement or interference of “the military” in politics then I wonder what else it was.
From developments last Sunday at the “Mile 38” Checkpoint I would imagine it is about time that those same admonitions by the Defense Minister to serving military personnel are cascaded the Head of the Sierra Leone Police as well so as to remind them that their services should be to Country, and not only the sitting government and/or political party of the day “to the latter”. With all guns blazing in the direction of the APC Flagbearer and most popular Presidential candidate Dr. Samura Kamara, the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans read deeply into the incident as an assassination attempt on his life. That was clearly politics Mr. Defense Minister. Otherwise it wouldn’t have warranted the personal interventions of both the Police IG Fayia Sellu and the Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, not forgetting to mention a “Tweet” from the German Embassy, Freetown for restraints.
The security sector knew full well in advance of Dr. Samura Kamara’s return last Sunday and as Leader of the largest political party in the country, the turn out to welcome him back could not have been unexpected. So here was a golden opportunity for them to have won the hearts and minds of both the citizenry and the wider international community by according him the same level of security coverage as they do his counterpart political leader President Bio but which they frittered, leading to an unnecessary standoff.
As the elections loom it will be unthinkable for the SLPP government – whether directly or through sustained remote manipulation and indifferences of Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL), Political Parties Regulations Commission (PPRC) or any of the Security Forces – to ever expect that in a multi-party democratic environment guaranteed by the National Constitution, and under the watchful eyes of a putative “Father of Democracy” they are claiming the President to be, an opposition party as savvy as the APC would ever allow themselves to be muzzled and cowed into silence as to allow only the ruling SLPP functionaries and politicians continue to be overly protected as they flaunt their party candidates, colours and banners unfettered in the enjoyment of constitutional rights and privileges regarding electioneering campaigns. This is not a One Party State and the sooner personnel of the security sector are reined in on their obligations in that regard, the better for our collective peace, political stability and national cohesion. Otherwise I suspect ominous portents ahead.
Thankfully developments arising from the incidents at the “Mile 38” checkpoint reveal clear pointers:
- That our security sector can always measure up to the task (if they really want to) because by their joint interventions, the Security Chiefs were able to restore and accord relative security protection to Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara to proceed on his “Dress Rehearsals” for the ultimate “Triumphant Entry” into Freetown.
- Unless unfettered campaign accesses and security of protection are accorded to the opposition parties in the same way the SLPP are accorded them to demonstrate their impartiality and professionalism, then the admonition of the Defense Minister for serving security personnel to stay away from politics will be a travesty and a recipe for chaos in the days ahead. It should be borne in mind that between the dissolution of Parliament and conduct of elections on 24th June in accordance with Sec. 85 and Sec.87 of the 1991 Constitution respectively, the stakes of both Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara and Brig. Gen (Rtd.) Bio under the Constitution for the Presidency rank pari-passu and the latter should under no circumstances be accorded any preferential security coverage as would make the playing field uneven.