Police Should Rethink The Ban On Vehicular Movement On Elections Day 

February 13, 2018

More than three million Sierra Leoneans are expected to cast their ballots on March 7 for the next president, parliamentarians and local council leaders.

No fewer than sixteen political parties will participate in these elections, although only three parties – the ruling All Peoples Congress, Sierra Leone Peoples Party and National Grand Coalition – have any realistic chance of winning.

The campaigns have been largely peaceful, save for the unfortunate relapse into violence on 26th January when one man was fatally stabbed to death and scores injured, after thugs, reportedly belonging to or aligned with the APC, went on the rampage on Campbell Street in Freetown. Across the country, political activity is at a crescendo, yet there is no cause for apprehension about a total breakdown in law and order.

But if one is reading from the script of the Sierra Leone Police, one would be tempted to believe that the forthcoming elections would erupt into mayhem and anarchy, or that war would be declared on elections day! Thus, according to them, a ban on vehicular movement, save for accredited vehicles and those belonging to essential services, is the panacea for a looming breakdown in law and order.

But what the police have failed to do is to furnish us with sound and compelling information which may have informed their fear. What they have done instead is to issue vague threats to ruthlessly deal with anyone who defers the controversial restriction on freedom of movement on elections day.

We call it controversial because Sierra Leone has a track record of conducting peaceful, credible, fair and transparent elections since 1996 – at a time the Revolutionary United Front vandals were chopping the hands and limbs of voters for simply voting! Also, in 2002 and 2007, vehicular movement was allowed even as people voted, despite the volatile situation that occasioned the end of the war and high tension between a combative opposition desperate to return to power after almost fifteen years and a determined ruling party eager to cling on to power, respectively. In 2012, in a bizarre new twist, the police proposed a ban on vehicular movement, for the first time in the post-war era and democratic history of the country.

Although all political parties supported the move the last time, ten out of sixteen parties that will be participating in this year’s polls have vehemently condemned the move and indeed any threat by a supposedly democratic force for good to tackle democratic resistance to an unlawful edict with lethal force.

It is our view that in the current circumstance, no law accords the police any powers to restrict freedom of movement – a fundamental right – of citizens. The 1991 Constitution and other international human rights instruments protect that fundamental right and such cannot be repudiated by any authority, save in an event of public emergency or for public safety and security, et al.

We also find it bizarre that in a country that is touted as “the most peaceful in West Africa” security sector actors cannot help but militarise what in civilised and peaceful countries is a peaceful democratic process. Not even in other “less peaceful countries” in the sub-region have elections been used as a smokescreen to violate the rights of citizens.

Besides impeding the rights of citizens to move out and about freely, the outlandish ban could potentially cost the country and ordinary citizens billions of Leones in lost revenue and income. It could as well disenfranchise voters who have moved to other neighbourhoods since the registration, including the aged and disabled. Journalists would also be challenged in doing their job as a good many do not own cars to move around on elections days.

In view of the above reasons, we fervently believe that the Police can do a lot more professional job by protecting polling stations and mounting roadblocks at strategic locations to search vehicles and apprehend mischief makers. Therefore, they should rethink the ban on vehicles, which a majority of the citizenry oppose to, as it has no legal basis in our laws in the current circumstance and has the potential to ignite violence instead of prevent same.