PERSONAL GLIMPSES!!: “BEHOLD I WILL DO A THING IN SIERRA LEONE!!” (1. Sam. 3:11)

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By: Winstanley. R. Bankole Johnson

Within the past 20-odd years Sierra Leone has carved out a niche for herself as a democratic icon in the sub-region beyond. So count me as among the least perturbed that our next multi-tier elections will not come and pass of as peacefully as the previous ones (five in all) dating back to 1996.  

Ignore the fact that in 1996, Gen. Bio did not formally and officially hand over to Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, nor did he formally and officially countenance the handing-over notes of his precursor Ernest Bai Koroma upon his ascendancy to the Presidency in 2018. That 2018 handing-over glitch of President Bio to have recognized that governance is continuity and accepted President Ernest Bai Koroma’s has to this day remained a serious aberration that haunted his administration from start to finish – or as we would say in typical “Service-Man” slang from “Paype to Paye-aye-Aype!!!

Tingle

Come what may the next elections – as long as a date is agreed upon them – will be conducted and opposition parties including the main APC Party will be on the ticket. There is no way that can be avoided because we are still regarded as a multi-party democratic state. Anyone wishing for those elections to be conducted as if we are in a “One Party Dictatorship State” or that they have the right to pick and choose their opponents on the ballot box ought to have done the needful to support that long ago.

So it is on that “democratic” note that the International Community will be assisting us to safeguard our “democratic” credentials that news of the arrival of various international intervention teams aimed at providing full oversights of our 24th June elections to complement our local elections organizers, observers and security sector have been music to our ears. In that commitment by the United States and British governments, the Africa Union and ECOWAS and the European Union (EU) I see a fulfillment of God’s promise to His people in Sierra Leone as recorded in 1. Samuel. 3:11 (paraphrased) to “….do a thing in Sierra Leone at which the ears (both ears in fact) of everyone that heareth it shall tingle”.

The US government’s commitment is not clear. But the ECOWAS in particular are committed to contributing 1,500 boots on the ground, whilst the EU (including their Elections Observer Mission Teams) will be fielding an aggregate of 100 short and long term mission teams comprising various specialists including EU Members of Parliament.

The ECOWAS contingent and EU compliment will be deployed throughout the sixteen (16) electoral districts to provide very close surveillances of the entire elections processes well before 24th June, and they hopefully will be around until after the dusts of discontents are settled.

Sovereign

Already there are those whose ears are tingling at news of the arrival of international observers and ECOWAS troops for the wrong reasons and with much discomforts. They are saying that as a sovereign state, we do not need foreigners to be supervising our electoral processes after sixty-two years of independence. But I beg to differ on that because even as sovereign as we are, we cannot live by ourselves and independently of the rest of the globe – neither economically, nor politically. Those who support our political sovereignty by support to our economy have an obligation to ensure that we do not deteriorate any worse off than we are already. Hence their interests.

Besides Sierra Leone was a sovereign state when in 2012 it was a Caucasian that virtually led Bio to his polling station and practically assisted him to drop his ballot paper into it the box. Also even as sovereign as we were (and have always been) it was the International Community that intervened and constrained former President Koroma to instruct the security forces not to proceed with an intended police raid at a premises in the far West of the capital where the SLPP were operating a parallel Collation Center during the 2018 elections, and which figures eventually enabled Bio to ultimately clinch power. 

Add to all the above facts the further incontrovertible facts that unlike previous dispensations, our cohesiveness as a nation has never been this stressed, nor has our peace and stability been so challenged – nay threatened – as they have been in the last five years, as to even constrain our President to have publicly admitted his inability as our Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces to guarantee the safety and security of citizens and voting materials during the elections because as he put it: “The man/woman power of our security sector is too small to adequately secure the huge number of voters (and by implication the voting materials) countrywide….”  (and for which reason he urged his own people throughout the South-East) “………to be ready to defend themselves and their votes in the coming elections”. 

That advice by the President was to his fellow South-Easterners and it has still not been replicated in the North-West, leaving us to conclude that for the rest of mankind in the North-West if push comes to shove (or as President Bio would say in Mende: “Jor-Jor N’tia Jorma”) everyone can be excused for taking the law into their own hands.

Chaos

In an environment as toxic and polarized as ours have been since this SLPP took over the reins of government on 4th April 2018, and since which date abundant evidences of selective brutality, highhandedness and uncountable loss of lives inflicted by the security sector in quelling riots and disturbances within the North-West of the country exists (in contrast to their usually kid-glove approach to quell disturbances and riots with the South-Eastern areas), the President’s advice to his South-Eastern peoples to defend themselves and their votes on elections day could only be interpreted as a recipe for chaos.

Against a backdrop of President’s Bio’s earlier admonitions to the people of the South-East (Kailahun to be specific) not to “….ever allow the APC Party to campaign or make inroads into the South-East….”, which threats have been re-echoed by various senior SLPP operatives including a former female MP Zainab Hawa Brima(??)  from Pujehun, those admonitions could also mean a deliberate intention stir up upheavals countrywide on polling day to the advantage of their own SLPP political party. So whilst they are here our international friends must not- and cannot afford to – overlook the nuances inherent in those admonitions by the President. 

Brutalization

In the past two months the social media has been awash with graphic evidences of brutalization of peaceful APC activists and supporters within the South-Eastern strongholds of the SLPP, but to which the police have as usual looked askance and effected zero arrests. The cases of a lady in the Kenema Township who had her family properties completely vandalized simply because she displayed the campaign banners of the main opposition candidate Dr. Samura Kamara in their compound, and the physical attacks and stabbings with intent on the members of the campaign entourage of the APC South Campaign Manager Mr. Momodu Maligi two days ago have yet to elicit police interests, even though as in the latter instance within the Bonthe township, it all unfolded in the very presence of the Police.

Whether or not their undemocratic actions against the APC in the South-East were a direct result of their leader’s admonition not to: “…ever allow the APC Part to campaign or make inroads into the South-East…” is unclear, but those unsavoury incidents and much more against the APC Party explains the excitement with which news of the deployment of multinational forces to supervise our elections to ensure that they remain free, fair, transparent, credible, fully participatory and inclusive have been greeted.

And we can’t wait for their arrival because what is looking ominous is that a web of conspiracy would appear to exist between and among the security sector, the civil society organizations and some local press houses to condone bad governance the government’s attempt to stifle the main opposition by a consistent distortion of facts as they affect the APC Party. For example, the Voice of America (VoA) reportage of Wednesday 25th ostensibly referenced the start of political campaigns within the heartland of the President’s home town as if to portray political tolerance. But that same reportage deliberately omitted the fact that the entire APC campaign bandwagon was attacked, some members stabbed multiple times and dispersed in broad daylight. All of that happened in real time and right in the presence of police, but without any of the perpetrators being apprehended.

Erythrophobia

Insofar as the security sector is concerned it would seem that over the last five years they have been indoctrinated into a fear or phobia for the colour of “RED” – “Erythrophobia”. The way they react at the sight of APC en-masse and in their dominant party colour (RED) is comparable only to encounters between a Matador holding a Red Flag in front of a Bull.

So even aside from recent castigations received from the Amnesty International, the EU, US and UK governments, all lending credence to their overt SLPP partisanship or loyalty, (now compounded of course by the open aversions of President Bio himself about their incapacity for the purpose of effectively safeguarding lives, property and voting materials on elections day), the security sector just cannot be trusted to supervise even a peaceful Paramount Chieftaincy election in the North-West. 

As things stand and by the continued indifference of especially the Police to demonstrate the requisite expertise and neutrality when required to do so, the APC would appear to be nearing the end of their tether. The APC cannot afford or be expected to be pushed beyond limits in a an  arena that is supposed to be competitive, free, fair, credible, transparent, fully participatory and inclusive without reacting.

As one famous write said: “There is a limit to every man’s endurance, but if you drive even the bravest of soldiers beyond that point, his reactions could be mistaken for cowardice”. 

We all owe it to our consciences to keep Sierra Leone peaceful. But we would hate to see a repeat of the 1996 elections when the voting processes were almost disrupted by sporadic gunfire by the security sector throughout the city and in certain parts of the country, which action ultimately disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters.

So the sooner the multinational elections intervention contingents begin to arrive to supervise the 24th June elections and help sustain our democratic gains, the better. In their arrival, God’s promise to do a thing in Sierra Leone  will become manifest and the ears (both ears in fact) of everyone that heareth it shall tingle. The elections will be conducted peacefully,  mortals will remain mortals because power belongeth only to God. (Psalm 62:11).

My fervent hope is that going forward a strategic deployment of the multinational elections contingents countrywide will be another glorious opportunity for IG Fayia Sellu and the SL Police to regain their lost public respect and thereafter begin to demonstrate loyalty to the state – not to a personality as many are suspecting

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