January 14, 2020
By: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson
Last year’s Santa Clauses visiting this county were the thinnest I have seen in my entire life. And I wasn’t alone in that observation. Instead of the usually pot-bellied images bearing gifts and traversing fields fountains, moors and mountains afar, the two I caught sight of looked emaciated, dejected and forlornly gaunt – like wandering Arabs in a desert. One of them looked soooooo broke, that he was caught on camera negotiating the price of a sizeable “Tapalapa” and Sweet (condensed) Milk from a hawker. The other looked equally poorer and completely lost, his neck ostensibly craning out of his Turtle-Neck T-shirt, with his own Santa tunic sagging from his torso as if it was a hand-me down from a previously rotund owner.
Knowing full well the kind of robustness Santas should reflect for kids to have any hope in their visits, I remonstrated on the matter of their appearances with a few of my SLPP political sparring partners as to what they could possibly have done to our economy that caused Santa’s health to have deteriorated so fast in just eighteen (18) months of their watch. Not surprisingly, and as if under some indoctrinating spell, their responses were the same: “They had inherited severely malnourished and broken Santas from the previous APC administration”.
“Aye Bo!! Santa again?” I quipped. And I continued: “OK, but why did you guys not use some of those missing Le140billion reported in the Auditor General’s Report to have beefed a few of them up for just the Yuletide?”
Their response again was unanimous: “That Le140billion was a cumulative aggregate starting back from Year 2014”. But I countered them again by drawing their attention to a categorical statement by the Auditor General that those figures actually relate to “…..the period under review”, which meant the Financial Year 2018 Alone!! Finally they conceded that it was out of sheer greed and political vilification that they had inadvertently allowed last year’s Santas to suffer such health debilitations in the same way this government (Bank of Sierra Leone in particular) has for two straight years now, been refusing to pay away the exit benefits of its former Non-Executive Board Directors for the residual tenure of their contracts prematurely terminated upon assumption of this SLPP administration in 2018. Could it probably be that is also because they want us too to look as emaciated like those Santas? Incidentally this is the very first time in the fifty-six (56) year history of the Bank of Sierra Leone, that an incumbent Governor has unilaterally decided to withhold legitimate exit benefits overdue and owing the former Non-Executive Directors of the Premier Board in this country.
The privations arising from our current harsh economic climate notwithstanding, the last Christmas passed off peacefully. Christmas as we all know is the season that many believe it is their God given right to access unlimited gifts from those who have managed to weather multiple financial storms by giving the world the proverbial “sunshine and telling Master Jesus the rest”. “Wey Me Krissmess?” they would menacingly ask as you cross their paths.
But trust the Sierra Leonean to be ever buoyant even in the most difficult of conditions. So the social media was agog with a variety of witty responses to stabilize body and soul. One blogger posted: “December 25th is Christmas Day if you could afford to celebrate it. Otherwise just consider it another Calendar Day”. Another subscriber advised- : “Don’t let the festive season rule you: Be in control of your life”. Not to be outdone yet another, blogger probably using it as a warning shot for his many lady admirers posted-: “Who else has realized that this year’s is not only drying lips; but pockets as well”. Enough frugal pieces of advice I suppose to have lured many of us with equally frugal and content minds away from unnecessary debt burden.
Except for a frightening experience we encountered along Goderich Street on returning from service at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Christmas Day was relatively peaceful. Ascending the gradient towards Sackville Street junction we were alarmed to see well over 300 Okada Riders, hooting, revving and gyrating their bikes as they headed eastwards, terrorizing motorists and pedestrians into cowardice. The entire scenario would have made the famous Hell’s Angels fraternity annual outing in the New York suburb looked like a picnic. An innocent Taxi Driver almost had his vehicle windshields smashed into smithereens for having had the audacity to have waded into their un-coordinated formation from the lower end of Sackville Street, albeit inadvertently. The Okada Riders had lost a colleague and were on their way to the Kissy Road cemetery for the interment of his remains.
But whether out of a compunction of dispiritedness engendered by their poor terms and conditions of service and job insecurity or that they were acting in strict compliance with some unwritten Office of National Security (ONS) Code of Conduct, Police presence evaporated throughout the fifteen minutes duration of that melee and the trundling Okada Riders were simply a law unto themselves until they thankfully disappeared into the horizon, leaving in their trail audible gasps of relief by stupefied bystanders.
That wasn’t the first time security presence was evaporating when most required or at the slightest evidence of impending riots (ostensibly to attend to the call of nature). And it is a coincidence that the ONS must begin to seriously investigate. Evidences of that abounded in the entire central business district last December. Pickpockets had a rollicking spree snatching valuables from the unwary victims sometimes at knife point in broad day light. On that day along Goderich Street however, the slightest trigger of confusion during those fifteen ungodly minutes could have resulted in massive collateral damage (which the Police would again incidentally have classified as another “One –Off”) on a scale that would have made identification of the victims or the respective political parties to which they belonged impracticable. No matter how Francis Langoba Kelly of the ONS might feel offended, those are the “tinder box- like” security gaps that impels the US Embassy to be issuing periodic Travel Advisory Notices (TAN) for the safety and security of their own citizens.
Those who believe my apprehensions are misplaced need only to reflect on the aftermath of some 200 Bike Riders trundling into a remote village in Mali just before Christmas in what was believed to be an ordinary spree. But they were “Boko Haram” in disguise and before long they opened indiscriminate firing on the peaceful villagers that left in their trail over 50 corpses of innocent bystanders. We have troops on international peace keeping missions and we need to keep our backs covered at all times. With our pervading state of lawlessness, high youth unemployment and equally high propensity for politicians and other miscreants to manipulate situations to their narrow advantage, we would not know who will influence whom to infiltrate malcontents to blow otherwise manageable riotous situations out of control, which is all the more reason why our security agencies would need to step up their game.
Travel Advisory Notices
The United States Embassy was unequivocal in their recent TAN over the past Yuletide to wit-: “Exercise increased caution in Sierra Leone due to crime……Violent Crime such as armed robbery and assault are common…..Local Police lack the resources, capacity and training to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents…… ….The US government is unable to provide emergency services to US citizens outside Freetown at night ……And US citizens are prohibited from travelling outside the capital after dark…….Do not resist robbery…..Do not display wealth such as expensive watches or jewelry……….” .
From the above (written in the present continuous tense) it means-:
- That notice wasn’t issued peremptorily and restricted only to the last Yuletide, but after intense contemplation by the US Embassy of our steadily deteriorating social conditions
- The local Police personnel that is lacking in virtually everything (resources, capacity and training) includes the very Inspector General Moigbe right up at “Dan” in the North to the least Corporal “Wongo-Wanga” in any lock-up duty station at “Bath-Sheba” in the South.
- The inability of even the US to effectively protect its citizens outside our capital because law and order is perennially lax in our hinterlands nails another blatant lie peddled by our politicians that Freetown is not Sierra Leone. Of course it is, as even with over 125 of our 149 Parliamentarians being directly elected from the hinterlands, those MPs still do not have what it takes to guarantee the social safety and security of the millions of plebiscites who keep returning them to Parliament every five (5) years – for nothing.
- The net adverse cumulative impact of such notices (TAN) by worse of all Uncle Sam is an implicit “caveat” to potential international investors not to make our country Sierra Leone their destination of choice because it is volatile.
It is against such shameful baseline that our Police have continued to wrongly pride themselves as still “A Force for Good”, and against which same lamentable backdrop we expect to win the MCC package that year-in: year-out, the Americans have been provocatively dangling before successive Presidents in their “Smell But Not Taste” antics.
It is for the records that even though US TANs have periodically been issued since 2002, no government has ever developed the fortitude to ever challenge or remonstrate with any US Ambassador on their adverse impacts to our country, or to tell them that even though worse things do happen in other bigger sister e.g. London, Tel-Aviv, Bagdad or Teheran, no such Travel Advisory Notices are issued by their missions in those countries. So why us?
Nevertheless it has to be agreed first of all that responsibility for the development of this country rests entirely in our hands as citizens. That’s what the late Siaka Probyn Stevens used to mean by the phrase: “Eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay for liberty”. No Mo Ibrahim; no Idrisss Elba or Isaiah Washington; no Akon – no matter how many Diplomatic Passports we accord each of them – No MCC Scorecard completion is going to help us achieve that.
Many a time we exhibit such unbridled loathing for each other that we proverbially “cut our noses to spite ourselves” with utter disregard for the international repercussions of our actions. For example, the unceremonious and disgracefully unorthodox manner by which Boards of credible institutions like Banks are dismantled (including that of the Bank of Sierra Leone) thus implicitly undermining administrative stability, is one major reason why all our local government’s wholly owned Commercial Banks and the very Bank of Sierra Leone are finding it difficult to establish robust settlement arrangements with reputable International Counterparties. But I am saving that for another day.
Meantime our only panacea for political and economic stability therefore is that the sooner we tacitly begin to evince a nationally cohesive ethos devoid of cross party and ethno-tribal misconceptions, the clearer will be our vision and mission to address and reduce the risks responsible for our national stagnation and insecurity. And unless that happens, it doesn’t matter whether President Bio or any of his successors grow expansive wings to begin to fly out daily in search of potential investors without recourse to their “Unaccountable Presidential Imprest” from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, no foreigner is going to regard this country as a serious investment destination.