By Alhaji Haruna Sani
On Thursday 13th of April, 2023, President Bio officially received the 15-member Special Investigations Committee (SCI) report on the 2022 August 8th to 10th protest that took place in various parts of the country.
What happened? On the 10th of August 2022, protests sprouted from various parts of Sierra Leone. The protest began with a sit-at-home on the 8th and the 9th and then on the 10th of August angry protesters took to the streets of various towns in the northern region and the East end of Freetown.
An attempt by police to quell down the protest resulted into violence crash between the police and the civilians, thereby disturbing the peace and stability of the State and subsequently causing death of a number of civilians as well as police officers.
What people said about the protest? Some citizens believe that it was the police unprofessional method in handling the issue that led to the escalation of what was believed to be an initial peaceful protest.
Following the ugly development, President Bio thereafter appointed a Special Investigation Committee (SIC) on 24th August 2022, to investigate the incident.
Some critics opposed President Bio’s appointment of a committee that comprises various heads of government institutions and a few professional bodies to investigate who were the organizers, planners and funders of the protests. They were also to identify the root causes and make recommendations to the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) on what needs to be done to prevent a re-occurrence of such incidents.
According to the report of the committee, meetings were held in Lungi, Port Loko, Lunsar and Kamakewie, Makeni, Binkolo, Magburaka and the Western Area; and in selected locations where the protests did not take place- Kono, Kenema and Bo.
The committee points out that the information gathered from the investigation informed their analysis of, and conclusion on, the August 8th -10th 2022 occurrences, as well as proffering recommendations to address the underlying causes.
Key takeaways from the report: Here are seven key takeaways from the much anticipated report which observers have already predicted the outcome base on the selection of the committee.
Youth unemployment, marginalization, substance abuse, economic hardship and food insecurity are on the increase: Firstly, the Committee’s findings were that there were incessant complaints of youth unemployment and marginalization, substance abuse, economic hardship and food insecurity. Although the aforementioned were burning issues, the report stated that those issues were not a justification for the level of violence perpetrated in the country.
“The issue of cost of living may have genuinely contributed to the August 8th to 10th incidents but rogue politicians exploited the reality to their political advantage,” the report revealed.
Social media was awash with hate messages and tribal bigotry: Social media was awash with hate messages and tribal bigotry perpetrated by one Will Kamara, alias Adebayor, and his cohorts under the umbrella of the People’s Power in Politics (PPP).
Therefore, from the evidence gathered, the SIC will not attribute the activities of 8th to 10th August 2022 solely to socio-economic problems confronting Sierra Leone.
There was no evidence that the leadership of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) supported the insurrection: According to the report, at the national level, there was no evidence that the leadership of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) supported the insurrection based on their public condemnation of the incidents, but at the subnational level it was found that the ringleaders of the insurrection were all active members of the APC.
It was also alleged that senior members of the party were also seen publicly associating with rioters who were arrested and detained at various police stations, and some even provided free legal services for them.
The insurrection was well-planned, financed, and well-orchestrated: According to the report, the insurrection was well-planned, financed, well-orchestrated, timed and geared towards destroying public property and undermining the peace and stability of the state by removing the legitimate and democratically elected President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, President Julius Maada Bio, from political power which they said was exemplified in words like “Maada Bio must go!”.
The claims of extra-judicial killings following the August 10th protests could not be ascertained The claims of extra-judicial killings following the August 10th protests, according to the report, could not be ascertained based on evidence collected from engagements with various stakeholders, including the security sector in all the areas visited by the SIC. It is stated that here was no information provided on either missing persons or summary executions despite repeated enquiries. However, public allegations of extra-judicial killings especially during curfew hours following the insurrection should further be looked into.
The Security Sector was not proactive enough to forestall the infamous incidents: According to the report, the Security Sector was relatively prepared but was not proactive enough to forestall the infamous incidents. This could be attributed to a myriad of factors key amongst which was command and control both within the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) during the period of the incidents.
Furthermore, the Committee found out that the intelligence provided by the security sector was inadequate to effectively support the preparedness of the sector for operations during that critical period.
Children were used as human shields by the adult rioters: The report also revealed that over 24 children who directly participated in the riot were arrested by the police from different parts of the country, particularly in Freetown, Waterloo, Lungi, and Makeni. Apparently, children were used as human shields by the adult rioters. Some children who were arrested in Freetown reported that they were recruited from Makeni and Portloko and brought to Freetown to participate in the riot.
The bigger picture: a lot of incidences of violence that involves loss of lives have been happening in the country. But it is seldom to see reports on those issues. Despites the large controversies around the report, it seems good to have report on serious issues that involves killing.
And what next? Will the outcome of this report avert future occurrence of such nature? What is going to be government’s next line of action after this report?. Those on the fence are watching to see what happened next.