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THE “INDEPENDENT” COMMISSION FOR PEACE AND NATIONAL COHESION?

STILL, I WISH THEM WELL

July 23, 2021

By: Winstanley.R Bankole. Johnson

From Social Media evidences, the government notice on the formation of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion (ICPNC) and the persons accredited thereto dated 13th July was signed off by the Press Secretary Kekehtoma Sandy Esq. I await to see who ultimately signs off their individual post-parliamentary approval appointment letters to verify whether or not Press Secretary and Secretary to H.E. the President now play parallel roles and whether or not those appointments will be tenured.

Courtesy and decency demands that the appointees be congratulated, particularly for their bravery to have even consented to their nominations for such onerous challenges under a divisive political dispensation such as we have found ourselves in over the last three years. So I congratulate them and I wish them well in their endeavours.

Folklore

An African folklore has it that if upon the arrival of a particular stranger in the village the statistics for baby deaths suddenly begins to rise mysteriously, but that phenomenon stops the moment the stranger leaves the village, then it shouldn’t be difficult to surmise that the sudden death toll among babies was the presence of the particular stranger to the village. Another African folklore has it that even though the teeth and the tongue must “jam” (clash) they are still able to settle their differences within their limited confines (the mouth) amicably, without anyone noticing evidence of their discords from the faces of their owners. That is to say they do not wash their dirty linens in public. But it hasn’t been so for us Sierra Leoneans throughout the years and times leading up to the three (3) Bintumani Peace Conferences convened first under the NPRC and again under the SLPP, with Brig. (now Rtd.) at the helm of governance at which foreigners have had to make inputs, as if we are not matured enough to trust each other to resolve our discords internally.

So no patriotic Sierra Leone would downplay the fact that between 1996 and now, it is only when Brig. (now Rtd.) Bio is at the helm of governance that peace, good order, political stability and above all notional cohesion are as collectively so threatened as to make the convening of Peace and Reconciliations conferences a national imperative to wit: Bintumani 1; Bintumani 2 and Bintumani 3. But I will leave readers to make their own safe conclusions. So the question is: What is it that is bedeviling our psyche so much that we have to rely on foreigners to teach us to accommodate each other’s tribes, regions and political persuasions, and to finally accept that as with the foreigners we import for the purpose, it is such resilience for tolerance of cohesion that is the bedrock of national progress and development?

Challenges

To me the toughest nut for the ICPNC to crack is two-fold: (1) Their baseline – Where to start and (2) Who to talk with to make peaceful coexistence a permanent ingredient of our psyche. Both are in fact intertwined, but I’ll prioritize the former -: “Where to start” – understandably so when one considers that probably even up to the eve of his consenting to the choices of the members of the Commission, the President was still obsessed with his convictions that (and quoting him here) “….Nor to tiday d kontry don divide……From weytman days we bin don divide as a kontry…” – unquote. So I hope the Chairman-designate Sheka Mansaray can begin to see the enormity of his Commission’s challenge?

That challenge is further compounded by the fact that as a public we are not aware of prior consultations with any of the opposition parties on the choices of the Commissioners who even if they want to deny being bona-fide SLPP members share, by their very choices certain “work ethics” with the President, without which he would not have appointed them in the first place. Ignore the prefix: “Independent”. Their selections do not differ from those on the Boards of any Ministry, department and Agencies. Nor do we know their Commission’s Terms of Reference (ToR) to ascertain timelines and even validate their independence from direct supervision or manipulation by “Orders from above”. 

And a ToR is definitely necessary because this is not a task that can be rushed through and completed within the residual 18-momths term limit of President Bio, nor can we afford to entrust a group of Commissioners so selectively chosen by a President who is definitely not coming back, an indefinite timeline.

TRC and “Bintumani 3”

As my humble submission the best starting blocks of the Commission would be to convince President Bio to first leverage from the residual (unimplemented) recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliations Commission (TRC) Reports in tandem with the four (4) Key recommendations of the foreigners imported to facilitate the Bintumani 3 Peace Conference, if the ICPNC concepts should become ingrained in our psyche. Those four Key Bintumani 3 Recommendations were-:

  • Replacing the present hegemonic style of governance with a government that is 30% inclusive of other tribes and regions
  • Allowing opposition views to be expressed as guaranteed and enshrined in Chapter 3 (Sections 15  to 30) of our National Constitution
  • Discontinuance of a systemic and unprovoked intimidation, harassment, and overtly biased investigative techniques used by Police and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) including bail refusals and  inordinately long detention periods in Police Cells without trials to silence perceived opposition elements 
  • Paying off hundreds of service personnel unprecedentedly and illegally sacked overnight from their tenured contracts purely for ethno-centric and or narrow political reasons without payment for their residual tenures according to Law (by both the past Ernest Bai Koroma and the present Maada Bio administrations) even though those appointments were sanctioned by Parliament

Start-offs

In the event the Commission wishes to start at much earlier dates, they may wish to take it from the days “The Puawi” was unjustifiably locked up at the Mafanta Prison or from the deaths of Dr. Claude Nelson-Williams and Former Bank Governor Sam Bangura. Or they could rather take off from “N’dorborwusi” massacres era in Pujehun in the seventies. Or from the deaths of Mohamed Sorie Fornah and Fourteen (14) others. Or from the trails and subsequent executions Former Vice President Francis Mishek Minah and or all other military and civilian coup plotters since our independence in 1961?

Another easy start off point could well be the untold causes of 11-year brutal rebel war, to ascertain what ignited it. That could perhaps easily take the Commission through finding answers to the December 29th 1992 extra-judicial killings of Former Police Commissioner Bambay Kamara and others within incarceration to let this nation know who gave those orders and where and how their corpses were disposed of. This should not be difficult because President Kuffor of Ghana, before leaving office and leading by example was able to reconcile with the families of all those slain by Jerry Rawlings after his June 4th take over. So why can’t we copy such a shining example if indeed the Commission wants everyone to make a clean breast?  And since we now have another 29th anniversary calendar date of extra-judicial killings, swoop on the Pademba Road massacres as well of 29th April 2020 to ascertain exactly who gave the orders to shoot and how many of those incarcerated and defenseless prisoners and detainees were slain and of course who they were.

Recent

There are more recent occurrences impairing on our national cohesion and democratic stability that the Commission might also wish to include in their “Aide Memoire” of “Things to do” such as (a) The unprecedented and un-procedural sacking of a sitting Vice President (b) Uses of disproportionate force by the security apparatus and the deaths it has occasioned particularly in opposition areas (Mile-91, Tombo, Thonko Limba, Lunsar, The Western Regions, Makeni) (c) The integrity of the 2007 and 2018 Presidential Elections results and whether or not they reflected the true and accurate wishes and aspirations of voters  (d) Abuses of power and offices in the administration and dispensation of justice by both the Police and the Judiciary, which in the main were said to be responsible for the Rebel War and (e) The recent un-procedural appointment of a Speaker of the House of Parliament and the further un-procedural disenfranchisement of voters by the replacement of ten (10) duly elected APC Members of Parliament with SLPP candidates – without following due constitutional for By-elections for the vacant seats.

Of course the above recommendations are not finite, but from their sheer volume the Commission is spoilt or a choice of a starting options.

Apology

No government or body can make peace with itself. So critical to identification of starting options for the Commission are counterparties – Who to talk “peace” to and with. APC’s conspicuous absence from Bintumani 3 – as all actions President Bio said he has taken so far – was purposeful and it irked the SLPP sorely. Regrettably the government’s attitude to, and intolerance of opposition views and rights have not changed to date and I believe that until the APC sees credible evidences of commitment by this government to real peace and reconciliations in our politics in both words and deeds by any means placable to reverse SLPP’s disdainful, vitriolic and belligerent perceptions of the APC rank and file as “Terrorists…….Unfit for purpose and not even for themselves….” (Without prejudice to the administration and dispensation of justice against any APC member) – those circumstances are unlikely to change. No political party worth its salt and with a membership exceeding three million would risk participating in a Peace Conference under such prejudicially derogatory acronyms

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If in the world over “Terrorists” are being exterminated, I don’t see how APC that lost governance by a questionable margin of under 3% can reconcile with any organizations that seeks its extermination presently. Such placating overtures of an apology by the President could be enveloped in sentiments expressed during the formal launching of the ICPNC even if only to elicit full APC ownership of, and commitment to the enterprise as of a national priority.  It was in the interest of National Peace and Reconciliations that former President John Kuffour of Ghana apologized to Ghanaians on behalf persons killed by the Jerry Rawlings administration and just last month in the UK House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tendered an open apology on behalf of the people of Britain for deaths and inconveniences caused citizens due to government slips in the management of the Covid-19 Virus.

The enormity of the tasks of the “The Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion” notwithstanding, still I wish them well.