By Oswald Hanciles, The Guru
I had studiously refused to comment in this Column, or, in social media, on the Presidential-
alleged August 10, 2022 “insurrection” by “faceless”… “terrorists” in Freetown, resulting in mob justice on four uniformed police officers being publicly murdered in gruesome incidents. I do so now in deference to my many fans who have gotten to me, puzzled by my silence on a burning national crisis. I have been silent because of being immersed in cyber research on man-made Climate Change. (Climate Change is ongoing mass murder of Africans, and other people in the Southern Hemisphere, and if global temperatures rise to over 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it could mean the intensification of such mass murder – resulting in billions of humanity being dead through dehydration and starvation, and the concomitant conflicts and wars after a breakdown of civilization as we know it; something which most Africans are oblivious of; and the African political leadership who know the magnitude of the consequences of Climate Change are not telling their people the truth about it). There has been widespread denunciations of the August 10, 2022 ‘demonstrators’ – most of those I saw on social media looked like children below 16 years of age, and the brutal murder of especially two policemen which was videotaped, and has gone viral. I underline the denunciations of the gruesome murders of those police officers; but like columnist Engineer Andrew Keili has done in his PONDER MY THOUGHTS column, I dispassionately call for balance. First….
Kill Police! Sow Anarchy!!
The murder of those police officers by clearly terrorists amidst the children and under-25-looking youth demonstrators was reprehensible; unacceptable. The police maintain law and order in any modern society. They rape your niece. You rush to the police. They break into your house, you think first of the police. They threaten you with a knife, you race to the police. You just can’t imagine the chaos on the city streets of Freetown with keke and okada wheezing about, and the gridlock, if there would be no police to control traffic. Yes, we grumble about some of the police who take bribes from commercial drivers on the highway. But, generally, we’re all safer that there are police in our society; and these police not only investigate alleged crime, there very presence is a deterrence to crime. When a group murders police officers with the aim of injecting fear into them and society, they put a knife viciously into the heart of all society. The profundity of the murder of those police officers should not be spasmodic outrage; the incident, and the role of the police, should be imaginatively and relentlessly packaged and inculcated into the majority. Having said that….
” There are always two sides to a coin”.
There is a Mende saying: “Bi ndia ngleh ma, bi dae nkar ma”. Literally, it is translated: “Reprimand the dog for eating the bone; but also chide the bone too for leaving itself exposed to the dog”. It means: Do not blame the person who takes a violent action; blame also the person who is careless and creates the circumstances for the violence to erupt. The man who is the co-founder, and Executive Director, of the most successful engineering consultancy in Sierra Leone’s history, CEMMATS; who is also a regular and famous columnist, Andrew Keili, in his PONDER MY THOUGHTS column titled “SL DEADLY PROTESTS: THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO A COIN”, wrote on “the condemnation of the violence” of August 10 being “swift and universal”; the ever witty Andrew Keili could have been satirical in this line: “President Bio wore his Commander-in-Chief hat to deliver a tough war-like message” on the August 10 “insurrectionists”. One needs to carefully read all the sentences of the accomplished professional, son of an Anglican bishop, Andrew Keili, to get his subliminal messages: He hinted that the Office of National Security (ONS) failed to be pre-emptive, and failed to realize that “availability of employment opportunities have also been acknowledged as national security goals”. About 70 percent of youth of employable age are unemployed in Freetown. That was about the same statistics when former President Ernest Bai Koroma (APC) governed between 2007 and April, 2018. To exacerbate that scary reality today, the four years governance of President Maada Bio has been one with the doubling of the prices of essential commodities like our staple food of rice, and malarial and typhoid medicines. That could mean that for the vast majority of people, living standards have dropped by about than half of what they were four years ago. Andrew Keili in his aforementioned article wrote that “The President has to spearhead the deep search into the root causes of our problem to seek viable solutions in a fair manner that keeps the country together. There are two sides to a coin”.
I am not one for using Andrew Keili’s gloved and oblique language. What I read into Andrew Keili’s words there is this: our President being “war-like” against alleged “terrorists” who come from largely one linguistic group, and one region of the country, risk a civil war – if the President fails to address “root causes”.
All Sierra Leoneans must have been palpably shocked by the demented VIOLENCE of the videos that went viral on social media of the policemen being pounced upon by berserk youth, and being pounded with sticks and irons until they died; with the trousers of one of the uniformed policemen lewdly pulled down his buttocks as he lay face on the ground – dead. But, we appear oblivious, or, we belie, the “root causes” of the institutional VIOLENCE of too many public sector workers, and parliamentarians.
When civil servants, and public sector workers in institutions like NRA or NASSIT steal the people’s money entrusted in their care (what is euphemistically called “corruption”) to enrich themselves, build $500,000 mansions, whilst the majority of people can barely afford two meals a day, and too easily die when stricken with malaria because they can’t afford malarial drugs with prices having doubled in four years, these government workers are being as VIOLENT as the alleged “insurrectionists” who murdered the policemen.
The role of Parliament includes “oversight” of public institutions – that is they should summon heads of public agencies, and ferret out mismanagement and corruption. Who can remember anytime over the past four years that Parliament has probed any public institution, and punitive action taken on them? Less than two percent of the citizenry would respond with a “yes” to that question. Who has forgotten the 2019 BBC interview of SLPP MP, Hon. Hindolo Gevoa, accusing his parliamentary colleagues of “corruption”, and how the entire brouhaha just fizzled out like that? If the Parliament was doing its job of oversight, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wouldn’t be so inundated with corruption cases – and inspite of the award-winning feats of the ACC Commissioner, Ben Kaifala, there has been a dip in the economic fortunes of the country, and nosedive of living standards, for most people to appreciate Ben Kaifala’s relative successes in the War on Corruption. Why is that so? Remember, it’s Parliament that make laws. It is Parliament that made the law that a public official convicted in court of law would be fined Le50,000,000 (old Leones), and may be sentenced to prison for five years. This laughable punishment for corruption in Sierra Leone has served more as incentive for corruption, rather than a deterrent. (Imagine a public official who steals equivalent of $1,000,000 of public money and is convicted in a court of law and fined about $4,000 – he would make a profit of $996,000!!). It is in the War on Corruption which had sired our eleven years brutish and nauseous war that President Bio should be “war-like” about today. (With such a lax law on corruption, no wonder ACC Commissioner, Ben Kaifala, has been opting for out-of-court settlements from the alleged corrupt, and retrieving billions of old Leones from them).
Overhaul the Governance Systems
President Maada Bio in his early days as President would make dramatic 8:30 a.m. visits to government offices to check on those who would go to work late. No one got fired for being late with the same drama as those presidential visits. He dramatically discontinued his visits – without an explanation to the public. I have written often, and said on radio and television, if the ordinary citizenry know how lazy, how unproductive, especially senior government officials are, there would be an immediate and sustained revolution in our country. It appears as if most government workers spent most of their time watching Nigerian movies, or playing computer games; or gossiping; or passionately discussing politics. In government offices in Sierra Leone, hardly anyone gets rewarded, or, promoted, for working hard. And almost no one gets punished for being laggard, or not working at all. (I write from experience. For eight years [2003 to 2011], I was assistant commissioner for public affairs in the NRA; and for six years [2012 to 2018], I was media adviser to former President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House). It’s the rank corruption, and flagrant idleness, of public sector workers that President Bio should act militarily “tough” on – for it is they who have failed to do what government should do: create enabling conditions for the private sector, and civil society, to have greater trust in government, and work harder. Instead of that….
Guru’s Vexatious Tears
I shed vexatious tears for those women on Sanni Abacha Street, one of most lucrative thoroughfares in Freetown, whose wooden stalls were broken in the wake of the August 10 demonstration. Those entrepreneurial women – like our keke and okada riders; our cookery sellers… – work
98 times harder than those in government offices. Before sun rise; under the hot sun and under heavy rain; till after sun set… they are out of the streets trying to earn a few Leones profit to feed their children; pay their rent; buy medicines for their loved ones; being exuberant with their clothes and Independence. The blow against those Sani Abacha Street ladies was a vicious blow against drive and hardwork – especially when juxtaposed with the lassitude of the government workers who have mainly nurtured festering poverty since 1964. The women may support the opposition APC party; but it is the failure of government’s vaunted “strategic communications” teams at State House, and the information ministry, that these women have not apparently been won over to appreciate and support the President’s “Free Quality Education” programme. The regular overseas travels of the President has been derided as a waste – that has been largely because the communications outfits of government have largely failed to harness and package what the presidential foreign trips would mean, and failed to do marketing of ‘Corporate Sierra Leone’. What now?
Peace? Or, Appeasement?
There is call for “peace” between the leadership of the “faceless” August 10, 2022 demonstrators who the President has accused have visible faces among the leadership of the APC. Would this be peace or appeasement? You remember that the Lome Peace Agreement of 1999 made RUF Leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, “equivalent of Vice President” in the SLPP government of President Tejan Kabbah – a form of REWARD after ten years of the RUF’s scorch earth strategy of brutal rape of girls and boys; wanton murder; arson; disembowelment of pregnant women; amputation of babies, children, men and women. That appeasement did not work. Foday Sankoh’s thrust to overthrow the Tejan Kabbah government by May, 2000 was only stymied by courageous and life-sacrificing civil society in a public demonstration that sent Foday Sankoh scampering into the bush on May 8, 2000. President Maada Bio hails from Bonthe District, which is my paternal homeland too. I want him to succeed. That’s why I have been writing since 2018, and talking on radio and television, that he should overhaul the entire governance mechanism that he has inherited. I also offer the President that rarest of knowledge which I could be the only Sierra Leonean in the country to posses: how to control one’s emotions. That would guide the President not to be sentimental as he takes necessary tough action on his ‘internal enemies’, and to focus on his likely political enemies, and the violent enemies of the state who take it as their entitlement to be very corrupt. And the worst of those violent-corrupt citizenry the President must take violent legal action on are those committing violence on nature by illegally acquiring land on the mountains of Freetown and largely using money stolen from the people to construct their mansions.