By Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon….
Whether David Tam Baryoh was blackmailed into signing a confession which then guaranteed his presidential pardon or temporary release is neither here nor there as far as I am concerned.
It is the un-necessary and unprovoked aggression used as a proxy weapon of warfare by the President and his ever-ready lackeys that scares the shit out of me.
Contrary to whatever victory the government might assume it has achieved, with the sword of Damocles still hanging over Tam Baryoh (and anyone who dares to challenge the status quo for that matter), we should not allow the issue to be swept under the carpet and made to look as one more magnanimous act of benevolence from President Koroma.
According to the government, the journalist was arrested “for preaching tribalism, hatred and division in the country”. These are weighty issues with grave security implications and potential ethnic political consequences.
Therefore the onus is on the government to put in the court of public opinion evidence to back up such grave allegations. We cannot and should not allow such security-related accusations to be unleashed as excuses for trampling on freedom of expression nor can we afford those in power, the luxury of embarrassing silence on such sensitive claims after any misdemeanour.
The questions therefore are: Did our government deliberately mislead the entire country and the whole world with such phantom allegations? What exactly is really behind the arrest and why did it have to please the President to leave the more worrisome and important problem of the dying Ebola victims and personally authorise the chain of events?
Why is it always that anytime that truth from a diverse section of the society flares up, the powers that be, go snipping during the samba and terrorising during the tango?
Is it true that the action is part of the acrimony between the President and his Vice and that victimisation of supporters of the embattled deputy, who has been totally side-lined in the Ebola fight (even when all hands are meant to be on deck), is meant to settle all the dust that trailed the Kono uproar?
What exactly are the authorities doing beyond empty lamentations to fill the chronic dysfunctionality of our governance which has drained the generality of the people of any hope and trust?
Right now there is so much to make out of the entire drama. Because, if there is any currency that is in short supply in the governance of our country at the moment, it is truth and invariably, trust. But Trust that is founded on Truth is the least that the ordinary people of Sierra Leone can repose in their government and leaders.
The President and his henchmen have a moral imperative to give details; or else carve his name in marble as a villain of democracy. If this issue is left unclear and the unwary citizens are made to think that there is something Tam Baryoh has done which other politicians and supporters of those in power have never done and gone scot free, then God help our democracy.
If nothing is cleared, then it is obvious that the current undertone is exactly what is intended by the government which evidently cannot face the facts of life or the truth of prevailing circumstances; which are mostly of its own making.
Should anyone in the regime care to listen, the media is not an appendage of the government; to echo its actions and inactions. The duty of the media is to the ordinary citizens of this country. If any segment of the press or any individual for that matter breaches the law, I will not be a party to pleas with the government not to take the necessary action; no matter how punitive.
However such a step must be strictly on the condition of following due criminal procedures with the bare facts of the issue laid in the court of public opinion and left to the relevant arm of the society to deal with.
It is not the prerogative of a one man riot squad, using what is meant to be a neutral party for the commonwealth (the police) as a weapon, to become the prosecutor, judge and jury.
It is high time our leaders did away with the farcical illusion of clobbering the media as a panacea for whipping society into line or ensuring unfettered reign of impunity. Collectively, we need to rise up against agents of the status quo, who want to perpetuate the culture of deceit, divisiveness, incompetence and latitude that has continued to hold our beloved Sierra Leone back.
Whether President Koroma likes it or not, the truth remains that it was ill-advised to have tried to make the press or any journalist for that matter, the scape-goat for the initial lethargic and poor performance of the government in combating Ebola; or its self-created political division in Kono; as well as the subsequent fight to win the hearts and minds of the people.
Even for a ‘war time’ desperate propaganda, the waffle of an excuse was too amateurish and its consequent strong-arm tactics conveyed more about the characters of those in government than any word could express.
Let us not forget that the constitution is NOT suspended even if there is a state of emergency.
It is therefore an insult to the sensibilities of the several politically astute Sierra Leoneans and lovers of true democracy; while the inconsistency in the treatment of the press and individuals, spells mischief. Not forgetting the hypocrisy of the government which claims to be setting an agenda for change.
It’s not only irritating that the press and outspoken individuals are being blackmailed or intimidated for expressing their divergent views, flaunting what is essentially an abuse of power and hiding under the coat of an embarrassing silence is indeed, a mark of dishonour.
Worse still, it confirms the penchant to cloak shameless desperation as passion for patriotism and obeisance to the rule of law. It creates the impression that only those in the corridors of power have the monopoly of interpreting analysis by the press or dictating the agenda of our lives.
They tend to forget that apart from its responsibility to the people, it is the salient duty of the press to expose shortcomings, lies, corruption, ineptitude and incompetence.
The onus is not on the media to chain itself from reporting obvious deception in our governance. Rather, the onus is on those in corridors of power not to tell lies or to pretend to be what they are not; especially amidst growing widespread public disenchantment.
The instant picture conveyed by this propaganda of scoring alleged cheap political vengeance is that of irritation to contrary views and gross disrespect to basic fundamental human rights. But a nation striving for greatness should not be run with such crass disdain for decency, common sense and the rule of law. (Anyway what does anybody expect from the power that controls the police and a judiciary that is in the pocket of politicians?)
The only reason why those in power behave as if they are lords and masters is simply because they know that no matter how loudly we shout, the generality of the people are not actually educated enough to be able to rationally tie their shortcomings to specifics about governance and its rules.
So, they safely ignore us and continue in their evil ways.
But politicians should be careful the way they try to sooth their fancy. Creating a space designed to envelope that fantasy of invincibility can only precipitate a social or political crisis whose end nobody can predict.
It is common knowledge that majority of our political elite have thrown away principles and are doing their things according to their whims. The situation now is if you have teeth you bite. That is why our nation is in a mess.
From Siaka Stevens era, most of our leaders have ended up using the age-old tactic that if you are in a sports where you have the skill and strength to win and your opponent who is aware of that fact decides to shout you down each time you touch the ball, then a bit of arm twisting, not only to inspire you, but to bring back spectators being carried away by the noise of the unskilled opponent, becomes a weapon of choice.
Like I’ve always maintained, the ‘ONLY US’ syndrome, which creates issues that will take our attention away from the dark realities of day-to-day bread and butter issues, often forms the key strategy of politicians to ensure that they dictate the course of discourse, or anything to restore vigour to our pallid body politic.
This is why when those in power mouth platitudes about accountability, transparency and patriotism, I feel like banging my head on the wall and screaming at them from the roof to shut up.
I have never been swayed by either the beauty of their oratory or the substance of their claim each time they claim to be working for the people because I know they only mean well for themselves; with the people as pawns in a complex game of chess to achieve their own selfish interest.
While it is not my intention to create the impression that the press and individuals are above the law, it is imperative to point out that there is no law which empowers the government (which lives on a diet of scandals) and the police in particular, to muzzle freedom of information and expression.
Not only does this contemptuous disregard of the right of Sierra Leoneans to voice their concerns; as well as attempts to suppress the press give cause for concern, it needs to be closely monitored because of its likely domino effect on our democracy, governance and the lives of the ordinary Sierra Leonean.
The biggest casualty of our failure to do this will be the silent and powerless majority.
Earlier this month, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, highlighted the unique role played by journalists in entrenching democracy and creating a better society.
Given this sacred responsibility, the UN chief is of the view that journalists should be protected instead of being turned into objects of vicious attacks the world over.
According to him, “This must stop; and by ending impunity, we deepen freedom of expression and bolster dialogue and, together, let us stand up for journalists,” he said in his message to mark the annual event recognising the unique position of the persecuted press.
To those who fight as if there is no tomorrow, my clarion call to them is what Uthman Dan Fodio once said: conscience is an open wound; only the truth can heal it.
Emphatically I say, truth, no matter how harsh or bitter it sounds, must be told because we cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by dodging it today.
I rest my case.