Whilst large numbers of unemployed and disaffected youths and supporters of the Koroma government were drowning their sorrows of poverty and joblessness, by dancing in the streets of Freetown on Independence celebration day, a brutal carnage was being unleashed by the police on members and supporters of the country’s main opposition SLPP in their party office.
Those old enough to remember their history will take note that this was the same political tactics used by the former ruling APC party dictator – president Siaka Stevens against the opposition SLPP to muzzle and take away their civil liberty, which led to the declaration of a One Party State in the 1970s.
It was not just the brutality of the Internal Security Unit (ISU) of president Stevens that was the only worrying concern for human rights activists back then.
It was the president’s Machiavellian manner with which he plotted against and trapped the opposition into reacting, which then prompted his deadly security apparatus to unleash violence on unarmed citizens.
As a result of the widespread civil disturbance and violence that ensued, president Stevens was able to take advantage of this breakdown in law and order to declare a state of emergency – effectively a police state under his direct command.
Several opposition political activists were arrested and sent to the notorious Mafanta prison where they languished until death.
Many others were declared insane and never saw their loved ones again, whilst a few of those who felt trapped in their own homes – too scared to come out, felt they had no choice but to surrender. They then joined the ranks of the ruling APC.
This marked the beginning of the end for the opposition SLPP in the 1970s, which created favourable political conditions for Stevens to declare his One Party State.
And it seems today, that history may be repeating itself, with unfolding events in the last few years in Sierra Leone, as president Koroma and his inner circle in the ruling APC prepare for their unconstitutional third term stay in office.
On the 27th April 2016, Freetown came close to going up in flames as the police and opposition supporters engage in running battles across the city, following the attack on SLPP supporters by the president’s armed response team and heavily armed ruling party security personnel.
But where were president Koroma and his senior ministers, after cancelling all official celebrations in the capital Freetown?
According to media reports, they had all headed to what is fast becoming the new capital city – Makeni, where the president has spent millions of dollars to provide constant supply of clean, safe drinking water and electricity, at the expense of citizens living in Freetown.
Life in Freetown for most people is miserable. And those looking forward to some form of official celebration – such as the annual military, police, schools, public sector and civil society street parade, were disappointed.
Freetown continues to suffer crippling water and electricity shortage. The city is being overrun by uncollected mountains of rubbish. Poor sanitation and overcrowding continuing to pose major public health risk.
This is how president Koroma and his senior ministers marked and celebrated Sierra Leone’s 55th independence anniversary, as reported by the Awareness Times newspaper:
“Honourable Vice President Dr. Victor Bockarie Foh on Wednesday 27th April 2016 celebrated the nation’s 55th Independence Anniversary in Bo and Makeni cities. Early in the day, he addressed cross section of citizens in southern Bo City following which he stormed northern city of Makeni.
“ In Makeni, together with Mayor Sunkarie Kamara, Attorney General Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, the Deputy Mines Minister Ignosio Koroma and Paramount Chief of Makeni, the Hon. VP was special guest at Annual Independence Masquerade Parade. Makeni residents were visibly elated at having the VP celebrate with them.
“Meanwhile, VP will today 28th April 2016, join His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in Port Loko where the President celebrated the Independence anniversary. The two leaders of Sierra Leone are expected back in Freetown later this evening.”
This show of lack of respect for the capital city of Sierra Leone is becoming palpable. One sometimes wonders why the capital city is being so badly neglected by the Koroma government.
The answer is simple. The ruling APC may be planning to move the capital to Makeni – the ruling APC stronghold and home of the president.
Following the police attack in Freetown on Independence Day, and in response to a statement issued by the police, there are several questions that needs answering.
Yesterday, the civil society group in Sierra Leone – Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL) issued a strong statement, referring to the police violence as a “misuse of firearms and attacks on unarmed civilians by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP)”
This is what they said in their statement:
Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL) would like to express its concern and dissatisfaction over the spate of violent confrontations between the police and supporters of the country’s opposition party in the capital Freetown, the latest being in the opposition party headquarters on the 27April,2016, resulting into the assault and arrest of dozens of opposition politicians and their relatives while the country is celebrating its 55 years of independence
CHRDSL believes that supporters of the opposition party who were also marking their 65 year anniversary have been unfairly treated by the Police on a day that means a lot to them.
We wish to take this opportunity to wish the injured citizens quick recovery. We also want to remind the SLP about the country’s constitution and other international human rights laws which guarantees every Sierra Leonean the right to assemble. Therefore any unlawful action by the Police thereof is not reasonable and justifiable in a democratic Society.
The ease with which Sierra Leone police officers used live bullets to disperse the unarmed opposition supporters at their party office is a very worrying sign for this Nation’s political future.
The poignant question that should be asked even as the country reels from the aftermath of this despicable incident is was the use of lethal force by the police justifiable?
However, we also acknowledge that the police are mandated to use force where necessary in order to enforce the law. Such mandate is not without responsibility.
In view of the above concerns, CHRDSL deems it fit to make the following observations; the SLP need to be. Mindful of escalating the tension in any possible conflict affected areas across the country by adopting proper community relationship and stop resorting to use of fire arms at the slightest provocation.
All law enforcement officers must be guided by the principles of reasonable force and democratic policing. A police officer shall always attempt to use non-violent means first and lethal force may only be employed when non-violent means are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.
While we again condemn all deliberate attacks on civilians, including politicians and their supporters, police perpetrators of such attacks should not enjoy impunity.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone is calling on the Sierra Leone Police to immediately conduct a fully transparent and impartial investigation into the lawless behaviour of their men.
As an organization fighting for human rights, we will channel this collective anger into effective policy solutions that will not only make life safer for citizens, but will restore confidence in the Police, and bring hope to hopeless families and communities devastated by these acts of violence.
We also wish to draw the attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development Sierra Leone (CHRDSL) is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. CHRDSL is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.