Theophilus Sahr Gbenda
6 January 2012
The Regional Chairman -North, of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Stanley Bangura, who now officially doubles as Media Consultant for Addax Bioenergy Limited, has threatened to warrant a libel suit in respect of an article published under the byline above, in which a gentle call was made for him to resign his position in SLAJ and concentrate on his new found $600 corporate job.
In the said thought provoking piece, mention was made of the fact that many observers including journalists and civil society activists in Makeni and beyond consider Mr. Stanley Bangura´s new role with the controversial Addax Bioenergy Limited as a clear conflict of interest and sheer disgrace to the media profession, while he remains the duly elected SLAJ chairman responsible for the entire northern region.
The article in question mentioned further that in view of this, concerned journalists in Makeni have started putting modalities in place to force Mr. Bangura to resign from his position in SLAJ ahead of the organization’s 2013 biennial conference and that the said journalists have sounded the view that they no longer trust him to lead them.
This came after Mr. Bangura who has been using the SLAJ Regional Secretariat in Makeni as a meeting/take-off point for journalists enlisted to go on Addax engagements, broke the ice after a long period of concealment, that he is Media Consultant for the company.
In line with official duties, Mr. Bangura has been publishing a couple of praise-signing and misleading articles in favour of the company, while at the same time launching media attacks on civil society organizations deemed to be critical of the short and long term adverse socio/economic and cultural impacts of the operations of the company on the people directly affected.
In one of the pro-Addax articles published under the byline of ‘Stanley Bangura’, it was stated rather erroneously that the presence of the company in the locality is a blessing in disguise as hundreds of jobs have been created and that the company has made possible an unprecedented rice harvest across its operational area.
An independent study conducted by experts from Ghana, indicates that the livelihood of the communities affected by the operations of Addax has been placed under serious threat as evident by the illegal drying up of swamp lands; the pollution of traditional drinking water sources, and the deprivation of indigenes from utilizing the land for their usual agricultural purposes, among others.
This makes rubbish the pro-Addax trash circulated by the SLAJ regional chairman, who seems unconcerned about the overwhelming negative impacts of the Addax project on the communities affected.
The fact that Mr. Stanley Bangura who happens to be a major beneficiary of SLAJ is threatening court action involving a libel suit, is in itself a good reason to conclude that those who are actually suppose to be mounting pressure on government for the repeal of the seditious libel laws, are the very ones undermining the process.
As stated earlier, the Addax issue is a completely controversial one, and therefore the company’s attempt to silence the media in that part of the country, by capturing the head, could not only be seen as a crafty one, but one aimed at accelerating efforts by corporate entities to dominate or render impotent the local media.
Sierra Leone is currently experiencing what could best be referred to as a ‘media take-over’, a situation wherein the local media will be reduced to dancing the corporate dance, rather than dealing with the real issues at stake.
Deeply involved in the uncivilized act is African Minerals Limited (AML), a company owned by a controversial figure with three certificates of conviction in drugs dealing.
So far, the company has covertly established two newspapers namely the African Young Voices (AYV) and the so-called Ariogbo Newspaper, edited by Theo Nicol and Abdul Karim Kabia (Fonti), respectively.
Plans are also underway to establish a powerful radio station and a television network to compete directly with the crumbling state-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC).
Already, AML has succeeded in weakening the local media by filling up limited newspaper pages with unending bogus commercial advertisements.
Except for a handful of local newspapers including Concord Times and Global Times, you can hardly see published anything critical of AML in all the other newspapers around. Just take a look at them.
It is estimated that AML is spending roughly Le 360,000,000 (Three Hundred and Sixty Million Leones) weekly on newspaper advertisements alone, with all ‘commissions’ (about 20%) reportedly going directly to Anthony Navo Jr., also known as AML media front-man.
Bear in mind that these amounts are all calculated in the end and branded as operational costs, and therefore subject to specific deduction from revenues that should come to the state. The company loses nothing in actual terms.
Let me make haste to mention that it doesn’t mean that Concord Times and Global Times are not getting overflowing advertisements from AML. It’s just that they have the courage to risk not getting more.
The good thing worthy of celebration is the fact that the President of SLAJ, Umuru Fofanah, has thus far refused to be pocketed as most outstanding senior colleagues have. Take Theo Nicol for instance.
Another strategy employed by AML is to threaten nonconformist media houses with litigation, as was the case recently with Radio Democracy FM 98.1.
A dedicated reporter there, Fatima Sesay, did reportage on an opinion pool she conducted in the AML operational area in Bumbuna, in which the company was accused of engaging in criminal activities and making life difficult for the vast majority of the indigenes.
Embarrassed by the reportage, lawyers acting for and on behalf of AML threatened the management of Radio Democracy with court action.
Rather humbly, Radio Democracy’s Farrie Kargbo with the full backing of management, few days later did a contrary reportage in which, premium was given to questionable positive views about the company. There and then, the matter came to an end.
Currently, pro-AML journalists are busying themselves launching spiteful media attacks on civil society organizations and colleague journalists, deemed to be critical of the operations of the company.
Taking the lead in this is the Ariogbo Newspaper, which is shadowing as the property of Anthony Navo Jr., who cannot afford to toy with his unprecedented personal cash flow from the company. If AML is ordered closed today, he’ll be one of the most shattered…no doubt.
Another strategy the company might bring to bear is to reinstitute the thuggish ‘Highway’ tactic employed by the All People’s Congress (APC) under Siaka Stevens, to suppress opposing political views.
It goes without saying that AML has grown too powerful to tame. Imagine the possibility that the company has paid its royalties to government four years in advance to enable the latter balance its budget.
When one takes into perspective what the country is losing by granting undue tax breaks to corporate entities and reminiscing the fact that mining activities have taken place in the country over the past 80 years, with nothing to show in practical terms, it points out clearly that there is nothing to celebrate in so far as the continued exploitation of our precious mineral wealth is concerned.
Imagine a country that has produced trillions and trillions of dollars worth of qualitative and quantitative minerals, still languishing at the very bottom of the human development index and even classified in a recent report as the worst place on earth to die.
This brings me back to SLAJ Northern Chairman, Stanley Bangura, who has been misleading the public into believing that Addax Bioenergy is God-sent.
Is the coming of companies like Addax to occupy vast hectares of our arable lands for periods exceeding five decades to establish massive plantations to produce products like ethanol for exclusive export to the European market, the reintroduction of slavery? This question should be of concern to all well meaning Sierra Leoneans.
The fact remains that such huge plantations have no space in Europe for instance, and therefore attention is turned to countries like Sierra Leone where companies such as Addax Bioenergy are given the leverage to take advantage of weak laws, cheap labour, conducive weather condition and untapped international business treaties including the free trade agreement.
Stanley should be mindful of the fact that in those days, our brothers and sisters were taken overseas to work the plantations as unpaid slaves. Now the same plantations are being brought right to our doorsteps and shortsighted guys like him think we should blanketly celebrate.
I refuse to celebrate.