Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2016
There are reports from Freetown this afternoon of police storming the offices of Sierra Leone’s main opposition SLPP party in Freetown.
Eye witness report speaks of live bullets and tears gas being fired.
Hundreds of party supporters gathered at the offices to celebrate the party’s birthday, which coincides with the country’s independence anniversary, are believed to be trapped inside the building, afraid to come out, with heavily armed security forces blocking the entrance.
Reporting for the BBC, Umaru Fofana said: “I can see people being dragged out of the opposition headquarters. Some look well dressed. I can also see police firing inside the building. Becoming very very unsafe to be around here. So I’m leaving.”
This is an official account of what started the police attack, by Lahai Lawrence Leema – the party’s Acting National Public Relations Officer, who is also trapped in the building:
The Sierra Leone Police has started their intimidating tactics again. The SLPP celebrates its 65th anniversary today, 27th April 2016. In light of that, the party had written to the Sierra Leone Police, informing the Police about its program of activities.
Part of the program schedule includes celebrating with the SLPP mask called Arie Wutehteh. This has been the customary practice of the SLPP.
It will however interest you to know that the Director of Administration of the SLPP was constantly inundated with calls from the police hierarchy yesterday, 26th April 2016, in order for him to stop the SLPP from celebrating with the Arie Wutehteh mask.
The information about the mask celebrations today 27th April 2016, was first misconstrued by the Police. They thought that it was ‘Abravo’ who has single handedly facilitated the celebration with the mask.
In a bid to stop him from celebrating with the mask, a police officer by the name of ASP Musa, invited Abravo to the police station, but Abravo did not turn up because issues around the mask was the party’s business, for which the director of admin had written to inform the police.
After a very short while, the director of administration got a call from the Freetown east district chairman of SLPP, instructing the director not to move with the mask devil outside the perimeters of the SLPP premises, which is contrary to Section 25 of the 1991 Constitution (limiting freedom of movement).
The east district chairman Mr. Med K. told the director of admin on a phone conversation that the Odele Union has rejected the Arie Wutehteh from celebrating, because they did not meet their traditional rite on time.
The traditional rite here is supposed to mean the payment of Le 300,000 and a bottle of wine. The said traditional rite had been fulfilled, before many masks have been given the go ahead by the police.
In reply to Med K, the director of administration told him that this was not the right procedure. Once the party had informed the SLP through a formal letter, if there is any discrepancy along the line which requires clarification by the SLP, this should have been made in writing for the records, but to talk to Med K. who in turn had to talk to the national party head quarters through cell phone was not administratively correct. As such, he was ignored.
After, they then learnt that all the traditional ceremonies have been met by the party, they sent the Odele Secretary general who went with a letter to the director of admin.
The content of the letter I did not read, but according to the director of admin, the letter informed him that the Odele union did not send the name to the SLP for approval because they didn’t meet their obligations.
Meanwhile, the director of admin Alhaji Brima Koroma, told him that as a party, we pass through such ceremonies because we want to show respect to the tradition because we are traditional people as well.
But if it is at this nick of time that you are here to tell us that we the ‘Arie Wutehteh’ cannot be granted permission by the SLP, because you did not include the name of the arie wutehteh because you as the Secretary general had travelled and on your return you were not updated on anything concerning the arie wutehteh, let me now inform you that as a party, we had met all the traditional rites.
Above all, the party had formally written to inform the police about the SLPP 65th anniversary and part of its program of activities is celebrating with the arie wutehteh.
About 5 minutes after he left, a warrant officer from the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces was brought into my office (the PR Office).
In my office, he described himself as the “agba” in charge of discipline in the Odele society. He was accorded the due respect in that direction. He went on to explain that Police AIG Memuna will not allow the arie wuteh mask of the SLPP to celebrate, because it was not factored into the list of masks which was sent to the police.
I however told him that the party had written to the police about its 65th anniversary celebration. In light of that, he admonished that the party should ensure they maintain discipline and that no political song should be sung.
He further advised that the party should try as best to avoid confrontation; go out by 12 pm and end by 6 pm at most. He went further to perform certain rituals, where the mask was prepared. As usual, the normal traditional song was sung.
After he had left in a short while, I got a call from the director of administration informing me that AIG Al Shek called him and told him that he sent someone to call him, but he did not show up.
According to the director, his reply was that the procedure was not correct. Besides, he did not see anyone who came to say AIG Al Shek was calling him.
The Director told me further that AIG Al Shek threatened him that, if the mask comes out today, he will not stop at anything to arrest anyone including the director, instead of assuring the party of their public duty to protect them.
This morning, I got a call from director that there has been an allegation that the Odele Secretary was beaten when he went to convey the letter.
From the forgoing, after all efforts to stop the SLPP mask from celebrating today, perhaps out of fear that they may celebrate with the new album released by Emmerson, titled ‘Survivor’, the ultimate move now is the fabricated allegations that the Odele Secretary general was beaten.
This ploy is to ensure that the police and the Odele society, which have been in conspiracy to disrupt the SLPP celebration, succeed in intimidating the SLPP membership from celebrating on this solemn memorial occasion.
This is completely intolerable and undemocratic. The Sierra Leone Police are in no way helping this country’s unity. They have become too partisan instead of being professional.
Lahai Lawrence Leema is the Acting National Public Relations Officer, Sierra Leone Peoples Party.
This is Umaru Fofana’s Report for the BBC:
This is a report by Lawrence Sandy (chairman SLPP North America) from inside the SLPP Head office: