Crime and violence in Sierra Leone – growing national concern

Abayomi Tejan: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 July 2019:

There are dozens, if not hundreds of Civil Society Organizations, NGOS, media houses, and a variety of advocacy groups dealing with a wide range of social issues. However, few – very few, are focussing on crime prevention, investigation, and assisting the security agencies by way of research and intelligence gathering and sharing.

The reason is simple: that’s the job of the politicians, advisers to the president, and the generals, under the direct authority of the Commander in Chief. Period.

The Americans and British no doubt have very well established systems of intelligence gathering in the country, albeit discrete and self-serving.

The Sierra Leone police and the army have the Special Branch (Sugar Baker) and the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB). If these two security outfits were working efficiently, and if our international partners and military advisers were working in collaboration, this country would not have degenerated into war in 1991, nor would the security situation become what it is today. There is a missing link, and finding it is a problem.

(Photo: Inspector General of Police – Dr. Richard Moigbe)

Now, added to this is the Office of National Security (ONS),  which, despite the apparent universality in it’s name, wields little, if any, enforcement authority. It’s role is coordinating and advising ‘relevant’ stakeholders in government when any issue of national security arises. And that includes mudslides, flash floods, epidemics – among other potential threats.

With these security stakeholders in place, and the crime rate steadily rising – not falling, leaves a lot to be desired. And this is a matter of concern for everyone, not just the politicians.

Community policing is not new, it’s as old as Freetown itself. Freetown was planned and designed by the British after 1787 to provide maximum security to the settlers. Hence the division of Freetown into Tithings and Hundreds in a grid pattern, with Tithingmen and Hundredors appointed by the Governor to act as overseers of that rudimentary but very effective ‘collective’ security apparatus.

So, the community policing initiative of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) working in partnership with members of various communities, is the result of stark realization that everyone counts, if national security is to be guaranteed. When it was initiated, crime rate was soaring – including rampant stabbing, armed robbery and homicide. And the police could not contain it without the support of the general public. Hence the formation of the Police Partnership Board. Still, criminals seem to be embarking on their enterprise with audacity, bothering on defiance. And they are getting away with it, more often than not.

Crime suspects, real and imaginary, are invariably arrested, but their prosecution and conviction are hardly assured. And this is a source of worry, as this state of affairs reinforces public perception that the police is ineffective and the judiciary unreliable. Hardened criminals know this all too well.

The worst criminal is one who predicates his/her conduct on the assumption that stealing from a thief is not, after all wrong. Criminals are finding solace for their own wrong doing, from the publicity that corrupt public officials are getting in the media.

It’s a sort of Robin Hood scenario. Only that they do not give their loot to the poor. They are simply helping themselves to a share of stolen public money. Criminals do think and act according to that unfortunate but perfectly logical conception.

And when politicians indulge the youth in crime and violence for political and material gain, the problem is further compounded.

Land grabbing has also assumed rather desperate proportions over the years, fuelled by influential dealers and purchasers, including senior members of government, the Bar, the Judiciary, the police and the army.

The original land grabbers rely on numbers, influence in the system, complicity of the law enforcement agencies and violence. So much so that any minister who gets in their way would be in for a nasty surprise.

Dr. Denis Sandy – Lands Minister (Photo), must have had a taste of that negative social concoction land grabbers and their accomplices have distilled over the years.

Like one of his predecessors in that office – the late Dr. Bobson Sesay, Dr. Sandy has faced violence, vilification, betrayal, and all manner of allegations. Yet, he does not seem to be getting the support of some stakeholders as he would be expecting.

Dr. Sandy has done well in weathering the storm, physically unscathed; but he is certainly psychologically devastated and  exasperated. Who would not be, when those you rely on desert you when you needed them most?

Take Dr. Sandy out of the equation, land grabbing will continue, the environment destroyed, unplanned hill side communities and slums will flourish. So would crime and violence explode, as we are experiencing now. That’s the dynamics of crime and violence in a politically compromised social environment.

The so called ‘Black Street boys’ are a direct product of land grabbing. They are comprised mostly of unemployed youths, ‘low-lifes’, nondescript characters with no fixed abode or identity, drug addicts. They are the sorts that would kill for a fee, or for the heck of it. It is they, who are hired by citizens and public officials to protect the land that they have purchased from land grabbers.

These are career criminals with plenty of clients. There is no Black Street in Freetown. It’s a coined-up name signifying the nature of their activities – dark, very dark. But they do not hide. They are right in the heart of the city at known locations. It would take a foolhardy individual to meddle in their affairs, especially if you are a total stranger.

And the police have been hamstrung by Human Rights advocates who are sometimes seen as nuisance, foisting ambivalence in the psyche of the less educated class of law enforcers.

The police know their hangouts, but they prefer not to get into trouble with their superiors over human rights abuses or procedural breach, even though they have six effective statutory powers of arrest without warrant.

Police work is now more for academics far removed from the reality and urgency of the need for a proactive force that could act quickly, while keeping in line with the law.

The ordinary Constable in Freetown knows all too well, the connections these hoodlums have in the higher echelons of society. Indeed, some people are above the law.

2 Comments

  1. A well written observation rendered by Mr. Abayomi Tejan. Indeed weak laws and abject lack of enforcement initiative…in view of inaction on the part of law enforcement bodies, principally the Police, to effectively deal with the scourge, when you consider the so-called Human Rights gig, who themselves have to be seen as doing a job they are so afraid to lose if they shout.

    They would rather rejoice, with glee to have a murderer or aggravated rapist walk free. Why? Because the victim has no human rights or is not even a human being. It is ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense to even themselves for that kind of advocacy, while they would blatantly if not ignorantly ague that Western jails are well kept and inmates are well treated – like princes and princesses.

    They live in paradise as gratification for heinous crimes they commit…execution is a far cry, even non-existent. God bless HR for Governments that listen to them.

  2. Nice read. Where were you when some section of Sierra Leoneans principally from the Western Area went for the umbilical cord of Dr Sandy because he asked that those with lands that were acquired suspiciously or grabbed if you want to say so should bring thier papers for verification.

    The president was the first to blink because the women from these people threatened to walk the streets of Freetown naked?
    Who does not know that 80% of the lands in the Western Area were acquired illegally or by corrupt means. What has been lost has been lost. I would suggest that to curb land grabbing, the government should scrap the lease system and engage in selling the lands at competitive prices.

    But like Bobson Sesay before him Dr. Sandy has been betrayed by his employer.

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