Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 January 2019:
Last week, a Sierra Leonean living in America – Gibril Bangura, published a video on social media calling for members of his All People’s Congress (APC) party to march to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Freetown, Sierra Leone and burn down the building.
He made this inciting call in response to the arrest for corruption, of the former minister of defence – Palo Conteh, who served in the Koroma-led APC government.
If Gibril Bangura ever wanted popularity by means of his inalienable right to freedom of speech, he has done the opposite by ranking up his notoriety in the Sierra Leone community. I am at pains to respond to his messages on social media; as by doing so will dignify his rants.
But this goes far beyond the confines of his rant. At this point, I must submit that most people may not agree with what Gibril Bangura is saying on social media, but in principle, we should all endeavour to protect his right to free speech.
One of the most famous quotes in defence of free speech was made by Voltaire who once said that “”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. The importance of free speech has been a salient and frequent talking point in the cultural zeitgeist.
Freedom of speech has always been one of the major foundations of our liberal societies and the cornerstone of democracies. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.
The irony is that, people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought; which they seldom use. Society cannot make progress without the freedom to criticise, question and challenge the dominant narrative.
Like any other citizen, Gibril has that right to challenge the dominant narrative. Freedom of speech will cease to exist if it does not have the freedom to offend. But just like the abuse of power, our liberties, which the freedom of speech is meant to protect, can be endangered by the abuse of liberty.
There is a massive difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. Gibrill has the right to engage in our political discourse. But good politics should be at the service of peace. When that politics is at the disservice of peace, or when that politics is at the expense of peace, then it is no longer good politics.
Free speech encourages debate, whereas hate speech incites violence. And this is where Gibril Bangura has lost his argument for free speech. Since he learnt how to log on to Facebook, his social media podcasts have become a daily diet for a lot of people. Some follow him for the comedy value, while some see him as appealing to their own basic instincts.
The rational response has always been to avoid dignifying his rants with a response. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be very difficult to stand by and watch the misuse of our collectively inalienable rights being abused and misused.
Gibril would want you to believe that he has a right to express his opposition to everything and anything Maada Bio or SLPP. I agree. But if he wants to express that right to free speech, should he be preaching and inciting violence; because he does not agree with the SLPP or Bio’s policies?
If he feels that he has the right to do so because of his right to free speech, does that give the right to others, to threaten him with violence because they also disagree with his expressed views of incitement?
How can one aspire to enjoy the rights to free speech, but at the same time abhor the same rights to others? But like I said earlier, Gibril is a classic example of people who “demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought; which they seldom use”.
Does my right to free speech allow me the right to shout “FIRE” in a packed cinema hall, when there is none?
Gibril would like you to believe that he has been speaking on behalf of the APC Party. The Secretary General of the APC Party, Usman Foday Yansaneh (Photo), has since disowned Gibril and called his statements “dastardly statement”.
Gibril is fast becoming the outsider who weeps more than the bereaved. Some of us still have memories of violence associated with the APC party. But the party has changed recently, and violence is no longer on the menu.
Perhaps, Gibril is missing the “Osai” and “orwai” days. But jokes aside, a lot of people will take umbrage to Gibril’s recent rant. It is no secret that our country has all the hallmarks of our decade long war.
For anyone to preach, promote and incite such near anarchy would not only invoke painful memories, but summarily qualify them as “ENEMY OF THE STATE”; so I heard. Unlike his right to free speech, violence is not a constitutionally protected right. But as we all know, violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
But back to the crux of the whole issue is the Medusa of Corruption. The Transition Report of Maada Bio’s government has compiled an honours list of those alleged, accused or suspected of corruption. A commission of enquiry has been slated for the beginning of this year.
The APC are up in arms for what they see as discrimination, along the lines of political party affiliations, tribe and “your face does not fit”. According to Yansaneh, the SLPP has omitted the names of other individuals whom they insinuate, may have had their hands in the cookie jar as well; by virtue of their civil service positions in the very APC government that stands accused of presiding over a regime that had corruption as “Ashobee”.
By implication, Yansaneh is accusing the SLPP of suffering from a bout of political amnesia, and a selective one at that. He is implying that the trigger factors for this political affliction are tribe, party affiliations, ethnic origin or the size of your backyard etc.
The irony is, one cannot identify tribe as a basis for discrimination, and at the same time use tribe to weaponise politics. Phew.
If Yansaneh’s recent protestations are anything to go by, his emphasis does not seem to disagree with the central allegations of corruption against his party or party members. Hallelujah. We all agree on that one.
And Yansaneh has conveniently invoked the omnipotent might of our constitution and his professorial knowledge of it, to back up his stance. But there are others who would be wondering if the APC party or its members are the best placed to lecture us on the country’s constitution; when recent events showed that our constitution had been reduced to a mere door mat or paper towel during the erstwhile government.
No one needs a reminder of the amount of political assaults our constitution suffered at the hands of the APC. Just ask the ECOWAS court. But that does not in any way give the SLPP the carte blanche to do the same and run roughshod with our constitution; if that’s the case.
Charity is no part of the legislative duty of any government. But again, many people would wonder why Yansaneh is asking for parliamentary or constitutional intervention at this 11th hour. So where was Yansaneh when our parliament gave the green light for the Commission of Enquiry to commence?
If the APC is worried about the “selective omission” of alleged culprits on the honours list, they should be rest assured that any court proceedings would not stop them from calling on their own (APC) witnesses.
All they have to do is look for those hurriedly stashed documents with signatures and produce to the courts. You can get bank statements, talk to the previous Auditor General, provided you cooperated with her during her audit in the past, and you can get the relevant documents to bring out any perceived hostile witnesses.
So you see, all is not lost, for you have the right to call on witnesses as you see fit. But wait a minute, if the majority of those accused are from the APC party, does that mean that the APC party was also guilty of having displayed tribal instincts in its appointments in the last regime? Don’t ask me.
Despite our political differences, I am sure that the people of Sierra Leone agree on one thing: That our country is dogged by corruption. We also agree that we should all fight against the cancer of corruption. But if we want to do so, as utopian as it may sound, we should all vote for Sierra Leone.
This is one of the most testing times of our democracy. The eyes of the world are on our country. Even the donor countries suffered from donor fatigue; thanks to the preponderance of corruption in our country.
It is no surprise that most of these donors including the IMF, the African Development Bank, and others tightened their purse strings in the run-up to our last general elections. Even China, which reportedly gave blind cheques, has promised not to support “vanity projects” any longer. They were tired of seeing their cash being frittered away by individuals and cabals.
Sierra Leone needs to show that we recognise the ills of corruption, but importantly that we are ready to collectively fight it as a nation.
If we are to succeed in this fight, we need to put all party, tribal, regional and emotional attachments to the back burner. For the effects of corruption knows no tribe, party or religion. It affects us all, whether home or abroad.
Why do you think our sons and daughters are risking their lives in dingy boats on the high seas? But in fighting corruption, we all need to respect, promote and adhere to the rule of law. It is our constitution; the only thing that gives us all, the right to pursue happiness.
President Bio’s expressed desire to fight against corruption is a laudable feat. However, he or his government cannot do it alone. It will require the monumental participation of all Sierra Leoneans to do so. But if this fight is to gain any ounce of credibility, it must be seen to be FAIR, TRANSPARENT, ACCOUNTABLE and JUST. Anything short of that will defeat the whole object.
The world is watching. I know a guy who once launched a political party and gave us the mantra of “SALONE FOS”. Where is he in all this? Give him another 4 years 2 months, and he will come and tell you how he plans to make Sierra Leone the paradise on earth. ‘Mornehhhhhh’.
As for Gibril Bangura, the less said the better. Ignorance is the most violent element in society. He must be enjoying his KFC in Ohio.
A people that elect corrupt politicians ….are not victims……but accomplices.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King). Don’t forget to turn the lights off, when you leave the room.
(Photo: Author – Mr Abdulai Mansaray).