Patriotism – the last refuge of the scoundrel

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 June 2018:

President Maada Bio came to power on the crest of a wave, created by the desire for CHANGE.  Irrespective of your views about the controversial nature of the recently conducted parliamentary elections, the outcome was a reflection of the mandate by the people and for the people.

After a decade of APC rule, there is no doubt that the people of Sierra Leone ran the rule on the government.  You win elections not because they like you, but because they hate the opposition.  Ask the people of Kono district.

No matter what you may think about the verdict, no matter what you think about Nfa Ali – the electoral commissioner, or the International Monitoring Committee, the majority decided as a nation – so ACCEPT THE PEOPLE’S VERDICT.

It may not be palatable to some, but the bottom line is to grin and bear it, accept it. If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance step must adapt.

Following the recent elections, one would expect the APC party now in opposition to engage in self-reflection, undertaking a post-mortem or an autopsy, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.  If you put it to a test, there will be no shortage of commentators or critiques on what went wrong for the APC.

This is an open secret, and there is no denying the fact that most of its supporters believed that the party consciously snapped defeat from the jaws of victory. Its supporters would rather have a political balance sheet of the last decade than expending its energy on what many would see as frivolous tit for tat playground games.

It is no secret that the SLPP has perennially been accused of tribalism; and that it always had the leanings towards a particular tribal group. As we all know, nepotism, tribalism, favouritism, and most recently sycophancy, have always been the bane and hallmarks of African politics.

Regrettably though, there are those who have always seen the SLPP as “Mende man Party”.  In politics, where leadership is not about the next election, but the next generation, that is an unenviable tag to live with. If that is the case, you would expect the SLPP to be uncomfortable with such a tag, and there can be no better time to attempt to change that tag than now.

The Party should endeavour to shed that tag and reach out to the electorate as an all-inclusive entity. That does not mean that the party opposite has not had its fair share of such accusations either. But as we know fully well, politicians have never passed on the opportunity to prey on the things that divide us, for their own selfish needs.

If the recent elections are anything to go by, if the voting patterns are anything to write home about, there is no doubt that tribalism was a major talking point. We all witnessed how politicians tried to rally their support in the run off; using tribalism and only tribalism as their clarion call.

We saw the impact of such a divisive approach immediately after the run off results in areas such as Jaiama Sewafe, Kenema, Bo and Mashingbi, to name but a few.

With the Biovista government in power, it goes without saying that many would be looking for evidence of this tribal thread, to give credence to their allegations. There have been recent complaints and reports of people using the current situation “as payback time”. And this is what makes it near imperative that the Biovista government comes across as all-inclusive and party for all.

The government should not allow anyone, irrespective of their political party leanings to get away with such flagrant abuse of power.

We now have a situation where every appointment, dismissal, and every step of the way is viewed with renewed intensity and magnified scrutiny. There’s nothing wrong with that. With such a backdrop, and with the opposition licking its wounds from reality, it stands to reason as to why the intensity.

One of the most recently talked about dismissals or a change is that of Mr Ady Macaulay, the erstwhile Commissioner for the Anti-Corruption Commission. This has sent a paralegal wedge among members of the judiciary in our country, with support and opposition in equal measure.

The Citizen’s Advocacy Network (CAN) has weighed in on this issue with an open letter to the president (the sierraleonetelegraph.com/June 25th) and reminded the President that the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner shall be removed from office by the President – only in the following circumstances:

(a) If the question of his removal from office has been referred to a tribunal in accordance with subsection (5) and the tribunal has recommended to the president that the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner ought to be removed from office;

(b) If his removal has been approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

I suffer from legal phobia and would try and avoid the legal gymnastics in this case. But even as a layman in terms, if the above is a constitutional requirement of our country, and President Bio has not followed such requirements, as a nation we should be brave, honest and well-meaning to call it as it is.

For all we know, the President may have very good reasons for dismissing the Commissioner.  For starters, he promised us a “New Direction”.

Furthermore, we are all familiar with the dismal record of the ACC – a major pillar of the “Agenda for Change”.

We knew and know how widespread corruption was and continues to be in our country. I challenge anyone to name one high profile case that ended in a proportionate conviction under the ACC.

There is now doubt that many people were arrested in high profile cases on charges of corruption. We saw how the press went to town with those headlines grabbing arrests and charges. Most of the cases were tried in courts; but we know exactly what became of them.

We saw how traffic police as well as traffic wardens and school teachers were prosecuted for what many saw as misdemeanours, in comparison. This does not in any way minimize their crimes. However, the conventional notion was that the ACC was good at going after the small fish in the pond.

Under the last regime corruption was undeniably a fashion statement. You be the judge.

On the other side of the political spectrum, there are those who try to conveniently point to similar sackings and appointments as precedence in the APC government, as if that makes it justified. Those people have never failed to remind us of how Ernest koroma unceremoniously sacked Sam Sumana the Vice President.

Ernest and the APC appointed Sam (Photo) as the running mate, but the electorate VOTED for him as the VP. That is the difference. The concomitant effect of sacking Sam is still being felt in Kono District.

Ady Macaulay is not a VP. But equally, such precedence by the APC is no justification for the SLPP to do the same. If that is the case, what is new in the NEW Direction here? Or is it a case of more of the same?

The President may have all the executive powers to sack the commissioner. No one is questioning that power.  What many are questioning here is the procedure and the rule of law.

We know that we live in a world where politics has replaced philosophy, but if we are to continue in the New Direction, that Direction better be New and not more of the same.

Sometimes, we might not be able to change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails to always reach our destination.

That brings to mind the various reactions, comments and media coverage that this issue has generated. At this point, I take special issue with a widely circulated opinion in both the mainstream and social media.

Sylvia Blyden does not need an introduction, but recent utterances attributed to her do not make for good reading. Interestingly, Sylvia would like you to believe that she is one of the most patriotic Sierra Leoneans.

I must confess at this point that I prefer to discuss issues rather than personalities.

Regrettably, her recent opinions have been difficult to resist. According to the Cocorioko Newspaper (June 24), “former Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, has called on Sierra Leoneans to rise up and tell President Julius Maada Bio, the new Sierra Leonean head of state that there are limits to his powers in a Democratic Nation”.

In another forum, Sylvia allegedly states that “this Bio man will one day get up and order the execution of 29 innocent APC citizens because he believes he has those powers. He has been part of a senseless junta which has done it before” (the electorate heard that before). “This chap is on a dangerous mission to destroy our democratic credentials”.

Like everyone else, Sylvia is entitled to her opinion, and has the right to express it. We may not agree with her opinions, but we should collectively endeavour to protect, preserve and promote her right to express it. But her entitlement to free speech does not entitle her to the facts. Ironically, some people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought, which they seldom use. That’s what we got here.

What strikes me is Sylvia’s clarion call for Sierra Leoneans to rise up and tell President Julius Maada Bio, the new Sierra Leonean head of state that “there are limits to his powers in a Democratic Nation”. Journalists have the luxury and sacred duty to inform, entertain and educate. Such luxuries come with responsibilities.

Sylvia has, by virtue of her newspaper and position to form opinions in our country. Sylvia’s past roles and positions in the last government count for something in our society. That makes it all the more imperative for anyone in such a position to act RESPONSIBLY. Such positions require a good dose of emotional intelligence.

Sylvia may not be calling for a rebellion, an uprising or otherwise. But if you are in such positions, one should endeavour to avoid flippancy, because your opinions could be subject to many interpretations.

The call to ‘RISE UP’ may mean mutiny, rebel war, civil war, protest, peaceful demonstrations, or even coups. Where such ambiguity or potential semantic gymnastics exist, she should best avoid it.

The call to RISE UP may not have the same meaning to the guy “Don Bay”, the man in military gear, the student, etc. If anything, Sylvia’s clarion call presents the highest risk to our “democratic credentials”, which she purports to protect.

There are some people who could use this, and interpret it  to mean a call to arms, and that you are asking Sierra Leoneans to declare war on their fellow Sierra Leoneans.

Does anyone need a reminder of what that means for our country? Don’t answer that.

No one is disputing the fact that the rule of law must obtain. No one is against holding our leaders to account. No one is against promoting good governance. No one is questioning the president’s executive powers to hire and fire people. What many are questioning here is the procedure, under the rule of law that allows the President to hire and fire.

What people are saying is that the President is wrong to fire the Commissioner without following the constitutionally slated procedure. That is not much to ask, and we should be honest to ask our leaders to answer to us

Sadly, Sylvia’s reaction and response are unsurprisingly characteristic. There are some people who could actually attribute your reaction to a treasonable offence. This is not only plain wrong, but brutally dangerous and IRRESPONSIBLE – considering the fact that she was until recently a major fulcrum of the previous government.

Every well-meaning Sierra Leonean would welcome a vibrant opposition, not a reckless one that would threaten the peace and security of our nation. Some of us are still struggling to overcome the aftershocks of our civil war.

How can you preach democracy, criticize others for being undemocratic, but in the same breadth try to promote the greatest threat to that same democracy you keep prancing about that you are promoting?

I must confess that I am about to lose my cool here, and as such worth getting off the train here. To be continued…..Sorry folks.

5 Comments

  1. I didn’t agree or disagree with the dismissal of the ACC chief. But as citizen of Sierra Leone, we all must respect our democracy especially as we all know the civil war ruined our lives and families and forced most of us to become refugees.

    Mass exodus drove many Sierra Leoneans into exile; some found themselves in the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries. Most of these refugees have been abused by treaty of human right. Some found themselves in the west as refugees.

    The bottom line is war nor good. Let us respect our democracy. SLPP IS NOT A MENDE PARTY but a democratic party, likewise the APC PARTY. Everybody knows these are the two major political parties in Sierra Leone; although since independent they have been dominated by the north and south.

    It is time we respect democracy and stop the tribalism. Sierra Leone is a land of peace and unity. The land that we love our Sierra Leone.

  2. In every country, when there is a change of Government most positions are changed especially political appointments. APC is just trying to be disruptive.

    When they came to power in 2007, they cleaned the house with violence and threats. Mr. President do your job and do it asap. EBK may be your friend, but he is not a friend of Mama Salone. They will do all they can to keep you from success. You have to stand up and do what you are elected to do. Change must come to Sierra Leone.

    • Really? Now patriotism has another meaning. To call for an uprising because of a constitutional breach? I thought we have the courts for that. So preaching violence is now a patriotic thing? wow.

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