Santigie Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 February 2022:
Early warning signals in Sierra Leone are staring state actors and the international community on the face and beckoning for action. Everyone, except Bio and his Government, agrees that widespread political abuse, repression and belligerence, represent a formidable antecedent to conflict.
It is this grim prognosis of an increasingly toxic political environment that informs the heightened ongoing mediation efforts in the country.
Unfortunately, the unstatesmanlike posture of the President and that of his bellicose minister of Internal Affairs fly rudely in the face of those ongoing labors at getting the political leaders to tone down the rhetoric and, through genuine dialogue, peace building and national cohesion heal the ailing political climate in the country.
I have just listened to an audio in which President Julius Maada Bio threatens to further subject his rather illustrious and very peaceful predecessor, former President Ernest Bai Koroma to more indignities. The offending audio, which is being disseminated by known Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) operatives on social media, contains a statement in which Bio asserted that after serving two consecutive terms in office, Ernest Koroma should no longer be associated with politics in the country’.
The president reportedly made that statement yesterday Wednesday, February 23, 2022 in Port Loko, north-west of Sierra Leone.
On the same day, Wednesday, Bio’s rather intemperate and overzealous Internal Affairs minister, Lahai Lawrence Leema, was on the AYV TV ‘Good Morning Show’ threatening that the Bio-led Government will pulverize anyone standing in the way of their reelection in 2023.
Leema was reacting to the benign statement made about two weeks ago by the Acting National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), Sidi Yahyah Tunis. The APC spokesman was arrested and detained for stating that his party would activate ‘Level 3’ of its strategy which is, as he put it, “to mobilize its supporters and electorates in order to democratically remove the SLPP from power through the ballot.”
But this regime’s tenseness has transcended mere verbal threats. Its unbridled abuse of power has translated into uneven access to justice and fair trial, electoral violence and manipulation of elections results, constriction of the political space including the systematic state sanctioned intimidation, harassment, arrest and detention of members of the opposition.
In all of this, state institutions like the police, judiciary and the electoral commission have been shockingly complicit.
Even more concerning, is the Government’s apparent reinforcement of its violent actions with more military preparedness. Budget records and other credible reports indicate an inordinately ballooning military and police spending. Comparative analysis of ministry of finance budget allocations to Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Defence seen by this writer, show a staggering increase from Le 108.9 billion in 2021 to Le 341.3 billion in 2022, representing a whopping 213.4 percent rise.
Regarding the Sierra Leone Police, the records show 311.5 percent increase in budget allocation from Le 96.3 billion in 2021 to 396.3 billion in in 2022.
One would have thought that at a time when the Government is claiming that Sierra Leone is one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, it should be investing more on consolidating the peace through heightened civic education, national civil registration, elections preparedness in terms of procurement of electoral materials. But clearly, the priority does not appear to be in the direction of fostering peaceful, free, fair, credible and acceptable elections, rather this Bio-led Government is hell- bent on violent suppression of any dissent and cowing the opposition through the force of arms.
But going back to President Bio’s threats to his predecessor, dim witted as it may sound, it beggars belief that Bio and his team could still be edgy about Koroma’s political influence.
If this Bio – led Government has done its assignment of delivering on his manifesto, and that as they claim, Sierra Leone is better today than four years ago, there should be no reason why they should bother themselves with such calm and peace minded former president.
Also, it defies common sense that president Bio expects Koroma to go to sleep particularly in view of the extent to which he (Bio) and his Government have gone to dismantle President Koroma’s legacy of ten years of hard work and their coordinated exertions to shred his reputation.
Needless to remind Bio of the extremely putrid content of his SLPP Government Transition Report, which sought to criminalise the erstwhile APC government led by Koroma. Nor should it be lost on Bio that his divisive and abhorrent Commissions of Inquiry, the direct [Government] animosity against President Koroma and his family constitutes a commanding justification for Ernest Koroma to ferociously defend his record and family name.
Of note, and regarding the state sanctioned hostility against Koroma and his family, includes the trumped up murder charges against his daughter and the attempt to arrest her.
This writer is also aware that President Bio and his Government have in many ways subjected the former president Koroma to unthinkable indignities including the insulting requirement on him to obtain a clearance from the Attorney General each time he wants to travel out of the country.
President Bio has also refused, in many ways, to oblige his predecessor with his retirement entitlements including little things like the statutory provision of four utility vehicles and the once -in -a -year travelling expenses.
There are also major issues relating to travel ban on many APC ministers and other senior functionaries who served in President Koroma’s Government; the assault on President Koroma’s home town of Makeni and slaughtering of innocent people on account of a protest against the controversial removal of a thermal generator; as well as the state killings at the Pademba Road Correctional Facility and in other parts of the country.
Even with such animosity against him and such widespread political abuse, Ernest Bai Koroma has demonstrated extraordinary emotional control and maturity – moved out of the city to his hometown of Makeni, rarely commented on national issues and largely steering clear of the government and its activities.
Ernest Koroma’s calmness in the face of such ill treatment and provocation by president Bio and his Government is the subject of great consternation but also, admiration for the statesman.
It is therefore both insensitive and a mark of low exposure that president Bio could come out in public with that ill-formed demand that his predecessor must resign from the politics of his country.
If anything, Bio should be thankful for the statesman’s restraining influence on the APC in the face of the Government’s excesses. And may be someone should share videos of President Obama in the 2020 United States presidential election and the ensuing gubernatorial elections thereon.