Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 August 2022:
Yesterday at State House in Freetown, President Bio met the leadership of civil society organisations, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, and the Sierra Leone Bar Association to discuss the August 10th riot that led to the death of several people including police officers.
According to State House report, President Bio thanked the CSOs and media practitioners for constructive criticisms of his government and their assessments of governance issues, the majority of which are both negative and positive.
He said that despite the various efforts to keep the country and government in check, as part of the democratic process, his government has been constantly reminded to walk on the path of a positive trajectory.
He also reminded those attending the meeting of how, collectively as a nation, they have built a positive image of a country that is resilient, and championing its own course to development, despite the odds.
But he reminded his audience of what has become known as Bloody Wednesday. President Bio said: “In just a few hours, last week, all that (progress) was thrown out of the window by a group of Sierra Leoneans with no leadership, likely because the perpetrators are ashamed of taking responsibility for the act,” adding that despite the ongoing denial, with the assistance of technology, his government is able to identify those behind the insurrection of August 10 based on their footprint on the cyberspace.
The President said it was against that backdrop that his government is engaging with various stakeholders and moral guarantors of the nation’s peace, democracy, development, and national cohesion, to map out a way forward.
President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Ms. Eddinia Michaela Swallow, said the 1oth of August 2022 was a sad day, and terrible after the end of the civil war 20 years ago. She said the successful democratic transfer of power is a positive indicator that demonstrated how civilised we were as a nation. She, however, noted that even though the riot was faceless, it was fuelled by individuals; and as lawyers, they look forward to the government bringing those people to book.
Executive Director of the Centre of Accountability and Rule of Law, Ibrahim Tommy, said: “In a democracy, there is a right for peaceful assembly and peaceful demonstration. But what we saw on August 10 was anything but a peaceful demonstration. We believe that those acts of violence must be investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice”.
President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, condemned the violence and said that everyone in the country including the President, and Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora must take full responsibility for what took place on the 10th of August 2022.
“The root cause of all the problems in the country is too much politics, which has divided us as a nation. We need to pipe down because it will further divide all sectors. It distorts and disrupts the government’s focus on the New Direction it promised the nation.
“Your Excellency, as Father of the nation you should be the last person to get angry, if you want to get angry at all. Your approach in response to this unfortunate incident in the country should be conciliatory in tone and in action. Tell your people that you understand the problems of this country and you are doing something about that. Tell them in the language they understand. And stressed that that doesn’t mean people should take the law into their hands,” president of the journalists’ association – Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said.
You can read Ahmed Sahid Nasralla’s thought-provoking speech below:
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Ministers of Government, Colleagues from CSOs and the Media, Sierra Leoneans watching us live, good afternoon. Let me start by re-echoing our condemnation of the unfortunate incidents starting from August 8th to the violent protests of August 10th, 2022. Our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, including police officers, as a result of those incidents.
Your Excellency, we all should take responsibility for what has happened- the government, the opposition, the security sector, the media, CSOs, our traditional and religious leaders, Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora- all of us are responsible.
If we have a correctional centre as big as Freetown, I would have recommended that we all spend some time there to go through some form of mindset rehabilitation before we are released back to our respective communities and society at large. But since we don’t have that, these engagements you have started with key stakeholder groups in the country can suffice. This is the way to go, Your Excellency.
Mr. President, we need to pipe down as a nation. We are playing too much politics. Politics is dividing us across the middle. Politics is diverting and distracting Government from focusing on the NEW DIRECTION that you promised Sierra Leoneans. Too much politics is promoting hate and hypocrisy; it is undermining patriotism, nationalism, and peace and national cohesion.
Too much politics is eroding our core values of labour, dignity in labour, excellence, dedication to duty, integrity and trust. Let us please de-escalate.
Your Excellency, as Father of the nation you should be the last person to get angry, if you want to get angry at all. Your approach in response to this unfortunate incident in the country should be conciliatory in tone and in action. Tell your people that you understand the problems of this country and you are doing something about that. Tell them in the language they understand. And stressed that that doesn’t mean people should take the law into their hands.
Let us sit down and talk about these problems and let all of us play a role in addressing them. As you are doing now with various stakeholder groups in the country; this is the way to go. And at the same time punish law breakers using due process. In the midst of our problems let us sit down and talk. Lek we kin say pa krio- mek we sidon talk man to man.
Let us engage. It is not a sign of weakness. It is STRENGTH. You break down recalcitrant and ill-motivated people when you talk with them rather than talk to them or talk at them.
As leader of a smaller but very troublesome community within the bigger Sierra Leone community that is the approach I am using, and it is yielding good results for the media in Sierra Leone. Under your leadership, we have achieved great things for the media in Sierra Leone. I cannot solve the problems of the media because they are many. They are like onion shells; you peel one layer another layer appears. I can only do my best. The same with you, Mr. President. You can only do your best and posterity will judge you.
Mr. President, SLAJ calls for independent and impartial inquiry into the incidents of August 10th to get to the bottom of the underlying issues and let the law take its just course.
Images of the August 18th violent protests were shown on international media screens across the world; and now they are also showing images and reporting news stories of extra judicial killings and unlawful arrests and detention of civilians. This is not good for our country. This is not good for your leadership. Those are the things the international community will use to evaluate us and that is not the Sierra Leone we all know and love.
Now to the Opposition: I say to the opposition: please change your approach. As opposition your responsibility is to provide an alternative to government. You are a shadow government, a government in waiting.
If government say they are going to build a bridge from Freetown across to Lungi and it will cost us X amount and it will take Y years to complete, we expect our opposition to give us an alternative. Yes, it is good to have a bridge to Lungi but it is a long term project with huge capital.
As an opposition, and if we were in government, we will focus on the immediate needs by procuring 2 or 3 ferries; it will cost us less, and it will ease the transportation challenges to and fro Lungi in the interim. This is the kind of opposition we want. ‘Nor to Opposition wea just de go en hol meeting all over the place and fan ethnic rivalry and say den wan ya we de pull dem na power by all means’.
I don’t remember the opposition condemning and calling on the public to disregard the invectives, inciting audios and videos coming from Adebayor and his likes, all of which basically makes the elected Government unpopular and favours them as Opposition.
The Government is stretching its hand for dialogue, reach out and grab it. The role of the Opposition is not to undermine the Government of the day but to work with it in the interest of the general good.
Now to Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora: To our compatriots in the Diaspora, you also need to pipe down. Before now you were a blessing to our country through your endless and much needed remittances to family members and loved ones to help cushion the difficult economic situation.
Nowadays, some of you have become something else. All you seem to be doing now is to share vulgar and inciting audios and videos far and wide because you have unlimited data. You open unregulated online TVs, radios and facebook live programs to talk about issues happening at home that you know very little about.
What are you actually doing out there? When you succeed in burning this country, then you will not have a motherland to come back to and you will spend the rest of your lives as slaves in other people’s countries.
Now to the media: Mr. President, I have responded as if the media is the only Saint left in the country. We are absolutely not. We are equally liable for what is befalling our nation. The media, we usually say, is a clear reflection of our society called Sierra Leone. So, we are part of the problem.
Let me share this with you; we have a newspaper called NIGHT WATCH, which is notorious for criticizing Government. During the sit down strike it carried the banner headline on its front page: ‘Adebayor is Popular than President Bio’. The day after the President gave his stern nationwide address in response to the August 10th incident, the newspaper got the message correctly and carried the following headline: ‘Maada Bio is in Control’.
I am not sure I am the right person to evaluate the media. I leave it to you the people. Help us become better placed to safeguard our democracy and promote peace and national cohesion.
We have been meeting with the international community to see how we can work together to strengthen the media to play our part in the coming elections in a professional and responsible manner. We all need to invest in public interest media to prevent the media from being used as a tool to destabilise this nation.
Now to the Sierra Leone Police (SLP): We are all mourning with the SLP. We have lost loved ones. But we should also be concerned about the living. We encourage the SLP to show concern for civilian lives lost and for those that have been arrested and detained. Respect their rights to legal representation and justice.
Finally, Mr. President, I say to all of us that the responsibility to ensure the security, stability, peace and national cohesion does not only lie with the State, or the Police or the Army but all of us.
That is a very straight shot from the hip. You do not hear that everyday in Freetown either becauseof fear for dear life or absolute oartisabship or sycophancy. Once in a while, an ostrich too could lift that buried head from the deep sand and the sea gull will decline another round of junk food thrown at it becauset hey have both eventually or belatedly regained their lost senses.. It is a breath of fresh air that speech. If any journalist or civil society activist.wants to be credible, he should not be so fickle, fair-weathered and try to be a man for all seasons. Those who had fire in their bellies five years ago and were putting the feet of forner president Ernest Bai Koroma on a hot-burning fire should be doing the same now as the status quo has not shifted one bit. If anything, it could be argued that it has got worse. You journos should not shirk that solemn responsibility to be advocates of our people who have been through a lot in their lives although they are stilll resilient, still trying to keep calm and carry on with their daily grind filled to the brim with stoicism and dignity. You do not want to delegate that serious responsibility to the lumpen of society. The consequences of that are stark as evidenced in our chequered history. The lives, livelihoods and welfare of the people are deteriorating year in and year out as reflected in most UN human development indices. If anyone is bothered to check, Guinea and Liberia are better than us in the rankings and we seem to be stuck in the last 8. I understand from a recent post here that we are now in the last 5 but i will need to verify that. The commononality i will always discern from almost all our leaders is their knack of avoiding words such as unemployment and inflation in their interviews and speeches. It seems they are taboos and an abomination to them.
This rare candid and forthright speech by the SAJ Journo came in the aftermath of recent speeches and interviews by the President blaming everyone else expect himself for our worsening and dire situation. No job! No food! No peace! He believes his critics either hate him, are jealous of him or have coconut heads as he believes the situation and circumstances are ubiquitous. In addition, he is pointing a long finger at the opposition accusing them of making life as hellish as possible for him whilst the opposition have all four fingers pointing in the opposite direction in a claasic case of the chicken and egg conundrum. Who threw the first stone or lit the first tinderbox?
I for one will raise my hand up and plead guilty as charged to the first count. I will, however, qualify it, invoke extenuating circumstances, plead for mitigation and say it is nothing personal but is just a reflection and an extension of how i feel and think about every Sierra Leonean leader i have ever known. I consider each and everyone of them as nation-wreckers and not nation-builders. I promise i will take the same stance against the next government whether it is being headed by a family member, an area manm a school mate, college mate, my tribal or regional man because i try to always stand on a strong value base at all times.
The present status quo is just the latest iteration of poor governance, econonmic mismanagement and deliberate attempts to balkanze the country – exploiting the in-situ demographic faultines of the nation for selfish political ends without any compunction, compassion or afterthought to tge peace, cohesion and developmentof the country.
Once again Bio , is preaching to a specially invited audience that he knows the chances of them telling him what they really think of him and his leadership qualities is neither here nor there .Throughout this week , after our country’s peace , security and stability , was put to the ultimate test since the end of the RUF war ,Bio have once again live up to expectation. He never fails to disappoint .Bio is not a bridge builder .Bio likes to burn bridges .His guests in State House that look more like a Church, pew ,included the who’s who in the Sierra Leone media landscape.More like a high priest delivering a sermon and preaching to the converted. Yes it is right he speaks to this media wonks but they are not the ones he is blaming for the riots . This is just another side show for international consumption . If Bio have learned any lessons from last weeks events , he should be engaging the APC leadership and since he admitted they have identify the people behind the riots by their cyber foot prints ,he should try and figure out how to get to those people .In this case the leadership of the youths of Sierra Leone , regardless of which part of the country they are located . Peace building can not be achieved in the vacuum .The initiative have to start from somewhere .And is within his power to do do .Bio should lead by example .He should lead from the front not the back .Even the US government was forced to the negotiating table with the Vitatnames to end one of the longest war America fought and lost .
Mandela and the ANC negotiated with the Aparthied regime . Sometimes your worst enemies can be your strongest political partners .Bio embodies the very definition of a bad leader .The tenets , values and character of great leaders has always been the same. They might come from a different race or tribe , but the best amongst them are posses with values and qualities that are imperative in understanding what good leadership is all about. Bio lack of common sense and understanding the political ecosystem around him can be best summed up about the way he reacted. One of the greatest tenets of good leadership is to accept criticism .
According Forebs”To accept criticism is the most important aspects of good leadership .Leaders who surround themselves with honest brokers who gave candid feedback they listen to make better leaders than the ones , who do not .”As Mr Ray Dailo the founder of one of the most successful hedge funds company Bridgewater Associates put it :” Conflicts in the pursuits of excellence is a terrific thing .There should be no hierarchy based on age or seniority .Power should lie in the reasoning not position of the individual .The best ideas no matter who they come from , criticism is the essential ingredient in the improvement process , yet if handle objectively .There should be no hierarchy in the giving and receiving of criticism “Try telling that to Bio .
This is what patriotic and loving Sierra Leonean will call a straight and honest talk coming from the President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, a good and unbiased journalist. We need more journalists like him to help unite Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. We do not want to hear any more from journalists in the diaspora with little or no knowledge about Sierra Leone’s plights but rather self praising themselves of accolades they have collected for spreading lies about Sierra Leone and been biased to other political parties and the government just because they are supporters of the main opposition party. Shame on writers of incitements and lies, for you do not mean good for Sierra Leone. Shame on you.