Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 06 November 2021:
The life and reign of the late and former President Siaka Stevens would not be complete without a mention of the One-Party State he created and betrothed to our nation. There are many more lasting memories of his “regime” but suffice it to say that his political and economic architectures will not only linger on our national landscape but serve as one of the yardsticks to measure our development and growth as a nation.
Thanks to his political alchemy, the Late Siaka Stevens created the one-party state, which deprived our country of any opposition party and by extension democracy. Since “democracy demands an opposition party”, it goes without saying that “democracy” in our parlance was tantamount to treason.
He used or abused the constitution to quash any opposition. The political vacuum created therefore, gave birth to the media and the press, as de facto opposition. The irrepressible Pius Foray, a journalist who became among others, a regular tenant at the Pademba Road Prisons, springs to mind. Kudos to him, for standing up for what he believed in. Ironically, it was the SLPP government of the day, under the late Prime Minister Albert Margai which provided the arsenal for Pa Sheki, when it introduced the Public Order Act of 1965. Prominently embedded in the Act was the draconian Libel Law, which since became the thorn in the flesh, and muzzle to nullify any iota of what the government considered as “dissent”. The rest is history.
But as the Libel Law firmly entrenched in our constitution, the promise to outlaw the Libel Law came and went as it gained prominences in the manifestoes of all successive political parties and ensuing governments. Despite several tweaks of the constitution including the 1991 version, the recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005, and the setup of Constitutional Review Body, it took more than fifty years (55) to address this issue; thanks to the brave decision by President Maada Bio. He promised it, and he delivered on it. The irony is that the SLPP was the both the midwife and executioner of this draconian law. Thank God for that.
In July this year, Sierra Leone became the 23rd and 110th country in Africa and the world respectively to abolish capital punishment the death penalty. It has been replaced with a flexible humane system of imprisonment, instead of life without parole. We now have a system of judicial discretion where judges can consider mitigating circumstances.
President Bio famously said “Today, I have fulfilled a governance pledge to permanently abolish the death penalty in Sierra Leone. I thank citizens, members of Parliament, development partners, and rights groups that have steadfastly stood with us to make history”. There are about seventy-eight (78) people on death row, who will be removed, and their life sentences quashed. That was history and must be lauded to the rafters.
President Bio recently wrote on tweeter “Another promise made and delivered! My government has just approved and authorised the Attorney General to lay in parliament a proposed amendment to the constitution of Sierra Leone that will allow dual citizens to be qualified to be elected as Members of Parliament” (Sierraleonetelegraph.com-27th October 2021).
In addition to the above, this is another milestone in the annals of our nation. Although the bill is in its infancy stage in parliament, one cannot overlook the political and social ramifications that lie ahead. I live in the diaspora, I am Sierra Leonean and like anyone else, have my own views on this issue. But that is for another day to rant.
What comes to mind is an addendum to my previous article “Politics: The theatre of deceit, where ignorance is not a handicap”. Taking into consideration these political or constitutional changes, you wonder why it took so long to get here. Why were previous governments reluctant to do the same, and why did it take over 55 years to guarantee my freedom of speech? Why did it take only three years for President Bio to oversee these changes as promised in previous manifestos?
It is obviously tempting to heap all the accolade on President Bio. We know that it took the cooperation, and well-meaning participation of the opposition parties, the statutory, non-statutory, NGOs, and many other civil organisational bodies to get here. And it took President Bio just three (3) years to get us here.
So, what does this tell us about our inherent qualities and character as a nation?
President Bio might not have succeeded in presiding over these political landmarks without the engagement of the others. This could pass for an example of our democracy at work. It shows that “where there is a will, there is a way”. Bio had the will and found a way.
The recent bill to open political space to those living in the diaspora has been championed by Dr Yumkella of NGC. No one needs a reminder that the then APC ruling party made strenuous efforts to prevent him from exercising his right to contest the elections as a Sierra Leonean. Unfortunately, the APC’s misguided obsession with Yumkella took their eye off the ball, while Bio quietly worked his way to State House. Good on him.
Just as a case in point, Bio and Yumkella might not see eye to eye, as they say. Bio and Samura Kamara might not sing from the same hymn sheet. President Bio can rightly claim success for these changes. But what this tells us the voters is that, if our politicians want the common good, if they want to serve the national interest, and if they put the country above their respective political parties, they have the wherewithal to do so, irrespective of their political differences.
It also shows that the tail usually follows the head (pardon the imagery) and sometimes vice versa. So why did it take so long to get here, when Bio could move from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds? Na Ferrari?
As voters, as citizens, as the electorate and as a nation, we might need some serious soul searching and political recalibration. The APC accused President Bio’s government of a witch hunt against their party. The SLPP accused the APC of working to make the country ungovernable. But it is against this backdrop that, we achieved the seemingly unthinkable: cooperation for the national good. This shows among others, that a government is better secured with a formidable opposition.
This simply shows that “opposition to blind progress works better than blind opposition to progress”. It shows that if the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All-People’s Congress want to come together, they can, for the common good. But that would also depend on the direction of their loyalties. It’s about where do our loyalties between our parties and our country lie in our hearts. Your party above Sierra Leone or Sierra Leone above your party? Show us.
So, to the voter out there, why do we see our brothers or sisters as different because he/she speaks a different language? Why the hatred because you don’t pay local tax to the same local authority? Why the difference because your midwife was from the other side of the country? It might look like a minor feat, but our politicians have demonstrated to us; that when they put our country first, our political party interests face relegation. Our politicians have shown us their other side; that they can move our country forward if they want to. That they can do so if they put Mama Salone First.
So, if we want to celebrate success, we must remember to give credit to those who deserve it. It might seem a rarity, but kudos to all of them. I reserve the loudest cheer for President Bio. But hey, since we have developed the tendency not to see the good in others, no surprises for guessing what some may say. Thankfully, “you no longer have the right to remain silent. So, anything you say, or fail to mention which you might rely on when questioned, might not be used against you in a court of law”. Got the gist thin blue line?
Bravo to all the participants in these matters. National Interest is First Interest and Best Interests. Na we all interest, for Mama Salone. More of that.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.