Restricting movements and the dangers for Sierra Leone’s elections – a personal view

Dr. Sylvia Blyden: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 February 2018

It was a few minutes to 6pm on Monday this week – 12th February 2018. Dusk was approaching, and I was at my private residence on the top floor, seated in my veranda sipping lemonade and watching the sun cast its red rays over the Aberdeen bridge estuary into the Atlantic Ocean.

Suddenly, the calm environ was interrupted when a vanload of armed OSD Police officers led by a senior police officer, arrived at my gates in my small residential corner of Cockle Bay, Off Aberdeen Ferry Road. They were blowing their police bullhorn quite loudly.

And as they reached the gates, they all jumped out as if on some vigorous police exercise; some of them wielded arms.

There were so many OSD officers that my first inclination was they have come to arrest me, given the threats earlier that day from our new Police Inspector General Richard Moigbe; threats he had made in a room full of lawyers and judges at the British Council.

I stood and calmly watched as they demanded for the gates to be opened. Upon entering my compound, the most senior officer among them, with his epaulets gleaming shiny bright as if he was newly promoted, gave me a polite salute, but in a very firm manner said: “Good afternoon Madam. We are here to remove your police bodyguard.”

I calmly corrected him that since I was no longer a Cabinet Minister, I did not deserve to be saluted anymore by the Police. However, in bemusement, I asked him why they needed such a very large number of Police officers to come with bullhorns blowing and demanding for the gates to be opened, just to collect one single police bodyguard who provided close protection for me during the day?

He responded that he was under Orders to do so, and he was also under Orders not to leave the compound unless he went off with the police guard – leaving me without any security. He also informed me that his further Orders were that there will henceforth be no OSD police officer assigned to my residence in the night.

Well, a simple phone call to me would have sufficed to let me know that the Police hierarchy was no longer prepared to continue to give me protection, but it was clear that such a large number of armed police officers had been deliberately sent by the Inspector General of Police Dr. Richard Moigbe (a PhD holder) to intimidate me in my neighbourhood.

Later, I got confirmation that no less a person than His Excellency the President was actually the person who gave the green light to the Inspector General of Police to withdraw police protection from me.

I guess these two powerful men – H.E. President and the Police IG,  decided that this woman was too vociferous, and so sending a van load of armed police officers blowing bullhorns through the neighbourhood would help them to intimidate me into silence.

Yes, they want to silence me away from my firm stance – that it will be totally illegal and also grossly immoral to restrict movements of citizens all across the nation on Elections day.

On Pages 8 and 9 of today’s edition of Awareness Times, are two In Memoriam placements dedicated to two of my ancestry. I am not a first-generation civic activist neither am I a second or third generation civic activist. I can trace my civic activist pedigree back to the 18th Century.

I also have genes that make it impossible to intimidate me or silence me or browbeat me. So if the intent of sending a truckload of armed police officers to my gates was to silent me, it was an exercise in futility.

I will continue to say it very loudly that no Police has the power to restrict an entire Nation from their constitutional free movement on Elections Day! There is NO LAW in this country which gives such powers to Sierra Leone Police! None at all and if the Police pushes for this to happen, we should RESIST them by any lawful means available.

Thankfully, the Police have clarified that what they plan is just a restriction of vehicles contrary to the words by a senior government functionary over Makeni radio stations last weekend that the Police will be “nasty” with anyone who does not go back indoors after voting. It was those reported words which sparked off my reminder of what my position had been in 2012.

Indeed, it will be noticed that my stance on this matter was first expressed over five years ago shortly before the November 2012 Elections. It is not a new opinion I have suddenly developed this year. I vehemently opposed restricting citizens’ movements in 2012 and I am again opposing it vehemently in this 2018.

Any decision by Police hierarchy to impose a nationwide restriction of movement on Elections Day is not only illegal but it is also immoral and, in my opinion, it is a huge threat to the peace and stability of Sierra Leone.

Back in November 2012, after the agitations, the Police adjusted their initial proposed widespread restrictions and watered the restrictions down. They then issued out passes to special categories of citizens. But even at that, it was still wrong and could have posed a threat to our peace and stability. In fact, I am now more concerned in 2018 than I was in 2012.

Let me explain

There are two schools of thoughts protesting such restrictions. One says Restriction of Movement allows for stuffing of ballot boxes as it is easy for the few allowed vehicles to be the ones to move in and switch boxes in remote parts whilst citizens would be restricted indoors.

This theory alleges that such ballot stuffing gives a flawed Voter Turnout that is very high as ballot stuffing will give skewed results with very high percentage votes in favour of the beneficiary of such rigging.

The other group says restrictions on movements, definitely reduce voter turnout as it is a sure way to disenfranchise citizens from exercising their mandate. Even with the assurance that buses will be provided to move citizens to go and vote, the disenfranchisement is going to be significant.

For example, what about those old persons or Disable citizens who live off the main highways? It is easy to say passes will be given to them to use on their private vehicles to move them to the polling stations. But how many of such persons own private vehicles? What about citizens who live in terrains like Kissy Hills or Mount Aureol terrace and who definitely require okada to move them down to even the main highway?

And how does a Regent mudslide victim living in Lumley but originally registered at Regent, get a bus to take them to and from their homes to polling stations when there will be no straight bus service running between Regent and Lumley?

Clearly, restriction of commercial transportation like poda-podas, taxis, kehkehs and okadas, is going to disenfranchise a chunk of citizens. I will not comment on the buses that the Police allege will be made available.

I know firsthand that the so-called bus provision in 2012 was a disaster as I monitored it and saw many citizens unable to benefit from the limited number of buses which actually only plied the main roads and never went to the side roads.

I do not subscribe to those who allege of Ballot Stuffing but I strongly believe that Vehicle restriction is definitely going to result in Disenfranchisement of Citizens and a feeling of great suspicion over why citizens should not freely move on Elections Day.

And such a critical election cannot have such suspicions nor can it have the risk of disenfranchisement of voters who could not vote because they could not be transported to vote. But perhaps an even more serious consideration is the fact that Elections must be conducted in such a manner that everyone is satisfied it was free and fair and will then accept the outcome.

We must all be able to freely exercise our franchise (i.e: go and vote) without any restrictions.

In my view, back in 2012, what saved us and did not throw this country into Post-Elections Violence (I here emphasise the term POST Elections), was because it was a two-horse race and when the election results were announced, President Koroma went on to beat the SLPP candidate Julius Maada Bio by a huge landslide margin.

The margin between the two men was well over 21% with President Koroma scoring almost 60% and SLPP candidate not even able to reach 38%. Therefore, Opposition claims that 2012 elections got rigged with alleged Ballot Stuffing conducted during the time citizens were restricted from free movement, were not justifiable.

A gap of over 20% could not be explained away by allegations of ballot stuffing and boxes being switched during the times citizens were restricted from moving around.

Fast forward to 2018. These current upcoming elections are no longer a clear two-horse race between the SLPP and the APC anymore. In 2012 presidential elections, the candidate who took third place, Lawyer Charles Margai, got a mere 1% of the votes.

Most of the others got a little above zero percentage of the votes. In 2018, we now have at least four other political parties who are determined to make their mark. And from all indications, each of these four parties are going to take significant votes of at least 5% or more.

Therefore, these 2018 elections are going to go into Run-Off elections as neither the SLPP nor APC candidates can reach 55% threshold of the votes at first ballot.

Such a critical election cannot have the risk of disenfranchisement of voters who could not vote because they could not be transported to vote.

This is NOT the 2012 elections which was a two-horse race and where President Koroma had a landslide victory with margin of well over 20% between himself and Maada Bio. These 2018 elections have more than two strong candidates.

We cannot risk POST-ELECTIONS protests due to disenfranchisement caused by police officers like our current Police Boss who is only two months on the job and is already running out of his patience. By the time he reaches twelve months on the job, what state of mind will he be in?  Mr. IG, cool down.

Now, the Police is trying to find legality for their proposed restriction of movement under Section 32 of the Police Act No. 7 of 1964 which says in order to control traffic, “The Superior Police Officer in charge of the Police in any area may make such orders as he thinks fit for the temporary direction and parking of any vehicular traffic which includes cycles, hand carts or any animal-drawn vehicle”.

The ruling All Peoples Congress is supporting the Police and in fact many APC supporters have been lambasting me for going outside of the APC official line of endorsing these restrictions. In my view, the APC strategic thinking has been infiltrated by Trojan Horses who, for past few years now, have been directing the APC along a retrogressive path.

So, on a few occasions, clear thinking eludes the party, and this is one such occasion where the APC is now enmeshed in exactly where the Trojan Horses want them to be.

I earlier emphasised on POST-ELECTIONS violence. The truth is that violence around Elections usually happens after the polling day. In our case, there is little benefit in any violence during the actual polling themselves.

Rather, the Police should be very much concerned with what happens after the Polls are conducted and the results start filtering in – and one political party starts to reject the results coming in because it feels that its supporters were disenfranchised.

The Sierra Leone Police has now clarified that contrary to what had been bandied on radio by senior government functionaries that the police will be “nasty” with any citizen who does not go back indoors, nobody has restricted human movement but merely vehicular restriction.

That is good to get such clarification, but I still believe the Inspector General of Police is completely misguided in trying to restrict movements on Elections day under the guise of stemming elections violence.

This is why I continue to say all citizens must RESIST the proposal by the Sierra Leone Police for our movements to be restricted on Elections Day. We should RESIST them – using all lawful means at our disposal.

This is our own way of preventing POST-Elections Violence from political groupings who may reject the results outcomes under the guise that their supporters could not be transported to vote. In 2007 Run-Offs, the margin between Solomon Berewa and Ernest Bai Koroma (prior to Thorpe cancelling results) was very, very slim. In all likelihood, we may be facing a similarly slim margin at our Run-Off elections this year.

There is another scenario to be considered. If the margin between second position and third position in the first ballot is very slim and the Third Position candidate rejects the results because he says if his supporters had been allowed to move freely to vote, then he would have been the one in Second Place as their disenfranchised votes would have put him ahead of the other person.

The permutations that may come out of disenfranchised citizens not being able to move to go and vote, are so many that I wonder which calculations the Police IG Dr. Richard Moigbe and his team are using to risk this Nation with such a recipe for possible Post-Elections protests of results due to perceived disenfranchisement?

Bottomline, Restriction of Movement is a recipe for chaos and the Inspector General of Police must be told quite frankly that rather than protecting the country from violence on Elections day as he alleges, IG Dr. Richard Moigbe may actually be setting the stage for possible POST-ELECTIONS protests which may end up being violent.

I am yet to hear any convincing argument as to why we should not be able to freely move to the best of our abilities to go and cast our votes. Nobody has been able to convince me yet. All I hear is vague talk of protecting against violence. But which violence is this during the Polling day itself? I just don’t see it.

I however see a very grave danger in Post-Elections violence arising out of citizens being forcibly disenfranchised by Inspector General of Police and his men.

Now, I have a lot of respect for the Police and my vehement disagreement with them on this matter should not be taken personally by any Police or Government official.

I am just standing up to state my views and to also educate fellow citizens that contrary to the initial reports that Police will be “nasty” with anyone who does not go back indoors after voting, no Police has the right to steal their freedom of movement; in the same way if a police officer in uniform tries to snatch your bag, you will resist despite he is in uniform – because you know it is theft.

So, I do not think I should be subjected to intimidation or threats from Police; withdrawing of my police protection was sad.

I started off on a personal note and I will end on a personal note. I want to state most importantly for the records that I was not assigned personal Police protection because I was a Minister. Long before I was appointed thus, at a certain point in time, it had been determined that due to my patriotic work of protecting our country from those who had wanted to give it a bad name as a hub for Uranium smuggling, I had incurred the wrath of a cartel of criminals.

An official report exists as to why a decision was taken to assign an armed guard to my person. Today, because I am standing up to express my views on what I believe is right to protect this country from any chance of POST-ELECTIONS VIOLENCE, the Government decided to react by withdrawing my armed protection and leave me vulnerable. However, I am sure the God I serve will not allow the fate of late General S.O. Williams to befall me. May God bless Sierra Leone.

5 Comments

  1. I personally believe that no citizen deserves to be treated in that manner unless the government receives credible information that the person in question is considered a threat to national security of our country and should be neutralized.

    But I wonder why the former minister thinks she is still qualified to keep a security officer who is paid by the taxpayers from the consolidated funds just for her personal protection, because she’s scared to be another victim as in the case of the late General S.O Williams.

    What else can the former adviser and minister of the current political party (APC) tell us about the mysterious death of the late patriotic General S.O. Williams?

  2. Finally I have the compassion to feel for Sylvia. But you, just like the saying goes: “If a bully is in a neighborhood, and he is terrorizing others, it is everyone’s business to condemn what he is doing. If they dont and the bully suddenly turns on those that have been silent, then reality just hit home.”

    The moral of my story is – Sylvia for a very long time endorsed the violation of people’s rights by Ernest Koroma and his thuggish APC cabal. Now they have turned on her. How does it feel?

  3. This type of blatant intimidation is what has come to characterize the rule of the APC party. Their penchant for suppressing dissent is disturbing to say the least. But you are one of the enablers of this APC administration and you used your paper to prop up this disgraceful band of state looters.

    Your (Gumbay) dance on the streets when other well meaning Sierra Leoneans were protesting the excesses of this government is still fresh on the minds of many Sierra Leoneans. And your silence when the same thing happened to Sam Sumana was deafening.

    And now that the chicken has come home to roost, I cannot see myself feeling any sympathy for you. As the saying goes, you lie down with dogs, you are bound to wake up with flees. I do pray that you are safe and you will endeavor to continue to speak truth to power as you did before you were enticed.

  4. What a shame. If Sylvia is treated in such manner, how will the 13 police recruits that have no connection with politics whatsoever be treated. The IG must remember one thing in life: “You are not indispensable”.

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