Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 May 2020:
Last Friday, President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone delivered an address to the nation, in response to a week of violence and youth unrest in various parts of the country, which many – including the main opposition APC believe to have been sparked by economic and social factors.
But president Bio disagrees. In his broadcast to the country, he accused the opposition APC of inciting and sponsoring much of the violence witnessed last week in Lunsar, Falaba and Tombo, in which properties were destroyed, many people wounded and lives lost.
“My Government has been closely following events of the last few weeks. The security sector has closely analysed the prime movers, financiers, causes, nature, and patterns of violent acts. Our responses are therefore well-informed. As Commander-in-Chief, I have ordered the intelligence and security forces to use all available resources, and take all measures necessary within the laws of this country to deal promptly, decisively, and robustly with all acts of violence against the state.
“Anybody who incites, plans, supports, undertakes, or is involved in any manner of violence in this country will be dealt with harshly. We will use all instruments of state power and resources permissible under the laws of this country to deal firmly and decisively with these violent terrorist attacks against the state of Sierra Leone,” president Bio warns.
So how does the president intend solving this wave of rising violence and political unrest?
“I have also ordered urgent reforms within the security sector. The objective is to make their leadership more decisive, more effective in crime prevention and deterrence, and to maintain peace and stability in the face of extreme acts of terrorist violence against the state.
“I have called for more citizen engagement so that communities are more intimately involved in preventing crime and the causes of crime. I want to personally encourage civil society organisations to expand their scope of work to capture these dynamics in their daily work with communities.
“I have also ordered urgent reforms within the correctional system to provide for safe and secure custody in line with international best practices while developing a reintegration component focused on skills training and entrepreneurship.”
President Bio also announced that he will instruct the country’s Chief Justice Edwards to reopen the courts, so that trials can take place for those awaiting to be charged by the police, as well as for cases involving politically sensitive detainees such as Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, Retired Major Palo Conteh, former mayor of Freetown – Herbert George Williams, and many others.
“I am aware that the courts are closed because of COVID-19. But given the prevailing circumstances, I will appeal to the Chief Justice to consider appropriate measures to adjudicate the cases that emerge from this widespread insecurity. Equally, given the destruction to the Pademba road Correctional Centre and the burning down of police stations in parts of the Country in addition to over- crowding in the Correctional Centres and police cells, there is a need to think about decentralizing court hearings,” said the president.
Yesterday, the Chief Justice responded to the president’s call for some of the courts to be opened. But there are fears that very high profiled, politically sensitive cases may be transferred to the president’s political heartland of Bo and Kenema, which many say could prejudice the outcome of those trials.
There are concerns also that president Bio may himself have prejudiced some of those trials after making statements in his broadcast to the nation – which though presented as facts, could now be difficult to prove in court.
This is what the Chief Justice said: