Lansana Fofanah: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 April 2021:
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) has once again been in the spotlight over its high-handedness and alleged brutality on civilians in the country.
Having been branded as a ‘Force for Good’ after the country’s civil war, the expectations of the People are for the Police to restore the lost trust between them and the force, after undergoing thorough reforms with the aid of the United Kingdom, and donor partners.
The Police in any country are expected to protect the lives and properties of citizens and the State, and anything contrary to that will raise eyebrows and question their existence.
It is also expected that while executing such mandates, necessary caution must be taken to avoid any loss of life. This was not the case in Tombo, Lunsar, Makeni and recently Hastings, where lives and properties were lost in police operations.
After the Makeni riot on July 18th, 2020, a report published by thirteen non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International and the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law that went on a fact-finding mission, condemned the use of lethal weapons and random shooting by security forces.
Even the Sierra Leone 2020 Human Rights Report, blamed the Police for using live ammunition on protesting and armless civilians. That goes against the principles of the International Humanitarian Law.
Just a week ago, a Police Inspector was believed to have commanded some junior officers attached at the Operational Support Divisions of the Sierra Leone Police to intimidate residents around the Hastings community where the said officer has had a long-standing land dispute. The response by the Police was deadly as it resulted in the death of one Alpha, whose death some youths in the community have vowed to retaliate anytime soon.
Seeing the reckless behaviours of four officers that were linked to the Hastings shootings, the Force had no choice but to put them on suspension while the investigation is ongoing.
In the wake of that ugly incident, there came another shocking social media video showing police officers administering mob justice on a female suspect by hitting her on the head with a cartridge loader. Only a heartless individual could stand such a horrific scene.
Such an act has made the public question the professionality of some members of the Police at a time when community policing is at its lowest ebb.
Even the press release that was put out by the Police, was not commensurate to the punishment inflicted upon that lady that was supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty before a competent jurisdiction.
While there is every need to recruit Police officers, it would be meaningless if thorough criminal background checks are not done to ascertain whether some of these constables are fit to join the force.
This was how the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria started by suppressing the very people they were established to protect against ‘Yahoo boys’ and internet fraudsters.
The rampant killing and harassment of peaceful citizens by SARS prompted nationwide protest for the disbandment of the unit and called for a total reform of the Nigerian Police.
It is high time the Inspector-General of Police, Michael Ambrose Sovula rose to the challenge in making the force civilian-friendly and to adopt another approach to quell down protests in future.
The Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, being the Head of the Police Council must engage the leadership of the Force before the situation becomes unbearable.
While these acts are being done by Police who don’t know the ripple effect, the Government of the day will always be the one to bear the burden.
Those reports will go a long way to affect the country’s performances on Human Rights and Peace Index, if something urgently is not done to correct those wrongs.
A stitch in time saves nine.