Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 April 2016
All was calm and peaceful at the SLPP party offices yesterday morning it seemed, with party bosses and aspiring candidates for the country’s presidency getting ready to celebrate their party’s anniversary.
Among those meeting inside the party offices yesterday were; Chairman and Leader Kapen, Alie Kabba, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, Ernest Ndomahina, Bai Kabia, and Ambassador Daboh (Photo).
Then came the ugly and violent scenes outside the offices – heavily armed police firing shots and tear gas on crowds of party supporters and their masquerades.
Something horrible must have gone seriously wrong somewhere, for the police to take such drastic action, breaching all standards for the protection of civil rights and the police codes of conduct, against unarmed citizens.
Dozens of people who were inside the SLPP offices were arrested and detained by the police, including some senior party officers. What truly happened?
Yesterday, the official version of what started the fracas is clear. The SLPP said that they had applied for permission to take part in the street masquerade parade in the city, and thought they had received permission from both the masquerade union and the police.
But it seems, from the evidence published so far, there was a serious breakdown in communication across institutions.
And this morning, the people of Freetown are left wondering about what really happened yesterday, as the rest of the country were celebrating Sierra Leone’s 55 years of independence.
This is the statement issued by the police public and media relations officer -ASP Brima Kamara , about what took place yesterday and the causes:
On the 23rd of April 2016, the leadership of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) notified the Inspector General of Police about commemoration of their 65th Anniversary to be observed with “Thanksgiving Prayer/Service at the Party National Headquarters 15 Walpole Street on Sunday 24th April 2016 at 12:30 pm” and on Wednesday 27th April, 2016, to continue with: 1. Inter-Faith Service, followed by 2. Luncheon Sale and climaxed with 3. Reunion Night.
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) was not averse to the request and the IGP’s approval was conveyed to the Director of Administration of the Party, but were ‘cautioned to adhere to the provisions of the Public Order Act No. 46 of 1965 ‘which must characterise the conduct of the entire activities/anniversary celebrations.’
On 26th April 2016, the Inspector General of Police received copy of a letter the SLPP sent to the Ordehlay Union touching on their renewed membership with the Union and their intention to celebrate their 65th anniversary in grand style with Arie Wuteteh coming out on the 27th of April, 2016.
In effect, they were requesting the Ordehlay Union to apply to the SLP on their behalf so that they could come out with their mask devil “Arie Wuteteh” as part of their 65th anniversary celebrations.
Since it was just a copy sent to the Inspector General, we therefore could not have actioned it.
Whilst waiting to hear from the Ordehlay Union in respect of the issue, we received from them (Ordehley Union) copies of letters (Inspector General, Director of Operations, Director of Community Relations, Media One) sent to the Director of Administration of the SLPP indicating that, I quote:
“our Union is not in position to apply for your Party/Arie Wuteteh as requested due to late arrival of your letter.”
In view of the above, the SLP’s Director of Operations despatched message to the SLPP Director of Administration requesting him to see him at Police Headquarters which he consented to and promised to make it to Police Headquarters by 5 pm.
The Director of Operations intended to discuss the issue with him; more so when the SLP learnt that they were insisting on coming out whether given permit or not. Unfortunately, he did not turn up, as promised, up to 5 pm.
The Director of Ops. did not relent. He called him up almost 2 hours 30 minutes later and lengthily discussed with him on the phone in respect of intelligence received that they were still going to come out despite the fact that Arie Wuteteh had no permit to come out.
The SLPP Director of Administration assured the SLP’s Director of Operations that he was going to talk to the membership to abandon the ideas of coming out with Arie Wuteteh after it was made clear to him that if they attempt coming out with their mask devil, the police would stop them.
The final promise from the SLPP end was that they were going to do their dancing and singing within their headquarters at 15 Walpole Street.
Further intelligence received was that when the Chairman and Secretary General of the Ordehlay Union went to despatch the letter of refusal to the SLPP Director of Administration in their office, they were scolded and the Secretary General was seriously roughed-up. That matter is now the subject of police investigation.
True to their word, Arie Wuteteh defied the police and came out this morning 27/04/2016 despite repeated warnings. It would interest you to know that they even went straight to the Central Police Station with the mask devil as a show of defiance and provoking the police to act.
The police ordered them to return to base but they were defiant and put up a challenge. Because the police insisted, they went loose and started pelting stones here and there.
Go to the offices of Anti Corruption Commission and see for yourself the destruction caused by these marauding boys/girls. They smashed windscreens and signpost, damaged window panes and even attempted to burn the Freetown City Council but the petrol bomb was quickly put out.
There was vigorous and unrelenting attempt to disarm an Operational Support Department (OSD) personnel but he stood his ground and repelled his attackers.
In a nutshell, the SLP had running battles with those insisting on coming out with Arie Wuteteh but the SLP quickly put the situation under control within 45 minutes. There were no reported cases of injuries. So far 28 arrests were made and investigation continues.
Meanwhile, all celebrations in the SLPP Party office are put on hold as police are busy restoring calm in the area.
For your information, the SLP before the Easter celebrations adopted a policy of working with unions when it comes to issuance of police permits especially for mask devils wanting to process the streets of Freetown; given that their activities were most times associated with violence and other anti social behaviours.
As a responsible organisation desirous of maintaining law and order at all times, we thought that we could directly work with recognisable groups of people (unions) whom we could easily fall back on, when there are breaches of the Public Order Act and any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) jointly developed and signed.
We have therefore been working with the Ordehlay Union based at Firestone Mountain Cut, Conference of Hunters based at Congo Town and Amalgamated Hunters Society based at Ingham Street, Fourah Bay.
Our working with these Unions especially the Ordehlay Union, largely contributed to the peaceful nature Easter was celebrated despite having more than 25 mask devils processing the streets of Freetown on that day.
The policy of coordinating, collaborating and cooperating with Unions is making it possible for them to be part of their own security and the security of the State; thereby making them more accountable to the law for their actions.
And in the event they fall short of complying with the MoU jointly developed and signed and non compliance of the Public Order Act. No 46 of 1965, they could be easily reached for questioning.
It is to be further noted that policing in the 21st century has metamorphosed from the traditional police-centered to people- centered; hence the reason behind the adoption of “Local Needs Policing” which is a form of Community Policing that makes it possible for our people to be players in identifying community crimes/problems and then help the police to solve them.
The Sierra Leone Police Complaints Board must conduct a full and transparent investigation into what took place yesterday, and publish its report very quickly – in the next five days, so that trust and confidence in the police is not lost.
Elections are due in Sierra Leone in 2018, and the role of the police in maintaining law and order impartially, is crucial to achieving a free and peaceful election.
Are we in a police state where authorities should decide who can do what they want.
Is it a crime that the oldest political party in Sierra Leone cannot celebrate their 65th anniversary as a party in their own way, as it reflects on the huddles and challenges it has gone through and is currently going through?
To me the SLPP party did the right thing in informing the police of there activities due to the coming days.
When we rent a hall for a function are we to tell the owner the type of food we will serve, the type of clothes we will wear and the type of guests that are invited? Are we not likely to see unforeseen circumstances? This is what the police force of Sierra Leone is telling us.
You can see that it is a well designed and calculated plan. The Head of State was not in Freetown so as to presume innocence having set the police to do his clandestine and dirty tricks.
May God help us as members of an opposition party in Sierra Leone
I wasn’t there but this doesn’t really seem to be about permits, or masks, or anti-social behaviour. It’s about trust, or lack of, in the police, in authority and in the State.
The police need to police, but it’s what they choose to prioritise and how they choose to respond that is the issue.
From afar, it seems disproportionate to deal with a celebration, however anti-social it may have become and however un-authorised it may have been, with tear gas, whilst at the same time some from the ruling class are stripping the country bare and not allowing development to take place, and nothing is done.
It isn’t surprise to me that the Anti Corruption Commission was targeted either when you consider how little action has been taken to fight corruption, at least at the highest levels.
Independence Day is an opportunity to celebrate and look forward, not to remind ourselves of our past troubles and bring them back to the fore. The future is ours to build, and must be positive and bright.