Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 April 2018:
The people of Sierra Leone can be proud of yesterday’s presidential runoff election, which ended peacefully, despite a few reports of police heavy-handedness and localised arrests of those caught red handed carrying unlawful voting materials.
Despite the low voter turnout, most of those who cared to go out to vote were out forming queues as early as 5am, though polling stations did not open until about 7am. Armed police and military presence on the streets and at polling stations was very high, and many say that this could have accounted for many voters staying at home.
Sierra Leone has a long and painful history of political violence. But the last three national elections have been relatively peaceful, as the country tries to rebuild its democratic foundation, that had been battered by ten years of brutal civil war and a thirty-year spell of APC one-party rule.
Although there were no reports of major skirmishes among the supporters of the two main political parties vying for the presidency – the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP, report of gunshots in the far west of the capital Freetown came quite late in the evening, which made for an uncomfortable reading.
It is understood that unidentified gunmen opened fire near the home of the opposition presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio. This report is yet to be confirmed by the police.
But the personal assistant of Julius Maada Bio – Yusuf Keketoma Sandi made this statement late last night:
“This evening the residence of the SLPP Presidential Candidate, Brigadier (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio has come under attack after live gun shot was fired towards his residence by armed officers who have been identified as close protection officers of President Koroma.
“The close protection officers of President Koroma were at the residence of the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Momodu Allieu Pat-Sowe who lives few meters away from Brigadier (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio. We view this latest attack as an assassination attempt on the life of Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
“The fact that the gun-shot attack has happened at a time when provisional results across the country are showing an impressive lead by Brigadier Julius Maada Bio in the Presidential run-off Elections, it is conceivable that this is part of a grand plan by the APC and security forces to create chaos obstructing the announcement of the results of the presidential run-off elections.
“Despite this assassination attempt on the life of Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, we call on all SLPP supporters and members to continue to monitor the counting of results at the polling stations and be vigilant against any politically motivated violence from armed military and police officers.
“We also call on both local and international election observers and members of the diplomatic community to safeguard not only the peace but also to ensure that the democratic will of the people be respected.”
In a related, though unconnected development last night, there were reports that a popular hotel in Freetown, known as Kona Lodge, owned by a former SLPP presidential aspirant – Chief Ernest Ndomahina, was “under police and military siege”.
According to unconfirmed report, a group of armed military and police officers entered Kona Lodge at about 9pm last night, claiming that Voter Results Reconciliation Forms and ballot boxes were kept at the hotel by the opposition SLPP.
Eyewitness reports say that the presence of heavily armed military, disrupted normal flow of business, as it created panic and discomfort among guests and residents of the Hill Side neighbourhood on King Street.
The Hotel owner – Chief Ernest Ndomahina, is reported to have been in a state of shock and dismay, over the action of the security officers, whom he said unnecessarily targeted his private business. He denied all allegations of his hotel being used for the storing of election materials.
At about midnight last night, seven hours after vote counting had started, there was shock and dismay across the country as the entire internet and telephone service went down until early hours of this morning.
Critics of the government say that this was a deliberate strategy by the ruling APC acting in cohort with the internet and mobile companies, to interfere with the counting and reporting of election results, by cutting off communications.
Early indications from results tallied so far, suggest that the opposition SLPP is in a commanding lead with 53%.
As predicted before the elections, it is difficult to imagine the ruling APC winning the presidential election. The country’s economy is facing bankruptcy. The IMF and foreign aid donors have suspended their financial agreements with the APC government, because of poor governance and massive corruption.
The official announcement of the runoff election result is not expected for another two days, as counting is being done manually, to avoid the massive electoral fraud that was witnessed at the first round of voting on March 7th, 2018.
Meanwhile counting continues amid rising political tension, accusations and counter accusations between the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP.