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President Bio Must Prevent This!

The raiding of Matibo and Massengbeh villages in the Yoni Chiefdom, Tonkolili District by a joint team of armed police and military personnel on Sunday 9th September, 2018 at 5:00 a.m. or thereabout has become a serious controversial issue that has the propensity to soil the human rights record of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Government if the issue is not properly handled by the Government.

According to the Assistant Superintendent of the Transitional Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Emmanuel Cole, who led the Operation Green Storm, the operation was to track down people who dealing in illegal substances especially marijuana which botanical name is Cannabis Sativa. He said the operation was intelligence led and that about one hundred and fifty personnel were divided into two to raid the two villages. The ASP alleged that there were a lot of resistance from some aggrieved youths but told his men that they must succeed in the operation at all cost, adding that the irate youths used petrol bombs, machetes and pelted stones at them.

29-year-old Abdul Combay Kamara was allegedly killed in the raid though the Chief Superintendent of TUCO, Sheku Kamara said in a news conference at Police Headquarters in Freetown on Monday 10th September that the joint team was not responsible for his killing, adding that TOCU has thirty-four suspects and seven hundred and nine kilograms of marijuana in its custody.

Reports are that the police authorities claimed that the people attacked the joint team with weapons and even shot guns at their personnel and consequently, they returned fire with teargas canister that could have led to the death of the young man who allegedly received gunshot wounds. But the one-million-dollar question is, were the police and military personnel in the joint team so threatened and intimidated that they could use live bullets at civilians as if Sierra Leone is still a war zone? Is there any history in the Second Republic of Sierra Leone where civilians have resisted police raid using firearms?

Whether true or false, it has been reported that the raid was sanctioned by the state and was critically code-named as “Operation Green Storm” which coincidentally marched with the colour of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Detractors have even claimed that the two villages that were raided have historically always voted against the SLPP in favour of the All People’s Congress (APC) party.

While the TOCU personnel that led the so-called “Operation Green Storm” has denied any wrong doing in the killing of the 29-year-old youth who died of gunshot wounds, Government should not only order an investigation into the raiding of the two villages, but the President through the Minister of Internal Affairs should ensure that such incident does not occur anymore in their regime.

Though some people express the human rights abuse of the Bio administration with political sentiments, it is truism that lots of human rights abuses have occurred in the country within the five-month rule of the SLPP. The brutal killing of APC members at Malama, Bonthe and other places during the aftermath of the March, 2018 national elections, for example, are some examples of the gross human rights abuses under the Bio administration. While the police are downplaying the raid on the two villages, there are already reports that State House authorized the raid and this could play into the hands of APC members and supporters in the United States of America (USA) that have planned a mass demonstration against President Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio in New York during the UN General Assemblywhich he would be attending next week.

Though the President has started so well in governance, such as blocking leakages to ensure robust revenue mobilization, introducing free quality education, paying most of the domestic debts inherited from the erstwhile APC Government, fighting against corruption, paying salaries of civil and public workers on time, among others, if incidents like the one that happened in Yoni Chiefdom continue to happen under his watch, it would damage the human rights records of the SLPP Government in its entirety and make the party very unpopular ahead of the 2023 national elections.

If the SLPP Government actually intends to keep a better human rights record in its first term in power, it should learn a lesson from the erstwhile APC Government. Though a grassroots political party, the popularity balloon of the APC started to deflate when the SLP embarked on the senseless killing of innocent Sierra Leoneans during demonstrations against its Government. For example, the killing of three youths at Kabala over the relocation of a Youth Village from that district to Tonkolili District that never was, the Bumbuna and Kono incidents were lives were destroyed by trigger-happy SLP personnel, the Goderich, Rutile, Ansarul Islamic Secondary School, Freetown, and the Wellington incidents which cost many lives were some of the egregious human rights scandals that, to a very large extend, marred the popularity of the APC Government. Those were mistakes they thought would not affect them in the March, 2018 national elections but they were proved wrong by the electorate, especially in the communities where those killing incidents caused by the police occurred.

Instead of learning from those mistakes, the SLPP Government that incessantly accused its predecessor of human right abuses is now towing the same line as if Sierra Leoneans are beasts that would be cowed into submission by the barrel of the gun despite Sierra Leone is a democratic state.

For Sierra Leone to be considered a civilized state, the law enforcement institution has to be reformed to march international standards. It is evident that the SLP has reverted to its moribund state since the APC assumed power in 2007 because of political interference in its administration. For instance, despite the former Inspector General of Police, Brima Acha Kamara recommended the now retired Assistant Inspector General (AIG) Morie Lengor to former President Ernest Bai Koroma to succeed him on grounds of merit, experience and service to the SLP, the then President chose Francis Alieu Munu based on nepotism. Perhaps if Morie Lengor had succeeded Brima Acha Kamara, he would have taken the SLP to another level given the experience he learned from former IG Keith Biddle, who described him as one of the most dedicated and intelligent senior police officers he had worked with.

If the SLP is not restructured and some senior police officers asked to give way to more dedicated officers, it would definitely swell the human rights record of the SLPP Government. Some senior police officers are politically attached and would do anything unprofessional to make this government unpopular, such as what they did in the two villages in Yoni Chiefdom.

By and large, it sounds extremely stupid and senseless to see police and military personnel descending on villages in search of marijuana and killing a poor youth as developed countries like the USA, Canada and The Netherlands continue to make billions of Dollars from the sale of marijuana pot on medical grounds as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO).

If the Government is against the growing of marijuana -which many prominent people use in this country, including technocrats, Ministers and Deputies, Members of Parliament, Doctors, Lecturers, Lawyers, Security Personnel, among others -it should provide an alternative for growers such as providing another source of income for them if it cannot employ them. For example, it happened in Morocco, the largest growers of marijuana in Africa, when the Government discovered in the late 1990s that there were over five million marijuana growers in the country. Instead of using security personnel to destroy marijuana farms and kill innocent people for growing it as it is happening here, the Moroccan Government provided enough capital for them to embark on growing other plants and that was how the growing of marijuana was reduced drastically in that North African country though it is still the highest exporter of hashes to Southern Europe.

Similarly, if the Government of Sierra Leone is very serious about curbing the growing of marijuana in the country, it should not use the SLP that is very unprofessional in treating human beings; instead, it should provide capital for marijuana growers to start planting rice or other economic crops,especially when the SLPP Government is talking about prioritization of agriculture. But this senseless killing and attack on civilians for marijuana - when perpetrators of felonious crimes are being well protected by some unscrupulous senior police officers – would only yield a bitter fruit for the SLPP Government that could be very hard to swallow in 2013.Think about it.