By Amin Kef Sesay
President Julius Maada Bio on 8 May 2020 addressed the nation in unequivocal terms, days after violent incidents erupted in different parts of the country to which he specifically responded.
He first called on all Sierra Leoneans to celebrate the ties that bind us as a nation and not the angers that blind us also outlining how they convened a national convention that agreed to institute a permanent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion that would identify and address all triggers of conflict in our nation.
He furthered that over and over again, he asked every Sierra Leonean to contribute to build inclusive and resilient national institutions, to consolidate our democracy, and to build a peaceful Sierra Leone.
“The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists has acknowledged that they practice journalism freely and we are working with them to repeal obnoxious laws and further enhance professional development in journalism,” the President revealed adding that Civil Society Organizations are speaking up freely and holding Government accountable for which they are grateful acknowledging that they are playing their part as citizens.
“Organized labour organizations, professional organizations, religious bodies, Paramount Chiefs, community stakeholders, the private sector all continue to contribute positively to our peaceful co-existence as a nation,” he highlighted maintaining how the International Community in Sierra Leone continues to engage with Government and Sierra Leoneans in general in fostering peace and supporting development.
He noted that in this Holy Month of Ramadan, Sierra Leoneans, irrespective of ethnicity and political party, buy and sell in the same markets, live peacefully in the same communities and breakfast and worship Allah Subuhanah wa T’Allah together and in peace.
President Bio stated that presently Sierra Leone is contending with COVID-19 that has already killed over two hundred thousand people worldwide including Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad saying we will remember them and their families.
“We will also continue praying for our compatriots and their families who are currently battling with this highly infectious and deadly disease,” he said with emotion also thanking and urging Sierra Leoneans to continue to comply with all hygiene and public health directives as we work hand-in-hand to rid this country of the Corona Virus.
He called for solidarity and cooperation from all well- meaning Sierra Leoneans across the nation to join in informing and mobilizing communities to prevent, curtail, and protect against COVID-19.
The President said it is times like this, in our country’s greatest hour of need, that we should all voluntarily stand up for our shared values, our common destiny, and the only place we call home.
He said when Ebola ravaged the nation he did not wait for an invitation or a telephone call to lead his party’s social mobilization and fight against Ebola.
“I travelled to every part of this country that was accessible to me and delivered a message that was in consonance with the Government’s strategy and objectives in fighting Ebola,” he disclosed pointing out that such is what serving the national interest is -not waiting to be begged pleasantly to serve the country and putting the country’s interests always above all else.
He said as President he reached out to all Sierra Leoneans to work together to make the country a peaceful place for all.
“I dispatched the Honourable Vice President to former President Ernest Bai Koroma to initiate dialogue on fostering peace and resolving the acrimony of division,” he asserted disclosing how he followed that with a personal invitation of the entire leadership of the All People’s Congress party to State House, (including former President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma), to discuss the way forward for a peaceful and united Sierra Leone.
He said in the post-meeting Memorandum of Understanding, they resolved on working urgently on building a united and cohesive Sierra Leone free of patronage, threats, hate, virulent partisanship, and corruption.
“But within those two years, there has been an unrelenting barrage of attacks against the State, State officials, public and private persons and properties,” the President lamented maintaining how that hearkens back to a public threat issued by the losing Presidential candidate that the All Peoples Congress party would make the country ungovernable.
He said one would therefore expect that the leadership of the All People’s Congress, like the leaderships of the other political parties in Sierra Leone, would have publicly and staunchly condemn as well as dissociate the party from any persons or groups of persons who incite hate, associate with and support violence, or participate in violence against the State.
The President said they have not but rather the leadership has made public statements that have heightened tensions.
“Evidence emerging from investigations have named known local leaders and members of the APC as being responsible for inciting, planning, financing, mobilizing, and in some cases actively participating in violent terrorist attacks against the people of this country,” he alleged.
President Bio hammered that the silence of the national APC leadership on the active participation of their members and executive members in these acts of terrorist violence, senseless loss of lives, injuries and wanton destruction of public and personal property is truly disconcerting.
He strongly underscored that the actions of those persons are not peaceful political expressions as one expects in a democracy pointing out that their actions are carefully planned, coordinated, well-orchestrated and executed acts of violent terrorism targeting the State, State officials, public buildings, and private persons and property.
“Like terrorists elsewhere, they even record their acts with telephone cameras, run self-valorising commentaries on their acts of extreme violence and killings, and share those synchronously in WhatsApp forums,” President Bio further accused.
He said for each of the attacks at Lunsar, Foredugu, Tombo, and the prison breakout at Pademba Road Correctional Centres, known agents and associates of the All People’s Congress party have publicly predicted the precise date, target, and nature of the attacks stating that there is an obvious pattern.
“These attacks are therefore premeditated, orchestrated, and executed with a clear objective – to make the State ungovernable,” he also described. He told the nation that persons who have been arrested are not being held because of their political beliefs or their professional work as journalists.
“Beating a journalist to death, persistently inciting people to violence against the State, the unauthorized carrying of loaded firearms, burning down the homes and vehicles of Chiefs, burning down hospitals and community health centres, burning down police stations, destroying telecommunications installations, burning down large parts of prisons, violently killing persons with machetes and iron bars, are all criminal offences,” he strongly stated.
He said what each and all of them have done are not peaceful political expressions stating that they are either being held on criminal charges or being investigated for criminal violence and terrorism-related offences.
The Commander-in-Chief stated that incitement to extreme criminal violence, arson, murder and attempted murder, other felonious acts targeting the State, State officials, public officials, private citizens, and public and private persons are not peaceful political actions meant to foster peace in Sierra Leone.
He told Sierra Leoneans that the right to free speech is guaranteed in our democracy and in our constitution adding that no democracy guarantees a right to speech that incites criminal violence, foments hate and divisiveness, causes public disorder, and threatens the security and stability of the State.
The President further stated how he is certain that our international partners agree with them that prosperity and development are possible only when there is peace and stability.
He intimated how countries that have prospered have always ensured first that peace and security are maintained stating how international partners, as moral guarantors of our peace, should therefore single out and wholeheartedly condemn persons and organizations associated with such acts of extreme violence against the State.
He again said, in peaceful democracies, citizens strive for the common good, peacefully cohabit with other citizens, and advocate for and protect their rights through peaceful norms and practices.
“Our enforcement agencies and the justice sector will ensure that every citizen’s right to due process is respected and justice is dispensed speedily and without hindrance, fear, or favour,” he revealed, underscoring how the rule of law is supreme, emphatically stating that no citizen, absolutely no citizen, is above the law.
He said his Government has been closely following events of the last few weeks stating how the security sector has closely analyzed the prime movers, financiers, causes, nature, and patterns of violent acts saying their responses are therefore well-informed.
The President said, in very certain terms, that as Commander-in-Chief, he has 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,” the President warmed furthering how they will use all instruments of State power and resources permissible under the laws of this country to deal firmly and decisively with violent terrorist attacks against the State.
He said he has also ordered urgent reforms within the security sector saying 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,” he disclosed stating how he wants to personally encourage Civil Society Organizations to expand their scope of work to capture those dynamics in their daily work with communities.
He stated how he has 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.
The President said he is aware that the courts are closed because of COVID-19 saying that given the prevailing circumstances, he will appeal to the Chief Justice to consider appropriate measures to adjudicate the cases that emerge from the widespread insecurity.
The First Gentleman said 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.
He reaffirmed that any act of violence will be dealt with within the broad spectrum of the law pointing out that citizens have an obligation to obey law and order.
The President firmly stated that those who think that by fomenting trouble and inciting violence in the country, they can derail and distract the Government from fighting corruption, attracting investors, and meeting its promise to deliver development of this nation, must know now that they will lose the fight.
The President ended up by stating that his Government will hit hard and it will continue to hit even harder until the fight is won stating that it is a fight for the unity, stability, development, and the future of the only place we call home. “It is a fight that we must fight and it is a fight that we must win,” the President concluded.
In analysing the speech, the Managing Editor of this medium, Amin Kef Sesay aka Ranger stated that it is a ground breaking address to the nation that calls for decisive actions to deal with the spate of violence.
He said the novelty in the address lies in three fronts. First, the President cited his personal efforts to build and promote inclusive dialogue to deliver development to the people of this country including engaging the leadership of the APC.
Secondly, that he gave clear orders to the security sector to deal with all acts of violence decisively and within the broader spectrum of the law while at the same time calling on community leaders and Civil Society Organizations to expand their engagement with fragile communities.
Finally, he said the President used the term terrorism to define the actions of the drivers of violence in the country ,which according to him is a new approach that raises fundamental questions as to how this brand of violence is viewed and likely to be treated by the State.
He furthered that such indicates that Sierra Leone has joined the likes of Mali, Niger, Burkina-Faso, Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria to define politically inspired violence as acts of terrorism against the State.
Such, he said, implies that Sierra Leone will now draw on both national and international legal instruments to respond to any act of violence against the State.
“This will no doubt open new doors to file extradition charges against persons living outside of the country that are believed to inciting violence in Sierra Leone,” Ranger opined adding that from all indications, it is now clearly evident that a new chapter in President Bio’s determined efforts to move this country forward has opened.
He, however, said it is not clear at this stage how citizens will react to this new approach but underscored that what is clear however is that majority of Sierra Leoneans, including Civil Society Organizations, are behind the Commander in Chief to deliver peace and development in Sierra Leone.