“Govt. Must Consider Urgent Review of Security Sector Protocol…” -Consortium of CSOs Recommends

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President Julius Maada Bio

By Amin Kef Sesay

A consortium of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Sierra Leone has presented a report on the 10th August 2020 based on the outcome of their Fact-Finding visit to Makeni on Thursday, 23rd July 2020.

It was stated in the introduction that Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, would recall the horrific images and media reports on the violence that occurred in Makeni, on Friday 17th to Saturday 18th July 2020, which resulted in loss of lives, injuries to many citizens and damage to public property. The ugly incident occurred when a decision was taken by the Ministry of Energy (MoE) to relocate a 1.65kw thermal generator from Makeni to Lungi.

The consortium pointed out that in order to ascertain the truth about what happened without relying on hearsay and social media reports, and the need to proffer recommendations to avert future reoccurrence; they travelled to Makeni on Thursday 23rd July 2020 to speak to local stakeholders in Makeni.

The delegation comprised CSOs from Freetown and counterparts in Makeni. Whilst in Makeni, the team met and spoke with the Mayor of Makeni City Council, Chairperson of the Bombali District Council, the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police North, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) Brigade Commander, North, the District Security Coordinator, and P.C. Bai Shebora Kasangna II of Bombali Shebora Chiefdom.

Additionally, the team met and spoke with the Minister of Energy, the Deputy Minister and the Permanent Secretary in Freetown to hear about what occurred prior to the relocation exercise. The delegation also spoke to some civil society representatives who participated in the consultative meeting held between representatives of the MoE from Freetown to discuss the relocation of the thermal plant with local stakeholders of Makeni.

The report, according to them, represents the full and honest account of the information they gathered during their discussions with the above-mentioned actors in Makeni City.

They stated that their delegation was informed that there was a stakeholders’ meeting on 30th May, 2020 between officials of the Ministry of Energy (MoE) and local stakeholders of Bombali District and the Makeni Municipality.

At that meeting, representatives of the MoE informed the participants that the Government would like to move one of two standby generators in Makeni to Lungi as a stop-gap measure to address the electricity problem at the Lungi International Airport. The MoE officials further informed the local stakeholders that the generator would be returned after two months, adding that the reason they are borrowing the generator is that efforts to repair the generators at the Lungi International Airport had been derailed by the travel restrictions occasioned by the Corona virus.

Officials of the MoE further assured the local stakeholders that the proposed relocation of the generator would not disrupt electricity supply to Makeni during this rainy season since the town’s main source of energy is the Bumbuna hydro electricity dam.

In response to the request, the local stakeholders, represented by the Mayor of Makeni City Council, indicated that whilst they had no objection to the request, they would require some time to consult or engage the local community on the request made by the MoE.

Shortly after the meeting, the Mayor of Makeni City, Madam Sunkarie Kamara (who was the chair for the local stakeholders Meeting) unfortunately fell seriously ill and was hospitalized in Freetown.

It was impossible for her to have led those consultations whilst she was sick and out of Makeni. In the absence of Mayor Sunkarie, the consortium gathered that none of the stakeholders made efforts to undertake the consultations with the people of Makeni. The team said they were informed, though, that the proposal/request to relocate the generator was discussed on a radio show dubbed “Media Junction” by civil society and media actors who attended the May 30 consultative meeting with the MoE.

It was discussed mainly as a way of informing– rather than – eliciting the views or consent of the public.

Several weeks after the consultation, they said they we were informed that the Minister of Energy Kanja Sesay reached out to Mayor Sunkarie seeking updates on their consultations. Unfortunately, as the Mayor was seriously ill, she was unable to provide any updates to the Minister.

The report furthered that with knowledge of the Mayor’s illness, the Minister or representatives of the Ministry did not reach out to any other stakeholder in Makeni for feedback on the agreed consultation but however the Minister discussed on phone with the APC National Secretary- General Amb. Alhaji Osman Foday Yansanneh on the need to move the generator.

“Our delegation was informed that on the 16th July, 2020, the Minister of Energy contacted the Mayor of Makeni City informing her of the Ministry’s compelling desire to relocate the generator to Lungi on Saturday, 18th July 2020. The Mayor was told that the plan to immediately relocate the machine to Lungi was necessitated by the Government’s decision to re-open the Lungi International Airport on 22nd July 2020,” part of the report stated.

They stated that their delegation was informed that the Mayor returned to Makeni on 15th July following her discharge from the hospital in Freetown. According to the report, the Mayor gave her unqualified approval for the MoE to transfer the thermal generator from Makeni to Lungi. The relocation exercise was planned for Saturday, 18th July, 2020, but the Mayor was surprised to learn that an advance team from the MoE came on Friday night 17th July 2020 ( to do preparatory work for the relocation), and she was not called thereafter.

“We were informed that on the night of July 17, 2020, unidentified youths of Makeni came out in a large number to stage a demonstration in protest over the government’s proposal/decision to relocate the thermal generator to Lungi. The protests started after 10:00pm on Friday 17th July,” it is enshrined in the report.

The report also stated how the Minister of Energy informed the consortium that he had spoken to the Police to provide security ahead of the relocation exercise, on Friday 17th July 2020. It continues that in response to the protests on Friday night, they were informed that security forces were invited to secure the premises of the local EGTC power station in Makeni where the generators are located ahead of the planned relocation to Lungi on Saturday 18th July.

“Eyewitnesses confirmed that there were several road blocks together with rampant burning of tyres on major streets and junctions of the city. We were further informed that there were people on motorcycles with megaphones urging residents to come out and resist the attempt to relocate their generator to Lungi,” the report stated adding that the delegation was informed that the youths were very rowdy and at some point violent, and that before the riots were suppressed on the night of 17th July, they had already attacked the vehicle of the Chief Administrator of Makeni City Council, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, and the local office of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

“The Police discharged tear gas canisters and deployed other riot control measures to suppress the riot on the night of 17th July 2020. We were informed that no fatalities or injuries were recorded on the night of Friday, 17th July. We were further told that though the leadership of the police and military tried to contact local leaders in Makeni in the hope that they would step in to restore calm, most of them were unreachable,” it furthered.

The delegation, it was included, was informed that the City of Makeni was quite peaceful on the morning of 18th July 2020 but later in the morning, however, youths mobilized and took to the streets to continue their protest. They were reportedly rowdy and visibly angry.

What is also mentioned in the report is that in response to the protests and unlike the night of the 17th where the security forces used peaceful means to disperse the crowd, they were informed that security forces used lethal weapons against the protesters.

“While the police denied using live rounds, the military confirmed firing warning shots in the air. This riot, unfortunately, resulted in the loss of five lives (at the time of the fact finding), and injuries to at least ten people at that time. However, security stakeholders did not own up to the use of lethal force even though six persons died from alleged gunshot wounds as told by other stakeholders,” it stated among other findings.

The consortium proffered the following recommendations:

That the Government institutes an urgent and impartial investigation into the role of the security forces in quelling the youth disturbances, including the use of lethal force, with a view to establishing culpability and sanctions where necessary.

They also called on the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) to institute a Public Inquiry into the matter.

That local leaders take responsibility for their actions and inactions and make a wholesome, unreserved apology to the people of Makeni and the country at large.

It also stated that where it is not already available, MoE develops a policy on the relocation of government assets, stipulating the steps to be followed which would include formal requests/memos, consultation/community meetings, public education etc.

Another recommendation suggested states that, as a matter of urgency, Government and its partners undertake an aggressive program of youth re-education, rehabilitation and reformation.

That youths whilst demanding for their rights should work within the ambit of the law, Government of Sierra Leone considers an urgent review of the security sector protocol for dealing with protests, riots and demonstrations, including the use of nonlethal means like water cannons, batons etc.

They finally also urged Sierra Leoneans, both at home and abroad, to use social media responsibly having regard to the vulnerability of youths and the divisive nature of our politics,  urge  all leaders and citizens to preach and maintain peace and peaceful co-existence in all their engagements and activities.

 

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